NAN Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue says the state does not own any militia group. Ortom was reacting to rumour making the rounds in some quarters in the country that the state government owned a militia group. The governor spoke on Thursday, January 18, in Makurdi, when the Benue Youth Prayer Group and National Union…
Leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, has backed out of the planned talks between the group and the South-East Governors Forum.
On August 30, Kanu had met with the governors at the Enugu State Government House where both parties agreed to hold further talks to seek an amicable resolution to the issues raised by the pro-Biafran group.
Another meeting was scheduled to hold between the IPOB leader and the governors on Friday, but, in a statement he personally signed, which was made available to journalists, the IPOB leader said he would no longer continue with the talks.
He blamed the development on an alleged plot by soldiers to assassinate him while on his way to the meeting with the governors.
He also alleged that he was currently attending to his injured and bereaved followers, who had allegedly fallen victim to attacks by the military in the course of the ongoing Operation Python Dance 2, started by the Nigerian Army in the South-East.
Kanu, in the statement, hinted that the leaders of the IPOB intended to meet to vote on whether to drop their non-violent approach, and instead, use force to confront the Nigerian Army.
Parts of the statement read, “In view of the concerted effort by the oppressive Nigerian state to shatter the peace and tranquillity 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, for three main reasons.
“We are currently busy attending to our dead and injured from this latest round of unprovoked military onslaught against innocent civilians in our own land. All the casualties so far were shot by men of the Nigerian Army deployed in my house and those stationed along motorways leading into Umuahia, my hometown.
“I have been reliably informed also that a detachment of this same soldiers, responsible for the murder of innocent unarmed IPOB family members, have now been stationed near Enugu to ambush and assassinate me on my way to the meeting with the governors on Friday.
“On that same Friday, the 15th of September, 2017, the leadership of IPOB, through the instrumentality of the Directorate of State, headquartered in Germany, will be meeting to vote on the viability or otherwise of continuing our struggle in this non-violent manner.
“There is urgent need to begin the process of defending ourselves in the face of relentless murderous attacks from the Nigerian state.”
Kanu explained that the prevailing situation in the South-East was not conducive to meaningful discussions with the governors.
“Accordingly, we will not engage in any meeting with anybody until the atmosphere is conducive and peaceful enough to allow for such,” he said.
In the same vein, he warned anti-Biafra Igbo, whom he described as “collaborators and agents of the oppressor”, to immediately go into self-imposed exile.
A few hours before Kanu’s statement, however, the Rivers State Police Command alleged that one Sergeant Steven Daniel was killed by IPoB members.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ahmed Zaki, told newsmen in Port Harcourt that Daniel was shot dead by IPoB members during the crisis in the Oyigbo Local Government Area.
IPOB members and security operatives clashed in the area on Tuesday with the report that one person was killed.
Zaki pointed out that three arms and 68 rounds of live ammunition were taken away by the sergeant’s assailants, adding that 32 persons had been arrested by the police in connection with the clash in Oyigbo.
He stated, “The same group, who have no justification for their action, also attacked a police van from Nonwa Police Training School en route from Port Harcourt International Airport, and burnt the van to ashes.
“The driver of the van, Inspector Emaikwu Ochochi, was badly injured and is currently on admission in a hospital. The attackers also carted away one AK47 riffle with 60 rounds of live ammunition and one Barretta pistol with eight rounds of live ammunition.
“At the end of their rampage, many vehicles were damaged and scores burnt.
“However, the command was awaken with yet another attack today (Wednesday), at about 12.10am, where some members of IPOB regrouped and launched a surprise attack on mobile policemen stationed at Oyigbo junction, killing a police sergeant identified as Steven Daniel, attached to Mopol 19, injuring two others and burning down their patrol vehicle.”
The state CP further alleged that one sterling SMG riffle, belonging to the deceased officer, was taken away by the attackers, adding that they (attackers) were repelled by the police with nine of them arrested.
He stated that the nine arrested members brought the number of suspects to 32.
Meanwhile, some security operatives took over the expressway in the Oyigbo area of the state on Wednesday.
It was gathered that social and economic activities had begun in the area barely 24 hours after the clash between the security agents and IPOB members.
There was heavy security presence in places close to the expressway, while policemen embarked on a stop-and-search.
People passing through a point before the Oyigbo Junction were asked to raise their hands while some, who were suspected to be part of Tuesday’s crisis, were arrested.
A resident of the area, who identified himself as Okenyi Johnson, said policemen were everywhere as early as 5am, adding that he could not get any commercial vehicle to his place of work because no vehicle was allowed to pick passengers.
