Ariaria Police Station in Aba, commercial hub of Abia State, was set ablaze by men believed to be members of Indigenous People of Biafra on Thursday.
The incident occurred some hours before the Federal Government ordered the withdrawal of troops from major towns in Abia State, which have been under siege since Saturday when Nigerian Army began its Operation Python Dance II.
Abia State Police Public Relations Officer, Geoffrey Ogbonna, confirmed the burning of the police station, adding that the arsonists also injured a policeman.
It was learnt that aside from the Aba incident, irate mob made for the residence of the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Adeleye Oyebade, in Umuahia, the state capital but were repelled by some policemen at the residence, who fired tear gas canisters to disperse the surging crowd.
Oyebade, who was replaced as the state’s police boss on Thursday, said the agitators did not gain entrance into the compound.
Ogbonna, who stated that the attack was carried out around 6.30am, said, “Ariaria police station (Aba) was burnt down this morning.
“The people that did this, we are suspecting are IPOB hoodlums.”
“The people came in their numbers, besieged the station and one of our policemen was beaten up; but glory be to God, we did not lose the officer’s life.”
The PPRO said the police didn’t respond in kind to the attack in order to avoid recording casualties.
“If anything like that had taken place, it would have worsened the situation,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Mr. Anthony Ogbizi, on Thursday, took over from Oyebade as the new Commissioner of Police in Abia State.
Ogbizi reassured residents of the command’s resolve to protect their lives and property.
The new police boss stated this in a statement made available to the media on Thursday in Umuahia.
He said adequate security architecture had been put in place to make commercial and social activities thrive without any hitch across the state.
Also, three persons were allegedly shot by security operatives on Aka Library Avenue on Thursday morning in Umuahia.
The incident happened at about 9.30am, according to an eyewitness, who added that the victims were shot close to the Diamond Bank near the Abia State Government House gate.
The source alleged that two of the three persons shot died instantly while the third was fatally injured, adding that some soldiers took the corpses and the injured away in their truck.
The incident created panic among residents as shop owners hurriedly locked their shops while most streets in the area were deserted.
At Afaraukwu, the home of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, panic stricken residents locked their shops and residential gates.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State said, on Thursday, that soldiers would be withdrawn from the streets of Umuahia, the state capital, and Aba, its commercial nerve centre, on Friday (today).
Ikpeazu made this known at Government House, Umuahia, while reacting to the security situation in the state.
He said the situation in the past few days, which led to the deployment of soldiers ahead of Operation Python Dance II, had generated great concern to both the government and the people.
“I will also be meeting the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, to discuss possible ways of relaxing Operation Python Dance II in the state for now.”
He added that the withdrawal would not affect pre-existing military checkpoints at various locations in the state and warned mischief-makers to stay away from Abia State as agitations and protests would not be tolerated.
Meanwhile, IPOB, on Thursday, alleged that ‘hundreds of youths’ in Abia and Rivers states were currently missing, and ‘presumed dead’ in the course of ongoing military operation in the South-East.
IPOB spokesman, Emma Powerful, who disclosed this to journalists, also claimed that some members of the group, who were detained in military barracks, had not been accounted for.
Powerful stated, “Hundreds of Biafran youths are still missing and presumed dead at the time of this statement.
“The few survivors of the Isiala Ngwa massacre, taken to secret detention centres in army barracks in and around Abia and Rivers states, are still unaccounted for.”
Tthe IPOB spokesman described the military operation as ‘genocide’.
Powerful claimed that the pro-Biafra group has a ‘video footage’ of “men of the Nigerian Army stationed at Isiala Ngwa junction (in Abia State) dragging people out of their vehicles and executing them in cold blood in broad daylight”.
The secessionist further alleged that some leaders in the South-East were colluding with the federal troops to intimidate the pro-Biafran agitators in order to stop them from pushing for self-determination.
Powerful added, “Genocide and mass killings of Biafrans and Christian communities, especially in northern Nigeria, are nothing new. What is more troubling this time is that certain political office holders in the South-East are comfortable with the idea of inviting Hausa-Fulani Islamic army to come into Abia State to execute hundreds of young men and women in cold blood simply for asking for their right to self-determination.
“We hold Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as majorly responsible for the cold-blooded executions going on now in and around Abia State at this trying time.
“Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu saw it fit to invite the Nigerian military with their deplorable human rights record, to his state to kill civilians.”
Powerful said further that some residents of Umuahia converged on the police commissioner’s office to protest alleged killings of unarmed youths by soldiers.
