A peaceful protest embarked upon by the supporters and sympathisers of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) on Tuesday turned bloody at about 1.30 a.m. on Wednesday when members of the group and Joint Military Task Force comprising the army, police, navy and the civil defence clashed at the Niger Bridge head in Onitsha.
THISDAY checks revealed that the cause of the clash was the insistence by the joint military task force that the Onitsha-Asaba road barricaded by the IPOB who said they would protest for three days until the Director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu is released be opened.
At the end of the clash, about nine members of IPOB activists were allegedly killed by the joint task force. Five dead bodies were allegedly picked at the Niger River Bridge head; three at Obodoukwu road, all in Onitsha, as well as a meat seller said to have been hit by a stray bullet and died instantly.
The news of the death of the IPOB members early yesterday morning which broke out in Onitsha ignited another round of violent protest as youths and protesting IPOB members went on rampage destroying everything on sight.
They converged on the bridge head and marched to the central Mosque near Onitsha Main Market and set it ablaze, as well as a Hilux Pick Up van with federal government number plate.
This was even as the Joint Military Task Force held motorists and commuters to a standstill at the Upper Iweka Area of Onitsha shooting sporadically.
The protests forced traders in Onitsha and its environs to close shop and thousands of traders and travellers scampered for safety.
The Niger Bridge head was still blocked by the IPOB as at 5p.m. Wednesday.
The IPOB protesters were later joined by members of the Movement for the Actualisation Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) who made bonfire along the Onitsha-Owerri Road and the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway making entry in and out of the commercial city difficult, thus creating brisk business for commercial motorcycle operators, otherwise known as “Okada” who hitherto were banned by the state government from plying the expressway. They charged exorbitant fares taking as much as N2,000 for a distance that would have cost less than N250.
Meanwhile, an attempt by the protesters to force their way into Asaba was halted by a detachment of anti-riot policemen, which was reinforced from neighbouring Edo State police command.
Hundreds of the pro-Biafra agitators had gathered at the Onitsha end of the Niger Bridge with the intent to march to Delta State through the neighbouring town of Asaba apparently to establish some presence but were prevented by the police from proceeding.
THISDAY gathered that the Delta State Police Command had to contact Benin-City, Edo State, where a detachment of anti-riot policemen, otherwise known as Mobile Police, was promptly dispatched to Asaba to checkmate the planned invasion of Asaba by the Biafran agitators.
The policemen had stormed Asaba and subsequently formed a bridgehead on the Asaba end of the Niger Bridge even as the pro-Biafra protesters had massed at the Onitsha end of the bridge as early as 7a.m.
Nevertheless, the policemen were able to humble the surging IPOB members and their sympathisers by firing numerous canisters of teargas! which effectively kept the “peaceful demonstrators” at bay.
Soldiers stationed in the area also fired sporadically into the air apparently as a warning to would-be trouble makers.
Meanwhile, the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Mr. Solomon Arase, has issued a stern warning to MASSOB and IPOB activists to stop threatening public peace or face the full weight of the law.
He said the warning the followed increasing resort to acts of brigandage by individuals who are hiding under the cloak of MASSOB and IPOB to threaten national security and public peace in some parts of South-east geopolitical zone and some other conterminous states.
In a statement by the Force spokesperson, Olabisi Kolawole, Arase said the latest manifestation of the threat was the attempt to blockade the Onitsha end of Niger Bridge last Tuesday, an action which he said, that caused major hardship to innocent and law abiding motorists and citizens.
The IG disclosed that no fewer than 137 members of MASSOB and IPOB had been arrested and are presently being prosecuted.
He said the act of protests also occasioned serious dislocation of business activities.
The IG noted that the increasing resort to acts of brigandage of this nature was 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 doubts, the IG further notes that the restoration and maintenance of law and public order, and protection of lives and property remain sacred and statutory mandate of the Nigeria Police,” the statement said.
The mandate, according to him, would fully be executed in the overriding interests of the nation and the of citizens and residents of the South-east geopolitical zone.
Consequently, Arase directed the mobilisation and deployment of Police Mobile Force (PMF) across the country to reinforce security in the state commands that MASSOB and IPOB are currently attempting to utilise as launching pad for their sinister intentions.
He also directed the Assistant Inspectors General of Police Zone 5, (Benin); Zone 6, (Calabar) and Zone 9 (Umuahia) as well as all Commissioners of Police in the affected states in the South-east and neigbouring states to henceforth maximally exercise their statutory mandate in relation to prevention and disruption of any gathering that threatens public order and national cohesion.
He noted that any person or group of persons arrested in furtherance to the enforcement of the order would be made to face the full wrath of the law.
To this end, the IG advised parents and guardians to call their children and wards to order, adding that the patience of the Force is being stretched to the limit.
He affirmed that “no individual or group interest can override the interest of the nation and that democratic values provide for exploration of rule of law to advance any concern, not to resort to endless and misguided acts of brigandage, unless there is an ulterior motive as the extant instance tends to dictate.”
The police boss concluded by asserting that the Nigeria Police Force would not fold its law enforcement arms to allow few misguided elements to continually force hardships on fellow Nigerians either in the South-east or any other part of the nation for that matter.
Meanwhile, the acting leader of MASSOB, Uchenna Madu, has denied that the IPOB was behind the attempted moves to burn down the Onitsha Central mosque by some rampaging youths on Tuesday.
In a statement circulated to journalists in Enugu, Madu insisted that the two pro-Biafra groups still maintained non-violence approach in their agitation for a Biafra Republic.
He alleged that the burning of vehicles, making of burn-fires as well as killing and maiming of innocent citizens in Onitsha, Anambra State were perfected by agents of the federal government in its bid to depict the agitators as violent groups.
However, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State has appealed to the various groups of agitators protesting for the release of Kanu in Onitsha to do everything within their power to maintain the peace as his administration would not stand by and watch what had looked like a peaceful procession get out of hand.
Delivering a special address on the continued siege laid in commercial city by thousands of protesters, Obiano expressed concerns that the activities of the agitators might destroy the peace that his administration had laboured so hard to bring to the state.
“As your governor and the chief security officer of the state, I am compelled to act to avert any likely breakdown of law and order. In all situations, the preservation of human life comes first and I am determined to enforce that,” the governor declared.
Pointing out that his administration had made security of lives and property its priority from inception, Obiano warned that he had no intention of compromising on that.
Consequently, he appealed “to the members of IPOB, MASSOB and other aggrieved groups and individuals to maintain the peace and resist any attempt by hoodlums to take advantage of the situation and destabilize any part of Anambra State.”
The governor further warned all mischief makers who might want to take advantage of the peaceful demonstration to foment trouble to “keep off as we will not tolerate any breach of peace under any guise or pretence.”
He assured residents and visitors to the state that he was in touch with all the security agencies in the state and had their assurances that mischief makers would not be allowed to take advantage of the situation to disrupt the peace that Ndi Anambra currently enjoy.
He said: “I therefore wish to assure Ndi Anambra and all visitors to the state to go about their normal business peacefully as the security agencies are on top of the situation to preserve law and order.”