Following the violent clashes this week between the military and members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Abia and Rivers States, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), among others, have called for calm and admonished all parties to exercise restraint.
However, further bloody skirmishes were recorded in Oyigbo, Rivers State Wednesday, leading to the death of a police sergeant and arrest of 32 IPOB agitators.
But in a bid to forestall a further breakdown of law and order in the neighbouring city of Aba in Abia State, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu extended a dusk to dawn curfew, which he imposed on the commercial nerve centre of the state on Tuesday to Friday.
In a statement issued by the National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, APC, while calling for restraint, equally expressed regret over the incident at the NUJ Secretariat in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, where journalists were assaulted by armed soldiers and their phones and other electronic devices destroyed on Tuesday.
APC, in the statement, further stressed that the security agencies must adhere to globally stipulated rules of engagements and laws governing their operations.
"We must allow our security agencies to conduct their constitutional roles of securing lives and property without hindrance and provocation.
"We also call on citizens, social commentators, media influencers and other stakeholders to be careful and mindful of their utterances on the clashes.
"Stoking tensions by inciting utterances, hate speech and all other forms of awful propaganda will only push the country to the precipice.
"When we see the devastation of the country's North-east by Boko Haram, the 1966 Nigerian Civil War and similar conflicts in other countries, we are reminded of the effects of internal strife.
"We must not yield to elements beating the drumbeats of war. We owe the peace and unity of our dear country to the present and unborn generations.
"We must speak and stand up for peaceful coexistence on our social media platforms, places of worship and all other public spaces we belong to," APC said.
The party reiterated its belief in a united Nigeria.
In its reaction to the situation in Abia, the opposition PDP also sued for caution and restraint in the handling the conflict that has erupted in the state between the military and elements of the IPOB.
PDP noted that while it was committed to the continued corporate existence of Nigeria as one indivisible country, it at the same time expressed its respect for the rights of people anywhere to express their yearnings and aspirations within the confines of the laws of the land.
A statement by PDP spokesman, Dayo Adeyeye, stated that at a time that "tempers seem to be flaring, dialogue rather than violence is the only viable option to resolve whatever problems are on ground in the South-east zone and indeed the entire country".
It said at this critical juncture when the nation is grappling with numerous challenges in virtually all facets, Nigeria can ill-afford a further descent into anarchy in any of its constituent parts.
"What the country needs at this time is an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, without which no meaningful positive development in whatever sector can be attained, and the situation unfolding in the South-east, which is a very important component of the Nigerian family, is no doubt, inimical to our collective quest to take Nigeria higher.
"It is therefore in our enlightened interest as a people and as a nation, to rise up to this challenge intelligently without undue egotism and with the best interest of the country at heart," it said.
The party expressed the view that the situation was a family squabble which the country should be able to deal with without unnecessary bloodshed.
It also reminded both the federal government and the IPOB that a sit-down had become inevitable.
While acknowledging its constitutional mandate of ensuring the protection of the territorial integrity of the country, PDP appealed to the federal government to deploy constructive engagement, involving effective and efficient communication strategies that would allay all fears as well as assure all component parts of Nigeria of their assured place in the national scheme of things.
It also appealed to IPOB and its leadership to reciprocate such gesture where and when offered, reminding them that their continued recalcitrance would achieve nothing other than subjecting people of their area to untold hardship and harm.
The PDP also commended the government of Abia State for the mature way it has handled the delicate situation and urged people of the state to continue to support and cooperate with it.
On its part, the ACF also called for calm and commended Ikpeazu for imposing a dusk to dawn curfew on Aba, following the clash between supporters of IPOB and the Nigerian Army.
In a statement in Kaduna Wednesday, the publicity secretary of ACF, Mohammed Ibrahim Biu, said IPOB supporters and other agitators for whatever reason should pursue their cause within the confines of the law.
The statement read: "The attention of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has been drawn to the alleged reported clashes between troops of the Nigerian Army while on Operation Python Dance II and members of Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in Aba, Abia State.
"ACF commends the prompt intervention of the Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, who has imposed a three day dusk to dawn curfew on Aba town in order to douse the tension and bring the situation under control.
