Waning relevance of IPOB’s sit-at-home to Biafran struggle
Is the sit-at-home directive and call for civil disobedience aimed at realising the state of Biafra losing steam? Can what transpired on Thursday, May 30, 2019 in various parts of the South East and South South geo-political zones be taken as making the right impact? These are some of the many questions begging for answers as the two zones observed another sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
While the exercise lasted, security was at red alert in Igbo land with the Nigeria Police, the Nigerian Army, the Department of State Services (DSS) and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) all on standby, while air surveillance was carried out by the military.
In 2017, when there was near total lockdown in the South East and a level of compliance in parts of the South South, IPOB’s leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who was the rave of the moment was on ground, and his presence gave the exercise immense boost.
Last Thursday’s directive did not witness the level of compliance that the 2017 exercise enjoyed, despite the sensitisation carried out by the group as only partial compliance was recorded in several places. Expectedly, this has raised posers as to whether the people were getting tired of the struggle, or were asking for alternatives that would not entail shutting down their businesses willingly or forcefully.
Findings by The Guardian showed that except in the commercial cities of Aba, Asaba and Onitsha, commercial activities went on in other places as if nothing was at stake. No thanks to the dislodgment of Kanu, the motivator-in-chief, who fled the country after the Nigerian Army raided his ancestral homestead.
Two years ago, not only did people willingly discuss the initiative and accord Kanu kudos for sustaining the struggle, the order had maximum effect, and appeared to have the full support of other zones and even beyond, as the people embraced it with open arms and had faith in his leadership.
In addition to that, all pro-Biafra groups in the two zones were united in their pursuit unlike now that it appeared they were not in support of the directive, but would prefer other forms of engagements to further the cause of the struggle.
In Enugu, the initial lull in activities gave way as early as 7am on Thursday. In defiance to the directive, public and private schools, markets, offices all threw their doors open, and commercial vehicle operators were everywhere conveying commuters to their destinations, especially within the city centre, while those plying routes outside the state capital stayed back at their stations to observe the situation before heading out. Banks equally opened as usual, despite allegations that letters were sent by the agitators to them to comply with the directive.
In Ebonyi State, the people went about their legitimate duties unharmed, and security operatives were positioned in strategic places to ward off any insurgence. The operatives later retreated to their stations when it was obvious that nobody was ready to foment trouble, and residents were settled in their respective business concerns.
In Imo State, excerpt shutting down of businesses by those who feared that they could be attacked, commercial activities went on unhindered. Motorists, commuters and traders were all about town doing their things.
Awka, the Anambra State capital saw residents go about their legitimate duties, while activities of financial institutions and government offices were also unhindered.
But it was a different kettle of fish in markets located in Onitsha, Ochanja, Nkpor, Bridgehead, Oseokwodu and the popular Upper Iweka as the traders deserted their businesses and stayed indoors.
A similar scenario played out in Aba, Abia State, where markets, schools, banks and other public places were shut down. The situation was highly expected in Aba and Onitsha, which are considered the strongholds of the Biafran struggle.
Umuahia, the Abia State capital, however, wore a different look as the people operated their businesses and showed non-compliance to the order.
Theodore Ugwu, a trader at Ogbete Market in Enugu State, told The Guardian that the level of poverty in the land was such that would not make anyone waste any opportunity that could boost his/her business.
He said: “I buy and sell goods, while some persons are paid salaries at the end of the month, whether they worked or not. If I don’t open my shop, I won’t be able to feed my family. I am asked to stay indoors over what will not add a kobo to my money. That to me is not good judgment,” he stated adding that the sit-at-home directive has lost its potency.
He said the zone has continued to witness the yearly sit-at-home with diminishing impact, adding, however, that even the civil disobedience, which was also called for “seems to end with just sit-at-home and nothing more.
“I think that we need to begin to ask questions on what we have gained from the forced sitting down at home, and I also think that we need to know the next line of action after sitting down at home. It is not enough to stay somewhere and call on the people to carryout civil disobedience, while you stay out of the country and claim glory for their ignorance. I am a firm believer in Biafra’s realisation; I have followed the struggle for sometime now, but I don’t think we are making any progress,” he stated.
It is however, believed that the decimation of the IPOB by the Nigerian Army (Operation Python Dance in the southeast in 2017) dealt a big blow on the struggle. Kalu, narrowly escaped being killed by soldiers, who allegedly took the lives of some members of the group.
In declaring this year’s sit-at-home, IPOB stated that it was in honour of those who lost their lives in the struggle for Biafra. This would include those killed during the 2017 raid.
It was also meant to appease their spirits as people who sacrificed their lives for the present generation of Igbo to live.
According to IPOB’s Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, the group had insisted that there would be total lockdown in the South East and South South as it would “clearly define the actual owners of the land between the government and the people in the affected areas.
