Amnesty slams military for opening fire on peaceful IPOB supporters, bystanders
Rights body, Amnesty International, AI, has accused the Nigerian military of gunning down unarmed civilians before a march to mark the anniversary of the 1967 Biafran declaration of independence, stressing that based on visits to hospitals and mortuaries, at least 17 were killed and nearly 50 injured in Onitsha alone.
It would be recalled that a clash between the Biafra agitators and security forces left scores dead and several others wounded in Anambra and Delta States. The victims, mostly members of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB and the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, were celebrating Biafra Day anniversary.
Police had stated that the violence that attended the Biafra commemoration on May 30 led to the killing of about 10 people — five in the town of Onitsha, Anambra state, and five in Asaba, in neighbouring Delta state. However, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, claims that at least 35 persons were killed.
But speaking in a statement signed on Friday by its country director, MK Ibrahim, Amnesty said it was unclear exactly how many people lost their lives, as soldiers — who the army says acted in self-defence — took away the dead and injured.
Referring to the number given by the authorities, AI said it “is likely to be higher,” adding that some of the dead and injured seen by researchers had been shot in the back, indicating they were fleeing at the time.
“Opening fire on peaceful IPOB supporters and bystanders, who clearly posed no threat to anyone is an outrageous use of unnecessary and excessive force and resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.”
Amnesty, which said it had spoken to 32 eye-witnesses in Onitsha, said it had seen “no evidence” the killings by the police and military were to protect lives.
While saying it cannot confirm the claim that police officers opened fire because IPOB members shot at the security forces deployed to monitor the protests and that two police were killed in Asaba, AI said; “such killings would not substantiate the army’s argument they acted in self-defence.”
“This is not the first time that IPOB supporters have died in the hands of the military.
“It is becoming a worrying pattern and this incident and others must be immediately investigated,” Ibrahim said, calling for an end to “the pattern of increased militarisation of crowd control”.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army earlier on Thursday described as unfounded and tissues of lies reports by the Amnesty International that soldiers carried out extra-judicial killing of pro-Biafra agitators on the 30th of May, 2016.
The Army, in a statement signed by the Deputy Director Army Public Relations of the 82 Division, Colonel H.A. Gambo accused Amnesty International of misleading the public.
The statement reads:
“The attention of 82 Division Nigerian Army has been drawn to insinuations of misdeed being leveled by Amnesty International against security forces during the MASSOB/IPOB violent protests in Onitsha and environs on 31 May 2016.
“Accordingly, it is deemed imperative for the wrong and misleading impressions with which the public is being fed to be corrected once and for all.
“The synopsis of occurrence on that fateful day is that elements of MASSOB/IPOB engaged in violent protests which were featured with outright disregard for law and order. In the scenario of anarchy that ensued, the pro-Biafran protesters who had chosen the day to mark the 50th Anniversary of Biafra perpetrated a number of unimaginable atrocities to unhinge the reign of peace, security and stability in several parts of Anambra State.
“A number of persons from the settler communities that hailed from other parts of the Country were selected for attack, killed and burnt. 2 personnel of the Nigeria Police were killed, several soldiers were wounded, a Nigeria Police vehicle was completely burnt down while another of the Nigerian Army was vandalized.
“The strategic Niger Bridge at Onitsha was at the verge of being captured particularly with the coordinated reinforcement of the violent protesters from the Asaba end of the Bridge. In addition, wanton destruction of lives and properties were brazenly carried out by the protesters who employed firearms, crude weapons as well as other volatile cocktails such as acid and dynamites. In consequence, law, order and security were grossly threatened across the State and beyond.
“The Nigerian Army in synergy with other security agencies under its constitutional mandates for Military Aid to Civil Authority (MACA) and Military Aid to Civil Power (MACP) acted responsively in order to de-escalate the deteriorating security scenario in-situ. Instructively, the military and other security agencies exercised maximum restraints against the odds of provocative and inexplicable violence that were employed against them by the pro-Biafran protesters.
“The military and of course the other security agencies acted professionally within the extant Rules of Engagement to successful de-escalate the budding anarchy in-situ.
“It is rather inconceivable for any individual or group to have decided to inundate the general public with an anecdote of unverified narratives in order to discredit the Nigerian Army in the course of carrying out its constitutional duties despite the inexplicable premeditated and unprovoked attacks in the hands of the violent pro-Biafran mob.”