Amnesty International has said that Nigerian soldiers are guilty of using “unnecessary and excessive force” in shooting dead, scores of pro-Biafra protesters in southern Nigeria.
The military clashed with members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)—a group calling for independence of the region of Biafra from Nigeria—on May 29-30 in Onitsha in Anambra state. IPOB members have carried out regular demonstrations across southern Nigeria since the group’s leader Nnamdi Kanu, a dual British-Nigerian national, was arrested in October 2015 in Lagos. Kanu remains in detention and is facing charges of treasonable felony, which he denies.
Witnesses told Amnesty that at least 40 people were killed in the clashes, and the human rights organization said it was able to confirm at least 17 deaths and 50 people wounded.
“Opening fire on peaceful IPOB supporters and bystanders who clearly posed no threat to anyone is an outrageous use of unnecessary and excessive force and resulted in multiple deaths and injuries,” said M.K. Ibrahim, Amnesty’s country director in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Army hit back with their own claims about the incidents, describing Amnesty’s report as part of a “campaign of calumny” against its soldiers.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Nigerian Army said that pro-Biafra protesters engaged in “violent protests which led to the outright breakdown of law and order.”
The army claimed that two soldiers were killed in the clashes and that it had exercised “maximum restraints against the odds of provocative and inexplicable violence that were employed against them by the pro-Biafra protesters.”
The clashes in Onitsha came as pro-Biafra activists marked the anniversary of the one-time republic’s independence, which was announced on May 30, 1967. Following the violence—with clashes also reported in Asaba, the capital of Nigeria’s Delta state.
The Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, had earlier issued an order for all IPOB protesters to be disarmed.
Amnesty said that all the people it interviewed claimed that the activists were not armed and that the evidence pointed to the military having opened fire on them first.
Witnesses told Amnesty that tens of protesters were still being held by the Nigerian military in their barracks, though the organization could not confirm this.
Amnesty called for any IPOB members being held in detention to be immediately charged or released. [myad]