“Some call it rally; some say it’s a protest, but the hardcore IPOB call it evangelism. Across the length and breadth of Biafra land; from Asaba to Abakaliki; from Enugu, Onitsha, Owerri, Aba to Igweocha, this chosen breed of fearless warriors, armed with only courage and divine belief in the inevitability of Biafra restoration, marched on streets of the sacred land of the ancients on May 28, 2019 to remind those in the DSS, Army, Police that we IPOB own the land,” he had said.
Powerful, who rated the exercise as “successful and succeeding,” stressed that efforts deployed to counter it were resisted by the will of the people.
“These barefaced lies and treachery cannot stop IPOB. Biafrans are determined in this cause. Biafra’s restoration is not an Igbo affair; therefore they cannot stop our resolve. Our sit-at-home order achieved the desired result to the delight of every Biafra person. It is those who have refused to see the truth, or those who are ashamed that even with their guns they have not been able to stop the will of the people that are saying that the order failed,” he said
Powerful added: “We commend the people of Ogoni, Ijaw, Annang, Igbo, Idoma, Igede, Igala and others, who afforded us their time to participate.
From Ogoja in the East to the border town of Igbanke in the West, from the Oturkpo in the North Central to the Island of Bonny in the South, Biafrans observed in their own unique way, a day of solemnity, reverence and respect for our departed heroes and heroines,” he added.
An Onitsha-based businessman, Chidi Innocent agreed with Powerful, saying that “this year’s IPOB sit-at-home is far successful than that of last year as businesses have been completely paralysed, it is complete compliance by the residents, no vehicular movement and shops and offices closed.”
Mr. John Peters, a civil servant added that, “I did not know that people will take the sit-at-home order serious, that means there is still problem in this country and Mr. President should listen to the peoples’ demands especially as it concerns the issue of restructuring before it is too late.”
Despite claims of success by Biafran agitators and their backers, the police insists that the exercise was a failure, and that the much-talked about “lockdown” was resisted by the people who went about their duties unchallenged.
Enugu State Police Public Relations Officer, Ebere Amaraizu, said that there was nothing to celebrate by IPOB, which made the sit-at-home call.
Although Powerful said that the order was meant to be at individual’s discretion, the exercise did not go without casualties in some places, especially in Nnewi, Anambra State, where some IPOB youths, in an attempt to enforce total compliance attacked some persons.
The Parish Priest of St. Jude’s Catholic Church, Nnewi, Rev. fr Festus Eziamaka was wounded and rushed to the hospital after the windscreens of his car were smashed by the rampaging boys.
There was another incident at Nnewi Roundabout, where the Sales Representative of the Sun Newspaper escaped an attack by the whiskers, while another motorist was attacked and his windscreen smashed.
Some officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), were also attacked and four of them sustained injuries.
At Agbani Road in Enugu, youths deprived and dispossessed a commercial driver of his means of livelihood, as they reportedly burnt down his commuter bus, with which he plies Gariki – Coal Camp route.
The man’s plea to them to spare his vehicle fell on deaf ears as they reportedly questioned why he should operate when everyone was asked to stay at home.
For the IPOB, no amount of sacrifice is too much for those who laid down their lives for the survival of Ndigbo. The group insisted that the greatest honour that could be given to them was for those that benefitted from their selfless services to remain in their homes and not do any business as a mark of respect to them.
A coalition of pro-Biafra groups took the argument further when it said that the agitation was in response to the continued marginalisation, deprivation and genocide against Biafrans, who were defeated during the independence war in 1970.
It added that Biafra people have neither been accepted since then nor accommodated in Nigeria, adding that to them, “Biafra should remain a component of Nigeria only for the purpose of massaging their uncivilised ego of conquest and domination, and their control of the resources of Biafrans.
Leader of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Uchenna Madu, stated that expressing this ego was the inner reason for the bizarre and extravagant display by the Nigerian Army, which it code named Operation Python Dance and Crocodile Smile in the South eastern and Niger Delta regions in 2017 and 2018.
He added that peaceful and unarmed Biafran citizens were daily subjected to military humiliation, dehumanisation, extortion, intimidation and exploitation across their territories, adding that guaranteeing the basic survival of Biafran people was the way out.
The Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), which also agreed that there was need to accord honour to those who died fighting for the Biafran cause, however, insisted that such could be expressed through other means other than sit-at-home directives.
“We support the honour for all those who died for the sake of our freedom during the worst pogrom in history, in which Ndigbo and their neighboUrs lost millions of their citizens and several trillions of naira, especially before, during, and which has continued since after the Biafra war.
“The observation may take various forms according to Igbo tradition and culture without violating any statute. These may include church services, candle-light processions, sit-at-home directives; wearing of black apparels, black arm bands, as well as lectures and symposia,” the group said.
A public affairs analyst, Jude Igwe, however, insisted that there was need to put into perspective, the economic implication of the yearly sit-at-home order on the economy of the zone.
“Hence it is lost, it is lost. We are not advancing by locking up our boundaries and holding people back from doing their activities in the name of sit-at-home. While we continue this way, other economies are not waiting for us. Several billions of naira would have been lost by that singular exercise that happened here and there on Thursday,” he stated.
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