“I had to trek to a distance before I could find a bus that conveyed me to Eleme and from Eleme to Etche. I am still in Etche as I speak because I am not sure I will get a vehicle that will take me to my house,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, the three-day curfew, declared by the Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, paralysed business activities in Aba and Umuahia on Wednesday.
A trader at Ariaria International Market, Aba, who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone, said many shop owners did not open for business for the fear of the unknown.
It was gathered that the soldiers were stationed at the Osisioma junction and other strategic locations in the commercial city.
Also, a pro-Biafran group, Biafra Zionists Federation, has expressed disappointment in Emeka Ojukwu Jr., the son of the late leader of the defunct Republic of Biafra, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
Leader of the BZF, Benjamin Onwuka, who recently named himself the ‘Interim President’ of Biafra while announcing the formation of a ‘Biafran government’, said this in Enugu.
The Biafra activists are unhappy with Ojukwu Jr. for saying his father indeed had a meeting with Buhari in 2003, during which they allegedly foreclosed Biafra.
Onwuka described Ojukwu’s son as a ‘saboteur’ for admitting that the said meeting took place.
He said, “It is very disappointing for Emeka Ojukwu Jr. to join Buhari in saying that his father dumped Biafra when he was alive.
“We have said it before that Buhari lied; we are saying it now that Emeka Ojukwu Jr. is a chronic liar and a saboteur.
“Why is he supporting Buhari who is sending troops to be killing his own people if not for selfish interest, for stomach infrastructure?
“Since he said he was aware of the meeting, we demand that he should provide the date, the venue, the transcript, the signatories to the agreement and the witnesses.
“We also demand to know why he waited till now to say so.”
Reacting to the military operation in Abia State, a former President of Aka Ikenga, the think tank of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, described the current occupation as a ploy by the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the state.
Uwazurike, in a series of text messages sent to The PUNCH on Wednesday, called on the government to withdraw soldiers already deployed in Abia State and other parts of the region.
Uwazurike stated, “The current show of force in Abia State is a ploy to declare a state of emergency in the state. It is a well-known fact that members of the Indigenous People of Biafra do not carry weapons and are only known for holding rallies and punching the air in a black power salute.
“If any of these two actions is a crime, then they should tell us whether the constitution of Nigeria should be obeyed.”
Also, the South-East Elders Forum decried what it called the militarisation of the South-East geopolitical zone by the Federal Government.
It said the face-off between the members of the IPOB and the military had turned the zone to a war theatre.
The Convener of the forum, a former Ohanaeze Ndigbo national president, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, who stated this in Nnewi, Anambra State, condemned the spate of alleged deaths resulting from the operation.
He said, “I advise the civilian population to be calm, go about their business peacefully and lawfully. The army should ensure that their exercise inflict minimum interference in civilian traffic on the roads, lanes, byways and waterways. To the best of my knowledge, there is no war in the South-East geological zone.”
Meanwhile, the two major political parties in the country, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, have called for caution in the South-East, saying Nigerians must shun war-mongers.
The APC, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, in Abuja on Wednesday, advised IPOB and other separatist groups against lawlessness.
The APC also expressed regrets over the incident at the Nigeria Union of Journalists’ secretariat in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, where some journalists were assaulted.
Abdullahi stated, “While the party insists that 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.”
The APC said the devastation of the North- East by Boko Haram, the 1966 Nigerian Civil War and similar conflicts in other countries were effects of internal strife.
On its part, the PDP called for restraint in handling the ongoing conflict.
The party, in a statement in Abuja by its spokesman, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye, stated that now that tempers seemed to be rising, dialogue remained the only viable option to resolve the problems in the South-East.
It stated, “What the country needs at this time is an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity, 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.”
But the Coalition of Northern Groups said the agitation by IPOB was aimed at removing Buhari from office by any means.
The group, at a press conference in Kano, on Wednesday, said IPOB was bent on making the country “ungovernable” for Buhari.
It stated, “As cultured people with a long history of tolerance and respect for constituted authorities, we call on northerners to resist the temptation of carrying out reprisals and playing to the gallery,” said the spokesman for the CNG, Abdul-azeez Suleiman.
“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 South-East Caucus of the House of Representatives condemned what it called the show of force by the military in the zone.
The caucus, in a statement on Wednesday by its leader, Chukwuka Onyema, said the show of force violated the rights of the people.
The caucus stated, while the military as spelt out in the constitution had the right to discharge its constitutional duties, “there is no gainsaying that internal military operations can only be conducted without doing violence to the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights of citizens.”