Saturday, 23rd September 2023

IPOB and web of election boycott order in South East

By Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
18 February 2023   |   5:02 am
There are worries in the Southeast region over whether or not the people would participate in the 2023 general election beginning from next Saturday. The worry is not because the elected democratic administration of the country has not carried the zone along...

[FILES] Supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) / AFP PHOTO / STEFAN HEUNIS

The recent declaration by the Simon Ekpa-led faction of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) that the 2023 general election would not take place in the South East geo-political zone of the country has been generating fear and tension in the region. In this report, LAWRENCE NJOKU, Southeast Bureau Chief, chronicles Ekpa’s past orders that were successfully enforced and efforts by stakeholders to ensure that residents discountenance his latest directive in the interest of the region

There are worries in the Southeast region over whether or not the people would participate in the 2023 general election beginning from next Saturday. The worry is not because the elected democratic administration of the country has not carried the zone along in the processes leading to the elections; it is generally out of a contrary order by non-state actors led by a breakaway leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Simon Ekpa, that there would be no elections in the region.  Through a recorded video that has gone viral on the social media, he stated that the period of the election would be observed as sit-at-home throughout Igboland, adding that it was part of the measures to put pressure on the Federal Government to release the detained leader of the IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu from the custody of the Directorate of State Services (DSS), where he has been held since 2021.

In the video, Ekpa appraised the five-day sit-a-home he declared on 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th and 14th December, 2022, which he said was “historic and successful” in Igboland. He added that boycotting the 2023 elections was a “sacrifice” for the realisation of Biafra and an effort to “end Nigeria in 2023.”

The caption of the video reads: “To end Nigeria in 2023 is a task that must be done! There will be no general election in Biafraland in 2023; it is a sacrifice and a task that must be done by all Biafrans across the globe.

“I want every Biafran to watch this broadcast and share widely. Don’t miss it…Follow to know how IPOB activities delay Fulanisation of Nigeria. I am Simon Ekpa, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s disciple on Biafra restoration.”

It was not the first time Ekpa would issue such an order, which was complied with. Ekpa had issued a sit-at-home order on May 16, 17 and 18, 2022. In a Tweet where he announced the May sit-at-home, Ekpa had said it would go down in the history of Biafra liberation that there was lockdown for three days to demand the release of Kanu.

“Get ready for a historic lockdown of Biafraland in the month of May. It will go down in the history of Biafra liberation that we locked down our territory for three days demanding the release of MNK. Save the following dates: 16th, 17th and 18th of May 2022 will be sit-at-home for MNK,” he had tweeted.

Those who tried to flaunt his orders were met with volley of bullets from his gang. The last attempt claimed the life of a pregnant woman in Enugu and a few others. His adherents go extra miles to enforce his orders including killing and setting properties ablaze to instill fear in the people.

Since the latest directive was issued, fear, concerns and tension have pervaded the region. Those who are preparing to participate in the forthcoming elections are beginning to give it a second thought. In small groups, people discuss the development. Those who would not discuss would simply tell you that it is better to stay away.

However, those opposed to the order have been using some social media platforms to send anonymous messages to counter Ekpa. One of such messages reads: “Attention please!  I am appealing to all well meaning Igbo and our educated elites to start now and use the instrumentality of social media and every other means of spreading information to enlighten our people to resist the satanic agenda of Simon Ekpa to drastically reduce Peter Obi’s votes in the Southeast through his reckless and devilish sit-at-home activities, which he intend to declare on the election week. This is the best opportunity of the Igbo nation in the Nigerian project. It will be a shame and a curse to Igbo nation that other tribes in Nigeria are killing themselves and doing everything for our son, Peter Obi, to emerge the president and we are the ones trying to scuttle it through the nonsense activities of one Finland based opportunist called Simon Ekpa and his collaborators in the name of fighting for Biafra.  Igbos, do not be deceived. Even great Zik of Africa did not enjoy the kind of support Peter Obi is enjoying today that has changed the political dynamics of Nigeria. That will show you that it is divine. When you watch Peter Obi’s campaign in Kaduna, Kano and Katsina, you only but marvel at the level of his acceptability even in the core north. Please, I beg you; share this write up on other platforms. Thanks.”

The Biafra struggle has been a very thorny one. It has created war. It has claimed lives. It has claimed properties. It has caused misery and pains. While some has leveraged the agitation to make names and wealth, others try to forget it in a hurry. All in all, the people of the Southeast region have been at the receiving end.

In 2012, as part of efforts to give bite to the struggle, Kanu, a British-Nigerian political activist, and Uche Mefor, founded IPOB based on their conviction that the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) led by Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, a lawyer, had compromised. Uwazuruike, who took up the struggle with MASSOB after the failed attempt to actualise Biafra through the war, was accused of enriching himself and abandoning the objectives for which the group was set up. So, IPOB was formed to give a new bite and zeal to the campaign.

However, after Kanu’s re-arrest in Kenya on June 27, 2021, and extradition to Nigeria to face trial, he (Kanu) had “included Ekpa among the broadcasters on the Radio Biafra Platform.” However, Ekpa was “sacked” few days after over what the group claimed was his inability to sign the code of conduct governing the operation of the media platform.

