Biafra Protest: Mosque, Dangote Trucks Burnt, Two Policemen, Nine Others Killed In Onitsha
Onitsha, the Southeast’s commercial engine-room, was boiling yesterday as pro-Biafra protest turned bloody.
It was the second day of the planned three-day blockade of the Onitsha Head Bridge – the gateway to the East from the Western part of the country.
The protests have been raging in Southeast capitals and Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, in the last few weeks. The call has been for the release of detained leader of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) who is also the coordinator of underground Biafra Radio.
Kanu, who is based abroad, was arrested on arrival in the country in October. He has been charged to court in Abuja by the Directorate of State Services (DSS).
No fewer than 11 persons, including two policemen, were killed during the fracas that followed a clash between the protesters and the Joint Task Force (JTF).
A mosque on Sokoto Road was burnt along with eight trucks marked “Dangote Group” packed within the premises.
Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano called for calm in a broadcast as the situation degenerated into a near total breakdown of law and order in Anambra’s biggest city.
The governor warned mischief makers to steer clear of the state.
The clash began as the JTF men moved to dismantle the barricade put on the Onitsha Head Bridge.
The blockage of the bridge on both side of Onitsha and Asaba ends started on Tuesday and stalled inter-state travels, crippling economic activities.
The protesters blocked the highway between 2.pm on Tuesday till 2.30am yesterday, when the JTF moved in.
They also made bonfires on the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway.
The encounter left about nine people dead, five at the Niger Bridge Head, three at Obodoukwu Road, and a hawker who was said to have been hit by a stray bullet. He died instantly.
Miscreants, on hearing that some people had been shot dead, marched on the Central Mosque near Onitsha Main Market and set it ablaze. A Hilux van with Federal Government number was also burnt.
It was like a war situation, with sporadic shootings and people scampering for safety.
All markets in Onitsha were shut down, traders took to their heels.
It was alleged that the killings of the IPOB members got members of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) to join forces with their colleagues to repel the JTF.
Commercial motorcyclists banned on the highways by the state government made brisk business and had a field day. Motocycles were the only means of coming in and out of Onitsha.
IPOB National Coordinator Mr. Chidiebere Onwudiwe alleged that five of its members were killed; 18 were injured.
He said, he learnt that more people had been killed in the sporadic shootings at Upper Iweka, but he could only confirm the killing that involved his members.
It was gathered that Chief Rommy Ezeownwuka (Rojeny), the Ogirisi Igbo, who is said to be respected by MASSOB and IPOB youths, was attacked at about 1.35 am when he went to appeal to the protesting youths at the Niger Bridge Head.
The Campaign for Democracy (CD), South East Chairman, Dede Uzor, said: “IPOB has been peaceful in their protest and there should not be any reason to open fire on them by security agencies.
“We are also calling for the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu and other IPOB and MASSOB members in detention.”
The former President of Igede Development Association, Anambra State Branch, Chief Patrick Akobo, said the Igbo had built Nigeria and could not afford to abandon what they built.
“The only thing they should do is to empower themselves and be like the Japanese that the world is relying on now, and at the end of the day, the whole Nigeria will rely on them because of their God-given talent.”
Anambra State police spokesman Ali Okechukwu confirmed the killing of two policemen by the protesters. He said one of them was a sergeant.
He also confirmed that eight Dangote trucks and the mosque on Sokoto Road were burnt.
Biafran activists yesterday washed their hands of the burning of the Onitsha Central Mosque and vehicles.
They, however, claimed that eight of their members, including two women were shot dead in Onitsha.
In a statement by the leader of a faction of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign? State of Biafra (MASSOB), Uchenna Madu, the activists laid the blame at the doorstep of the federal authorities who want to impress that they were violent.
The statement said: “The setting of Onitsha central mosque, vehicles ablaze and making of bornfires which depict violence are not done by members of IPOB or MASSOB under my leadership. This unwarranted acts of violence are perfected by hoodlums sponsored by agents of the federal to create the impression that the non-violent and peaceful pro-Biafran group has turned violent on our agitation for Biafra.
“With today’s killing of our members and injuring many with bullet shots, we are no longer comfortable with Presidency’s move for dialogue. Federal Government’s move for dialogue is hypocritical and deceitful.
“Any Igbo group, organisation and persons negotiating, or meeting with the Presidency on our behalf without our consent or mandate should stop now.
“MASSOB, led by Comrade Uchenna Madu and IPOB, led by Nnamdi Kanu, have never mandated any person to negotiate for us.”
Obiano, in his broadcast, said: “I wish to address you on the on-going protest staged in Onitsha by the members of the Indigenous People of Biafra and MASSOB.
“The government of Anambra State has been monitoring developments and is greatly concerned about the security of lives and property of residents and visitors to the state.
“As your Governor and 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.
“Since the inception of my administration, we have made the security of lives and property our priority and we are not going to compromise on that.
“I therefore, sincerely appeal to the members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (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.
“I am in constant touch with all the security agencies in the state to ensure that what has otherwise been a peaceful protest is not hijacked by trouble makers.
“All mischief makers are hereby warned to keep off as we will not tolerate any breach of peace under any guise or pretext. You are seriously warned!.
“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,” the governor said.