The Nigerian Army has said its troops acted in self-defence when they shot dead some jubilating members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Onitsha, Anambra State last Thursday.
Soldiers attached to the 302 Artillery Regiment in the commercial town shot at the IPOB members, who were celebrating the decision of a Federal High Court in Abuja to unconditionally release the Director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, killing five instantly and injuring 25 others.
The IPOB members, on hearing the court’s ruling ordering Kanu’s release, trooped out en masse and converged around the statue of the late Biafran leader, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, located at the Onitsha end of the bridge. They were said to be singing and jubilating preparatory to a procession but were stopped by policemen and soldiers who were guarding the bridge. But violence broke out when the IPOB members were accosted by the security forces and asked to stop their march towards the bridge, an order the group allegedly defied.
But the army’s Deputy Director Public Relations, 82 Division, Enugu, Col. Hamza Gambo, denied the claim that the youths were celebrating peacefully, adding that its troops were attacked first by those it described as an “irate mob”. Gambo, who spoke to to an Abuj news agency yesterday, said: “At 1335 hours on December 17, 2015, an unknown rowdy mob numbering about 200, whose identity is yet-to-be ascertained, attacked troops of 302 Artillery Regiment deployed in River Niger Bridge in Onitsha. “The bridge, as we all know, is the major link connecting the western region and the entire South-east as well as the South-south region. It is of great strategic significance to the entire nation. “The irate mob was intent on disarming the troops and blocking the bridge. Motorists experienced hell that day as they were held for hours both at the entry and exit points of the bridge. “Several frantic efforts were made by the mob during the crisis to snatch the company commander’s rifle and overrun the troops’ position right on the bridge.
“On sensing the imminent danger of taking over the bridge by the unknown assailants and the threat of being mobbed, necessitated the troops’ action of defending the key national installation (River Niger Bridge) and themselves.” He said that the troops fired warning shots into the air but the mob was “undeterred and kept advancing”. “The troops had no option than to open fire in self-defence in line with Nigerian Army rules of engagement. “In the process, three criminals were shot, while on our own side, a company commander was seriously injured and magazines were damaged. “Our officer and other assailants who were wounded during the avoidable incident were evacuated for treatment at 302 Artillery Regiment hospital facility,” he added.
The statement by the army on the Onitsha incident came just as the Ohanaeze Youth Council (OYC) appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the Department of State Services (DSS) to obey the court order by freeing Kanu. In a statement issued yesterday in Umuahia, Abia State, by the National President of OYC, Mr. Okechukwu Isiguzoro, and its Secretary, Mr. Nnabuike Okwu, the group expressed shock that the “tin gods” at the DSS had flagrantly refused to comply with the court order. The court had on Thursday dismissed the various charges brought against the leader of IPOB and Radio Biafra boss and ordered that he be released without any condition, but three days after, the DSS has continued to hold on to him in defiance of the court order. The OYC said that the attitude of DSS was provocative and an abuse of the rule of law, adding that the president must rein in the security agency to save the country from anarchy and the violation of human rights of Nigerian citizens. “We are pleading with the federal government to, as a matter of sacrifice for the continued peace and unity of Nigeria, to please release Nnamdi Kanu,” the OYC said.
It warned that the call had become necessary because it would be “extremely difficult for us to continue to calm his followers and sympathisers who see his detention as a provocation”. The Ohanaeze youth wing, which has been working tirelessly to pacify pro-Biafra protesters, expressed its frustration at the stance of the DSS, warning that the agency was creating unnecessary tension in the land. “We know how much effort it took us to prevail on IPOB and MASSOB members to stop their protests before the court ruling, and we don’t know what to tell them again, as Kanu is still in detention three days after he was discharged by a court of competent jurisdiction,” the OYC said.
Aside from calling for Buhari’s intervention, the OYC also urged the international community to intervene and save Nigeria from being plunged into another theatre of crisis when the country is still contending with the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east. According to OYC, the looming danger of renewed protests by Kanu’s followers, sympathisers and Biafran agitators was capable of setting off a major strife in Nigeria which it said must be avoided.
It also urged all pro-Biafra activists and Igbo youths to avoid playing into the hands of those engaging in provocative actions. “We call on all Igbo youths, especially IPOB and MASSOB members, as well as other Biafran agitators, to resist the snare by the enemies of Ndigbo to again turn Igbo soil into a theatre of war. “The destruction in the North-east is what our enemies want to see happen in South-east but we must collectively resist that. Some people are looking for an opportunity that the likely protests that Kanu’s continued detention might spark to use war planes to send Ndigbo backwards again,” the group said.
To buttress its concern, the OYC referred to the incident at Onitsha when security agents shot dead members of IPOB and MASSOB as they jubilated over the court order on Kanu’s release. “It was a tip of the iceberg of the agenda of our enemies to decimate Ndigbo on the excuse of quelling uprisings. To be forewarned is to be fore armed,” the OYC said.