At least five people were feared killed yesterday while the police arrested more than 500 members of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Biafra Independent Movement (BIM) in the South-East and South-South regions. Several others were injured in clashes with police during rallies in support of planned declaration of the Biafra Republic and hoisting of the Biafran flag.
The rallies were held in major cities of Anambra, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Rivers and Delta states. Five people were said to have been killed while four others were injured in Anambra State during the 18th anniversary of the “independence of the New Biafra” by the members of MASSOB. The Director of MASSOB Information, Mazi Chris Mocha, said in a statement that the celebration was in continuation of the desire of the group to achieve a sovereignty state of Biafra.
He said: “While we were gathered at the Onitsha-Owerri Road, by Obosi junction, a joint military task force, including the Army, Navy, Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in over 45 Hilux vehicles shot five of our members dead. “About 206 members were arrested.
The arrested members included Chief Christian Ifejika, Declan Okafor, Gloria Umejesi, Rose Oforbike, Fidelis Oduenyi, and 173 others.” Mocha said that four persons – Chief Vincent Iloh, Ebuka Emmanuel, Innocent Okolie and Mrs Virginia Ubazuonu – received machete cuts on their heads from the Joint Task Force (JTF) members in their desperate attempt to disperse the crowd. When contacted, the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP Haruna Mohammed, said he was not aware of any arrest or killing. In Imo State, about 84 members of Chief Ralph Uwazuruike-led MASSOB and BIM were arrested by the police in Owerri.
According to the Owerri Zonal Leader of MASSOB/BIM, Mr Samuel Njoku, some members of the group were arrested while conducting a press briefing at the old Timber market (Ogbo Osisi) on Wetheral Road, Owerri, while others were arrested on their way to the rally from Orlu, Mgbidi, Ngor Okpala, Mbaise and Okigwe.
On the reason for their rally, Njoku explained that “since the end of the Civil War in 1970, no Igbo was courageous enough to mention Biafra until Chief Uwazuruike launched MASSOB on September 13, 1999, and on May 22, 2000, declared and hoisted the flag for the new Biafra.”
According to him, the uniqueness of May 22 anchored on its historic importance makes the day a big event for the struggle for the emancipation of Biafran people.
The state PPRO, Andrew Enwerem, said arrested members of BIM/MASSOB were separatists who were nabbed by security operatives of the command from various parts of the state. He said the arrests were based on intelligence information that MASSOB/BIM members were about to conduct themselves in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace. As early as 7:30a.m., security men were stationed at various entry points of Owerri, to stop MASSOB members from joining the rally while others were also stationed at various local government areas.
Despite the heavy security presence, the demonstrators were able to arrive in buses from nearby council areas of the state with Biafra flags and placards bearing various inscriptions depicting commitment to the Biafran state, wearing Biafran military uniforms and chanting Biafran songs and solidarity slogans.
At least 10 members of MASSOB and BIM were arrested in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Hundreds of Biafra supporters outside Rivers had stormed Port Harcourt to mark the event, starting a procession at Mile Market and were heading towards Eleme Junction before they were intercepted around Garrison Junction by security operatives.
The security men thereafter released tear gas into the air and arrested 10 of the protesters, mostly those wearing military and NSCDC camouflage. Those that were arrested, according to some of the Biafra supporters, were subsequently taken to the Olu-Obasanjo Police Station in Port Harcourt. Meanwhile, the state PPRO, DSP Nnamdi Omoni, said he was not aware of the arrest. The leader of MASSOB in the state, Solomon Chukwu, lamented that the arrest was unnecessary, noting that they only embarked on a procession and did not engage in any violent behaviour.
Police, soldiers and other security agents arrested scores of members for MASSOB and BIM in Abakaliki in Ebonyi State. Security agencies in the state accosted them on Nkaliki Road as they started the peaceful march, fired tear gas at them and arrested some of them. Army, Department of State Security (DSS) and the police carried out the joint operation. Commander of the Nigerian Military Cantonment in Nkwegu, Col. S. O. Sadiq, confirmed the participation of the Army in the arrest of the Biafra agitators.
