The Federal Government should immediately constitute a judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegation of mass killing of Pro-Biafra protesters by the Nigerian Army. Since the global human rights agency, Amnesty International (AI), recently formally documented the allegation in a report, many notable individuals and bodies, including the South-East Caucus in the Senate, have appealed to the Federal Government to probe it.
Chairman of the caucus, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, had in a statement last week drawn attention to the Amnesty International Report, which painted a gruesome picture of the killings allegedly perpetrated by the Nigerian Army. The allegation, he said, is not only embarrassing to Nigeria, but has also cast doubt on the appropriateness of using the military to handle civil protests in Nigeria’s constitutional democracy.
In his words, “It is not enough for the Nigerian military to debunk the report. We, as a caucus, demand an independent judicial panel and urgently too…Such a panel would reassure the Igbo that the Federal Government is alive to its responsibility, which is the protection of the fundamental rights of all people, irrespective of tribe or religion.”
We encourage Nigerians to read the Amnesty International Report on how at least 150 peaceful protesters were massacred in various places in cold blood between May 29 and 30, 2016. The Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) had, a few days to the events, gone to the Anambra State Police Commissioner to intimate the Police with its plans for a march in Onitsha for Biafra’s Remembrance Day. It requested security for the procession. Thus, the leaders of the protesters followed the normal procedure for such marches.
But, the march allegedly turned into a bloodbath following the onslaught of soldiers. Amnesty International has said it interviewed 32 witnesses, held five telephone interviews, and looked through 78 photographs and video clips. Its conclusion is that “the exact number of deaths is unknown, partly due to the fact that the Nigerian Army took away corpses and the injured.” Some of the dead and injured seen by Amnesty’s researchers were shot in the back, an indication that they were fleeing the scene.
We strongly condemn the killing of protesters in any part of the country. The alleged massacre of the IPOB protesters is particularly galling, especially considering the fact that they were reportedly peaceful and orderly in their conduct. The best response of law enforcement agencies when faced with protesters is not to kill them. The life of every Nigerian citizen is priceless. A protest may lead to a breach of the peace. But then, the penalty for a breach of the peace is not and cannot be a death sentence.
The agitation for the sovereign state of Biafra is not unique in the world. The world, not too long ago, witnessed the agitation of Scots for the independence of Scotland, from Britain. The matter was resolved through a plebiscite which, incidentally, saw the majority of the Scottish people voting to remain in the United Kingdom. We also recently witnessed the agitation for Britain to separate from the European Union (EU). The campaign was long and bitter. A plebiscite decided that, indeed, majority of British citizens did not want to be part of the European Union. No one was injured, much less killed, during these agitations that were quite as passionate as those for Biafra.
We do not think that the deployment of soldiers to quell non-violent protests is appropriate. The Army should not be called up for civil operations unless a situation is seen as having escalated beyond what the Police can contain.
President Muhammadu Buhari should set up a panel to inquire into these killings. Ignoring the calls for the panel can only lead to one conclusion: that the lives of some Nigerians do not matter and that these Nigerians can be slaughtered without consequences. We do not believe that this is the position of the Federal Government.