“It is not true that our members attacked the commissioner of police. What happened was that some residents gathered at the commissioner’s office to protest, nobody attacked the commissioner but the police are saying IPOB members attacked the commissioner,” he said.
In a related development, Nigerian Army, on Thursday, described as baseless reports that soldiers invaded Umuode, a community in Abia State.
Spokesman for the 82 Division, Enugu, Col. Sagir Umar, in a statement, attributed the reports to propagandists.
Umar said, “Let me firmly reiterate that there is no invasion of any community by the soldiers in Abia State and in the entire South-Eastern part of Nigeria.
“The rumour is baseless and mischievous and should therefore be disregarded.
“Mischief-makers, propagandists and supporters of violent secessionist agitation as well as any other person or group with criminal disposition are the ones wickedly peddling this rumour.”
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, on Thursday, met with Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, over ongoing crisis in Abia State and some parts of Rivers State.
The IG also berated the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, for claiming that men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad were among kidnappers and armed robbers in the state.
Speaking to State House Correspondents at the end of the meeting which lasted almost an hour, the IG said the aim of the meeting was to ensure the security of all Nigerians.
Asked to be specific about strategies he was adopting as regards events in the South-East, he said, “Obviously, one is to deploy policemen across the country; two, we are in touch with the state government, trying to mobilise the political leadership to be able to intervene where necessary on how to lessen the tension in the South-East.”
The police boss also described as nonsensical Wike’s allegation that the reported killing of a SARS officer during a foiled kidnap operation on Monday in the Oroazi area of the state was a confirmation that his men were involved in armed robbery and kidnapping.
Idris said, “He (Wike) has the right to self- expression. You know he is a governor.”
Asked if he was not denying the allegation he replied, “Of course, I have to deny that. That is nonsensical; I have to deny that.
“If a policeman was killed, will you say he was involved in crime? I think you are mixing two different issues. A policeman was killed in Rivers (State) in connection with this IPOB issue, is different from saying policemen are involved in crime. You cannot say someone that was attacked and killed is the one involved in crime.”
Also, the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu, on Thursday, said it had commenced investigations to ascertain the veracity of a video clip, which shows troops humiliating some members of IPOB at a checkpoint in Aba, Abia State.
Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 82 Division, Musa, disclosed this in a statement which was made available to journalists in Enugu.
Musa stated that if the video clip was found to be factual, the soldiers involved in the incident would be punished according to military justice system.
“The issue is being investigated with a view to ascertaining the source and the actors in the clip.
“Our Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement are quite clear and any officer or soldier who infringes on any of such directive, if found guilty, will face the full wrath of the military justice system,” the army spokesman said.
However, Musa, in the same breath, pointed out that the army was aware that IPOB was using what he described as ‘manipulated’ pictures and videos to propagate their agenda, and misinform the public.
However, South-East Governors’ Forum will hold its scheduled meeting on Friday to discuss the face-off between Nigerian Army and IPOB.
Director of Media and Communication of the forum’s secretariat, Mr. Mike Udah, made this known on Thursday in Abakaliki.
“I have not received any contrary information from my superiors on the convening of the meeting due to Kanu’s reported absence.
“The South-East governors are desirous to ensure that such an incident does not re-occur and also bring lasting peace in the zone,” he said.
Before the Federal Government said soldiers would be withdrawn from Umuahia and Aba on Friday, groups and individuals had asked the Federal Government to withdraw the security operatives in the state.
In its own statement, Ijaw Youth Council said the withdrawal had become necessary to halt the growing clashes between soldiers and IPOB members.
In the statement on Thursday by its President, Mr. Eric Omare, IYC said dialogue was the only way out of the present conflict in the region particularly in Umuahia as the use of force would only worsen the current insecurity in the country.
He added, “IYC strongly believes that the demands of IPOB are not in any way different from the demands of other groups and organisations in Nigeria, hence what needs to be done is for the government to start the process of constructive dialogue towards addressing the issues being raised by members of IPOB in the South-East and other groups all over the country.
“It would amount to self-deceit for the government to think that the issues can be resolved through military might. There is no amount of military application that would stop the ongoing agitations for the continuous existence of Nigeria to be renegotiated.”
Also, a human rights lawyer, Anthony Agbazuere, urged the Federal Government to withdraw the troops and allow peace to reign in the South-East.
In a statement, Agbazuere described the military operation in the state as anti-people and not reconciliatory.
However, Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra called on international community to intervene in the current military operation in the South-East.
MASSOB National Director of Information, Samuel Edeson, who spoke in Enugu, described the operation as ‘a crime against humanity’.
