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Concerns over IPOB’s orders against national anthem, cow meat in South East

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief and Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri)
15 January 2022   |   4:12 am
A recent directive by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) that schools in the South east zone should no longer sing the Nigerian national anthem but that of ‘Biafra’ has sparked off fresh worries over the activities of the group in the region.

A recent directive by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) that schools in the South east zone should no longer sing the Nigerian national anthem but that of ‘Biafra’ has sparked off fresh worries over the activities of the group in the region.

The ban was contained in a statement jointly issued by IPOB’s Head of Directorate, Chika Edozien, and the Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful.

Although IPOB is yet to distribute any publication containing the Biafran anthem to schools in the region, it, however, said the order banning singing of the Nigerian national anthem in the Southeast took effect from Monday, January 3, 2022. The order, it said, was part of its renewed effort to realise an independent state of Biafra as well as force the Federal Government to release its detained leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.

Kanu has been held in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS) since last year and has been attending court sessions to answer for his alleged offences bordering on treasonable felony.

The group did not stop there. It disclosed its plan to release three major books this year to be used in primary and secondary schools across Igboland. The books will replace the ones already approved by the government for use in various schools in the region.

IPOB also banned consumption of Fulani cow meat during festive seasons or any other occasion in Igboland. It warned that it would no longer tolerate eating of cow meat, and barred Igbo from patronising those who sell Fulani cows or use such for celebrations of any kind.

“The ban placed on Fulani cows will take effect in April 2022. Effective this month, Fulani cows will not be used for any social or ceremonial events and festivals in Biafraland. Our native cows will be used instead for these events. Traditional custodians of our culture, the clergy and town unions must ensure that this message gets to the grassroots. We cannot continue to bring cause and damnation upon our land and upon ourselves by consuming cows that were used for bestiality,” IPOB said.

The statement further announced the readiness of the group to embark on other campaigns that will underline its desires to achieve the Biafra project.

These new directives, which came in the twilight of last year, were not the first the group imposed on the people of the region. They are, in fact, additional orders placed on the people of the zone in the struggle to realise Biafra republic.

At different times, especially in the last three years, the people of the zone had either been ordered to stay at home or engage in other activities against their wishes.  For instance, residents of the region had been ordered to sit at home for Biafra anniversary and for anniversary of the day soldiers allegedly invaded the Afaraukwu residence of Kanu in Umuahia. The directive had also been used as a strategy to boycott some Federal Government’s activities in the zone, among others. When it dawned on members of IPOB that the Federal Government was not willing to let their incarcerated leader go in a hurry, they ordered a weekly (on Monday) sit-at-home last year, tagged “ghost Monday” to be observed “until Kanu is released.” Still reasoning that the “ghost Monday” was not enough, the group added that economic, social and other activities in the zone should remain closed anytime Kanu was going to court as a mark of solidarity.

Perhaps, the major victims of the rampant sit-at-home orders in the zone last year were students taking their National Examination Council (NECO) examinations. In compliance with the directive, many students writing the exam whose subjects fell on the day of the sit-at-home did not write them. Affected parents could not ask their children to go and sit for the examination for fear of attacks. Till now, those affected by the situation still grieve over it.

It could also be recalled that sometime last year, the group ordered schools and institutions in the region to remove Nigerian flags in their premises and replace them with ‘Biafra’ flags. It threatened to deal with any school authority found to be harbouring flags other than that of Biafra in its domain.

Sources said the high level of success recorded by the order for removal of Nigeria flags in the schools and other establishments in the zone prompted the latest directive banning singing of national anthem in schools.

While some residents, especially heads of primary and secondary schools which reopened for the second term on Monday, January 10, 2022, are yet to digest the new order, some gun welding persons believed to be members of IPOB have returned to the streets to enforce the Monday sit-at-home order, which the group said it had cancelled since last September.

The sudden appearance of the suspected members of the group, who drove round in a Toyota Sienna bus, shooting sporadically into the air and chanting “go home and stay” created tension in many places and disrupted socio-economic activities.

In Enugu, for instance, academic activities were disrupted in schools. Vehicles were burnt. Goods and wares displayed by traders in some markets were destroyed. Some persons, in an attempt to escape to safety in the heat of the shootings, sustained injuries.

Again, IPOB denied knowledge of the development, exonerating its members from it. A statement by Powerful, said the enforcers were “hoodlums and cultists” being sponsored by certain politicians to discredit IPOB and create unpleasant situations.

