Compliance with IPOB’s sit-at-home order has had dire consequences for people and state governments in the southeast. For politics and economy, it seems that the governors of the region are just beginning to come to terms with the dangers of dining with IPOB.
Ever since it rose to national prominence in 2015, the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) has a tradition of declaring May 30 of every year as a “Sit-at-Home” day in the South-East; in which all social, commercial and economic activities will be totally grounded in the 5 states of the region. The commemoration was created as a solemn occasion to mark and pay respects to the Igbo lives lost during the Nigerian civil war. The idea resonated well with indigenes and residents of the states who always comply with the directive; government of each of the states were also magnanimous towards the event and it permitted its annual commemoration despite its running battle and larger disagreements with the IPOB organisation.
But after Nnamdi Kanu was arrested and brought back to Nigeria to continue facing his legal trial; the IPOB group, in a move that exemplified sheer absurdity and insensitive foolhardiness came out to declare an indefinite sit-at-home every Monday in the region till Nnamdi Kanu is released. They ordered all institutions whether public or private, transport companies, schools, banks, markets, airports and sea ports in the South east to shut down every Monday beginning from August 9. 2021. They also asked people to register their concern over the fate of Kanu and the rest of all agitators languishing in various security detentions by staying indoors every Monday. In a tone that suggested brute enforcement; the group warned that should anyone attempt to flout this directive; they should be ready to face the huge consequences as contravening the order is like taking a grave risk.
This order was met with public condemnation and widespread dissent as many stakeholders including Ohanaeze Ndigbo and residents of the region alluded to the impracticality and folly inherent in the idea; they maintained that the directive will only create more economic loss and misery to the region and is an objective to no useful end; it is simply akin to hitting one’s nose to spite the face. Few days before the first “Ghost Monday” was to come into place; Kanunta Kanu, younger brother of Nnamdi Kanu, declared that the sit-at-home order has been suspended. He disclosed that IPOB has listened to pleas from well-meaning individuals and groups within and outside the south east and that it also considers the fate of children who will be involved in the NECO Examinations and based on that, decided to shift grounds over the sit-at-home order. The announcement was swiftly debunked through a statement from IPOB which said that Kanu’s brother who issued the statement is not IPOB’s spokesman and therefore should be ignored. According to IPOB, Kanu’s brother is not IPOB spokesperson and anybody who listens to that deceptive statement and obliges to such statement by coming out on Mondays should be ready to face anything he encounters.
The first Ghost Monday on August 9 recorded total compliance across states in the South East and where resistance was suspected, IPOB enforcers moved around menacingly to ensure forceful compliance. The first ghost Monday witnessed cases of looting and violence as six people were also feared dead in Aboh Mbaise, Imo State, and Nnewi, Anambra State, due to a clash between security agents and enforcers of the order. The general air of public opinion also suggested that the residents complied not because of their subscription to the idea; but out of fear of the unknown. They lamented the economic disadvantage they confronted and pleaded for the directive to be rescinded immediately.
Personalities from across the region vehemently condemned the dimension and frequency of the sit-at-home and cautioned IPOB’s leadership to jettison the idea or risk revolution of Igbo against the group, thereby liquidating whatever gain they have made in the past
The general public outcry made IPOB to change its mind on the directive; as it came out on August 14 to announce a suspension of the sit-at-home order. The group further stated that the sit-at-home would be declared only when Nnamdi Kanu would be making appearance in court and not every Monday as earlier directed.
But that directive has failed to remediate the initial damage done; as subsequent Mondays have witnessed similar standstill in economic and social activities occasioned by the widespread fear of potential violent attacks on people and businesses that fail to sit-at-home.
Some who dared to go about their normal business paid the supreme price and since then, it has been a free fall as Mondays became “ghost day”. With the capacity or commitment of the states to enforce law and order grossly insufficient, people stayed away from the streets to save their lives. Few people who decided to ride their luck and go about their normal businesses on subsequent Mondays suffered the dire consequences as vehicles seen on the road were set ablaze and people moving about were being assaulted by people suspected to be members of the proscribed group.
Unconcerned with the violent dimension which the previous sit-at-home has generated; the group went on to declare Tuesday, September 14, 2021 as another sit-at-home day, this time, to commemorate victims of the military invasion on the compound of Nnamdi Kanu at Afaraukwu Ibeku Umuahia, Abia State in 2017.
In shocking events that bore large imprints of barbaric extremism, gunmen suspected to be members of the ESN (Eastern Security Network) the militant wing of IPOB on that day stormed the Comprehensive Secondary School in Nkume, Imo State and prevented students from taking their examination. The students were preparing to sit for the English Language paper in the ongoing Junior Secondary School Examination before the gunmen forcefully dispersed them. Both teachers and students fled in different directions as the gunmen shot sporadically into the air. The gunmen later set ablaze some motorcycles belonging to some of the staff and students. Emeka Merenu, a priest with the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion was also killed by same gunmen in Imo State. The killing of the priest came hours after the armed invasion of the aforementioned School. Suspected hoodlums attacked the priest in his parsonage for allegedly inviting soldiers to secure the mission school, where he serves as the principal.