"With the dusk to dawn curfew in place, the military and other security agencies should ensure that peace and harmony in the areas affected are not only restored but sustained.
"ACF also commends the efforts of the South-east Governors' Forum for setting up a probe committee to investigate the clash in order to unravel its remote causes and to proffer an enduring solution to such problems.
"Identified perpetrators of the crisis should be made to face the wrath of the law in order to serve as a deterrent to others.
"In this regard, ACF urges the governors of the South-east and South-south regions to take adequate and necessary steps to protect the lives and properties of the innocent and law abiding citizens living in their states.
"ACF appeals to members of IPOB and other agitators for whatever cause, to always pursue their concerns within the confines of the law and the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.
"Furthermore, ACF wishes to praise the military for their professionalism in handling the security challenges and calls on the federal government to be firm and resolute in bringing such situations under control in favor of peaceful coexistence needed for meaningful socioeconomic development.
"We therefore appeal for calm and urge citizens to appreciate the need to live in peace and harmony."
Also towing the same path of the ACF, a Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) in Kano Wednesday called on Northerners to resist anything that would lead to unnecessary provocation and that could lead to reprisals over the unfolding events in the South-east.
The group, which was reacting to reports that some Northerners resident in Oyigbo were molested and had to seek the protection of the police, called for calm and for Northerners to be law abiding.
Addressing journalists at the Kano Press Centre over the unfortunate situation in Abia, the spokesman of the group, Mr. Abdulazeez Suleiman, in the company of the chairman and co-chairman Ashir Shariff and Shetima Yerima, said: "As cultured people with a long history of tolerance and respect for constituted authority, we call on Northerners to resist the temptation of carrying out reprisals and playing to the gallery."
Suleiman added that "Northerners, in line with their disciplined nature, must refuse at this point to be dragged into taking the law into their hands through unnecessary and unproductive confrontation with members of any sectional, ethnic or religious group".
"We must remain peacefully focused, mutually respectful, trusting and tolerant as we repose confidence in the ability and committed willingness of the Nigerian security agencies to handle the situation as well as protect the lives and properties of every Nigerian anywhere," Suleiman said.
According to him, "In this situation, it is essential that the North and Northerners remain restrained and refuse to be provoked into reprisals which is the ultimate hope of the conflict instigators."
The group said that their struggle will continue to remain intellectual, precautionary and essentially non-violent, pointing out that the agitation for separation and cry for Biafra in the South-east by the agitators, supported by politicians in order for them be heard louder, shall be resisted.
They further said that they were prepared to "set out an immediate circuit to all the 19 Northern states to prepare and sensitise the Northern people on the need for calm and peaceful approach to the various positions and scenarios as regard to the unfolding situation in the country".
The group, however, accused IPOB of making the country ungovernable for President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to it, "The agitations and disturbances that have been ongoing ceaselessly since the coming to power of the Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo administration in 2015, are aimed at rendering the country practically ungovernable and ushering in anarchy and instability, thereby occasioning a change of government by whatever means and tactics.
"The targeting of President Buhari's administration and singling him for attacks and irreverent treatment is aimed at causing inter-regional crisis possibly leading to general unrest."
They added that the resurgence of separatist agitations, especially the violent brand by IPOB and its ilk in the South-east represents a much wider conspiracy to divide Nigeria along ethnic and religious fault lines as well as achieve the balkanisation of the North.
"The current IPOB brand of agitation is a strategy employed to achieve the results that the coupist of the First Republic failed to realise, namely, increase the weight and relevance of the regions to the detriment and expense of the central government.
"Our stand on the current situation in Nigeria is that we will not fall to that instigation to allow a possible foreigner or a mad man to plunge us into this unnecessary madness.
"We therefore will dedicate efforts at creating the right conditions for peaceful negotiations with other peace loving groups in every situation on the political dispensation that should emerge now or in the future," the group added.
Also weighing in on the issue, Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, called on the federal government to urgently investigate the unfortunate skirmishes in the South-eastern part of the country.
Speaking while receiving the leadership of Coalition of Northern Groups at the Government House, Kano, he urged the federal government to also punish those disrupting the peace.
