Nigeria: New clashes after security forces break up meeting of Biafran separatists
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At least two officers and up to 21 civilians were killed in a clash between Nigerian security forces and members of the separatist group the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the city of Enugu, Nigeria on August 23. While the final number of casualties and wounded has not yet been confirmed, viral videos posted online show some victims of the clash. IPOB has called for retaliation for what they call the murder of their people, while police maintain that they only reacted once IPOB members shot first.
The conflict began around 7am when police arrived at a meeting of the illegal IPOB group held at a local school in Emene, a neighbourhood in the city of Enugu. The resulting violence left at least two IPOB members dead on the scene and many others injured, as shown by videos shared after the event.
Warning: Graphic content
A video posted on Twitter August 23 shows a man who was injured during the clash.
In a video (below) taken during the conflict, gunshots can be heard and people can be seen running away as a man says, “They are shooting our people.” Several of those running away can be seen carrying sticks or bats. As the person taking the video runs away from the sound of the gunshots he says, “Two boys are down on the ground already.”
📹The Nigerian Police Shooting At Unarmed Biafrans In Enugu State.Somto Okonkwo (@MrSomtoOkonkwo) August 23, 2020
No Rampaging Fulani Terrorist Armed With AK-47 Has Ever Been Arrested Or Shot Dead By @PoliceNG But Unarmed Biafrans Are Being Abducted, Tortured & Killed At Will. @UKinNigeria @USinNigeria @StateDept pic.twitter.com/INXJJZCxlQ
Several gunshots can be heard in the background of a video posted on Twitter on August 23.
‘We started running for our lives’
IPOB member Victor Njemanze recounted the event to the FRANCE 24 Observers:
We were in a meeting when some police and SARS [Nigerian police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad] came to our meeting and started banging on the gate. When one of us went there to see who was banging on the gate, they arrested him. Everybody started coming out to know what was happening. All we saw was gunshots everywhere and we started running for our lives. Then we find out that two people were down already. That was when we started picking up sticks.
A screenshot from a video posted on Twitter on August 23 shows several people carrying sticks (Source: Video/Twitter).
Established in 2009, the IPOB has reinvigorated another generation of people who want to see Biafra as an independent state. The region attempted to secede during the Biafran War of 1967. After less than three years and many casualties, Biafra surrendered in 1970 and has been a part of Nigeria ever since.
A map of the state of Biafra upon independence in 1967 (Credit: Wikipedia).
While it has been classified by the Nigerian government as a terrorist organisation since 2017, the IPOB continues to hold meetings and training exercises. An IPOB spokesperson has said that their members were not armed and were meeting to hold a prayer, but police say that the IPOB was holding a training exercise in “martial acts and self-defence skills” and that machetes and wooden bats with nails attached were found at the scene, none of which can be seen wielded by IPOB members in videos of the event.
IPOB shot first, police say
Police report that several of the first responders from the Department of Security Services (DSS), Nigeria’s internal security and counter-terrorism unit, were abducted by IPOB members, leading them to send in additional forces. Additional police officers, DSS agents, and members of the Army and Air Force responded in Emene around 8:30am when “suspected members of the proscribed IPOB numbering over 500 had gone on rampage, blocking and burning tyres on the road”.
Security forces maintain that they did not shoot first, and only responded with gunfire after being shot at by IPOB members. They went on to say that two people were killed in the clash, and five others arrested. But according to IPOB, 21 of its members were killed, many others wounded, and 47 arrested.
‘A protracted conflict’
According to Basil Ugorji, president and CEO of the International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation, a US-based non-profit organisation focused on ethnic and religious conflict, the deployment of the military represents an escalation of violence:
What we saw in Enugu is the last in what I call a protracted conflict between the IPOB and security forces in Nigeria. The police learned of a meeting of IPOB members and when they responded they also called in the other special forces. When you see the military enter, it is always expected that you see some type of violence. This is what they are trained for, they are trained for war.
The Nigerian military has used violent tactics on the IPOB before, with Amnesty International recording many instances of military firing “live ammunition with little or no warning to disperse crowds”. They say that at least 150 peaceful pro-Biafra protesters were killed by Nigerian security forces from 2015 to 2016. In 2017, the Nigerian army cracked down on the separatist group in Abia state, south of Enugu, where they conducted raids characterised by humiliation and violence.
>> Read on FRANCE 24 Observers: Clashes reignited between Biafra separatists and Nigerian army
Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the IPOB movement, was arrested and detained in Lagos by the Nigerian secret police in 2015 for over a year and half, his secessionist efforts considered treason by the Nigerian government. Today, Kanu’s location remains unknown since he fled Nigeria in 2017. However he continues to broadcast from his station Radio Biafra, registered in the UK. On August 23, he said in a broadcast that his supporters must defend themselves if attacked by security forces unprovoked.
‘Their goal cannot be achieved without bloodshed’
Ugorji says that the police suspicion of the IPOB comes from its leader’s extreme rhetoric:
Since 2015, we have seen more instances of violence when the police come across IPOB meetings. Although you can say that we haven't seen many violent actions from the IPOB in the past, the rhetoric of their leader is what causes suspicion from the police and the security forces. In the past, he has asked online for contributions and for weapons [Editor’s note: In 2015, Kanu said that IPOB needed guns and bullets and that the Biafran secession would not be peaceful]. What this group is aiming for is self-determination, a sovereign state of Biafra. The Nigerian government will never let this happen willingly, so their goal cannot be achieved without bloodshed, like in the war in 1967.
Some in Nigeria argue that the security response to the IPOB seems disproportionate to its response to other violent conflicts in Nigeria. A series of attacks perpetrated by herdsmen in Southern Kaduna in July that killed at least 53, for example, did not precipitate the deployment of special police forces or the military.
>> Read on FRANCE 24 Observers: Videos of Nigerian wedding massacre, mass burials go viral amid call for end to ethnic violence
IPOB’s spokesperson told Nigerian media Vanguard:
[Fulani herdsmen and bandits] all gather in public without any military interference. But as soon as Biafran youths congregate in any location to pray, every Nigerian military formation including police, DSS, Army, Air Force stationed in Biafraland will descend on them, firing indiscriminately with the intention of killing as many innocent people as possible.
This article was written by Pariesa Young