Many people were feared dead and others missing as members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) clashed with security agencies in Emene, Enugu State on Sunday.
Church services were disrupted as worshippers fled the chaotic scene to avoid being caught in the cross-fire.
Eyewitnesses said trouble started at about 7.00 am when some policemen attempted to disperse IPOB members who were meeting at the Community Secondary School, Emene.
Members of the group were said to have resisted the interruption of the meeting.
The encounter was said to have turned violent when the IPOB members stood their ground.
An account said the police officers called for reinforcements and over a dozen patrol vans filled with policemen, soldiers and the Department of State Services (DSS) operatives soon arrived the scene.
Shots were fired as teargas fumes filled the area, especially between St Patrick Secondary School and St Joseph Catholic Church along the old Abakaliki Road.
many people were said to have sustained injuries while an unspecified number of IPOB members were allegedly arrested by the police.
Emene was tense for much of Sunday as policemen restricted movement in search of IPOB members.
Another account said the group’s members met at the school for a combat training for new members. IPOB said its membered bore no weapons.
It was learnt that the DSS stormed first the venue to stop the exercise, and a heated argument ensued, followed by a free-for-all.
A report said the Biafra campaigners overpowered the DSS operatives and made it to a nearby Emene Police station, chanting solidarity songs.
It was learnt that the armed DSS could not shoot at the IPOB members as they were not permitted to apply force on the group.
An account said it was while attempting to gain access to the police station that about a dozen patrol vans loaded with armed security agents moved into the scene.
At least two persons reportedly died during the clash.
IPOB alleged that the security agencies killed 22 of its members and injured 42 others in the shooting, but this could not be independently verified.
The group’s spokesman, Emma Powerful, said in a statement: “Today (yesterday), the Nigerian security personnel stormed IPOB meeting ground in Enugu and started shooting sporadically, which consumed the lives of 21 members and 47 arrested for just no cause or provocation.
“It is unfortunate that security operatives murdered innocent members and carried their lifeless bodies to unknown locations.
“The security in the whole world must understand that keeping quiet and following the rule of law should not be construed as weakness on the part of IPOB.
“This rampant killing of innocent members of IPOB will be reciprocated in due cause. IPOB members have been slaughtered and arrested in their numbers across different locations in Enugu State on Sunday.
“We must warn and put the whole world on notice that Nigerian Government and her security operatives should stop killing our people because we are a peaceful organisation with the mandate of restoring Biafra sovereignty within the shortest period.”
Powerful said IPOB was committed to the peaceful pursuit for the independence of Biafra.
He said: “We are not a violent group and there is nothing they can do to change our resolve to maintain peace and order in our land. The efforts of the Nigerian government and her partners in crime in trying to push IPOB to change their tactics will amount to vanity.
“Why have they refused to confront terrorists herdsmen, Boko Haram terrorists, Ansaru group, bandits, ISIS and other groups ravaging the country and are busy killing innocent and unarmed members of IPOB?”
According to Powerful, the IPOB members at the meet were unarmed and could not have killed any security agent.
“It is laughable for the DSS to claim that they lost five personnel in the hands of unarmed and peaceful people.
“It is clear to all that IPOB does not carry arm. IPOB is a peaceful movement and we must remain so till Biafra is achieved.”
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi visited the scene and was assured by residents of the area and the security agencies that normalcy has returned.
DSS spokesman Dr Peter Afunanya could not be reached. He did not pick his calls or respond to text messages sent to him as of press time.