Litany of Bloodbaths in South-East: Why Igbo want to secede from Nigeria

Litany of Bloodbaths in South-East: Why Igbo want to secede from Nigeria
Charles Nwoke, Abakaliki, Nigeria

April 17, 2021 

Images courtesy of local sources, fair use.

Specifically, on December 17, 2015, the breaking news had just come over the radio about a court ruling in favor of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the detained leader of the Indigenous People Of Biafra, IPOB, for his release.

Crowds of his fans and supporters poured out into the streets of Onitsha, the commercial hub of Anambra State and other parts of Igbo land and outside the Igbo Nation.

Just as the jubilant were celebrating and gallivanting over the release of their leader, heavily armed military men stationed at the Head Bridge Market opened fire on one of the crowds, shooting sporadically.

When the smoke cleared, three persons were discovered dead with over a dozen people sprawled on the ground with various degrees of gunshot injuries. The soldiers ran away from the scene, taking with them the three corpses of the youths gruesomely murdered.

On the same day, five more lifeless bodies were found few meters away from the scene bringing to eight the number of people killed on the spot. Among injured victims taken to hospitals for treatment, four later died, bringing to 12 the total number of persons who wasted in the fatal and heartless shooting.

The three dead victims were identified as Michael Nweke, 37yrs; Peter Chukwuma Nwankwo, 26yrs; and Mathew Ndukwe Kanu, 25yrs. It was gathered that until his death at the hands of soldiers, Michael Nweke was a private security guard working with Catholic Reverend Sisters’ Convent at Nkpor, Idemili North Local Government Area Council of Anambra State. He was a native of Agueke Village in Ekka Community, Ezza North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.

 

Peter Chukwuma Nwankwo, an Onitsha-based business man, was a residing at Ezenwankwo Street in Ugwuagba Layout, Obosi. He is a native of Amaokpo in Nsokara Community, Ezza South Local Government Area Council of Ebonyi State.

The third victim Mathew Ndukwe Kanu was an artisan in Onitsha and he resides at Obosi, Anambra State. He was a native of the Ndiodo Community in Akanu-Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State.

Family members went from police stations to mortuaries in search of missing or dead relatives. The search continued into the New Year. Leaving no stone unturned, the search party that included members of IPOB and a human rights organization, Intersociety for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law, hired divers to search the River Niger fearing the corpses might have been dumped in deep river.

On 15 February 2016, two months after the killings, Sunday Nweke, 31yrs, younger brother to Michael Nweke, received a phone call directing him to hurry to the Onitsha General Hospital with a photograph of his late brother. There he met some IPOB members who led him to a morgue attendant. Sunday identified the body of his late brother. The attendant, whose identity was not disclosed, revealed that some soldiers of the Onitsha Army Barracks, escorted by some police officers from the Onitsha Central Police Station, deposited the bodies on December 21, 2015. The attendant claimed he and his colleagues were seriously warned not to say anything or release the corpses to anyone.

In the same vein, Frank Chijioke Nwankwo and Grace Onyinyechi Kanu, relations of Peter Chukwuma Nwankwo and Mathew Ndukwe Kanu respectively, received phone calls to come over to the Onitsha General Hospital. They too were able to identify the bodies of their brothers killed for two months.

Businessmen and women at the Onitsha head bridge Market told stated that the ill-fated crowd shot by the soldiers was not armed neither were they protesting.

A trader at the market, Azu Okwuashi, said there was nothing aggressive about the activities of the crowd to warrant such an attack from the Nigerian Army.

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He said, “They were mostly young men who ran out into the street to jubilate when they heard a court had ruled in favor of the release of Nnamdi Kanu. They were not protesting. Why would they protest what for them was good news?”

Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, director of a London-based Radio Biafra and leader of secessionists Biafran organization, IPOB, was apprehended in October 2015 by the Department of State Security Service, DSS. The news of his arrest led to mass protests across parts of Enugu State, Ebonyi, Delta, Imo, Abia, Cross River, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, and Rivers states.

Despite meeting bail conditions, Mazi Kanu was still held in captivity by the Nigerian government led by Mohammadu Buhari, a situation that continued to agitate his supporters within and outside the IPOB family.

Before the Onitsha killings, Mazi Kanu had on December 2, 2015, reported that the Inspector General of Police ordered his anti-riot force to prevent pro-Biafran protesters from agitating.

Earlier, on November 16, 2015, the General Officer Commanding 3 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Hassan Umaru, at a press conference in Maxwell Kobe Cantonment, Rukuba, Plateau State, warned “all those threatening and agitating for the dismemberment of the country that we shall apply the ROE (Rule of Engagement) to the fullest”.

From Onitsha to Aba, Enugu to Umuahia, activists say, ‘maximum force’ has been the operational code for the unprecedented police and military brutality that has led to the extrajudicial killings of an unknown number of defenseless civilians across the zone.

