Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha write that the Independent People of Biafra imposed sit-at-home has crippled the economy of the South-east.
Following the arrest of the self-acclaimed Biafran leader, Nnamdi Kanu, his foot soldiers in the separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) enforced a sit-at-home protest that shut down business activities and restricted movement in the South-east region. Initially, the protest which started on August 9 was to be observed every Monday, but Kanu, still in detention, advised that the sit-at-home protest be carried out only on the day of his court hearing.
Kanu was labelled a terrorist by the presidency who view his narrative about the marginalisation of the Igbo ethnic group as an act of terrorism. Over time, Kanu has also claimed that the President, Muhammadu Buhari was dead and a doppelganger Jibrin was instead handling the affairs of the country. He went as far as pointing out the facial differences between the two. Whether he was right or wrong, his followers believed every word as if it was the only gospel that could save their lives. Kanu, who is not based in Nigeria, has eluded attempts to capture him by the Nigerian government. He deployed social media and radio services to spread his gospel to his followers, with Twitter being his loudest megaphone.
The IPOB leader was, however, captured in June this year although the circumstances of his arrest are not yet clarified. It is not the first time that Kanu was arrested. On October 14, 2015, he was arrested and slapped with 11 charges, including terrorism and treasonable felony. He disappeared while on bail.
Since Kanu began his fight for an independent Biafran nation in 2014, his outspokenness has been lauded and criticised. The ordinary man seems to identify with his goals while the South-east governors appear either to ignore him or marvel at his audacity.
Due to his influence in the region, he is more feared in most parts of Igboland than the governors. Thus, when IPOB imposed a sit-at-home, not a few happily joined in.
However, as the protest began to spill into months, the effect on the economy was felt. Businesses, transportation and market activities are grounded, leading to economic loss.
In some places like Imo State where it was only observed on Mondays, this month September, the indigenes were advised to stay at home for two days. For business owners, the protest was affecting their source of livelihood.
Code named 'Ghost Monday,' the IPOB operation was targeted at crippling the economy and forcing the hand of governments of the South-east states and the Federal Government to give in to its ultimate demand for a separate country, called Biafra. The pursuit of this same goal led to a 30-month Civil War between the Biafran Army and the Federal Troops; from 1967 to 1970. Biafra lost the war. The current Biafra project, uses Ghost Monday, to empty the streets of the South-east states of human and vehicular traffic; turning them into a 'Ghost Streets'.
"We only have three days to run our businesses out of seven days in a week. It is really affecting our business," said Alphonso Ndii, a businessman in Orlu town.
A source in Aba, Abia State, said that the sit-at-home order is fully observed in the area such that the popular markets like Ariaria and Shopping Centres are as quiet as a graveyard.
"You may come out and you will only see one or two people. Sometimes, only one tricycle can be found on the Asa/Azikiwe Road."
"Even in the villages, most traders don't come out till evening and by then, they can only make little money," added Ndii.
While the IPOB has suspended the sit-at-home protests, the residents have continued to observe it.
"Miscreants and criminals have hijacked the protest. People are afraid to go out for fear of their lives. Even the military and the police that are supposed to safeguard the lives of residents are nowhere to be found," said Ndii.
Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State expressed similar sentiments on a television programme recently.
He said, "The sit-at-home works to the average of 70 per cent in the South-east because of fear. It's fear; our people are not the kind of people that sit at home - they hustle for their daily living, they go from one place to the other.
The worst sit-at-home is the terrible state of roads in the South-east, it is worse than IPOB sit-at-home."
He condemned the sit-at-home order by IPOB, calling it madness since the group was not able to enforce such orders in other parts of the country.
However, IPOB released a press statement on September 14, threatening that anybody caught enforcing any sit-at-home order will be dealt with.
"We cannot be part of the problem we are trying to solve. We cannot join the enemies to compound the woes of our people we are fighting to liberate. That was why we suspended the 'Ghost Mondays' that we earlier declared because of the economic implications to our people. We listened to appeals by the people and reviewed our stance on the matter then.
