13 September 2017

Nigeria: Abia Imposes Curfew On Aba After Soldiers, IPOB Clash

Photo: Premium Times
Nnamdi Kanu.

Following Sunday's clash between the civil populace, especially members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and soldiers of the Nigerian Army at the country home of the IPOB Leader Nnamdi Kanu, as well as further skirmishes Tuesday around the border communities between Abia and Rivers State, the Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikeazu, has imposed a dusk to dawn curfew on Aba, the commercial capital of the state.

This is just as Kanu's lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, claimed that soldiers laid siege to the IPOB leader's residence in Afaraukwu, Umuahia in Abia State, Tuesday and placed him under house arrest.

According to the lawyer, the latest invasion on Kanu's residence led to a clash between IPOB members and the deaths of four persons with several others injured.

But even as the claim that Kanu had been placed under house arrest could not be verified, another clash took place in the neighbouring Oyigbo community in Rivers State between IPOB members and the military, which eyewitnesses said resulted in the deaths of two persons and many injured. Oyigbo is about 25km from Aba in Abia State.

However, the Nigerian Army has denied that Kanu's residence was invaded Tuesday, stating that no soldiers were deployed to his residence and that its operation in the South-east, known as Operation Python Dance II, was not targeted at him. The army also denied the clash in Oyigbo.

Ikpeazu, who addressed journalists after an emergency meeting of the security council in the state which was convened over the security situation, said the curfew came into effect Tuesday and would last for three days (September 12-14) between 6pm and 6am, adding that "Aba residents are advised to observe the curfew".

The Abia governor said he was quite aware of the degenerating security situation in the state, noting that the clashes between the army and IPOB members "could presumably be attributed to the commencement of the said Operation Python Dance II".

Curiously, the governor made no mention of any invasion on Kanu's residence Tuesday, thus raising doubts over the claim made by the lawyer of the separatist leader.

In order to curb the rising tension in the state, Ikpeazu urged the army to carry out its operation in accordance with standard rules of engagement, taking cognisance of human rights and the rule of law.

He said: "While the Government of Abia State recognises the right of the Nigerian Army and other security agencies to perform their statutory duty of protection of lives and property of Nigerian citizens, such duties must be carried out within acclaimed Nigerian and international standards of engagement with the civil populace, with due respect to the human rights of citizens and the sanctity of human lives."

The Abia governor also expressed concern at "the frenzy of activities of members of IPOB within Afaraukwu, the ancestral home of the leader of IPOB for some months.

According to him, while the government recognises the constitutional right of freedom of movement for all Nigerians it "objects to the influx of people into Abia State for the purpose of unsettling the enduring peace in the state".

He assured the people that his administration was committed to the protection of the lives and properties of its citizens and others residing and doing business within the geographical entity called Abia State.

"Abians and others living within Abia are advised to remain law abiding and carry on their lawful business without fear, as efforts by government will be made to reduce friction between the civil populace and military personnel in the state," he said.

The governor "strongly advised" Abia residents "to remain law abiding while going about their lawful business without fear of molestation, and not to engage in any form of confrontation with military personnel or other security agents".

Kanu Under 'House Arrest'

But the statement issued by Kanu's lawyer claimed that at least four IPOB members had been killed in the area when soldiers invaded kanu's residence Tuesday.

According to Ejiofor, "Just to notify the world that my client's (Nnamdi Kanu) house is presently under siege by the trigger-happy soldiers acting under the direct instruction of Chief of Army Staff.

"He has been placed under house arrest at the moment while shooting sporadically into the air.

"Casualties are being counted as the unprovoked assault progresses. Some IPOB members have just been killed, at least four people.

"They drove in, in their thousands to arrest and maim him. I just got a distress call from him now. Further efforts to establish contact with him have remained unsuccessful.

"As it stands now, I can't confirm whether he is dead or alive."

Ejiofor added that Operation Python Dance II, the military operation launched by the Nigerian Army in the South-east to checkmate the separatist group, was principally targeted at eliminating his client, reported online news medium Premium Times.

"It is yielding the desired result for the presidency, having launched a manhunt for my client and unarmed members of the Indigenous People of Biafra," he said.

"Let the world know that the federal government has practically abandoned their case in court in search of a brute route to eliminate my client.