“We call on the international community, United States, France and all those who have love for justice, to come to our aid because the Nigerian government led, by the Hausa-Fulani, has a mission to wipe Biafra from the face of the earth.
“This is a crime against humanity, a crime against Ndigbo and a crime against Biafra.”
Meanwhile, Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, on Thursday, imposed a dusk to dawn curfew on the Jos metropolis.
A statement by the Director of Press and Public Affairs in the Government House, Mr Emmanuel Nanle, said the decision followed rumours that there could be violent reactions within the Jos metropolis in response to the crisis in Abia State.
He said, “Following the unfortunate reaction and spread of rumours within the Jos metropolis in response to the agitation by IPOB, the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Rt. Hon. Simon Bako Lalong, has directed an immediate imposition of curfew from dusk to dawn (6pm – 6am) within the Greater Jos – Bukuru Metropolis until further notice.
“This is to forestall any breakdown of law and order. The Executive Governor has directed the immediate deployment of security personnel in all flashpoints within the Jos metropolis to ensure compliance with the curfew and to avert any further breach of the peace.”
Also, the Kaduna State Government and the police in the state assured non-indigenes of adequate security.
The state police commissioner, Agyole Abe, while dispelling rumours that the Igbo community was living in fear, said there was no cause for alarm.
The CP, in a meeting at the command’s headquarters with Igbo and the Yoruba communities in the state, advised residents to go about their business without let or hindrance.
Abe added, “There is no crisis in Kaduna, the state is peaceful. I advise everybody to open his shops as usual and do your business.
“Don’t be apprehensive; the rumour (of attacks) is baseless and unfounded. Our men are on the alert all the time to ensure peaceful atmosphere in the state,” the CP said.
The leader of the Igbo, Mr Chris Nnoli, and his Yoruba counterpart, Yinka Olapade, blamed the social media for the rumour and assured the police that they would take the message back to their people that Kaduna was peaceful.
Meanwhile, Kaduna State Government also assured all residents of their safety, noting that the state government and security agencies had taken appropriate action to protect lives and property.
Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, in a statement, urged residents to go about their normal duties.
In a similar vein, Peoples Democratic Party called for an investigation into alleged brutality by the military against IPOB members.
PDP said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye, on Thursday, that members of the Nigerian military were paid to protect lives and not to humiliate the people.
He said if the video was true, “then it’s the depth of callousness and a further descent into the gutter by people who are paid to protect lives, property as well as the country’s territorial integrity.”
Adeyeye, a former minister of state for works, added, “PDP welcomes the initiative of the Nigerian Army’s probe into the issue but given the enormity of this allegation and the respect with which we hold life, the party hereby calls for the setting up of an independent panel of experts on human rights to ascertain the veracity of this allegation.”
Also, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Sebastine Hon, condemned the deployment of soldiers in Abia State and the alleged humiliation of some suspected IPOB members by army personnel.
In a statement by its President, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, on Thursday, CDHR said “the use of military might to suppress civil agitation, regardless of how it appears expedient, offends the sensibilities of citizens in a democratic society”.
The group demanded that the Army compensate NUJ and its members affected by the invasion of the union’s office.
It added, “It is lamentable that the gory images, depicting the viciousness of the military, further debase the human rights record of the Nigerian military and cast serious aspersions on the integrity of Nigeria as free, just, safe and equitable country.”
Hon said in a separate statement that he could not understand why the Federal Government would be refusing to meaningfully engage separatists “but rather derisively treat them as mere noisy elements.”
He said, “The video, which has gone viral on the Internet, showing most dehumanising treatment of persons suspected to be Biafra apologists, is horrible and horrifying, to say the least.
“It is unbelievable that the Nigerian Army, once respected globally, would condescend to the level of flogging its hapless captives and compelling them to submerge themselves in thick mud.”
In a different dimension, however, the younger brother of the IPOB leader, Kanu, who simply identified himself as Fine Boy, alleged that some soldiers killed four persons at their Afaraukwu home.
He claimed that this happened after about 40 minutes of heavy shoot-out at the residence at about 5pm on Thursday.
Fine Boy did not identify those killed in the said attack.
Although Kanu’s whereabouts could not be ascertained as of the time of filling this report, the brother alleged that the palace of Kanu’s father, Eze S. I. Kanu, was desecrated, his award plaques carted away while the family dog was killed.
He said, “You can come and see for yourself how soldiers invaded and desecrated this palace; they killed four persons and took 15 away.
When contacted, Assistant Director Army Public Relations, 14 Brigade Nigerian Army, Major Oyegoke Gbadamosi, said he was not in a position to speak on the operation, but directed journalists to call the dedicated lines of Python Dance II.