The Nigerian security forces must exercise restraint when policing demonstrations marking the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Biafra War on 30 May, and avoid a repetition of the bloodbath caused by their heavy-handed response last year when more than 60 people were gunned down, said Amnesty International on Tuesday.
“Last year’s heavy-handed response against pro-Biafra activists further stirred up tensions in the south-east of Nigeria. The reckless approach to crowd control favoured by the security forces when policing peaceful pro-Biafra protests has left more than 150 dead since August 2015, not to mention cases of enforced disappearance and unlawful detention,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
“We urge the Nigerian security agencies to conduct themselves in a manner that will ensure public order without resorting to force.”
During peaceful Biafra Day celebrations last year in Onitsha, Anambra State, soldiers shot people in several locations. Amnesty International research concluded that at least 60 extra-judicial executions were committed in the space of two days, with a further 70 people injured. The real number is likely to be higher.
“Despite overwhelming evidence that members of the Nigerian security forces fired live ammunition with little or no warning to disperse pro-Biafra gatherings, resulting in the death of at least 150 people, no person suspected of criminal responsibility has been brought to justice,” said Osai Ojigho.
A similar pattern of lack of accountability for gross violations by security forces has been documented in other parts of Nigeria including the northeast in the context of operations against Boko Haram.
“Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the government of Nigeria to initiate independent investigations into allegations of crimes under international law. President Buhari has repeatedly promised that these would be looked into. However, no progress has been made,” said Osai Ojigho.
In November 2016, Amnesty International warned that the Nigerian government’s massive deployment of the military to respond to pro-Biafra events seems to be in large part to blame for the violence as they have no specific training in crowd control. Instead, public order during peaceful protests should be dealt with by the police, whose officers should be adequately trained and equipped to respond to crowd-control situations without resorting to the use of lethal force.
Recent arrests of peaceful pro-Biafra protesters
The security forces have already started clamping down on pro-Biafra groups ahead of the formal anniversary. On 22 May 2017, more than 100 members of the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Biafra Independent Movement (BIM) were arrested in Enugu, Ebonyi, and Cross Rivers states during similar celebrations.
“We are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those who have been detained solely for peacefully expressing their political views or other exercises of their right to freedom of expression or peaceful assembly,” said Osai Ojigho.
In a report released in November 2016 Amnesty International revealed that at least 150 peaceful pro-Biafra protesters were killed by the security forces between August 2015 and August 2016.