Human Rights organizations like the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), the Intersociety for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law, Amnesty International, Center for Human Rights & Peace Advocacy (CHRPA), and Forum for Justice have for years been documenting cases of extra-judicial killings in the South East, including what has been termed the murderous excesses of the special police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), located at Awkuzu, Anambra State.

Between August 2015 and February 2016, about 170 “unarmed innocent citizens” were brutally shot dead or critically wounded while about 400 others were arrested, charged, or detained without trial of any sort. The human rights groups alleged “torture, inhuman and degrading treatments in the hands of personnel of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF)”.

There are countless reported cases of disappearances, kidnappings, and pretrial killings of suspected members of IPOB or MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra).

According to statistics from the rights groups indicated that four persons were killed in Awka and Onitsha on August 30, 2015; 13 persons were killed in Onitsha on December 2, 2015; 12 persons were killed in Onitsha on 17th December 2015; eight persons were killed in Aba on January 18, 2016; six persons were killed in Aba on January 29, 2016, and 22 others killed in Aba on February 9, 2016.

Among the four citizens killed in Onitsha and Awka on August 30, 2015, were Ebuka Nnolum, a native of Enuguabo-Ufuma in Anambra State; and Obasi Maduka of Oshiri in Ebonyi State. Of the 13 citizens killed in Onitsha on December 2, 2015, were Anthonia Nkiruka Ikeanyionwu, Anambra State indigenous, Kenneth Ogadinma from Abia State, Chima Onoh from Enugu State, Angus Chikwado from Anambra State, and Felicia Egwuatu also from Anambra State.

And of the four citizens who later died in hospital after being shot by soldiers on December 17, 2015, for jubilating over Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s court victory, only one had his identity disclosed as Okwu Friday. The identities of the three others were not made public as requested by their respective families.

Emeka Umeagbalasi, Head of Intersociety for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law stated that human rights groups were not always able to detect and capture every case of extra-judicial killings or torture by police officers or military forces in the South East.

He said, “Some of the victims’ families are too afraid to come forward to report to us even when they know the identities of the policemen or soldiers that took their sons away.”

What nobody was afraid to talk about was the massacre on school premises, killings by army officers and policemen on February 9, 2016. No fewer than 22 IPOB members were gruesomely slaughtered during a prayer session in a school compound in Aba, Abia State.

Human rights activists called it an execution.

IPOB spokesperson, Emma Nmezu, said to avoid unprovoked attacks like the type they experienced in December 2015 at the Onitsha Head Bridge, members of IPOB were advised to keep their activities off the road. Following this advice, over 100 IPOB faithful had on a fateful day gathered for a prayer meeting at the National High School, along Port Harcourt Road, Aba.

Eyewitnesses who survived the pogrom said that about 30 minutes later, at noon, the group was singing when a detachment of soldiers, policemen, and naval personnel from a joint task force swooped the school compound and without many altercations began to shoot into the crowd.

Twenty-two persons were shot dead on the spot. Over 30 others were left with various degrees of gunshot injuries. Among the 22 victims of the massacre were Uche Friday, 30yrs, from Asa in Abia State; Emeka Ekpemandu, 35yrs, from Owerre Nkwoji in Imo State; Chiavoghi Chibuikem, from Obingwa in Abia State; Nzubechi Onwumere from Orlu in Imo State); Peter Chinemerem Ukasoanya, 27yrs, from Isialangwa North in Abia State; Chigozie Cyril Nwoye, 23yrs, from Umuna in Ezeagu, Enugu State; Chukwudi Onyekwere (26), from Aboh Mbaise in Imo State; and Chibuzor Maduagwu (28), from Amauzari in Mbano, Imo State.

Survivors’ accounts equally had it that 12 of the 22 dead bodies were taken away by the soldiers who came in Hilux vans. The killer soldiers were said to have come from the 144 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, located at Asa in Ukwa West Local Government Area of Abia. At the time of the massacre, the 144 Battalion was commanded by Kasim Umar Sidi, a Lt. Col.

The soldiers were joined by men of the Abia State Police Command as well as naval ratings from the Finance & Logistics Command of the Nigerian Navy, stationed in Owerre-Nta, Abia State. The Abia State Police Command was headed by the Commissioner of Police, Habila Hosea. The Area Commander was an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Peter Nwagbara.

The two officials declined to comment for this story. While Hosea did not answer or return calls, Nwagbara insisted all questions on the matter should be directed to the public relations officer of the command.

The Abia State Police Command publicly admitted to shooting and killing two IPOB members “for disturbing students of the National High School in Aba”.