"As I type this statement, his residence has been cordoned off by the military, majority of whom are of Fulani extraction.

"The world should hold the Buhari-led federal government responsible if anything untoward happens to Nnamdi Kanu. The situation is very tense at the moment," the statement added.

However, the police spokesperson in the state, Geoffrey Ogbonna, denied the claim. He said the army was only on a routine patrol and passed through Kanu's community.

"They have moved on now to other parts of the city. I have been to that area, they were on their normal ongoing show of force. I don't think they tried to break into the building," Ogbonna said.

Ejiofor had accused the military of killing over 20 IPOB members on Sunday when Kanu's residence was invaded by Nigerian troops, which the army denied.

Two Feared Dead in Rivers

But even as Kanu's lawyer made his claims Tuesday, at least two persons were feared dead and scores injured when supporters of IPOB and soldiers clashed in Oyigbo, the headquarters of Oyigbo Local Government Area in Rivers State.

The deaths were not confirmed as of press time, just as the army denied deploying its men to the area.

THISDAY gathered that problem started Tuesday at Oyigbo Express junction, when news reached IPOB members who had gathered there that soldiers had allegedly ambushed and killed eight of their members at 44 Battalion Asa in Abia State.

The source said the travelling IPOB members were responding to the call made by their second in command, Uche Mefor, who they claimed called from London, ordering the IPOB members to move down to the residence of Kanu in Umuahia.

According to the source, in reaction to Mefor's call, the IPOB members mobilised and started protesting, with some of them attacking people they suspected were opposed to the Biafra struggle.

It was alleged that some IPOB members seized three rifles from policemen and burnt a police van at the junction of Oyigbo, forcing business and shop owners to lock up, as motorists and commuters scampered for safety.

The source stated: "At the Oyigbo Express, a Hilux van belonging to the police was burnt, while traders from Northern parts of the country closed their shops and ran for safety, with some of them running to the Oyigbo police station.

"At the popular Nkwo Oyigbo market and Afam Road, people ran helter skelter as gunshots boomed from the Oyigbo Express junction, while soldiers mounted at the railway and near Abriba quarters to provide safety to people of Northern extraction."

But the spokesman of 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Col. Aminu Iliyasu, told journalists that no soldier was deployed to Oyigbo to stop IPOB members from travelling to Umuahia.

Iliyasu stated that soldiers could only shoot if they were attacked.

He said: "I am in Bayelsa now, but people have been calling, telling me that there is a situation in the Oyigbo area. But I don't know exactly where this is happening. But one thing is certain, no soldier was deployed to Oyigbo and asked to stop IPOB members from travelling to Umuahia."

The violent clash caused serious traffic along Aba-Port Harcourt road, particularly the toll gate axis of Port Harcourt.

An eyewitness, Chuks Madu, a trader who was travelling to Aba, said their bus was trapped at toll gate for several hours, following the blockage on the road by security agents, to forestall the protest escalating to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.

Madu said he had to return to Port Harcourt after trekking to Eleme junction before getting a vehicle.

Abia NUJ Secretariat Invaded

Meanwhile, over 20 soldiers of the Nigerian Army Tuesday morning invaded the press centre of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abia State Council.

The angry and well-armed soldiers who were taking part in Operation Python Dance II, beat up journalists and destroyed their phones and tablets.

They alleged that the journalists took pictures of a convoy of troops marching through the city of Umuahia.

As the operation lasted, journalists holed up at the press centre on Aba road were horrified as soldiers ordered them at gun point to surrender their phones and tablets.

There was panic and apprehension as passersby scampered for safety around the Abia Tower roundabout where the press centre is located.

Some of the soldiers had taken position around the centre while their colleagues were manhandling journalists and destroying their tools inside the storey building.

Chairman of Abia NUJ, John Emejor, described the army invasion as "a desecration of the NUJ press centre", adding that it was an affront on democracy.

But just as the NUJ condemned the attack on the Abia secretariat, the army high command in the South-east zone quickly tendered an unreserved apology to its members over the invasion by soldiers, saying that it was "worried by what happened".

The General Officer Commanding (GOC) 82 Division Enugu, Maj.- Gen. Adamu Abubakar, tendered the apology Tuesday evening at the NUJ press centre.

His apology was conveyed by the Deputy Director of the Army Public Relations Unit, Col Sagir Musa, who rushed down to Umuahia at the instance of his boss.

