•Police arrest 137 pro-Biafra agitators in Onitsha
There were fears of repraisals yesterday following Wednesday’s fracas in Onitsha between pro-Biafra agitators and security agents.
A mosque and some trucks with Dangote inscribed on them were burnt in the Southeast’s commercial city.
But the North’s governors and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) moved fast to prevent a reprisal.
Markets, banks and schools in Onitsha remained closed yesterday. There was however calm in the city.
The Building Materials International Market at Ogidi, near Onitsha, New Auto Spare Parts market at Nkpor and other major markets were not open for business.
Stern-looking soldiers and riot policemen were patrolling the streets. There was a traffic gridlock from the former Toll Gate at Ogbunike to the Bridge-Head end of the Enugu/Awka/Onitsha Expressway.
The NSCIA is the umbrella body of Islam in Nigeria. It is headed by the leader of the Muslim Ummah, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar.
Northern Governors’ Forum Chairman and Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima said in Maiduguri that the governors took firm measures to avoid any spill-over of the violence that broke out in Onitsha.
The governors reminded all Nigerians to realise, “ that the evil being perpetrated by the Boko Haram insurgents against innocent Muslims, Christians and followers of other religions, regardless of their geo-political divides since the last six years, was more than enough trouble for the country and hence the need to come together as a single unit to collectively fight terrorism that is a threat to all law-abiding Nigerians.
“We condemn the Wednesday crisis in very strong term. We have been in touch with one another today. The governors of major cities in the North in particular, have been in critical touch to share thoughts and we have collectively taken firm measures to ensure that the violence doesn’t spread to any part of the 19 northern states and we will also be working with our colleagues in the South to nip the crisis in the bud, but we will not disclose the measures we have taken so that those who may want to take advantage of the Onitsha mayhem don’t know our strategies.
“However, it is surprising to the Northern States Governors Forum that any Nigerian at all can even contemplate any kind of violence when we already have serious problems of Boko Haram insurgents that are killing Muslims and Christians, killing northerners and southerners, attacking mosques, churches and markets, in an effort to kill all of us that do not subscribe to their interpretation of Islam.
“ We have Boko Haram that kills Hausa, Fulani, Ibo, Yoruba, Kanuri, Ijaw and anyone they are able to come across. We thought that the existence of Boko Haram should have been enough to make all Nigerians fuse into one and fight a common enemy. It is really sad that any Nigerian can contemplate violence.
“We can’t afford any distraction that will shift our focus from the bigger problems of Boko Haram that has an ambition of sending the human race into extinction. We urge all Nigerians to be calm.
“We particularly call on all Nigerians living in the northern states not to pay attention to differences in religion and ethnicity but rather, should see each other as Nigerians with equal residential rights and fundamental human rights that include freedom to lawfully reside anywhere in Nigeria, freedom of worship, movement, trade, association, education, healthcare and other rights as provided by the Nigerian constitution.
“We particularly call on our youths not to allow anyone use them for any purpose because youths have suffered more than any other age category from the hands of Boko Haram insurgents and that is more than enough. Our focus should be on how to end the Boko Haram insurgency and not to be driven into any other crisis.
“We have suffered too much, we must say no to any crisis. As heads of Government of the 19 northern states, we will, by the grace of God, do everything humanly possible to ensure that no resident, regardless of his or her ethno-religious background, is denied any of these rights.
“ As Nigerians, we are one, we need one another and we must live as one people,” Shettima said.
The NSCIA urged Muslims not to attack Christians.
The council said Muslims should not fall into the agenda of the hoodlums in Onitsha to cause an inter-religious crisis in the country.
It urged the Federal Government to direct security agencies to urgently safeguard the lives of Muslims in any vulnerable community.
The statement, signed by NSCIA Secretary-General Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede, said: “We call on Muslim brothers and sisters not to embark on reprisals on Christians and their places of worship in any part of Nigeria. We are already engaged in discussions with various security and relevant government agencies to forestall further aggravation of the situation.
“We also call on all religious and interfaith organisations across the country to step up their peace-building initiatives in order to support the government and strengthen the enabling climate of peace and good relationships.
“In addition, we want to request all Imams and Muslim scholars to cooperate with the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in dousing the tension created by the unfortunate incidence.
“Importantly, Muslims are enjoined to heed the call of Allah by upholding the virtues that guard against the demolition of ‘monasteries, synagogues and mosques in which Allah is much mentioned’ (Q 22:40).
The NSCIA urged Muslims to beware of falling into the agenda of the hoodlums in Onitsha to cause religious crisis nationwide.
It said: “The perpetrators of the dastardly acts, which culminated in the loss of lives and burning of trucks owned by a prominent Muslim businessman only sought to provoke inter-religious crises and thereby get Nigeria further embroiled in needless bloodletting. Muslims, must as a matter of principle, resist the temptation of being drawn to retaliation.
“They should consider the perpetrators as criminals and not representative of any ethnic or religious group.
“The NSCIA is fully aware of the development and is working round the clock to put the situation under control.
“Muslims are warned against the antics of those who seek to whip up religious sentiments to further their clandestine political motives. Vengeance is for Allah and Muslims should exercise maximum restraint in these trying times.
“We also call on the government to investigate the incident surrounding the killings and wanton destruction of the mosque in Onitsha and bring the perpetrators to justice.
“We pray for God’s continued guidance and support of our leaders and the citizens of Nigeria in the effort towards building a nation where peace and justice shall reign.”
It pleaded with the Federal Government to take appropriate steps to protect Muslims and any vulnerable community.