As the Governorship election in Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria draws nearer, many residents, security experts, and political analysts have expressed worry over the controversial sit-at-home order by the proscribed separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The sit-at-home order is a protest against the arrest and detention of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, by the Nigerian Government. Residents of the Southeast region who have defied the sit-at-home order have been attacked many times by members of the group.
The birth of sit-at-home protest
Kanu founded IPOB in 2012 and had spoken at gatherings threatening authorities and calling for Biafra’s independence. At various times, he referred to Nigeria as a zoo, urging his loyalists to take up arms against the state.
He was first arrested and detained for treasonable felony, unlawful possession of arms, and illegal importation in 2015 but granted bail on medical grounds in 2017. He later fled the country, claiming that he feared for his life after security operatives raided his home in a standoff that left some people dead.
Almost four years later, Kanu was rearrested and he has since June 29, 2021 remained in detention. Since then, most communities, markets, schools, banks, motor parks, and even worship centres are shut down on Mondays as members of the IPOB’s Eastern Security Network (ESN) move around streets to ensure compliance.
They frequently have confrontations with security operatives such as soldiers and police officers, often leading to fatalities. The enforcers also have a history of attacking residents who defy the order either by killing them or destroying their businesses.
Sit-at-home threatens election
While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) already set Nov. 6, 2021 for the governorship election in Anambra, IPOB members have declared a one week sit-at-home protest from Nov. 5 to 10. The group said the protest would be relaxed on Sunday, Nov. 7 to allow people to go to church.
”Following the adjournment of our great leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s court case to 10th of November 2021, by the Federal High Court Abuja, we the great movement and family of the Indigenous People of Biafra wish to inform Biafrans, friends of Biafra and lovers of freedom that IPOB will lock down Biafraland from Nov. 5 to Nov. 10 except Sunday, Nov.7, a day our people worship the Almighty God if the Nigeria Government fails to release our leader unconditionally before Nov. 4 2021,” part of the statement released by IPOB spokesperson, Emma Powerful read.
“We have taken time to analyse what transpired on Oct. 21 when our Leader was arraigned in court and discovered that the federal government is not sincere and only wants to humiliate him and keep him perpetually in DSS custody to rot there. Unless the federal government releases him unconditionally before November 4, we shall sacrifice one week for him as a warning protest to convey to our oppressors that Nnamdi Kanu represents over 70 million Biafrans,” the statement further read.
Some security and political analysts already urged INEC to dialogue with IPOB but the Commission ruled out the possibility of engaging the separatist group, insisting that the election would go on as planned despite the rising cases of killings and attacks in the region.
Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman of INEC’s Information and Voter Education Committee, said the Commission had engaged stakeholders including security agencies, civil society organisations (CSOs) and other relevant bodies but did not include IPOB.
“We recognise political parties, we recognise the people of Anambra State, we recognise civil society groups and organisations, we recognise traditional institutions and the clergy. So, if they are part of civil society groups and organisations and they attend our programmes, we will tell them what we want to do in relation to Anambra elections,” Okoye had said.
“But in terms of IPOB, the commission will not go out of its way to go and engage with an organisation that the federal government has declared as illegal. So we won’t do that.”
Residents, CSOs express worry
There may be voters’ apathy to the election as some residents in the state told HumAngle that IPOB’s sit-at-home would rather be obeyed than coming out for election.
Many said they are afraid to come out to vote given the threat by the group and also do not trust the Nigerian Government to protect them.
“We can’t trust the government to protect us and it has been seen in the last few months. IPOB members are inflicting injuries on people without the government assuring us safety. While I am not a fan of the sit-at-home, I can’t risk my life to come out and vote,” Felix Undukwe, a driver in Onitsha, told HumAngle in a telephone interview.
Undukwe’s Mazda bus was burnt by IPOB militants enforcing a sit-at-home order on Aug. 22, 2021 while returning to Anambra from Imo State.
“I have feared the IPOB boys more since they burnt my vehicle,” he said.
