Posted by By Kingsley Omonobi, Anayo Okoli & Sam Eyoboka on
THE Federal Government, yesterday, directed the General Officers Commanding the Army divisions to team up with the police immediately to stop the wave of religious attacks and/or reprisals in parts of the country.
* Civil Liberties Organisation puts death toll at 80
* Southerners invade barracks for cover in Katsina
* Onitsha calm, business, social activities resume
* 20 prison inmates return;Abuja police forestall riot
ABUJA - THE Federal Government, yesterday, directed the General Officers Commanding the Army divisions to team up with the police immediately to stop the wave of religious attacks and/or reprisals in parts of the country. Already, soldiers have been deployed on the streets of Onitsha, which was the scene of two days of reprisals against northerners, to check further violence.
The human rights group, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), said yesterday that over 80 people died in the attacks. However, the commercial city was generally calm yesterday.
Meanwhile, hundreds of southerners were still taking refuge in army barracks in Katsina, Maiduguri, Bauchi and Gombe, fearing reprisals after the Onitsha attacks.
Vanguard gathered that the Presidency fearing that the attacks might spread to other parts of the country directed the Chief of Defence Staff, General Alexander Ogomudia, to activate the internal security apparatus of the military for the purpose of quelling the sectarian/religious violence.
Consequently, the Service Chiefs were told to deploy troops to flash points at the slightest hint of possible confrontation.
Army divisions in the North-East and the South-East are particularly to ensure that the violence and killings are brought to an end forthwith.
Explaining why it took long for security agencies to move to quell the religious attacks in Maiduguri and Bauchi which led to the killing of some Christians which led to a reprisal attacks in other parts of the country, the source said: "The truth is that the Police which is the first line of defence reacted slowly to the outbreak of the attacks and this was because they (policemen on ground) were still wondering if their so-called strike would hold or not.
"So, while they were contemplating, the miscreants took advantage of the situation to wreak havoc. What I am telling you started very early and in just about five minutes a lot of damage had been done."
However, after two days of the mayhem in Onitsha, the commercial city of Anambra State that left in its trail no fewer than 80 persons dead and properties worth millions of Naira destroyed, normalcy has returned to the commercial city. Commercial and social activities resumed yesterday. Markets in Onitsha which were hurriedly shut on Tuesday and Wednesday opened for business yesterday.
Commercial vehicles which were withdrawn from the roads at the peak of the mayhem resumed operations as residents and visitors to the commercial city freely went about their normal businesses.
However, schools in the city remained closed just as the dusk to dawn curfew imposed on the major cities of the state remained.
But the debris left behind by the mayhem were still seen all over the town. There were at least three burnt bodies on the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway between the Zik’s Roundabout and the New Motor spare parts market. One of the charred bodies was said to be that of a mobile policeman. He was said to have been lynched and burnt by miscreants after he allegedly shot at them.
Security in and around the city is still tight. Battle-ready soldiers were yesterday seen patrolling the city to ensure that nobody caused further trouble.
Meanwhile, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe, yesterday visited the victims of the mayhem at the Onitsha Army Barracks to commiserate with them. Achebe sympathised with them and urged them to be calm, assuring them that help would soon come their way.
80 killed, says CLO
The CLO in Onitsha said no fewer than 80 people died in the Onitsha riots. "We counted 60 bodies on Tuesday and 20 on Wednesday and there could be more," said Emeka Umeh, head of the local chapter of the Lagos-based Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO).
"It was a great massacre that should be condemned by any right-thinking person. Human bodies littered the streets in Onitsha. Even now, bodies can still be found on Upper Iweka road," in the city.
He said the victims had been slaughtered "with machetes, knives, metal objects, clubs and in some instance, even guns." Umeh said two policemen were among the victims, adding that he thought they had died "while trying to save the lives of the Muslims."
20 Inmates Return
Besides, 20 inmates of the Onitsha prisons who were freed by the angry mob that invaded the prison on Tuesday have voluntarily returned to the prison. Acting Comptroller-General of Prisons, Mr. Uche Kalu, who paid a visit to the state to see for himself what happened commended the freed inmates who voluntary returned to the prison. He described the attack on the prison as devastating and a colossal damage. According to him, the property destroyed were estimated at millions of Naira and will be very difficulty for government to put in place.
Expressing fears and danger of releasing the inmates, Kalu said: "Those who came there and released the inmates were not patriotic. Who were they helping? Armed robbers and murderers and suspects have been released to the society. I can assured you that since yesterday some of them have started operation. Those who released them could be their first victims."
Southerners Invade Barracks For Refuge
Hundreds of southerners sought refuge yesterday in army barracks in Katsina, Maiduguri, Bauchi and Gombe, fearing reprisals following the Onitsha riots. Some 7,000 people were holed up in police stations and military barracks in Katsina alone.
They also feared possible riots over on-going public hearings in Katsina on a possible constitutional amendment seeking to allow President Olusegun Obasanjo a third term.
The Onitsha riots on Tuesday and Wednesday were in response to an earlier attacks on southerners in the north following protests over cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed published in European newspapers.
The barracks presented a chaotic sight with men, women and children sitting under trees as vendors milled around vending food, soft drinks and water.
Police were yesterday also deployed across Katsina’s neighbouring towns, including Kano, Kaduna and Zaria.
"We are on red alert. All state commissioners of police are under instructions to monitor developments and prevent any violence," federal police spokesman Haz Iwendi said.
Abuja Police Forestall Riot
Meanwhile, the Police in Abuja yesterday moved to forestall attempts by some religious groups to cause crisis in the Federal Capital City over what a Moslem cleric described as the circulation of a book written by a Lebanese Christian from Lebanon, containing some derogatory remarks about the holy Prophet Mohammed.
Commissioner of Police in charge of the Federal Capital, Mr Lawrence Alobi, who summoned a meeting with over 100 religious, traditional and community leaders including leaders of thought in Abuja, warned the leaders against inciting any religious or ethnic crisis in the city, pointing out that Police were alert to deal with anybody who takes the law into his hands.
"The purpose of our gathering is to call on residents of Abuja not to be part of the crisis that is happening in other parts of the country. We won’t allow that to happen here. I want to enjoin all FCT residents especially religious and community leaders to preach and ensure peace and tranquillity.
"We will not tolerate anybody bringing hoodlums from any where to come and cause problems here," Alobi said.
PFN Tasks Obasanjo On Riots
And reacting to the riots, the umbrella body of Pentecostal Christians in Nigeria, yesterday, held an emergency national executive meeting, at the end of which it asked President Olusegun Obasanjo to invoke the powers bestowed upon him to restore peace to the nation.
The PFN which said at least 36 churches were burnt in Maiduguri alone, condemned the reprisal action taken by youths in Onitsha, saying that as Christians, our faith does not accept such retaliatory actions, adding, however, that the said reprisal moves were precipitated by frustration on the part of the people.
It enjoined Christians in the country to remain calm and law-abiding, pointing out that "we cannot in the face of continued provocation guarantee that Christians will not be compelled to take their destiny in their own hands."
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