Ganduje told the group Wednesday: "I am not surprised at your efforts because you have been and continue to demonstrate that your group believes in one Nigeria and also your disposition in the belief of President Muhammadu Buhari's ability to stabilise the nation.
"I consider the incident as very unfortunate and I commend your efforts to douse tensions, which I describe as patriotic."
Ganduje expressed satisfaction that the situation had been brought under control by the security forces in the troubled areas of the South-east.
He maintained that if the perpetrators of the skirmishes in Oyigbo were not brought to book, it would continue to happen.
House Caucus Wants End of Militarisation
Towing a different path, the South-east caucus of the House of Representatives Wednesday condemned what it described as the military's show of force in the South-east region.
In its reaction to the crisis in Abia State, it called for a de-escalation of "internal military operations" in the state as well as the South-east in general and urged "our brothers and sisters at home to remain civil and law abiding".
The group further threw its weight behind the setting up of a seven-man committee by the South-east governors to investigate the causes of the current conflict in the state.
The lawmakers, in a statement signed by the leader of the caucus who is also the Deputy Minority Leader in the House, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema, said: "While we appreciate the right to discharge the core duties of the Nigeria Armed Forces as spelt out under Section 217 of the 1999 Constitution, there is no gainsaying that internal military operations can only be conducted without doing violence to the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights of citizens.
"To conduct operations that frighten, maim or lead to the loss of lives of citizens and property are clearly unjustifiable and an offence to our democracy and the rule of law."
The House caucus called for restraint and appealed to the federal government to end the militarisation of the South-east.
NHRC: Army Must Respect Human Rights
Also joining the fray Wednesday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) called on the military to desist from any acts capable of causing tension, public disturbance, fear and a sense of insecurity in the country.
A statement issued by NHRC's Head of Media Relations, Mrs. Fatimah Agwai Mohammad, said the commission was highly concerned about the alleged invasion of parts of the South-east and South-south by the military.
It called on the military to observe the rules of engagement when dealing with civilians.
The commission also asked the military to respect the fundamental rights of all citizens.
The statement quoted the acting executive secretary of the NHRC, Mrs. Oti Ovrawah, as calling on both civilians and the security agencies to maintain the peace.
Ovrawah said the commission would collaborate with the Nigerian Police and other relevant authorities to "ensure a timely and thorough investigations into the allegations with a view to ensuring that informed decisions are made and appropriate steps taken to have culprits punished and victims redressed in accordance with the law".
The commission commended the government of Abia for the steps taken so far to forestall a further breakdown of law and order, saying that it was important to reinforce people's confidence in the ability of government to protect them.
The commission called on the military to leverage on the series of training the commission had offered it on mainstreaming human rights into its operations, especially with the emerging human rights challenges, adding that "they are expected to carry out their duties according to international best practices".
Police Sergeant Killed
But despite the calls for restraint, the Rivers State Police Command announced Wednesday that a police sergeant attached to the riot police squad at Oyigbo junction in Rivers State was killed by a mob suspected to be members of the IPOB, just as the command also arrested 32 members of the separatist group.
Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt, the Commissioner of Police, Zaki Ahmed, said irate members of IPOB set ablaze a patrol van stationed at Oyigbo junction and took away a Sterling SMG rifle belonging to the slain policeman during an attack early Wednesday.
Ahmed added that 23 IPOB members were arrested on Tuesday following the first attack and setting ablaze a police van that was moving from Police Training School, Nonwa to the Port Harcourt International Airport, while the driver of the vehicle, Inspector Emaikwu Ochochi, was badly injured.
The police commissioner said the hoodlums carted away from the police van, one AK-47 riffle with 60 rounds of live ammunition and one Berretta pistol with eight rounds of live ammunition.
He said: "I have called you to address you on the sad event of yesterday, 12/09/2017 at about 1400hours where members of the Indigenous People of Biafra without lawful authority blocked the entire Aba-Port Harcourt expressway and attacked some residents.
"The said group who had no justification for their actin also attacked a police van from Training School, Nonwa en route Port Harcourt International Airport and burnt the police van to ashes. The driver, Inspector Emaikwu Ochochi was badly injured and is now on admission.
