Five persons were, yesterday, shot dead at the Niger Bridge Head, while seven others sustained varying degrees of injuries when members of the Indigenous people of Biafra, IPOB, and Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, clashed with Joint Task Force, JTF, comprising the Army and the Police, which mounted road block at the Niger Head Bridge.
Four of the victims shot dead were members of both IPOB and MASSOB, while one person is said to be a soldier, who was grabbed by the mob, angry with the way soldiers opened fire on the jubilating crowd that included non pro-Biafra agitators, and fell four of them before they ran for their lives, leaving the victims behind.
All the markets around the Niger Bridge Head, including the Bridge Head Market, Onitsha Patent and Propitiatory Medicine Dealers Market (Ogbo Ogwu Market) and other markets located around the bridge, including Abada Market were quickly shut down, following sporadic shooting by the military to scare the jubilant crowd away.
Meanwhile, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, ordered the Department of State Service, DSS, to immediately release the detained leader of IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu.
The court directed that Kanu, who had been in detention since October 17, should be released “unconditionally.”
Ruling on the fundamental rights suit by Kanu, the trial judge, Justice Ademola Adeniyi, said there was no basis for the applicant to remain in custody since there was currently no charge pending against him.
The court order came barely 24 hours after an Abuja Chief Magistrate’s Court sitting at Wuse Zone 2, struck out a one-count charge the Federal Government preferred against the IPOB leader.
Meanwhile, according to an eye-witness at the Onitsha Head Bridge, who was coming from Asaba end of the bridge, the Biafra agitators were said to be marching on the road near the River Niger Bridge, chanting solidarity songs in jubilation for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, and were accosted by the soldiers, who ordered them to go back, and disagreements ensued before the soldiers allegedly opened fire on them.
Another version of the story had it that, the pro-Biafra agitators and those sympathetic to their cause, were jubilating, singing and dancing near the bridge and in annoyance, the soldiers, who had been guiding the bridge since the last shooting, during which unarmed nine protesters were killed and 18 others injured, opened fire on them, gunning down four.
Contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mr. Ali Okechukwu confirmed the clash and accused the pro-Biafra agitators of mobilizing over I00 of their members to launch attack on the soldiers at the Niger Bridge Head and even tried to dispossess them of their guns.
The PPRO, who was silent on the number of people killed, said: “I learnt that there was a disagreement between the Army, IPOB and MASSOB members, who mobilized over I00 of their members to attack soldiers at the Niger Bridge Head.”
He said that he was trying to get the Army authorities to ascertain the true position of the incident, but unfortunately they were not picking their calls. He was also not forth-coming on the number of casualties at press time, and requested that he be given enough time to make calls to ascertain the true position of things.
Speaking on the incident, leader of MASSOB, Mr. Uchenna Madu said the news of the release of Mr. Kanu elicited singing, dancing and jubilation in Onitsha and other ‘Biafran’ lands and those in Onitsha took their dance to Chukwemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu plaque at the Niger Bridge Head and out of envy, and because of the singing and dancing, and banters they were throwing with one another, the soldiers, who mounted a road-block there, opened fire on the dancing protesters and killed four.
He said that no amount of intimidation, harassment and killing of their members will make them resort to violence, adding that “the military is doing all sorts of things to push us into violence, but we will never do that because that is what has been setting us free in all the harassment and intimidation we have been going through.”