International human rights watch group, Amnesty International has reported that the Nigerian Army and police used excessive and unwarranted force that resulted in the death of at least 40 defenceless pro Biafra supporters while over 50 more where injured between May 29 and 30 in Biafra day commemoration in Onitsha, Anambra state.
The findings resulted from evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, mortuaries and hospitals, revealing that most of the dead were shot in the back indicating that the Army opened fire on Biafra supporters and bystanders while they were fleeing.
“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,” MK Ibrahim, country director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said.
“In one incident one person was shot dead after the authorities burst in on them while they slept These shootings, some of which may amount to extra judicial executions, must be urgently and independently investigated and anyone suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice.”
While the exact number of deaths is unknown because the Nigerian army removed corpses and the injured from he scene, Amnesty International received reports from various sources on the ground alleging that at least 40 people were killed while more than 50 injured.
Initial investigations conducted by the organisation confirmed 17 deaths and over 50 injured.
“The real number is likely to be higher,” the human right
body said of the dead and injured IPOB supporters seen were shot in the back, an indication that they were fleeing the scene when they were shot.”
The Nigerian army had published in a statement that the soldiers acted in self-defence but Amnesty International said there has been no evidence to substantiate the claim that the killings were in self defence since the Biafra supporters were unarmed.
The Nigerian Army had also conducted raids on homes and churches where the pro-Biafra supporters slept.
IPOB supporters told Amnesty International that hundreds of people who had come from neighboring states, were asleep in the St Edmunds Catholic church when soldiers stormed the compound on 29 May.
A 32-year-old hairdresser who was in the church told Amnesty International: “At about midnight we heard someone banging the door. We refused to open the door, but they forced the door open and started throwing teargas. They also started shooting inside the compound. People were running to escape. I saw one guy shot in the stomach. He fell down, but the teargas could not allow people to help him. I did not know what happened to the guy as I escaped and ran away.”
Another witness told Amnesty International that on the morning of May 30, he saw soldiers open fire on a group of around 20 men and boys aged between 15 and 45.
He said five of them were killed. “I stood about two poles [approximately 100 metres] away from where the men were being shot and killed. I couldn’t quite hear what they were asking the boys, but I saw one boy trying to answer a question. He immediately raised his hands, but the soldiers opened fire…He lay down, lifeless. I saw this myself.”
The witness described how military officers loaded men with gunshot wounds into one van, and what appeared to be corpses into another.
Later that morning, another witness described how police shot a child bystander as a group of young men protested the shootings, blocking a road and burning tyres along the Eke-Nkpor junction.
He told Amnesty International: “I heard a police siren, and everybody started running helter-skelter. I ran away with other people, but before we left, the police fired tear gas at us and shot a boy in my presence. He was just hawking in the street. He wasn’t even there to protest,” he said.
An Amnesty International researcher visited three hospitals in Onitsha and surrounding towns and saw 41 men being treated for gunshot wounds in the stomach, shoulder, leg, back and ankle. The researcher also visited mortuaries in Onitsha and saw five corpses with bullet wounds, all brought in by IPOB members on 30 May.
Amnesty International said it was informed that many of those killed or injured were still held by the military and police. It quoted several witnesses as saying the military loaded corpses in their vehicles and took them to Onitsha military barracks.
One witness told Amnesty International that around 30 people were held in the military barracks, while another witness said 23 people who were held in State Criminal Investigation Department were brought to court.
Following the shootings, the military told media sources that the soldiers only opened fire after being shot at first, but Amnesty International’s research said it found no evidence to support this.
The organisation said all the people it interviewed said the protesters were not armed; one young man said that he threw stones at the police and military after they shot teargas at the IPOB members. He said the military then fired live ammunition in return.
Amnesty International said information it gathered indicated that the deaths of supporters and members of IPOB was the consequence of the excessive, and unnecessary use of force.
However, on the reported killing of two policemen by IPOB pro-Biafra supporters in Asaba, Delta state on May 30 , Amnesty International said it cannot confirm the claim.