"They also carted away one AK-47 rifle with sixty rounds of live ammunition, and one Berretta pistol with eight rounds of live ammunition. At the end of the rampage, many vehicles were damaged and stores burnt.
"The timely response of the police restored normalcy and brought the situation under control as I made adequate deployment to arrest the situation. The mob was dispersed with minimum force, thereby restoring law and order, at the end of which 23 IPOB members were arrested.
"However, the command was awaken to yet another said incident today (yesterday) at about 0010 hours, where the same daredevil IPOB members regrouped and launched a surprise attack on the mobile policemen stationed at Oyigbo junction, killing a police sergeant identified as Sgt. Steven Daniel attached to 19 PMF, injuring two and setting a patrol vehicle ablaze as a result of which a Sterling SMG rifle belonging to the deceased sergeant was taken by the hoodlums.
"They were however repelled by the police, where about nine of them were arrested bringing the total number of suspects arrested to 32. They are helping us with investigations and will be arraigned in court as soon as our investigation is concluded."
With skirmishes yet to abate in neighbouring Oyigbo, the Abia State governor took the precaution Wednesday to extend the three-day curfew he imposed on Aba Tuesday to Friday.
A statement from the chief press secretary to the governor, Mr. Enyinnaya Appolos, after a meeting between Ikpeazu and traditional rulers in the state, said: "The governor wishes to advise residents and visitors to fully co-operate with the security agencies to ensure continuing maintenance of law and order within the commercial city and environs."
Ikpeazu was also quoted to have expressed "displeasure at the situation where people are compelled to raise their hands while passing through security checkpoints".
He therefore called on the security forces and "all concerned to ensure that such acts and other forms of inhumane and barbaric treatment of people are discontinued immediately".
Kanu Cancels Meeting
Meanwhile, the Leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, has cancelled his meeting with the South-east governors scheduled for Friday.
Kanu, in a press statement Wednesday, said he had changed his mind and decided to refrain from attending the meeting which was to take place in Enugu, saying his reason was predicated on the recent attack on his members by military personnel and the alleged plan to assassinate him on his way to the meeting.
He added that he was attending to members of his group who were shot by soldiers in Aba and Umuahia and that the date also coincided with the date IPOB had slated to meet in Germany to vote on the viability or otherwise of continuing the struggle in a non-violent manner.
According to him, "Before now, prominent leaders and groups had insisted that I tow the line of peaceful dialogue and meet with the governors to find a lasting solution to our grievances.
"I conceded to that request which led to the 30th of August 2017 meeting with the South-east Governors' Forum at the Government House in Enugu, in the company of the very eminent Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Evangelist Elliott Ugochukwu-Ukoh.
"In view of the concerted efforts by the oppressive Nigerian state to shatter the peace and tranquility of the South-east and the rest of Biafraland through military intimidation, it has become necessary for me to clarify why, regrettably, I may not be able to attend Friday's meeting with the South-east governors as earlier agreed."
Kanu said it would be impossible to engage in any meaningful dialogue with the governors in the midst of so much bloodshed, abductions and military siege of towns and villages in the South-east, and that he would not engage in any meeting with anybody until the atmosphere is conducive and peaceful for further dialogue.
He said the siren-blaring military convoys and armoured vehicles occupying the entire region were not only designed to intimidate the people but also deliberately positioned to scuttle the IPOB/South-east governors meeting on Friday.
The IPOB leader thanked all men and women of good conscience from all over the world that had condemned what he described as the "barbaric slaughter of innocent Biafrans by the Nigerian military".
He also thanked IPOB members for remaining resolute and dedicated to the shared vision of freedom "regardless of the cost and visionless antics of the mindless oppressor".
Irrespective of Kanu's decision to boycott the meeting, THISDAY gathered that the South-east governors intend to go ahead with their meeting in Enugu, as Kanu was not the primary reason for the meeting.
Chief Emma Uzor, Chief Press Secretary to the Ebonyi State governor, told THISDAY that the Friday meeting was a routine meeting of the forum, and was not entirely convened because of Kanu and might go on as scheduled.