“We have severally explained that IPOB has not authorised anybody to enforce Monday sit-at-home which has been suspended since September 19, 2021. Anybody unleashing sorrow on innocent citizens under the guise of enforcing sit-at-home order is a criminal and does not deserve pity.

“Despite the suspension of Monday sit-at-home since September 19, 2021, some unscrupulous elements and criminals conniving with security agencies and our enemies have continued to inflict pain on our people. Their aim is to blackmail IPOB, but they will continue to fail.

“Now, we want to inform our people to stand firm in the fight for their liberty. IPOB did not ask anybody to enforce sit-at-home of any kind. Henceforth, ESN operatives will come from the bushes and forests and go after these criminals unleashing mayhem on innocent people and visitors to Biafra land in the name of enforcing non-existent Monday sit-at-home order,” Powerful said.

Growing worries
The denials notwithstanding, residents are beginning to ask whether IPOB was really formed to liberate Ndigbo and realise the sovereign state of Biafra or to perpetuate their sufferings. IPOB has, however, continued to tell anyone who cares to listen that Ndigbo will be better off should they be separated from the rest of the country. To the separatists, it was in the quest to realise this that the Nigeria/Biafra War was fought several decades ago.

They insist that though the war ended with the declaration of “No victor, no vanquished”, the developments that led to the war have not left the country.

They maintain that Ndigbo have not been given their pride of place; they have continued to be treated as second-class citizens in a country where they are bona fide citizens. Therefore, anything short of exiting the country is not acceptable to them.

However, while the group keeps propagating its argument across the region, its activities have continued to inflict serious injuries and deprivations on the people whose interest it is seeking to protect, hence the growing doubts about its true mission.

An economist, Dr. Echezona Obi, said the losses across the five Southeast states since the Monday sit-at-home began run into “billions of naira every Monday.”

He told The Guardian in an interview: “We thrive so much in commerce, which is a daily activity. When people cannot move, goods can neither be purchased nor sold; services cannot be rendered, which means that there is stagnation in the economy.

“You have not talked about the negative image that is being created in the zone as one that is unstable and not friendly to investors. The constant movement of our people out of the zone to a more conducive area. These are the issues. Apart from these, sit-at-home is declared at will for reasons best known to those behind it. No economy can thrive in this kind of atmosphere.”

Aside from the sit-at-home order, the attempt to ban the consumption of cow meat in the region by the group is also being questioned by many people. Although IPOB has insisted that it took the decision to protect Igbo and their property from ravaging herdsmen, critics of the directive said the idea might come as additional burden to Igbo who trade in cows as it might send them back to the streets when implemented.

Speaking with The Guardian on the issue, a civil rights activist, Jerry Onuoha, said the directive would further stifle the people.

“About 90 per cent of cow meat sellers in the zone are Igbo people. That is the only business they know how to do. You have not provided alternatives for them, yet you want to stop them from the one they are doing. Patronising those who sell cow is not by force. It is those that have the resources that can afford them. Why are you stopping them? You are banning people from consuming cow meat or preventing the sale of cow in the region, have you taken into consideration the fact that there are businesses which your people do in other parts of the country to feed their families? These are things that make me feel that the way the group is going about its activities is grossly against the people of the region. I have continued to question some of these things,” he said.

Apparently in response to the directive banning the consumption of cow meat, a northern group has also asked their people to stop patronising produce coming from the Southeast zone.

The group under the auspices of Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), through its spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, described IPOB’s directive as “a grave provocation and serious threat to northern commercial interests in the Southeast and will also affect the physical wellbeing of northerners living as minorities among Igbo communities.”

The CNG, therefore, called for a total boycott of all businesses operated by the Igbo all over the North.

Implications of IPOBs orders on quest for Southeast presidency
While some residents feel that the activities of the group will not impact negatively on the desire by the region to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor, others think otherwise. There are those who believe that some activities of the group are being sponsored from outside to discredit the zone and rubbish their presidential aspiration.

A public affairs analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stated: “This latest position of IPOB, if actually it is coming from them, is obviously working so hard to turn the Southeast geopolitical zone into another avoidable war theatre like the northeastern zone.

“Again, it is working so hard to make the Southeast geopolitical zone a pariah and truncate its opportunity of producing the next president of the country. While other Igbo are making concerted efforts to get other zones, particularly the North, to support Southeast presidency in 2023, which is already within sight, some other people are internally working so hard against it, in the name of wisdom. I believe that this group has internal enemies of the zone sponsoring them to stop the South east from producing the next president. It’s happening now and everyone is keeping quiet.

