The Nigeria Police Force has warned separatist groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Biafra Independence Movement (BIM) to call off their planned protests.
In a statement issued by Force Spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, Friday, the police said it would not hesitate to deal decisively with any attempt to cause disturbance or carry out any unlawful procession or assembly.
“The fact that freedom of expression as one of the dictates of democracy is being observed by the Police, should not be misconstrued as liberty by any group(s) for sectional or group interest to violate the laws and cause mayhem, confusion and apprehension in the minds of more than about 170 million Nigerians,” said Mr. Moshood, a chief superintendent of police.
The IPOB group had scheduled a sit-at-home protest in the south-east and south-south regions of the country on May 30 to coincide with the annual ‘Biafra Remembrance Day,’ as well as honour the memory of pro-Biafra activists killed by security agencies over the years.
The group ordered the closure of all markets within “Biafran territory” on May 30, and a halt of all vehicular movements in the area from 12 a.m. on May 29 till midnight of May 30.
‘No going back on protest’
The Biafra separatist groups, particularly the IPOB, and Nigeria security agencies have a history of violence confrontations over the past few years.
At least 150 peaceful pro-Biafra protesters were killed between August 2015 and August 2016 as Nigerian security forces embarked on – what Amnesty International described as – a chilling campaign of extrajudicial executions and violence in the Southeast.
During last year’s Biafra Remembrance Day march, at least 60 people were killed as hundreds of protesters clashed with security forces across the Southeast region, according to Amnesty International.
In announcing this year’s protest, the IPOB had said it would resist any attempt to deter it from going ahead with its plan.
“The saboteurs and agents cannot stop us from honouring our fallen heroes because it is our inalienable right to remember and honour those who died in the struggle for Biafra independence,” the group had said.
Last year, the Nigerian government arrested the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, and charged him for treason. Mr. Kanu was finally released on bail last month, after the government continually ignored repeated court rulings granting him bail.
In its response on Friday, the police said it was concerned with the security implications “with regards to the renewed hostilities and subversive propagandas” aimed at undermining law and order in some parts of the country.
Consequently, the police statement directed the heads of police commands in the respective regions to deal decisively in accordance with the law any eventuality that can disrupt commercial activities, vehicular movements and safety of lives and properties.
“The Force sees the activities of these groups as not only unlawful but highly provocative and capable of causing breach of the peace currently being enjoyed in the South East States and other States of the Federation,” the police said.
“The planned protests and orders of market closure and illegal unilateral self imposed restrictions of vehicular movements by these groups in the affected States should be disregarded by all well meaning Nigerians.
“The Nigeria Police Force, hereby advised the members of the public to go about their lawful duties and other responsibilities without any fear or apprehension as adequate security arrangements have been put in place for the safety of every Nigerian throughout the Country by Nigeria Police Force and other Security agencies.”
The police said it was unaware of the rights of every Nigerian to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association as enshrined in the Constitution but warned that those rights must be exercised without violating the rights of millions of other Nigerians to free movements and access to public and private facilities.
“The Nigeria Police while observing the rights of all Nigerians as stated above is equally conscious of the fact that these rights are not absolute as Section 45 of the same Constitution provide for derogations to these rights,” the police continued.
“Consequently, the Police will resist the action(s) of any person or group of persons for whatever course (sic) that is against the interest of public defence, public safety, public order, public morality and a threat to the rights and freedom of other Nigerians.
“The Force will continue to police the country based on international core values and best practices and operate within the principles of democratic policing but will not succumb and tolerate criminal activities of any group(s) under any guise to cause disturbance of public peace and unleash mayhem on innocent Nigerians anywhere in the country.
“As a result, the Police Force is hereby calling on the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Biafran Independence Movement (BIM), the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) to consider the consequences of their actions and activities and without delay and call themselves to order in the interest of national security and safety of lives and properties of every Nigerian across the nation as the full weight of the law will be made to bear on violators of the law.”