Pro-Biafra agitators in failed bid to seize Enugu government house
Members of the Biafra Zionists Federation (BZF) made a failed attempt at forcibly taking over the Enugu State government house yesterday.
The secessionist group had planned to use the premises to proclaim an independent state of Biafra.
About 30 BZF members, including their leader Benjamin Onwuka, were arrested in the process.
The action came in defiance of a sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). IPOB, in commemoration of slain Biafra supporters, had directed all residents of the southeast to stay indoors.
The police, however, admitted only 21 persons were detained, saying a manhunt was ongoing to find other accomplices in the “treasonable” offence.
Military fighter jets repeatedly flew past the southeast axis in what might have been a show of force, to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
As early as 7:30 a.m., the agitators marched through Bissala Road, Independence Layout, Enugu, to the Nza Street gate of government house.
The men were draped in Biafra flags. Onwuka was adorned in Jewish attire. They chanted Biafra songs as they marched.
At the gate, however, armed police officers stopped the procession, which had asked to see Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for a “peaceful dialogue.”
While an argument went on, truckloads of policemen arrived and began hurling the members into the vehicles. Many who resisted arrest were beaten and forced into the vans.
Others who fled were pursued by the police and arrested.
The commotion caused panic. Motorists plying the government house axis made quick detours through adjoining routes. Some government house staff and guests scampered to safety.
For over an hour, movement through the area was restricted, as fiery-eyed security operatives manned the government house axis, frisking persons entering the premises.
It will be recalled that BZF had asked Biafra supporters to ignore IPOB’s sit-at-home order and gather at the government house for the declaration and hoisting of the Biafra flag.
Onwuka had addressed at least four separate press conferences within the month, claiming BZF had the backing of the United States of America and Israel, and stressing that previous observances of the restriction order achieved nothing.
The group’s Deputy Leader, Chief Ambrose Ugwu, confirmed the arrests, saying it was the will of God but would not deter BZF from “achieving Biafra”.
“What happened today is how God wants it, because you cannot extricate yourself from your enemy without quarrelling with him. Our leader, Benjamin Onwuka, has done all he could to liberate our people from bondage. But what baffles me is that our people have continued to sabotage his efforts.
“It is not Federal Government that ordered today’s arrest or invited the policemen, who rounded up our people at Enugu government house. Southeast governors and our political leaders invited them.
They did it because they don’t want Onwuka to be the one that will take the glory. But they are wasting their time,” Ugwu said.
Asked what the mission of the agitators was, he said they were at the venue for the “declaration of Biafra’s independence, as promised… The American president summoned President Buhari some weeks back and warned him that he should not interfere with our activities.
Now, they are going against the orders, and America, France and others are watching them.”
Ugwu alleged Onwuka and other BZF members were brutalised by the police and called for their immediate release, saying: “We shall not be held responsible for any breakdown of law and order should this advice be ignored.”
Enugu State Commissioner of Police Dan Mallam Muhammed said the men were picked up for “attempting to take over Enugu government house”.
He said: “They threatened to take over government today, even when their activities have been proscribed. This morning, they marched to Enugu government house to make good their threat. We arrested 21 of them alongside their Biafra ornaments.
We will charge them for treason because they want to take over government.”
He added that Onwuka made “a forcible attempt to declare Biafra sometime ago using the facilities of a radio station…He did not have anybody’s authority to make such a demand.”
On March 7, 2014, Onwuka led BZF members in a plot to hoist Biafra flags at Enugu government house. On June 5, the same year, he stormed the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) in a failed bid to use the broadcast station to announce Biafra’s independence.
He had already seized the premises when security operatives swooped on him, arresting him and 10 others. He regained freedom only last year.
The sit-at-home order, meanwhile, witnessed full compliance in Aba, Nnewi, Okigwe and Onitsha. This was attributed to counter-directives by some state governors who ordered workers to report for duties or be sacked and traders to open their shops for business or forfeit them.
In Enugu, although the state government did not issue any directive, offices, private and public schools (especially those not observing their mid-term break), banks and some private businesses opened.
Residents and commercial operators moved about freely. Minimal security movements were observed in the city.
The three major markets: Kenyatta, New and Main had their gates open. Traders, however, did not show up, as stores remained under lock and key. Some transport companies complied.
Abia State was a mixed grill. There was total compliance in Aba, as markets, schools and commercial activities came to a halt. In Umuahia, the state capital, however, business continued.
The defiance in Umuahia was partly due to the heavy presence of police and soldiers who on Monday staged a show of force, dispelling fear among residents that non-compliance could fetch repercussions.
Compliance in Anambra State was also partial. In Awka, the capital, and its environs including Nibo, Amawbia, Ifite, Mgbakwo and Okpuno, residents stayed indoors. The Onitsha-Awka-Enugu Road, however, witnessed a low volume of commuters.
Many commercial banks in Awka did not open, leaving customers visibly disappointed.
The streets of Onitsha were deserted. Security men moved around in convoys, apparently to ensure no person was forced into compliance.
Parts of Nnewi were also paralysed, as traders refused to open their shops.
The order flopped in Ebonyi. Heavily armed security operatives patrolled strategic locations to maintain order. Governor David Umahi had earlier threatened that traders would forfeit their shops if they obeyed the IPOB directive.
In Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, virtually all the electrical appliances shops along Okija and Emenike Streets and auto spare part shops along the busy Olu-Obasanjo Road, owned by Igbo traders, were closed.
Obinna Kalu, a spare parts dealer at Olu-Obasanjo, said: “You can see that all the shops in Ojoto Street, Emenike and Olu-Obasanjo did not open for business.
We did this to show our solidarity with our brothers and sisters all over the world.
No amount of government intimidation can stop us from observing the sit-at-home order. We are bent on the actualisation of a Biafran State.”
In a statement, yesterday, IPOB congratulated all who worked towards the “successful outcome of our heroes remembrance day by sitting at home.”
Signed by the group’s Publicity Director, Emma Powerful, the statement said “We salute the uncommon courage, determination and resoluteness of all Biafrans that defied the military’s threats and intimidation.”
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