LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) - At least 17 people were killed and nearly 50 others were injured in Nigeria’s southeast Onitsha town when Nigerian government forces opened fire on pro-Biafran protesters between May 29 and May 30, Amnesty International said Friday.
According to local police, the death toll was 10, including five in Onitsha and another five in neighboring Asaba town where a similar protest had been organized by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
However, the rights body disputed the official toll and said in a statement in the Nigeria capital Abuja: “The real number is likely to be higher.”
The protest was a commemoration of the botched secession of ethnic Igbo from Nigeria in 1967 when the late warlord Emeka Ojukwu, a disenchanted general in the Nigerian army, declared an independent Biafra nation for his ethnic Igbo people, citing persecution.
Amnesty International said protesters were “unarmed”, contrary to claims by security agencies that at least two policemen had been killed by armed protesters and that they had to respond with force only for the sake of maintaining public peace.
“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,” Mohammed Ibrahim, country director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said in a statement.
The Nigerian military rejected the accusations, accusing the watchdog of blackmail and dishing out “unverified” claims.
“It should be noted that the nongovernmental organization has always been of the habit of being the judge and jury in matters of our national security without recourse to fairness, objectivity, all aimed at rubbishing the Nigerian army for reasons best known to them,” an army spokesman, Hamza Gambo, said in a statement on Friday.
“For the avoidance of doubt, what transpired that fateful day was that some elements of MASSOB/IPOB engaged in violent protests which led to outright breakdown of law and order.
“A number of persons were selected for attack, killed and burnt. Two personnel of Nigeria police were killed, several soldiers were wounded, a Nigeria police vehicle was completely burnt down, while another of the Nigerian army was vandalized,” the statement added.