The Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) has accused members of the Joint Military Taskforce of shooting at unarmed pro-Biafra protesters on December 2, 2015, in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State. In a statement, the CLO’s executive director, Ibuchukwu Ohabuenyi Ezike, claimed that the task force members killed one Vivian Emeka and 10 others and left many protesters with severe injuries. The group also added that more than 100 protesters are being held in custody in Abuja, calling the detentions an abuse of court orders. The CLO is demanding a full investigation.
Mr. Ezike stated that a contingent of the heavily armed joint task force, consisting of personnel from the Army, Navy, police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, last Wednesday attacked thousands of unarmed members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group seeking a separate republic of to be called Biafra.
“Among those killed by the joint military operation was a 21-year-old Vivian Emeka,” said the statement, adding that efforts were being made to identify the other victims. The statement said that those injured were receiving medical attention at undisclosed hospitals in Onitsha, adding that more than a hundred protesters were under detention by the Directorate of State Security (DSS) in Abuja.
The IPOD members were demonstrating against the continued incarceration of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who is also the director of Radio Biafra. Nigerian authorities have detained Mr. Kanu since arresting him on October 1, 2015. He was reportedly arrested at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos on his arrival from the United Kingdom.
The CLO stated that the continued detention of Mr. Kanu violated a court order, noting that the government had not appealed the ruling granting bail to the IPOD spokesman.
There were unconfirmed speculations that Nigerian authorities were planning to charge Mr. Kanu with terrorism. His wife, Uchechi Okwu-Kanu, is heavily pregnant and has claimed that her husband was terribly sick, had been denied medical attention, and could be killed in detention by Nigerian government officials.
Mr. Kanu was taken to court on December 1 but returned to a detention when the court did not sit due to the magistrate’s absence.
Dismayed IPOB members, who had trooped to the court in Abuja to cheer their leader, marched to the British High Commission in Abuja to protest. They stated that Nigerian security operatives teargassed and battered them, preventing them from entering the High Commission. More than 100 IPOB protesters were allegedly arrested and remain detained.
The continued detention of Mr. Kanu has sparked “solidarity protests” in several parts of the southeast and beyond, including Onitsha, Aba, Nnewi and Port Harcourt.
In Onitsha, the protesters blocked the head bridge area, preventing the flow of traffic to and from the commercial city. Witnesses said members of the joint task force stormed the head bridge at 1:30 a.m. last Wednesday and began shooting sporadically into the crowd, killing 11 protesters and injuring numerous more.
Mr. Ezike warned that the Nigerian government’s disobedience of court orders could “seriously threaten our civil rule and viciously return our society to the yester years of impunity, terror and executive lawlessness.”
The CLO decried the government’s violation of a court order granting former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (ret.) permission to travel overseas for medical treatment. It also condemned the detention of the former chairman of Daar Communications, Raymond Dokpesi, by agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission after he responded to an “oral invitation to the EFCC headquarters in Abuja.”
According to Mr. Ezike, the CLO absolutely supported the government’s war against corruption, but “will not support the impudent violation of the rights of the citizens by the authorities acting contrary to the provisions of the law, no matter the excuse. Even where murder allegation is involved, nothing can justify the abuse of the rule of law, human rights, and due process while the matter is being investigated. It looks odd to parade and hold suspects who are being investigated by security agents in guilt as if they have been found guilty by the courts.”
The CLO declared the shooting of unarmed civilians in Onitsha as “a case of gross violation of human rights, use of excessive force and a crime against humanity.” Its statement added, “This barbaric act has no place in a modern society as it also gravely undermines all UN, AU and other international, regional and national human rights mechanisms. Nothing, whatsoever, can justify this flagrant infraction on the rights of the citizens.”
The CLO avowed zero tolerance for corruption and other social vices and crimes, but condemned “the violation of our laws and human rights on the altar of fighting graft and other crimes in Nigeria.” It stated that the disregard for the rule of law was reminiscent of what happened “in Nigeria in 1999 and 2000 when the Obasanjo regime sacked Odi community in Bayelsa and Zaki-Biam in Benue states through executive terror and lawlessness.”
The group urged the Nigerian government to deploy its energies and resources in the fight against Islamist terrorists Boko Haram “and other criminal elements whose activities terrorize and ravage our country, which have turned our young soldiers’ wives into widows in our barracks, children into orphans and our communities into IDPs camps.”
It also urged the Muhammadu Buhari administration to handle the agitation for Biafra with care “so that it does not escalate into a full blown crisis,” adding, “Nigerians cannot afford to fight two or more wars at the same time.”
The CLO demanded that the National Assembly and the National Human Rights Commission conduct a thorough and credible investigation of the alleged shooting in Onitsha. It also urged the government to release Mr. Kanu as well as other detained protesters in keeping with a court ruling and the law.