Ten people including two police officers died in the latest protests Wednesday over renewed demands for a Biafran state to secede from Nigeria’s southeast, police and a protest leader said.
Such protests were banned last month by southern governors concerned by the increasing violence around new demands for a Biafran state, a cause that prompted a 1960s civil war that killed 1 million people.
It comes as Nigeria’s president of five months, Muhammadu Buhari, is preoccupied with containing a 6-year-old northeastern Islamic uprising by Boko Haram that has spread across Nigeria’s borders and killed an estimated 20,000 people.
Police Deputy Superintendent Ali Okechukwu said he has reports that at least two officers were killed when protesters opened fire Wednesday in Onitsha city of Anambra state.
A leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Ugochukwu Chinweuba, gave a contradictory account, saying police opened fire indiscriminately, killing at least eight people including bystanders. Chinweuba said dozens of protesters have been wounded, some critically.
He said a peaceful protest was disrupted by agitators who set businesses, homes and trucks ablaze. Markets and shops closed, fearing looting.
The violence erupted a day after Nigeria’s chief of police, Inspector General Solomon Arase, warned protesters to desist or face “the full weight of the law.”
Arase said police already are holding 134 activists from recent protests.
The protests began after the director of banned Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested in October. His lawyer, Vincent Egechukwu, told The Associated Press that Kanu is being investigated for terrorism. He already has been charged with criminal conspiracy and is accused of “hate speech” after he broadcast a call to arms to fight for a Biafran state.
Such a state would include Nigeria’s richest and devastatingly polluted oil-producing areas, already riven by violent demands for a more equitable share of wealth from Africa’s biggest petroleum producer.