“You stopped movement on Mondays and now no anthem in schools, including government schools, and you think the Federal Government will fold its hands to watch you do it successfully. It is an impudent affront on the government and an audacious challenge of authority. This was how Boko Haram started, prohibiting western education until it grew out of control and became a mess called insurgency. This is another version of it.”

Former national chairman of the defunct United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, cautioned those promoting IPOB agenda to be mindful of what they are doing.

“I am not promoting the presidential aspect, but we have to be mindful of things that could lead to the invasion of the zone by the military over the attempt to compel children to sing national anthem of a people who are not a sovereign country. You cannot have a sovereign country inside another sovereign country. When you have attained independence, all of those things will come. But to export fear in the primary and secondary schools will not go down well with us. So, they have to be careful with things they push out. I feel it is sad when this kind of thing is happening among Igbo people.

“Let me also emphasise that the problem of Nnamdi Kanu is a political issue. It cannot be solved on the street or online. If our people engage other people in Nigeria politically, including this issue of prisoners of conscience, we can go into negotiations and that is when these cases can be dropped. If we exclude ourselves from the politics of the country, who will negotiate Kanu’s release?

“So I appeal to those promoting the ban on national anthem to withdraw it because it was not well thought out. The consequences will be heavier on our people and we will achieve nothing from the action. They should review and withdraw it. That is my advice,” Okorie said.

He, however, stated that it would be wrong for anyone to use what the IPOB was doing as opportunity to deny the zone the presidency in 2023, noting that other zones, in an attempt to acquire political power, had engaged in several agitations that threatened the unity of the country.

A social commentator, Dr. Chidubem Nwoha, in a rather mocking submission, also said: “I think what IPOB’s Head of Directorate of State should also do in addition to his directive is to prevail on all those who travelled home for the Yuletide from different parts of Nigeria to remain in the Southeast and not return to their various stations. This will be the fastest way to get Biafra.”

Also, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, while reacting to the order, said it did not represent the position of the body. “We are opposed to any development that could harm the economy,” the group said.

National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, stated that it was within the right of the people to consume or not to consume cow meat. “You cannot impose a thing you know will affect even the existence of your own people.”

On the ban on Nigeria national anthem, Ohanaeze queried: “Who built the schools in question? Who is paying those that work in those schools? It is not for Ohanaeze to advise, that is between them and those who set up the educational institutions. But we will not support any activity that will create fears or tension in our school children.”

The group, however, noted that in Igbo socio-cultural life, there is no national anthem.

In Imo State, residents who spoke with The Guardian on the ban on singing of the national anthem and eating of cow meat, expressed fears over the implementation.

Many residents, who pleaded anonymity, referred to the substantial compliance with the sit-at-home order, which many thought would fail at the onset.

According to the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Owerri Branch, Jude Ogamba, it is lawful for any group to agitate. He, however, cautioned that if in the exercise of that right of agitation for self-determination a crime is committed or the right of another person is violated, the law will view it from that perspective.

“The court has said that agitation is lawful, and something that is lawful can be unlawful by the mode of agitation. If you are agitating and in the process commit crime, if you are caught, you will be charged for the crime, not for agitation.

“So, in this case, IPOB or whatever, has the right to agitate, but they must agitate within the precincts of the law, otherwise, they will be doing another thing.

“I do not see anything wrong with the saying so far; they should be limited to the saying. But when they continue to put the saying to practical terms, the law will look at it as invasion of the right of others. Somebody has the right to eat what is not proscribed by the law.”

On his part, a resident of Owerri, who simply identified himself as Dan, said the implementation of the order was in doubt.

“Come to think of it, many Igbo people are the owners of these cows. People think that the owners are from the North but it’s not so; the Igbo own many of the cows. Are they going to be out of business? That would be sorted out. I don’t think the implementation will be total, but we have to be careful. May be if it gets serious from April, we will know how to do it secretly.”

On the singing of the national anthem, a teacher, who identified herself simply as Grace, said: “At worst, we will stop singing it. Is that a problem? We can afford to teach our pupils and students other subjects and move on.”

A parent, John Igwe, said he was not interested in anything that would jeopardise his life and those of his children.

“When we get to the bridge, we cross it. We can eat other meat in the interim. We can ask our children not to recite the national anthem. All these will bypass us,” he said.