The Nigeria Army has given reasons for the killing of some members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), saying the security forces acted in self-defence when their intervention to restore law and order was resisted by the agitators.
The military also claimed that the protests were designed by the sponsors to mar the Democracy Day celebrations held nationwide on Sunday, Thisday reports.
The Deputy Director of Army Public Relations, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Enugu, Colonel Hamza Gambo, stated this while giving an account on what transpired.
He said the incident that led to the drafting of soldiers to quell the violent protests left about five members of IPOB/MASSOB dead, while several others were injured on both sides.
But the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) said the killings could not be justified no matter the provocation.
“Instructively, troops of 82 Division Nigerian Army as the lead agency of the security agencies had to invoke the extant Rules of Engagement (ROE) to resort to self-defence, protection of the strategic Niger Bridge, prevent re-enforcement of the pro Biafran members apparently surging ahead from the far side of the strategic Niger Bridge at Onitsha,’’ Gambo stated.
Gambo, who alleged that the protests were orchestrated to mar the Democracy Day celebrations and had to be put down because the protesters were endangering the peace of Onitsha and the lives of the people in the area, explained that all efforts to disperse the crowd were abortive.
“In the aftermath of the fire fight that ensued, many of our troops sustained varying degree of injuries. The injured troops are currently receiving treatment at our medical centre. Similarly, five members of MASSOB/IPOB were killed, eight wounded while nine were arrested for due legal actions,” he said.
The Army spokesman explained that the security agencies, including detachments of the Nigerian Navy, Nigeria Police, Department of State Services (DSS) and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), were compelled to intervene to put down the protest, adding that the protests had created panic among the populace, in consonance with constitutional provisions of aid to civil authority where and when such occasion demands.
“The overarching imperative to ensure a reign of peace, security and stability in this circumstance was most starring,’’ he said.
Gambo further claimed that the members of MASSOB/IPOB, who had earlier assembled at a school location on Ataa Road near Saint Edmunds’ Catholic Parish Maryland Nkpor-Agu in Anambra State, resorted to fierce attacks against the intervening security agencies who were carrying out their legitimate mandate.
The nature of these attacks, he alleged, involved brazen employment of various types of fire arms and all sorts of crude weapons, volatile cocktail such as acid and dynamites.
Gambo, however, assured the people of Anambra State of the military’s professional commitment to the protection of lives and property and indeed across its entire area of responsibility in tandem with the recent directive of President Muhammadu Buhari.
But the CBCN expressed concern over the killing of IPOB, MASSOB members and the current siege in the Niger Delta region following the bombings of oil installations in the region.
The CBCN President and Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, said the crises in the two regions portend great danger and bad omen towards the unity of Nigeria as an entity with a common identity.
According to Kaigama, “It is not very good news for us. I just returned from Germany. Everywhere I went, I was asked about what the problem was with Nigeria? We are still struggling with Boko Haram, now we are talking about Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and IPOB, the solution is not to intensify the crises.”
Asked if the federal government policies towards the two regions might have engineered the current agitations, Kaigama said: “I don’t know what criteria they used in appointment or allocation of projects, when you are marginalised, shortchanged, the culture of dialogue is the best way to go, I’m not sure when we are going to dispense with these regional agitations.
“If a leader comes from the south, others will make his government difficult, when somebody from the north comes to power, others will target his government. It is so sad. Where is the rational behaviour in that? No matter how shortchanged, no matter how marginalised you are, violence and resorting to crisis is not the best solution.”
On the application of force by the government, the CBCN president advised the National Assembly to rise up to its responsibility of defending the people.
Also speaking, the Executive Director of Caritas International, an arm of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), Rev. Fr. Evaristus Bassey, advised the federal government not to approach the dispute with military option.
“Why are we having these crises? It is because of the structure of the country. We still need to look at the structure of the country and see how we can address some of these challenges,” he said.
According to him, “It was very disappointing for President Buhari to say that he will discard the National Conference report to the archive. He has not even read it; I see it as careless. There are fundamental things we should sit down and address.”