Supporters of an advocate for a separate sovereign state of Biafra in Nigeria's southeast were disappointed Friday when his application for bail was turned down by a court in the capital, Abuja.
Anti-riot police cordoned off the entire court facility in an attempt to keep away supporters of Ralph Uwuzuruike, leader of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB.
Despite the stringent security measures, scores of his followers found their way to the gate of the Federal High Court in central Abuja.
The trial judge, in a brief ruling, rejected Uwazuruike's application for bail.
His supporters were very disappointed. "We only need freedom, and that's what we need," said Chief Richard Organzi. "We need Republic of Biafra. We are being intimidated from the Nigerian government under this pressure and intimidation. We don't need to belong to Nigeria again. Uwuzuruike is our leader. He has taught us about a non-violent struggle, which we are now performing, and the federal government is now intimidating him and accusing him of what he is not doing."
One of Uwazuruike's lawyers, Festus Keyamo, says they will file an appeal to a higher court to overturn Friday's bail decision. "The request for bail was denied, and the accused persons have been ordered to be kept in prison custody," said Keyamo. Asked what's next, he responded, "The next line of action is that when we put heads together, the defense team, I suspect we shall reach a decision to go on appeal on the issue of bail."
Uwazuruike and six members of MASSOB were arrested last year and are facing treason charges. Prosecutors say Uwazuruike had trained and armed a group of young Igbo speaking people to wage war against the Nigerian state. His supporters insist that the Biafra secession campaign has been devoid of violence.
MASSOB has gained substantial support among ethnic Igbos of the Southeast, adding to current security worries in Nigeria. An attempt by Igbos to secede in the 1960s led to a bitter civil war.