The IPOB sit-at-home order in the south-east is grinding lives, livelihoods and the economy of the region to the ground. How is it possible to impoverish and destroy the very people that IPOB claim to be fighting for?
The South-East governors rose from a meeting in Enugu, the state capital on Tuesday, with a resolution in a communiqué that they would do everything to end the sit-at-home proscription order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The meeting was convened by the Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi and hosted by the Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
Reading the communiqué, Umahi said the governors were worried by the spate of insecurity in the region and so condemned the continued sit-at-home order.
Umahi, who is also the chairman of the South-East Governors Forum, said the governors, south-east leaders and security chiefs condemned the spate of killings in the region.
He, however, assured that ‘Ebubeagu’ the regional security outfit put together by states in the region, would be launched and backed by laws passed in all the states before the end of 2021.
His words: “The governors and leaders of the south-east condemn killings in the region and have agreed to join hands with security agencies to stop the trend.
“We condemn the ‘sit-at-home’ order by IPOB issued mostly by our people in the Diaspora who do not feel the pains.
“The meeting resolved that the governors and the people of the south-east will do everything within the law to ensure that there is no further sit-at-home, and that people are allowed to move about freely.”
The governor noted that the meeting received a report from Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the flagship for the socio-cultural organisation in the region on various matters affecting the south-east, especially on security and marginalisation.
He stressed that the governors would study the report for immediate implementation and engagement with the Federal Government for amicable settlement of issues agitating the minds of the people, especially the youths.
“The meeting agreed to support security agencies to restore peace to the south-east as well as to support the November 6 governorship election in Anambra to ensure a peaceful process,” Umahi said.
It will be recalled that the Acting Chief Judge of the High Court, Abuja, Justice Abdul Kafafati, outlawed IPOB and specifically declared as illegal all activities of the group, particularly in the south-east and south-south regions of the country.
Kafafati further restrained “any person or group of persons from participating in any of the group’s activities.”
It will also be recalled that Nnamdi Kanu was reportedly arrested and arraigned in court for charges bordering on treason in 2017 alongside four other Biafra agitators.
Kanu allegedly fled the country to Europe where he allegedly coordinated his agitation for the Biafra nation, while the defunct IPOB inaugurated the Eastern Security Network (ESN), which was reportedly accused of attacking security agencies and their facilities in the south-east.
The recent re-arrest of Kanu and the resumption of his trial culminated in the sit-at-home order.
The people of the region who are predominantly businessmen and women, have for the fear of attack and wanton destruction of their property, been complying with the sit-at-home directive thereby losing billions of naira to the order.
Some political analysts have fingered the south-east governors for having various agenda which they claimed have made them to lose focus, and so gave IPOB the liberty to impose a parallel government, with their full compliance with the order.
They noted that most of the governors had not been punctual at their meetings, while some even send their deputies to represent them at such meetings.
Different interpretations were attached to the absence of the governors after the conclusion of the third meeting which was held in Enugu.
While some believed the attitude of the governors was an alleged “betrayal” of the governors of the south-east region, others have insisted it was part of the politics of “who gets what” in 2023.
There are also feelings that the politics of individualism being allegedly practised by governors of the zone could be the reason for their absence at the meetings.
Others are also of the view that certain critical issues may be the rationale behind the lacklustre attitude of some governors of the region, particularly regarding the outcomes at previous meetings since they (the governors), allegedly tended to challenge the policies and powers of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government.
One of the issues that reportedly triggered the differences between the governors and the Federal Government is the ban on open grazing in the southern region, a decision that was reached during the meeting that was held in Asaba.
The presidency set up a committee to review grazing routes, noting that the reason for the creation of Integrated Farm Estate at every senatorial zone of the country was still part of the ploy to dwarf the move by the governors.
It said that some of them had started backing out from the meetings, in order to avoid confrontations with the presidency, especially those jostling for political patronage in 2023.
Indeed, this manifested on July 5, 2021 at the meeting reconvened in Lagos, as Ugwuanyi was the only south-east governor in attendance, while other governors of the region were represented at the meeting.
It was also gathered that the Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano, was not at the meeting that was held in Lagos.
The cold attitude being exhibited by the south-east governors towards the meetings of the southern governors was not new as such was presently playing out in the South-East Governor’ Forum (SEF).
It was reliably gathered that in spite of the disturbances in the zone, the SEF meeting had not been held for some time, and even decisions reached at previous meetings were never implemented.