Among the survivors of that shooting incident were Ikechukwu Ugwuoha, Amos Ezekiel, Okechukwu Nnebedum Nkume, Abia State Zonal Coordinator, Donatus Okeke, and Joseph Okolie who had come for the IPOB meeting from Port Harcourt. They were nabbed by the police, arraigned for “treasonable felony” along with 15 other IPOB members, and are currently remanded in Aba Prisons.

Lifeless bodies were discovered in borrow pits four days after the killings at National High School. Scavengers on February 13, 2016, raised the alarm upon finding 13 dead bodies in a borrow pit located along Aba Port Harcourt Road.

The borrow pit was months earlier converted to a refuse dump by the government of Abia State. IPOB claimed the bodies in the pit included those of its members apprehended and taken away by soldiers who stormed the prayer meeting in the school premises. The deceased men were obvious victims of extra-judicial killings.

Photographs seen by the reporter revealed that the men were lying face down with pieces of clothes tied over their eyes. The bodies were dumped in a group of eight, three, and two respectively.

Concerned members of IPOB and the human rights organization, Intersociety for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law, were among the first people to visit the borrow pit on Sunday, February 14, 2016. As reports went around, representatives of Amnesty International came to the site on Thursday, February 18, 2016.

Three more corpses were discovered in another borrow pit behind a mosque located between the Timber Market and the Arewa Onions Market, near Uratta Junction, along Aba-Port Harcourt Road. The three corpses were covered with leaves after being doused with chemical substances suspected to be acid and embalmment fluid. The choice of chemicals was probably to shrink the corpses to the bones, make victims’ identification difficult while keeping the bodies odorless.

Amnesty research group, led by Justine Ijeomah, was reported to have said they were “investigating the strong allegations of excessive application of force by the Nigerian security forces against peaceful and nonviolent IPOB protesters during their protests in Anambra, Enugu, and Abia states”.

The Amnesty team had on that Thursday, February 18, when they first visited the borrow pit, taken photographs, and video evidence. However, when the team returned on Wednesday, March 2, they were shocked to find that the 13 corpses had been set on fire and were smoldering. Someone was determined to destroy the evidence. Amnesty International has video recordings of the burning skulls and skeletons.

Petitions to United Nations Rights Commission following the discovery of burning corpses, human rights groups working in southeast Nigeria have petitioned the National Security Adviser, Chief Justice of Nigeria, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, United Nations Chief Repertoire on Extra-Judicial Killings, the European Union, among others.

Following expressions of concern by international bodies over extra-judicial activities against indigenous groups in the South East, the Nigerian Army announced on February 21 that it had dispatched an investigative team to Aba to ascertain claims of the massacre of 22 IPOB members. The announcement was made by the Provost Marshal, Nigerian Army, Brig-Gen. Ayuba Tedman Hamman, during the commissioning of the newly established Human Rights Desk, Department of Civil-Military Affairs, Army Headquarters, Abuja.

“I want to say that since COAS (Chief of Army Staff) was appointed I have been inundated with complaints of human rights reports,” Mr. Hamman said. “I think there is a lot of gaps, and that’s why this desk was established…

“We have sent an investigative team to ascertain the issue in Abia State about the complaint that our men shot some people involved in peaceful protests. I have confidence in our team and I know this was a joint operation but since we are part of it, we still need to verify. We investigate and at the end of the day prosecute the culprits.”

Over three months after, the outcome of the military investigation is yet to be made public. Human rights observers say the military investigation was dead on arrival given that three days before Hamman’s public assurances, the Nigerian Army had announced it had temporarily relocated the tactical headquarters of its 14 Brigade headquarters from Ohafia to Aba to curb the activities of IPOB and MASSOB.

The Commanding Officer, 14 Brigade Ohafia, Brigadier General Lawrence Fejoku, told newsmen he was in Aba to put in check the menace of pro-Biafra agitators and other violent crimes.

Fejoku also used that opportunity to deny that the military shot and killed 22 unarmed pro-Biafran supporters during a prayer session in Aba.

The Nigerian Army and the police on May 30 admitted killing no fewer than five persons when members of IPOB and MASSOB trooped out across the South-East states in marches to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the declaration of the defunct Biafra Republic by a late warlord, Odumegwu Ojukwu.

Activists said the crowds were unarmed and that many more people were killed than the security agencies are ready to admit.

But the army claimed that in killing the pro-Biafra activists and wounding several others, its troops acted in self-defense as well as in defense of lives and property of peace-loving Nigerians.

The Nigerian government has not investigated the killings up to date and no one is saying anything about it.

Since the people could not be guaranteed their freedom nor be protected, instead, they are being killed like flies, they resulted in carrying of arms to fight back against those (security agencies) fighting them. That could be the main reason why security agencies are targeted at every of their attack.

One IPOB member who pleaded anonymity told the reporter that if their siblings in security agencies refused to resign and desist from attacking innocent separatists groups agitating for their rights, that they will regard such relations as an outcast and would treat them the same way they treated IPOB.