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The separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob) has announced pro-Biafrans have "activated" their right to self-defence following alleged prolonged violence by Nigerian forces against peaceful protesters. Pro-Biafrans call for the independence of the Biafran territories forcibly annexed to Nigeria during the British colonisation, which ended in 1960.
Clifford Iroanya, Ipob's coordinator at global level, told IBTimes UK that the modus operandi pro-Biafrans will now adopt in their fight for independence will not be disclosed to the public until further notice.
"We will be defending ourselves against genocidal actions of President Muhammadu Buhari and his agents," he alleged. "And more importantly, we are not terrorists, as Nigeria will soon try to convince people."
Ipob released the statement as at least eight people were allegedly killed by security forces during protests in Aba, Abia State, while they were praying for the release of their leader Nnamdi Kanu, whose trial on treasonable felony charges started in Nigeria's capital Abuja on 9 February. It is believed that other people sustained gun-related injuries.
Furthermore, the statement alleged that at least 50 pro-Biafrans have been killed and thousands seriously injured or maimed since October 2015, following increasing protests in the aftermath of Kanu's arrest.
"We have written several letters and notifications to heads of governments of all countries and members of their legislative arms on the plights of the Indigenous People of Biafra as we face extermination by the gun-toting and trigger-happy armed agents of Nigeria under the order of Muhammadu Buhari," Ipob's statement said.
"The world leaders and their governments have turned deaf ears and blind eyes to our plights. We have been tortured, killed, maimed, disenfranchised economically and politically, humiliated, made to desert our homelands, and treated like slaves in our own land.
"Now, we have come to the painful but irreversible conclusion and determination to take our fate and destiny in our own hands. Starting from Wednesday, February 10, 2016, Biafrans will now be in the mode of self-defence as enshrined by the relevant acts and declarations of the United Nations."
The Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (Noprin) – comprising 46 civil society organisations across the African nation – has condemnded the alleged killings in National High School Aba. Okechukwu Nwanguma, Noprin's national coordinator, told IBTimes UK: "The information first came through a confirmed security officer based in Aba, who was not happy about what happened. The policeman who spoke with me said two were killed, but one Ipob member confirmed at least eight of them were killed and others sustained injuries and were taken away.
"We are concerned about what happened and this has been very frequent in Aba and Onitsha [Anambra state],"Nwanguma continued. "In some cases, security officers shot people and then removed them from hospitals. This is going beyond law and enforcement."
Nwanguma also said that many people in Nigeria do not support the Biafra cause, however, they still think people have the right to express their opinion. "If they speak about Biafra independence in a non-violent way, it's their right and should not be subjected to excessive force.
"I think the idea behind is trying to suppress them and stop them from making these political demands. I think it's a repressive approach and we call on President Buhari to launch an investigation into the killings."
Nigerian government's position
IBTimes UK has contacted spokespeople for the army and the police to comment on the murder allegations, but had not received a response at the time of publishing. Buhari's spokesperson, Femi Adesina, said the government "would rather not comment on these issues".
Speaking to IBTimes UK, defence spokesperson Rabe Abubakar denied the police and army killed demonstrators. However, he also said security forces had to intervene as some pro-Biafrans were allegedly carrying weapons. "The issue of security forces shooting some people should not come up because I don't know where you found that they were harmless," he said.
"To my own definition, someone who is carrying dangerous weapons, including guns, is dangerous and is not allowed to do so. Yes, they have the right to protest, but the Nigerian constitution prohibits people or groups from threatening the stability of the country.
"We are here to protect people anywhere in the land and we cannot in any way authorise escalation of violence. We have one Nigeria and nobody can undermine its unity, it is a constitutional prohibition to call for a separation and it goes against the continuity of our country."
In previous interviews with IBtimes UK, the Nigerian police always denied allegations of violence against pro-Biafrans, alleging protesters were violent and disrupted peace in the state.
Buhari's government has always maintained that Nigeria's unity is a priority for the country and that although peaceful pro-Biafran protests are welcome, demanding the breakaway of the Biafran territories is against the constitution.
The Nigerian government told IBTimes UK that it does not consider the separatist movement a threat to the current leadership, and defined pro-Biafrans as an "insignificant number of frustrated people who are not a threat to the existence of Nigeria".
A Biafran Republic was established in 1967 and reannexed to Nigeria in 1970, following a civil war that claimed between one and three million lives.