He said all the arrested persons were handed over to the police. Sadiq said that MASSOB did not notify security agencies in the state of the event in writing which he said necessitated the arrest. The state PPRO, Loveth Odah, confirmed the incident but could not give the actual number of persons arrested.
“I don’t have the details of the actual number of persons arrested right now when I get the full details I will let you know,” she said. Ebonyi Central MASSOB/BIM leader, Gideon Iloke, said: “Today, we are celebrating Biafra Independence.
We are happy that the world authorities have recognised Biafra as an independent state and that is why throughout the federation, South-South and South-East are celebrating Biafra independence. We also agreed that all the states under Biafra must gather to celebrate the greatness of Biafra because we are grateful for what God has done to us.”
In Aba, Abia State, the police arrested 115 members of MASSOB. The Zonal Leader of the group, for Abia South, Mr Fredrick Onyenucheya, disclosed that the police, aside from arresting 115 members of his group, injured many others.
Onyenucheya, flanked by Chief Obi Anyaogu (leader Abia Central) and Pastor Evans Okoronkwo (Abia North MASSOB/BIM leader), claimed that they were holding peaceful rally to mark this year’s anniversary at Umuorieoma on the Osisioma axis of the Enugu-Aba- Port Harcourt Expressway when policemen in over 20 Hilux vans arrived at the location.
He said that the group members numbering over 200 gathered at Umuorieoma junction by 9a.m. and were peacefully dancing and marching towards No 175, Faulks to hoist the Biafran flag which will mark the 18th-anniversary re-restoration of the sovereign state of Biafra in the year 2000.” The Abia State Commissioner of Police, Anthony Ogbizi, confirmed the arrest of 47 members of MASSOB and BIM in Aba. Ogbizi said those arrested included men and women and were being held in detention in Aba.
He said that although they were peaceful during their march, they were arrested because they wore Army camouflage uniforms and had Biafra flags and insignia in their hands. He said: “We are profiling them and when we finish they would be charged accordingly. “The legal department is there.
They will advise us before we know what else to do.” Also, police in Enugu arrested an undisclosed number of members of MASSOB and BIM for allegedly breaching public peace. The state PPRO, SP Ebere Amaraizu, who confirmed the arrest in a statement, advised residents to go about their lawful businesses.
Amaraizu said the state Commissioner of Police, Danmallam Mohammed, had “warned against any act or omission by any individual or group of persons under any guise capable of disrupting the existing peace in the state.” Meanwhile, the Imo State correspondent of the Punch newspaper, Emeka Ihiegbulem, was brutally assaulted by policemen for attending a press briefing by the MASSOB.
While the policemen dealt him blows, soldiers and personnel of the NSCDC also shoved him around. Ihiegbulam was in the midst of the MASSOB members, trying to clarify an issue raised when policemen, who were later followed by soldiers, stormed the area; cordoned off the rally and forced everyone including journalists to sit on the ground.
Ihiegbulam said: “I sat down on the ground with all the MASSOB members. I brought out my identity card and my recorder telling the officers that I am a journalist on an assignment and that I was not a MASSOB member.
They ignored my explanations, arrested me alongside the MASSOB members and marched us all into a lorry to the police headquarters.” Ihiegbulam’s beating started when a soldier and policemen tried to force him to hang a Biafran flag around his neck to give the impression he was arrested with the flag.
The man firmly refused while brandishing his identity card and work tools. His refusal infuriated the policemen; while one snatched his identity card, recorder and jotter from him, another slapped him from the back of his head. He was trying to see who slapped him when a heavy wooden club landed on his head. At the State Police Command Headquarters, Ihiegbulam was forced to sit on the ground. But Commander, MOPOL 18, who identified Ihiegbulam among the ‘suspects,’ ordered him out of the ground. (New Telegraph)