The recent killing of scores of unarmed pro-Biafra agitators in Onitsha, Anambra State, by soldiers is a mindless response to the ongoing agitation for the Independent State of Biafra. The agitators, made up of members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Biafra Independence Movement (BIM), were reportedly killed at various locations in Onitsha during the celebration of the 49th anniversary of the declaration of Republic of Biafra on May 30.
It will be recalled that the late Biafran leader, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, declared the former Eastern Region, the Republic of Biafra, on May 30, 1967, following the failure of peace talks between the region and Nigeria to resolve the 1966 post-independence political crisis that engulfed the nation.
Two policemen were reportedly killed during the May 30 protests while some soldiers were also wounded. The unofficial casualty figure ranges from 32 to 40 and could even be higher but the Nigerian Army insisted that only two persons were killed. It further explained that the security agencies intervened in the Onitsha protests due to the “widespread panic, tension and apprehension” which the activities of IPOB and MASSOB members generated. The army also said that its intervention was to ensure peace, stability and security of lives and property.
Reports say over 300 pro-Biafra agitators have been arrested in the South-East and South-South regions. In view of the killing of two policemen during the protests, the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, has said that the arrested suspects would be charged to court for murder. He also directed the police to disarm and arrest every armed member of the group. But, the group has denied being in possession of arms.
The Senate has asked all the states in the South-East and the South-South geo-political zones to investigate the causes of these deaths. The Senate’s resolution came on the heels of the adoption of a request by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, which drew the attention of the senators to the killings. Ekweremadu also observed that the killing of young men and women was disastrous to the future of the country, stressing that the youths represented the future of the nation. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo has also condemned the shooting of the pro-Biafra groups and called for a judicial probe of the matter.
We strongly support the call for a judicial probe to ascertain the immediate and remote causes of this dastardly incident. It is sad that a peaceful commemoration of Biafra’s 49th anniversary turned bloody with the loss of many lives.
We decry the use of maximum force and live bullets in crowd control by security agents. The military should not be used in dealing with protests of this nature that do not portend danger. We believe that the police would have been enough to control the agitators instead of deploying the military.
If the government must use military personnel for the containment of protests of this nature, their deployment must be sanctioned by the President and the National Assembly, as required under our laws. We hope that the government is not trying to reenact the Odi and Zaki Biam tragedies in the South-East. Nigeria should learn from its past mistakes. There should be a clean break from our ugly past.
The quest for self-determination, which the agitators are fighting for, is allowed by international conventions. Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights holds that “All people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
The people of Scotland in United Kingdom and Quebec in Canada are good examples of people who have been pursuing their self-determination agendas for ages. They have not been killed. They have had series of referendums. Nigeria should consider a similar approach to self-determination groups in the country.
The Constitution allows for peaceful protests. When a protest is peaceful, it is wrong for the security agents to teargas the crowd. The directive of the IGP may escalate this crisis instead of quelling it. Anything that will fuel the crisis should be stopped before the South-East and South-South zones become a huge cemetery.
We lament the loss of lives and call on the security agents and the agitators to sheathe their swords. Let the agitators engage their representatives at the National Assembly on their grievances against the nation. Government should also dialogue with the agitating groups with a view to addressing their grievances while all those found to have perpetrated the killings in Onitsha should be prosecuted and punished.