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Cartoon: 22 feared killed in Onitsha reprisal riots

Posted by John Ameh and Olamilekan Lartey on 2006/02/21 | Views: 840 |

Cartoon: 22 feared killed in Onitsha reprisal riots

Reprisal riots on Tuesday erupted in Onitsha, Anamba State, over the controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons.

Reprisal riots on Tuesday erupted in Onitsha, Anamba State, over the controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons.

About 22 persons were feared dead.

The riots erupted in the wake of similar riots in Bauchi on Monday, in which at least 10 persons were killed. Earlier, on Saturday, hostilities flared in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and in Katsina, leaving at least 18 persons dead.

Our correspondents learnt that Tuesday’s riots in Onitsha was triggered by the arrival of a luxury bus from Maiduguri, which brought corpses of Igbo residents who had died in the earlier riots.

Angry youths at Upper Iweka, where the bus stopped at about 7am, were said to have immediately gone on the rampage, attacking shops and buildings either owned or occupied by Muslims in the commercial city.

Riot policemen dispatched from Awka, the Anambra capital, took over major streets and roads in Onitsha in a bid to contain the situation.

The youths, who blocked the Niger Bridge for several hours, also torched the two main mosques in Onitsha – one at the Bridgehead Market and the second at Bida Road, near the Onitsha Main Market.

They also reportedly burnt some buildings at the famous Hausa Quarters, on Sokoto Road, and many vehicles.

The attack on the Bida road mosque reportedly forced the closure of the main market, which the youths tried to enter forcefully in search of suspected targets.

Many Hausa-owned shops on the popular Old Market Road and Upper New Market Road were also looted, forcing many shop owners to abandon their wares and seek for safety at the Army Barracks.

The Commissioner of Police, Anambra State Command, Mr. Moses Anegbode, confirmed the violence in Onitsha, but told our correspondents that he had no official confirmation of the casualty figure.

He said, “I cannot confirm whether anybody died for now because I don’t have the exact picture of the situation yet.

“All I can say is that several policemen have been deployed in Onitsha and we are trying everything possible to contain the situation. I don’t have statistics on the deaths.”

The Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige, said security agencies had been directed to deal with those behind the riots.

He deplored the killings in Onitsha and commiserated with the families of the victims.

He said those behind the riots were “unidentified,” warning however that the people of Anambra should “refrain from molesting people and stop all attacks on either churches or mosques.”

Speaking with newsmen shortly after he convened an emergency security meeting in Awka, Ngige said additional riot policemen had been deployed in Onitsha to contain the situation.

The Obi of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, told our correspondents on telephone that his cabinet would not condone any act of lawlessness.

Achebe observed that there were legally-recognised means of resolving disputes. He expressed shock that the youths chose violence.

“What has happened in Onitsha is condemnable, not because it happened in Onitsha, but wherever violence is chosen above established methods to resolve disagreements,” he added.

The monarch said efforts were on to bring the crisis under control and expressed confidence in the ability of security agents to do their job.

Later on Tuesday, the Delta State Police Command beefed up security on its side of the Niger Bridge in Asaba.

The Police Public Relations Officer in Delta State, Olabisi Okuwobi, an assistant superintendent of police, said the command would ensure that the riots did not spread to Asaba.

Meanwhile, some Onitsha residents who fled the city in the wake of Tuesday’s riots thronged the Niger Bridge, en route Asaba.

The Hausa community in the Delta State capital is in the Cable Point area, which is separated from Onitsha by the River Niger.

Reports on Tuesday said that the Bauchi State Government had imposed a curfew on the capital city.

The Agence France Presse quoted a spokesman for the government as saying a dawn-to-dusk curfew had been imposed to pre-empt further clashes.

“A joint police military patrol has been going on since yesterday (Monday) and will continue until order is fully restored,” the spokesman, Mohammed Abdullahi, also told AFP.

A spokesman for the Borno government, Naomi Moses, also told the AFP that the state government had imposed a curfew.

“Soldiers have been drafted to keep order and prevent any violence,” she said.

THE PUNCH, Wednesday, February 22, 2006

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