A meeting was called at the peak of the attacks on security formations and insecurity in Imo State, where thousands of prison inmates of Owerri Correctional Service (NCS) located on Okigwe Road, were freed by heavily armed hoodlums with General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs), Sub-Machine Guns (SMGs), AK49 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
The governors met with Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership in Owerri, Imo State capital, where they agreed to float the ‘Ebubeagu’ as the zonal regional security outfit.
But, several months after the idea of ‘Ebubeagu’ was conceived, it has not featured again among the issues affecting the zone, and no commitments has been shown towards its implementation.
Investigation also revealed that only the governors of Enugu and Abia states have so far signed the anti-open gazing law, while some governors of the zone have continued to play the ostrich by whipping up sentiments on cohabitation.
Another issue of grave concern is political differences, an alleged leadership vacuum in the region that has almost paralysed the zone with near-parallel governments.
The issue is further compounded by the inability of the governors to work together, allegedly because of the struggle for the political soul of the south-east, which will begin with the November 6, 2021 governorship election of Anambra State.
Umahi came close to opening up on this matter a day after the Enugu meeting when he featured in an interview aired by Channels Television.
He had allegedly disagreed with the southern governors on the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT), saying that the Federal Government should be allowed to collect and share VAT among the states.
Also, the Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma who has allegedly been having a cold war with Umahi over the headship of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the south-east region, was said to have opposed Umahi’s call for zoning of the presidency to the south-east in 2023 perhaps because of his alleged closeness to the presidency.
Umahi had informed the leadership of the APC that it would be in bad taste to deny the south-east presidency in 2023, stressing that it was the desire of an average Igbo person.
However, Uzodimma had reportedly told Umahi that the Ndigbo was not interested in producing the president of the country in 2023.
In his reaction to the absence of the four governors of the region at the Enugu meeting, Emeritus President General of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, said that the ‘attitude of the governors is really demoralising.’
He said that it was wrong, particularly at a time the region “is battling with socio-economic and security concerns stemming from the sit-at-home order issued by the proscribed separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
“Their gaze at the forthcoming elections in 2023 is becoming an unbearable distraction for them in delivering their mandate to the people,” Uwazurike said.
The Concerned Igbo Stakeholders Forum (CISF), led by Chukwuma Okenwa, has also urged south-east governors to take responsibility and stop IPOB’s parallel government, which he said had led to the sit-at-home order and its socio-economic impact on the people of the region.
Okenwa said the continued sit-at-home directive, which most individuals and businesses had complied with, had dire economic consequences on businesses.
He said that the Igbo people who largely depended on daily earnings, had been facing the threat of hunger because of the sit-at-home order.
He also noted that the students in the region wrote the Mathematics paper conducted by the National Examination Council (NECO), and the English Language paper conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) at a great cost.
He lamented that most of the students trekked over 10 kilometres to write their examinations because the order also affected vehicular movements, adding that a good number of the candidates could not even write the examinations.
Although IPOB declared that it had withdrawn the order, hoodlums have hijacked the situation, terrorising the people with sporadic violence and fake/tailored viral social media posts.
Kanu is currently incarcerated but some pundits believe that there are still several ‘Kanus’ within the country that are ready to continue with the agitation, saying they will not be surprised if another leader of the group emerges sooner than expected.
According to them: “Nobody should make the mistake of assuming that the arrest is anywhere near the end of the Biafran affair. We stand our ground that a referendum must be held to determine this and all other agitations for self-determination from any part of the country.”
In Abakaliki, the Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Lovett Odah said: “We are doing our best to contain the activities of the outlawed group and we will do our best to ensure that the town is safe.”
Meanwhile, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), has said the arrest of Kanu was a good omen, as according to them, he had no respect for the country called Nigeria and had vowed to destroy it.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Cooperation and Integration in Africa, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, has called for the cessation of the sit-at-home directive because of the continuous damage to the economy and psyche of the Igbo people.
Nnamani said: “Most of our people live on a daily income. Think of the market women who depend on daily earnings to feed their families. Think of students writing external examinations being denied access to the venues.
“How does enslaving our people, denial of means of livelihood add value to our quest for equity and justice? If others reject us, should we also reject ourselves?
“It stands to reason that this sit-at-home cannot be a way forward. We cannot abandon ourselves.
“In our struggle for equity and justice in the Nigerian federation, we cannot inadvertently inflict more injuries on ourselves by this sit-at-home. Let wise counsel prevail.”
Nnamani therefore called on all men and women of goodwill to prevail on the protagonists of the sit-at-home order to restore normalcy to the south-east zone.
This new stance from the governors is coming after the proscribed IPOB’s sit-at-home order has become a trajectory that has resulted in wanton destruction of lives, impoverishment, man-hours and economic losses akin to what is happening in the northern states.