Five killed, 20 injured in pro-Biafra protests
But the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Solomon Arase yesterday warned pro-Biafra protesters to steer clear of breaching the public peace in the course of advancing their cause or face the full wrath of the law . He charged commissioners of police in the zone to enforce the law as appropriate.
Meanwhile, suggestions as to how the protests can be ended continued with the youth wing of the socio-cultural Igbo organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, challenging the Federal Government to implement the resolutions of the 2014 National Conference which they said would bring the agitation for Biafra to an end.
Business activities and vehicular and pedestrian traffic were brought to a standstill for several hours in Onitsha as most markets, banks, schools and other establishments were shut down to avoid being torched by the protesters.
An eyewitness said also that the Central Mosque, a tanker laden with fuel and, four vehicles were burnt while bonfires were made at various locations .
A source explained that information alleging the killing of the IPOB members on Tuesday at the Onitsha end of the Niger Bridge sparked the violent protest.
He further said the lady victim was shot dead by soldiers on patrol at the busy Onitsha/Owerri Road while she was going about her own business.
According to him :“They resorted to violence when they received news of the death of their members which prompted them to barricade major roads and set vehicles and other valuables on fire.
“Bonfires were lit at Old and New Market Roads, Ogbommanu Junction, Savoy, Nkpor Junction, Afor-Nkpor, Bridge Head, Oguta Road among others.
As early as 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, customers who had gone to some of the banks were disappointed as officials refused to attend to them for security reasons.
“Parents and guardians hurriedly left their offices and businesses to collect their children and wards from schools, while commercial vehicle owners used the opportunity to increase fares”, he added
In his reaction, the IPOB spokesman, Emma Powerful said the soldiers killed four of their men who did not commit any offence at the Bridge Head market yesterday.
“Security operatives including soldiers, the police, civil defence, and the Department of State Services (DSS) attacked our men though we are a non-violent body. We will continue the protest in Onitsha tomorrow until Kanu is released by President Muhammadu Buhari”, he said.
But the Anambra State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr Ali Chukwuma said there was no confirmed report of killings in Onitsha.He said the Police , Army, and Navy to the best of his knowledge did not shoot anybody.
“Since yesterday, around 9:00 a.m., many Nigerians who ply the Enugu Onitsha up to the Bridge Head to Asaba have been going through untold hardship caused by the barricade of the entire roads in Onitsha by members of IPOB.
“The IPOB suddenly turned aggressive and riotous , but we are on top of the situation. No lives were lost. We have managed to clear the roads for people to pass to their destinations” he said.
A statement issued yesterday in Abuja by Force Public Relations Officer Olabisi Kolawole said Arase’s warning became necessary because of the increasing threat to public peace caused by miscreants pretending to be members of The Movement for the Actualisation of the Soveriegn State of Biafra (MASSOB) and IPOB.
He cited the December 1 blockade of the Niger Bridge in Onitsha as an instance of gross misbehaviour , “an action that caused major hardship to innocent and law- abiding motorists, and citizens. The act also occasioned serious dislocation of business activities.”
Arase warned: “The increasing resort to acts of brigandage of this nature is pointing to a clear attempt by the brains behind these protests to test the will of security agencies to restore order and guarantee internal cohesion. For the avoidance of doubt, the IGP further notes, the restoration and maintenance of law and public order, and protection of lives and property remain sacred and statutory mandate of the Nigeria Police which he said shall be fully executed in the overriding interests of the nation and vast majority of citizens and residents of the South East geopolitical zone.”
The statement said the IGP had directed the immediate mobilisation of the Police Mobile Force across the country to the affected zones to “reinforce security in the state commands that MASSOB and IPOB are currently attempting to utilise as launching pad for their sinister intention”.
The Deputy National Chairman of the youth wing of Ohaneze, Arthur Obiorah , who spoke after a joint meeting with other Igbo youth groups also demanded the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu, Ben Onwuka and other pro-Biafra agitators currently in detention.
They expressed sadness over what they called the killing, maiming and incarceration of the peaceful and non-violent Biafra agitators.
Their statement read in part: “The Federal Government should instead of carrying out anti-social war on the peace-loving Biafra agitators, make conscientious study on why Igbo youths and other easterners are spoiling for the restoration of the nation of Biafra.President Buhari should commence a negotiation that may see all the Nigerian nationalities meeting and dialoguing on how to come out of the present political impasse.
“The Federal Government should toe the path of dialogue as a tactical way of untangling herself from the billowing political and security instabilities threatening the humanity of all,” they said.
Meanwhile, representatives of monarchs from the Northern parts of the country yesterday met with their counterparts in the South East in Owerri, capital city of Imo State, over the pro-Biafra protests in the five states of the South East geo- political zone.
The monarchs from the north were led by the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar and Coordinator National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria and the Emir of Gumi, Justice Lawal Aliyu Gumi . Others from the north were the Emir of Lafia, Alhaji Mustapha Agwai,Emir of Fika, Alhaji Abali Mohammadu, and Gwom Gwom Jos, Alhaji Buba Gyang.
Their counterparts from the South East were led by the zone’s council chairman, Eze Ebere Dick, who is the chairman of the Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers, Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, Chairman of Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Agunwa Ohiri, Chairman Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers and Eze Agom Eze, chairman, Ebonyi State council of traditional rulers.
Addressing the group at the Government House, Owerri, Governor Rochas Okorocha, urged them to make such visits regular, adding that they would help address the issues of ethno-religious upheavals in the country.
He also advised them against being dragged into politics by some politicians.
Okorocha said though the governors from the zone had met in Enugu to deliberate on the pro-Biafra protest, the unity of the country was not negotiable, stating that Igbo would continue to exercise their rights and privileges.
He urged the northern monarchs to call to order the Fulani herdsmen whose activities in the South East constituted much nuisance.
In his reaction, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar said they had come at the instance of the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar , “to discuss the issue of agitation by pro-Biafra groups and to find the reasons for this renewed agitation and how the situation can be arrested.”