The Zone 9 Police in Umuahia, Abia state capital, said yesterday that they arrested eighteen members of the Movement For the Actualization of Sovereign state of Biafra (MASSOB), an Igbo secessionist group, who held the Parish Priest of St Luanga Catholic Church, Opoko in Onitsha, Anambra state, hostage, forcing him to conduct a mass for their 16 year anniversary celebration.
The Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 9, Umuahia, Akila Usman Gwary, disclosed this while denying the report of a national newspaper that the Biafran 16-year anniversary, which was held on Sunday, had turned bloody.
Gwary explained that the 18 people arrested were among 35 MASSOB members the police arrested in Onitsha, Anambra state.
He said that there were no deaths and no arrests of 200 members of MASSOB as was reported on Monday.
“This is false and unfounded and it is misleading. The report has no verifiable facts at all.”
He agreed that there were some “events”, but stated that the report was not the true picture of what happened.
“Although there were some events, the paper has refused to do its work properly for reasons best known to the reporters. In Abia during the weekend, six suspects were arrested and they are all confirmed MASSOB members because they were in their uniforms, carrying Biafran flags and they had their ID Cards.”
He said that the arrest in Anambra came on the heels of a distress call from a Catholic priest, who was being held hostage by MASSOB members that he must organize mass for their 16 year anniversary or face their wrath.
According to the AIG, it was the helpless catholic priest who called the attention of the police and on reaching there, they found 18 MASSOB members, all in their uniforms, with their flags. They were eventually rounded up.
“In Anambra, 35 suspects were arrested. 18 of them were arrested from St. Luanga Catholic Church, Opoko in Onitsha, Anambra state. These people were holding the parish priest hostage, forcing him to conduct [an]anniversary mass for them. And they were all in their uniforms, with their flags. They were rounded up there and were picked from the church by the police.”
Gwary said that they also arrested three suspects in Imo in their uniforms, flags and other exhibits.
“These were the only people that were picked by the police. There was no loss of life, there was no reason for exchange of firing, there was no reason to fire anybody. The people were arrested, taken into custody and have been charged to court this morning. There was no issue of 200 people dead,” the AIG said.
He advised that journalists always cross check their facts on any issue concerning the police before going to press, stating:
“We are here, we are always available for them, and always relate very well with them. They have our numbers. When they call, we pick up and tell them whether it happened or not.”
He said that there are many charges against members of MASSOB.
“First, MASSOB is a proscribed organization and once somebody is a member of a proscribed organization and he comes out openly, the police will pick that person and charge him or her according to the law”.
He also alleged that members of the movement have been inciting the public against the government.
“If you have been listening to radio Biafra, you hear them calling the federal government names, inciting the public that they should kill the police, destroy police stations and kill any soldier they see because law enforcement are not on their side but on the side of the government.
“My call to everybody is that they should be patriotic and law abiding, that is all”, Gwary said.