Monday has become an unproductive day in Nigeria’s Southeast region since the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) began enforcing a stay-at-home order across the five states in the region following the rearrest of Nnamdi Kanu, the secessionist group’s leader.
Starting from Aug. 9, the region has been grounded to a halt from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Monday, a move the group believed would force the Nigerian government to release its detained leader, Kanu.
While the government has not yielded to its demand, the lingering order in place is particularly hitting hard on traders and small business owners in the region whose shops have remained locked.
“I don’t want anybody to cut off my head,” said Mercy Omalicha, a petty trader in Onitsha, a commercial city in Anambra State, who had stopped trading on Monday to comply with the order. “I’m not against the course they [IPOB] are fighting for, because Igbo people are not treated fairly in Nigeria. But terrorising people in the name of fighting for their freedom, I don’t support that. The sit-at-home should be a wilful thing, not one forced on people.”
Kelvin Ugwuoke, another resident of Onitsha, who deals in used motor spare parts, told HumAngle that IPOB’s order to stay at home is causing more harm than good to the Igbo who are heavily dependent on trade.
“I heard that they want to make the sit-at-home hold Mondays and Fridays,” Ugwuoke said. “Of what benefit will that be to our business? This is nonsense. It’s not going to get us Biafra.”
Nnenna Chioma, a young graduate of banking and finance who lives in Aba, Abia State, has fears that her business might crumble if the rumour that Friday will also be included as a day to stay at home becomes true.
Chioma hawks footwear while waiting for her call-up for the mandatory one-year national youth service. The business has been slow, she said, but the sit-at-home order has made things even more difficult for her business.
The order to stay at home has not been good for business, according to Linda Oluchi, a fresh graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who helps her mother to sell foodstuff at New Market in Enugu.
“This is nonsense,” said Oluchi, who is frustrated by the restriction of movement on Monday. “If they [IPOB] want to agitate for Biafra, they should do so by adopting a discrete approach towards their course. The current approach is not working. People are suffering and there’s no way they’re going to support agitation for Biafra with the approach IPOB is using now.”
The economy of the Southeast is shaped by activities in markets across the zone. Many Nigerians in that region engage in buying and selling, and the shutting down of businesses and means of livelihood on Mondays because of the sit-at-home order, has received wider condemnation, and seen by many as the height of fascism in the modern world.
According to Moses Ezukwo, the First Vice President of Nnewi Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NCCIMA), the zone has lost over ‘N50 billion’ so far, with the private sector accounting for more than 60 per cent of the loss.
IPOB had acknowledged the economic implications of the sit-at-home order, saying in a statement that: “We are constrained to take it so that the world will know that our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, is not alone in the struggle for Biafra autonomy.”
Governors in the Southeast are worried that the sit-at-home order would cripple the economy of the region. David Umahi, Governor of Ebonyi State, said the economy of the Southeast would be destroyed if the sit-at-home exercise is allowed to continue.
“No Southeast man wants to miss a day of work. They like to work, they are into trade, commerce, and they want to earn their daily living,” Umahi told reporters recently at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, after a meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
On the first day of staying at home, thousands of candidates in the region who had registered for the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination organised by the National Examination Council (NECO) could not take their Mathematics examination.
Although IPOB subsequently announced the suspension of the order to stay at home, people were still afraid to go about their businesses on Mondays due to fears of being attacked. But the order has been effective in states such as Enugu that workers in public and private sectors also could not go out on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Nigerians in the Southeast region believe they are being marginalised in the scheme of things in Nigeria, and anything that will help change the status quo will be welcomed, but not at the cost of their freedom to make choices or live as guaranteed even under the Nigerian constitution.
Last Monday, a truck conveying spare parts from Nnewi in Anambra to Kabba in Kogi, North-central Nigeria, was allegedly set on fire by IPOB members enforcing the order at Eluagu Obupka in Nsukka, Enugu State.
The driver of the truck, Fabian Eze, was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) as saying that he left Nnewi on Sunday night, and parked in Eluagu by 6 a.m. over fear of being attacked by IPOB, for flouting the suspended sit-at-home order by the group.
In 2016, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had in its National Human Development Report for Nigeria named Southeast as the most human secured geopolitical zone in Nigeria.
The UNDP defined human security as safety from chronic threats such as hunger, disease, and repression as well as protection from sudden and harmful disruptions in patterns of daily life whether in homes, jobs, or communities.
But the activities of IPOB have resulted in wanton killings and destruction, wrapping the once peaceful region in a climate of fear.
Several police formations and units have been razed, with many police officers losing their lives. Offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the region have been burnt, including other public infrastructure in the zone.
At least 21 police officers have been killed in three months in Imo State alone, according to Amnesty International. Nigerian security forces have also killed many civilians in the region as they moved in to restore order in the region.
Southeast leaders reiterate commitment to united Nigeria
Igbo leaders, after a meeting with the Nigerian government delegation in June, maintained their stand for one Nigeria, despite Kanu and IPOB still having a significant number of supporters.
In a statement after their meeting, David Umahi, the governor of Ebonyi State and chairman Southeast Governors’ Forum, said: “We are committed to one united Nigeria; we have always mentioned this; all our leaders are committed to this and that is why we read it everywhere, a united Nigeria of fairness, equity and equality of freedom and this we have further expressed.”
“Those who dish out hate speeches from our region, threat of violence or secession do not speak for Southeast. I repeat, we the Southeast people are not for secession, we don’t support it; we don’t call for it.”
“We condemn the killings of security men and innocent people in the Southeast and the governors are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of our people. We are supporting the security agencies. We finally appeal to our people to continue to engage our youths to eschew violence.”
The Igbo are known for their entrepreneurial prowess, and beyond entrepreneurship, they are also natural liberals, egalitarian, acephalous, and competitive. With the current happenings, many people in the region believe that IPOB would likely lose the support of most Igbo who have been supporting them.
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