"I'm here on behalf of the GOC 82 Division Enugu, Maj.-Gen. Adamu Musa Abubakar to show concern about what happened," he said.

He said that the army would never condone any behaviour by its personnel that was not in line with established norms of engagement with the civil populace, adding that the media remain a critical partner of the Nigerian Army.

"I want to assure you (journalists) that it won't happen again," he said, adding, "We have noted it, we will deal with it and those responsible would be identified and sanctioned".

Earlier, the Commander of 14 Brigade Ohafia, Maj.-Gen. Abdul Khalifah Ibrahim, had visited the press centre, assessed the damage done by the soldiers and described it as "a disaster of unimaginable proportions". He also tendered his unreserved apology to NUJ.

The brigade commander had come to the press centre immediately after attending the state security council meeting in the company of the Commandant of the Navy School of Finance and Logistics, Owerrinta, Commodore Abdul Aminu.

Ibrahim said that the soldiers that invaded the press centre had no authority from anybody to act the way they did.

He said that he was already in the state capital when he got phone calls from overseas about what the soldiers had done to journalists in Umuahia, hence he decided to come and see things for himself and apologise.

The brigade commander said he cherishes the good working relationship with the media and would not condone anything that could sour the relationship.

He promised to replace all the tools of trade of the journalists, including the tablets and phones damaged by the soldiers.

IPOB: Army Wants to Assassinate Kanu

However, with tensions escalating in Abia State, business activities were crippled around the Afaraukwu part of Umuahia following the presence of soldiers around the ancestral home of Kanu.

The arrival of the soldiers at the junction leading to the palace of the traditional ruler of Afaraukwu, Kanu's father, sent residents of the area panicking, with shop owners hurriedly closing their businesses.

The tension was all the more palpable as some of the armed soldiers paraded around the vicinity of the IPOB leader's home, apparently in surveillance of the area.

While the presence of the soldiers lasted, members of IPOB also kept vigilance in their large numbers to ensure that nothing untoward happened to their leader.

Reacting to the "siege" on Kanu's home, IPOB said that the aim was to "assassinate" their leader and other IPOB members, warning that "killing of unarmed civilians in Biafraland, including Mazi Nnamdi Kanu the leader of IPOB must not be accepted by Biafrans both at home and in the diaspora".

In a statement signed by the IPOB media and publicity secretary Emma Powerful, the Biafra separatist group recounted the clashes that had occurred between the army and IPOB in the past few days, noting that the soldiers had fired live bullets at Kanu's convoy at Ubakala junction while on an official assignment.

IPOB lamented that despite the democratic posture of the Nigerian government, it has turned the South-east zone into a war zone, adding that Umuahia, the capital city of Abia State, had become a dangerous zone since the commencement of Operation Python Dance II.

"The Operation Python Dance II is now seriously embarking on forceful abduction of Biafrans, brutalising anyone seen with the Biafra insignia, whether it is on a vehicle or home.

"IPOB is putting the world on notice that the Nigerian Hausa-Fulani dominated government plans to kill our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and Biafrans through the launch of Operation Python Dance in the South-eastern part of Nigeria," IPOB stated.

It seriously warned that "this plot to assassinate our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu in broad daylight will trigger a catastrophic situation in Nigeria and parts of Nigeria, if they succeed in their evil plot".

The group alleged that it had been informed that Hausa Fulani soldiers had instructed all the Hausa-Fulani living in Biafraland, particularly those in Umuahia and its environs to vacate the place immediately, hence "none of the Hausa Fulani could be sighted or seen anywhere around Umuahia".

"This is to prove that the Hausa Fulani soldiers deployed to Biafraland are battle ready to decimate Biafra people in their own land while preventing any reprisal that this evil plot might lead to.

"But we promise them that IPOB under Mazi Nnamdi Kanu cannot resort to an armed struggle or afford to stop now that we have passed the rubicon because we have achieved a lot towards the restoration of Biafra and God Almighty is on our side, as no man born of a woman can stop the project God Almighty Himself ordained.

