The Southeast was on the boil yesterday as pro-Biafra agitators staged protests in major cities to mark the 49th declaration of the state of Biafra by the late Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The declaration led to the 1967 Civil War, which lasted till January 1970. No fewer than two million people died in the 30-month war.
But the recent agitation was given a fillip by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), an organisation propelled by Nnamdi Kanu, who is standing trial for alleged treason.
There were protests or planned protests in capital cities – Owerri, Abakaliki, Umuahia and Enugu. There were also protests in commercial cities of Aba and Onitsha, where it was fiercest, with a big casualty figure.
Protests were also held in Asaba, the Delta State capital, Port Harcourt, the Rives State capital and Ikom, Cross River State.
In Onitsha, the protesters clashed with a security team of police, soldiers and naval ratings. Five protesters were killed and soldiers injured.
The police confirmed two of their men were killed in Asaba by the violent protesters, who also lost five people.
In Port Harcourt, protesters blocked the East-West Road, which is the major artery of the South, before the police moved in and arrested 13 of them.
A man was shot; 19 were arrested in Umuahia. A clergyman and 320 others were rounded up as they were about to proceed on a protest in Abakaliki.
Twenty-one people were arrested in Owerri and 13 in Enugu. The police foiled the protest in Aba, which has been the boiling point of previous agitations. The rally in Calabar was peaceful.
Seven persons, including two policemen, were confirmed dead in Asaba by police spokesman Charles Muka, a Superintendent.
He said in a statement that five members of the Movement for the Actualisation of theSovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) were killed by military men who confronted the group on the Asaba-Onitsha Expressway.
It stated that the military arrested and brought eight members of MASOB to the police and “they are now in custody in Asaba’’.
According to Mr Muka, the protesters attacked the policemen deployed to monitor the protest, killing two and injuring two others.
“We had to deploy our officers to ensure that the protest was peaceful but we were surprised that the people turned violent.
“To our surprise, they started attacking our men and at Okwe Junction in Abraka area of Asaba, the group killed a police corporal and took his AK47 riffle.
“Also, along the Dennis Osadeby Way in Asaba, they wounded a police officer and took his anti-riot gun.
“This group also attacked and wounded two policemen, suspected to be marine police, and threw them into the River Niger at Cable Point in Asaba and in the process one died and one was rescued.
“This brings the casualty number to two with two others injured on the side of the police.
“The protesters also attacked military vehicles along the Asaba-Onitsha Expressway, which left four members of the group dead and eight others arrested and brought to the police headquarters.”
It added that an expectant woman was hit by a stray bullet during the fracas, is receiving treatment at the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba.
The statement advised parents and guardians to warn their children and wards to follow the path of peace and pursue their agenda constitutionally.
It was gathered that a police patrol van and a military van were vandalised by the protesters at Mammy Market junction on Nnebisi Road.
The trouble started after policemen fired tear gas canisters to stop the protesters around Anwai Road in Asaba metropolis.
The crowd regrouped and attacked a police patrol team stabbing a policeman in the melee that ensued.
Two policemen were reportedly thrown by the protesters into the River Niger. One of them was retrieved and rushed to the FMC. Efforts to recover the other was ongoing as at the time of filing this report.
The rescued policeman had a wound in his navel while he bled from his swollen forehead. He had a bruise on his left leg apparently sustained from the fall into the River.