Another resident who preferred not to be named because of fear of attack told our correspondent that IPOB activities “could enable an unpopular candidate to win the Anambra governorship election. As far as I am concerned, our people would rather listen to IPOB than obey INEC. It is not that people’s votes used to count before in Nigeria. With the IPOB order, an unpopular person could emerge.”
Corroborating this, a nonprofit election monitoring body in Nigeria, Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), said the sit-at-home order enforced by the separatists will likely lead to low voter turnout and cause violence in the state’s forthcoming governorship election.
Meanwhile, a coalition of CSOs in the Southeast, had on Sunday, Oct. 24, warned IPOB of the grievous implication of trying to truncate the governorship election with its sit-at-home.
The CSOs stressed that “if election does not hold on Nov. 6, 2021, it means you (IPOB) have created a state of anarchy and a total breakdown of law and order in Anambra State.”
“What this means is that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria cannot keep quiet and allow a part of the country to degenerate to anarchy. The only safest thing he can do is to declare a state of emergency in that state.”
Analysts advice government
Speaking with HumAngle, Jide Ojo, a public affairs analyst, and political commentator, said that the enforcement of sit-at-home shows loss of legitimacy of elected leadership.
“People tend to believe in IPOB more than their leaders. Federal government has failed to initiate dialogue with them and that could be the only solution to the problem,” Ojo said.
He argued that the “Nigerian government cannot afford not to dialogue with the group in the face of the state of affairs. Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari should take a cue from one of his predecessors, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua,” Ojo said.
“The Igbo leaders might not accept Kanu because of the initiation of ESN and the destruction done by IPOB, regardless, I think the federal government should have open dialogue with them. Nigeria cannot do without the Igbo and the only solution is to initiate dialogue.”
“Buhari should learn from Yar’Adua who gave amnesty to militants. The Igbo youth see Kanu as a prisoner of conscience because of his rhetoric. The sit-at-home is worrisome. I read in the news that Saturday is now a school day in Anambra since IPOB already took over Mondays.”
“The dialogue approach should be considered because the government cannot use brutal force. It can assemble local and international mediators to look at their grievances. I see IPOB members as political agitators who want fairness.”
“Elections can still be held but there will be low turnout because soldiers cannot be everywhere. I tell you that if PDP and APC agree to use a south east candidate in 2023, the issue of IPOB will die a natural death because their leaders will have the opportunity to mediate.”
Timothy Avele , a security expert, who currently works as Group Managing Director at Agent-X Security Group told HumAngle that “there are no two ways that the sit-at-home will affect the governorship election”.
Avele said “Government might use force but it would really affect the outcome of the poll especially in the interior areas of the state.”
“The other alternative is dialogue. There’s a way they can negotiate using people IPOB would listen to. Government listens to bandits and Boko Haram, why not listen to IPOB too,” he added.
Meanwhile, Osita Okechukwu, the Director-General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), on Monday advised the separatists to join the Ohanaeze Ndigbo to explore a political option for Kanu’s release.
Okechukwu said exploring a political solution to the problem would also garner support for the Southeast region’s aspiration to produce Nigeria’s president in 2023.
He argued that on the other hand, “shutting down the Southeast for seven days, 30 days or 10 years would most likely lead to more loss of lives of the Igbo people. Such an action would also lead to stagnation of the region’s economy, hunger, poverty and underdevelopment. To be frank, it is doubtful whether shutting down will lead to freedom for Nnamdi Kanu or any other freedom.”
As the election draws closer, many Nigerians anticipate how INEC would conduct a peaceful election in a state that has known no peace in the last few months.
Support Our Journalism
There are millions of ordinary people affected by conflict in Africa whose stories are missing in the mainstream media. HumAngle is determined to tell those challenging and under-reported stories, hoping that the people impacted by these conflicts will find the safety and security they deserve.
To ensure that we continue to provide public service coverage, we have a small favour to ask you. We want you to be part of our journalistic endeavour by contributing a token to us.
Your donation will further promote a robust, free, and independent media.Donate Here