"We are calling on men and women of good conscience across the globe, lovers of freedom, the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), African Union (AU), ECOWAS, American Government, Russia Government, Israeli Government, Chinese Government, Turkish Government, Canadian Government, French Government, German Government, Amnesty international, Human Rights Watch, and relevant human rights organisations across the globe to prevail on the Nigeria Government to leave Biafrans alone by fixing a particular date for a referendum on Biafraland to ascertain whether the people want to remain in Nigeria or not, we are not asking for war," the group added.

Ohanaeze, Senate Caucus Decry Harassment

Also reacting to military siege on the South-east, the umbrella body of Ndigbo, the Ohanaeze Tuesday called on the federal government to direct the military to call off its operation in the geopolitical zone, describing it as an invasion aimed at intimidating the people.

Ohanaeze said in a statement signed by its President General, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, that "Nigeria at this moment does not need such deliberate and proactive escalation of tensions and crisis."

According to Ohanaeze, rather than resorting to the use of brute force in the resolution of the demand for self-determination, the government should be more civilised and employ established practices to resolve "our democratic and security challenges".

Ohaneze warned that if "this act of intimidation is not discontinued immediately, it would be left with no alternative than to conclude that this is a containment policy aimed at the South-east to intimidate our people from freely expressing their anger and angst at their marginalisation and treatment as second class citizens".

Nwodo added: "In a democracy, the level of disenchantment expressed by the people of the South-east of Nigeria ought to have provoked a serious dialogue between our people and the federal executive and the legislature.

"History teaches us that the continuous use of force to silence dissent and free speech will only accelerate the growth of dissent and dissatisfaction.

"Fundamental rights of freedom of expression are critical for a successful democracy."

Ohanaeze said the claim that the military operation was aimed at checking increasing crime in the region had no empirical support because the first Python Dance was used to extort money from Igbo people and never addressed the issue of crime, more so by the police record that shows that the South-east does not have the worst crime rate in the country.

"Our people were shamelessly intimidated and harassed at these check points. Operation Python Dance I procured no arrests of criminals that were prosecuted for any of the criminal activities that Operation Python Dance II is supposed to address.

"Instead it witnessed reckless and indiscriminate murder of self-determination agitators in Asaba, Aba, Nkpor and Port Harcourt numbering up to 191 by the estimates of Transparency International and shattered the public confidence of South-easterners in the Nigerian Army and police," Nwodo said.

With the regard to the incident at the country home of the IPOB leader on Sunday, Ohaneze described it as unfortunate.

"We believe that it is a deliberate invasion of a quiet homestead, an act of provocation and a continuing policy of intimidation."

He pointed out that crimes of monstrous proportions were occurring in other parts of Nigeria.

"Such crimes include ravaging killings by Fulani herdsmen in the Middle Belt, secret cult killings in Lagos and the South-west, bunkering and armed resistance in the Delta, wanton kidnappings and killing of military personnel in Kaduna State and environs, as well as the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east.

"The Nigerian Army has never embarked on Operation Python Dance in any of the other five geopolitical zones on account of these incidences.

"Innocent civilians living in these other parts of Nigeria have not witnessed the type of invasion Umuahia witnessed Sunday night," he added.

Similarly, the South East Senate Caucus condemned the alleged military incursion into the home of Kanu on Sunday, describing the action as a deliberate abuse of his fundamental human rights.

The caucus also condemned what it said was the military's show of force in the South-east states, particularly in the remote villages around Umuahia, Abia State.

In a statement by its chairman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, the caucus said the actions of the military suggested willful personalisation of the operation, expressing sadness that such a development was happening after the caucus had extracted a commitment of non-violent agitation from IPOB.

"We had hoped that our ongoing engagement with the group be given a chance, and here we are, with a hurried military action deep into a highly populated area with high propensity for casualties, which occurrence would rather escalate the already tense situation.

"It is more worrisome that the military's Operation Python Dance II, restricted to the South-east in peace time, has no doubt fouled the environment and sent a strong signal that the region is under siege, which should not be so in a democracy.

"We therefore urge extreme caution and advise the military to de-escalate the situation and choose the best operational modus that will not only guaranty the safety of Nigerians, but also enhance national unity.

"Nigeria is not at war, people are only exercising their constitutional and universally guaranteed rights. So far they are carrying on in a manner that has never given room to violence which could warrant a wholesale military expedition," Abaribe stated.

He expressed sympathies with those wounded in the clash on Sunday and reiterated the call for dialogue to all agitations.

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