Nigerian senators representing the South-East region of the west African country have urged the government to investigate allegations that security forces killed around 150 people calling for the independence of Biafran territories. Rights group Amnesty International accused security forces of firing live bullets on unarmed protesters earlier in May.

Most of the demonstrators were members of the separatist group Indigenous People of the Biafra (Ipob). Pro-Biafrans are demanding the independence of territories forcibly annexed to modern-day Nigeria during British colonisation, which ended in 1960.

The army has denied the allegations, claiming it intervened to prevent "ethnic clashes" and accused Amnesty of trying to tarnish its image.

However, the South-East caucus in the senate is now urging the Federal Government to set up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the allegations.

The Chairman of the caucus, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said in a statement Amnesty's report cast doubts on Nigerian security forces' modus operandi.

"It is not enough for the Nigeria military to debunk the report; we, as a caucus, demand an independent inquiry in the mould of a judicial panel and urgently too," Abaribe was quoted by the Vanguard newspaper as saying.

"Unraveling the authenticity of the report would help to prevent a reoccurrence just as it will engender unity in our country. But the most important to us now is that the report must be probed and those implicated must be made to face justice."

Pro-Biafra protest Abia state
Pro-Biafra supporters shout slogans in Aba during a protest calling for the release of leader Nnamdi Kanu in November 2015 Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty

Allegations of violence and torture

Among other things, Amnesty alleged security forces tortured protesters and carried out extrajudicial killings. In one of the bloodiest incidents, Amnesty claimed security forces shot dead at least 60 "defenceless Ipob protesters within two days leading to the Biafra Remembrance Day of May 30". The alleged incident occurred in Onitsha, Anambra state.

At the time, an Ipob coordinator who witnessed some of the alleged violence on demonstrators told IBTimes UK security forces used tear gas and fired shots in the air to intimidate protesters, who ran away.

Amnesty's report came after IBTimes UK reported security forces opened fire on pro-Biafran agitators in south-eastern Nigeria.

Earlier this year, in an exclusive report by IBTimes UK, Amnesty confirmed Nigerian security forces had used excessive force against pro-Biafran protesters on some occasions.

Amnesty also claimed Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari had repeatedly promised that Amnesty International's reports would be examined but no concrete steps had been taken.

Buhari's spokesperson has not replied to a request for a comment.

Pro-Biafrans protest for Nnamdi Kanu release
A pro-Biafra supporter holds a poster of jailed activist Nnamdi Kanu in Aba AFP/Getty Images

Biafra war and pro-Biafran movement today

The Biafran territories were forcibly annexed to present-day Nigeria during British colonisation, which ended in 1960.

Following two coup d'etats and the 1966 massacres of Igbo people in northern Nigeria, the contested Biafran territories, under the leadership of military officer and politician Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, seceded from Nigeria and declared independence on 30 May 1967.

The establishment of the Republic of Biafra sparked the civil war. The Nigerian government – supported by the UK – fought against the separatists. They imposed strict blockades on food and medicines in Biafra and attacked hospitals and facilities run by humanitarian organisations, causing the deaths of between one and three million people.

The extent of starvation in the Biafran territories during the war sparked international condemnation of the Nigerian government.

Independence calls have gained renewed momentum following the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, one of the leaders of the movement, in October 2015. Kanu, Ipob leader and director of UK-based Radio Biafra, is currently standing trial on six counts of treasonable felony charges.

The Nigerian government has always maintained the country's unity was a priority and that although peaceful pro-Biafran protests were welcome, demanding the breakaway of the Biafran territories went against the constitution.

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