"That was why we reduced the sit-at-home protests to the days our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu will be making appearances in court. That is enough for now and we stand by it. Anybody trying to impose another sit-at-home order on our people or enforce illegal or imaginary sit-at-home is not IPOB and must be dealt with. Such a person(s) are working with the enemies to disrepute IPOB, and we won't tolerate such stupidity," read the statement signed by its Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful.
The socioeconomic impact of the protest led Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State lead a protest against the continued sit-at-home order recently. The governor and his executive council members went to Awka, the state capital, to force businesses to open. He had earlier issued a warning to banks that refused to open. He threatened that such banks will be permanently closed. According to him, the sit-at-home compliance adversely affected the Gross Domestic Product and the general economy of the state.
The governor issued a similar threat to marketers.
"If markets don't open, I will sack the leadership of the market. If the market and park leaders don't comply, their leadership will be changed within two weeks."
The pleas of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State to his people to return to their businesses apparently fell on deaf ears as residents continue to sit at home. In his address on the state's 30th anniversary, he said:
"Once again, I implore us all to resume our normal economic and social activities without fear of victimization while assuring us all that the Abia State Government has put modalities in place in conjunction with security agencies to ensure the safety and security of everyone going about their legitimate endeavours. We are all also aware of the attempts by certain elements in Abia State to affect our commercial activities and other endeavours on a weekly basis. As your leader and Governor, I am making a passionate appeal to Abians to eschew these self-harming tendencies and resume normal activities on a regular basis."
"Governors of the South-east have done their best to check the situation and when people sit at home, it is not biting the governors... When you sit at home, there is food for the governors in their homes and some of their children are outside the country," Umahi voiced out at another religious event.
In Imo State, the state government recently sealed some banks in Owerri as punishment for observing the sit-at-home protests.
It said its action was to let the banks appreciate the frustration they had caused customers on Monday by refusing to open for transactions.
Commenting on the economic loss to the region as a result of the sit-at-home, Mr. Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, President, Igbo Youths Movement embarked on a thoroughly sincere appraisal of the situation, that painted a holistic view that takes into account all the infrastructural challenges in the South-east.
While admitting that shut down of business activities, will definitely result to loss of revenue. He said, "But there are other factors too. I publicly suggested to the agitators through my social media page, to apply caution, since they have already made their point. But other factors such as, the terrible state of our roads, extortion from security agencies at numerous roadblocks, insecurity arising from abductions and brigandage of herdsmen and other bandits and kidnappers, do more damage to trade and commerce than any thing else. "
He reasoned further that, "The non existence of a seaport, functional international airport and a cargo wing, non existence railways in the region, effectively retards the economic growth of the region, far more than this recent sit-at-home shut downs. If the political leaders who failed to attract these infrastructural developments, had fought for these things, the region would have known real economic growth. The infrastructural decay in the region is lamentable. The roads are impassable. The agitators are not responsible for that. We should do well to balance it."
Despite the impact of the protest on their businesses and security, most residents are still in support of Kanu. According to them, he is wrongfully jailed.
"They called him a terrorist. How is he one? Has he committed more terrorist acts than the Boko Haram insurgents that have been terrorising this country? He is only fighting for the goal of the common man. All he did was enlighten his people. His arrest is not Nigeria's problem. They should deal with the myriad of challenges we have in Nigeria and leave Kanu alone," argued Ndii.
"They like it (the sit-at-home order) over here in Aba. They are not bothered but I am because I have to make a living," said the source.
There is hardly any protest without socioeconomic implications. However, when a protest is not yielding the desired result, the leaders should look for alternatives instead of subjecting the people to unnecessary hardship.
Code named 'Ghost Monday,' the IPOB operation was targeted at crippling the economy and forcing the hand of governments of the South-east states and the Federal Government to give in to its ultimate demand for a separate country, called Biafra. The pursuit of this same goal led to a 30-month Civil War between the Biafran Army and the Federal Troops; from 1967 to 1970