The public backlash was terse and instantaneous. The people have been pushed to the wall by those who claim to be their advocates. Schools and Churches; symbols of harmony and sacredness in the region have been defiled in primitive manners. So deafening was the outrage that IPOB issued a statement disowning its own foot soldiers. They maintained that its legitimate members are not behind the violent assault on people as it had suspended the ghost Mondays. While reacting to several complaints on the activities of hoodlums who are believed to be members of IPOB harassing residents every Monday, the group warned that such people are thugs sponsored by the security agents to unleash mayhem and demonise the group, they averred that the culprits will face the wrath of IPOB in due course. The group however cannot wash its hand off this ugly situation; as it was the grand initiator of the unwise ideology. Apparently, the monster it nurtured has now grown beyond its control; leading to cases of armed violence on citizens of the region including business people and school children, this further establishes that IPOB lacks foresight and doesn’t seek necessary counsel before acting, it leaps before it looks; it exercises no discretionary caution or compunction in its actions and conducts; the underlying factor that has led to the rise of violence in the region in recent times.
Residents of the region have condemned in strong terms, the frequent declaration of sit-at-home by the group. Some residents described the situation as another lockdown in disguise which has resulted in the disruption of business and education activities, brought about social unrest and inflicted economic hardships on families across South East, especially, those who live on daily job. Some of the residents expressed their sympathy with the Igbo marginalisation cause which IPOB is fighting against, but said frequent declaration of sit-at-home would make the group lose its affection with the people of the zone. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has also said the frequent sit-at-home order by the IPOB, may threaten its preparations for the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State.
Reacting to the ugly turn of events, former Governor of Anambra state the Vice Presidential candidate of the people’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections, Mr. Peter Obi expressed disbelief on the reported attack on school children in the South-East, describing it as ‘un-Igbo, out of place and misguided aggression.”. Obi said he did not believe any Igbo man should contemplate attacking innocent school children, more so those taking their WAEC exams, to compete with the rest of West Africans over academic excellence. He said that education should ideally be treated as something honourable, because it is not just about the future of the children but also the future of the society.
Similarly, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, expressed dismay over the persistent sit- at- home orders within the South East geopolitical zone of the country. He lamented that the region loses over N10 billion each time it observes the sit at home order directed by IPOB. He added that any Civil Servant who was absent from work because of the sit-at-home order would be sanctioned. He further stated that he has charged the Commissioners to go all out and ensure that Civil Servants come to work on Mondays, and for the markets, he promised to personally be in the state markets on Mondays, and for anyone who is no longer interested in coming to open the shops on Mondays, the stalls will be seized and given to others.
Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, also mustered courage same Monday, September 13, and mobilised citizens of Anambra State against the shut-down of the state by non-state actors. He went to Eke Awka Market in the capital city and urged the traders to come out to do their business. He also threatened to close for one week any bank, market, and other business premises guilty of obeying the orders of IPOB rather than the constituted authority of the state. His mobilisation and physical demonstration worked and must be effectively sustained in the coming weeks
The Abia State government, same as Imo State, issued statements against the sit-at-home order. John Okiyi Kalu, Abia State Commissioner for Information, stated that the Abia State government no longer found the IPOB order funny and declared that it was ridden its luck too far and needs to stop immediately.
What brought IPOB to prominence and endeared it to the inhabitants of the region was the general sense of injustice in Igboland. Citizens share with IPOB the feeling that the centre or the Federal Government has been largely unfair to the region. They also consider their representatives in the state and local governments as well as the legislature incompetent and negligent. The paradox is that the same sense of injustice that propelled acceptance of the IPOB cause may be its albatross. IPOB has directly or indirectly contributed to turning the South-East into a theatre of violence, unleashing physical and psychological damage against the people in whose interest it ought to be working. The moral outrage against the excesses and loses the people incur from its ceaseless and abrasive sit-at-home orders may just be the undoing of whatever good the group seeks. It is perhaps unbelievable that some are still legitimising and justifying this dastard turn of events; those who are fanning the embers of this crisis should reflect on these questions: Will investors come to the zone under the present condition? Will established businesses not think of leaving the South-East under such a condition? Will traders from neighbouring countries that flock Aba and Onitsha on Mondays not seek alternatives? Will some industries not think of re-locating? Is there any gain or benefit derivable from these sit-at-home orders either on the short term or on the long term?
Making South-East n epicentre of multi-dimensional disorder and internally-induced pandemonium in the name of self-determination is a self-defeating gambit. It is counterproductive and asinine. The governors as chief security officers of their respective states must realise that people still sit-at-home on Mondays only out of trepidation and caution; they are fed up with IPOB running a parallel government in the South-East; it is therefore their duty to put in place necessary security apparatuses in strategic locations all through the state to deal with any troublemaker and instil law and order while also giving residents the much needed security confidence to go about their normal daily activities. Stricter enforcement should play out in the coming weeks to forestall any of the habitual violence associated with the Ghost Mondays and return the region back to normalcy on Mondays which is a critical day of the week for business activities in the economic and social interest of the residents of the region.