Media and Publicity Secretary of the group, Emma Powerful, had accused Ekpa of not following laid down rules of operation in the broadcasting station. He had warned that IPOB would not allow anybody including him (Ekpa) to act arbitrarily, because the group was well structured and adheres to principles.

“Our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu gave the directive while in detention, but Mazi Simeon Ekpa has refused to follow the principles. Ekpa, whom our leader gave an appointment and duty to start broadcasting on Radio Biafra, doesn’t want to follow the laid down rules of operation in Radio Biafra. Ekpa has refused to sign the rules of engagement and code of conduct guiding those broadcasting on Radio Biafra. We don’t understand why Ekpa would not like to follow the steps of other broadcasters on the platform who have since done the needful”, Powerful had said.

Sources told The Guardian that Ekpa’s sack from Radio Biafra became their point of departure. Since then, he has done things differently from the main group in his bid to purportedly realise Biafra and free Kanu from custody. His group takes instructions only from him and cares less about the negative implications of their action on the society. While he dishes out orders from Finland, they follow it squarely against several advise that a genuine freedom fighter should not only live with his people but should not also create pains for the same people he is fighting to liberate through his actions.

On several occasions, the main faction of IPOB led by Kanu had opposed his orders. For instance, when he imposed the three days sit-at-home and later the five days sit-at-home, the faction loyal to Kanu had issued contrary directives, asking residents to ignore it. In one of his statements in December last year against the five days sit-at-home, the faction had said: “The global family and movement of the IPOB under the command and leadership of our great prophet and indefatigable liberator, Mazi Nnamdi Okwuchukwu Kanu, wish to state unequivocally to the people of Biafra, friends of Biafra and lovers of Biafra freedom that IPOB leadership did not issue any sit-at-home order on 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th or 14th of December 2022.

“IPOB never issued any sit-at-home order on these days mentioned above because we are not miscreants, senseless or jobless people.
“Every Biafran and residents in Biafra land should ignore such order from untrained and brainless individuals whose agenda is to make Biafra agitation unattractive to our people. Every Biafran must go to their normal business on those days.

“IPOB who is concerned about our people cannot issue such brainless, uncaring five-day consecutive sit-at-home order to suffer our people during this critical time of the year when people are trying to make up in their businesses for the year.

“The conception of consecutive five-day sit-at-home by a Nigeria Agent and his sponsors is to show the level of wickedness and hatred they have against our people. Their agenda is to create insecurity and unnecessary hardships to make our people jettison Biafra freedom.”

Ironically, it was actually the Kanu-led IPOB that regularised the idea of sit-at-home in the region. Although sit-at-home had been infused into the struggle to celebrate “Biafra Day” by adherents of MASSOB, their case then was that the day was set aside to mourn all those who died in the pursuit of Biafra restoration. During such days, they undertook candle light processions, symposium and lectures, among others. However, the idea became more regular and elevated after Kanu was arrested in 2021. His supporters had come up with an order declaring sit-at-home every Monday and any day Kanu would appear in court to face his trial as a way to show solidarity to him and pressure the Federal Government to release him unconditionally. They had insisted that on those days, businesses and several other activities must be put on hold, warning that anything to the contrary would be met with sanctions.

They had acted true to their words but following several interventions, they announced an adjustment, opting to enforce the sit-at-home only on days that Kanu would appear in court to answer to his charges. The development brought temporary relief on the residents as activities resumed in full swing on Mondays. This, however, reclined when the breakaway faction surfaced and began to deal with residents found doing businesses on Mondays. The group insisted that sit-at-home would be enforced throughout the Southeast on Mondays until Kanu is released.

Although the main IPOB has continued to assure residents that it had long cancelled the order and that anyone enforcing it should be arrested and tried, the fear of being attacked has continued to keep residents in their homes every Monday.

While some governors of the region maintained sealed lips on the situation, an attempt by Anambra State Governor, Charles Soludo, to restart the economy of the state on Mondays was stoutly resisted by members of the group who shot, killed and burnt properties of those who tried to flout the order, a development that effectively rubbished the attempt.

Apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, had severally insisted that Ekpa’s group was not acting in the interest of the people of the region. Describing the actions of the faction as “illegal”, Ohanaeze asked Ekpa “if he is a hero or a villain, for taking such actions that have caused great havoc in parts of the region,” National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Alex Ogbonnia had said.
Reacting to Ekpa’s current order, former chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee, Chief Ralph Obioha, called on Ndigbo to ignore calls for boycott of the general election and prepare to vote despite hindrances, while asking those pushing for the boycott to retrace their steps. He insisted that it was not in the interest of the zone to allow certain individuals operating in the guise of Biafra to distort the collective will of the people especially with the aspiration of the Labour Party (LP) candidate, Obi, gaining momentum nationwide.

At a public lecture on Electoral Process in Nigeria and 2023 Elections organised in Enugu within the week, Executive Director, Hope Givers Initiative (HOGI), Mrs. Onyeka-Okey Udegbulam, had raised concerns over the call for boycott, stressing that it would impact negatively on the enthusiasm the residents of the region had developed on the electoral process and the 2023 general election.

Udegbulam, who told a capacity-filled hall that her organisation had embarked on a sensitisation campaign in the region to discourage voter apathy, stated that fear of insecurity resulting from the boycott order could affect the process.

“So we think there is so much to do. We need to ensure that the message sinks into the ears of our people that voting on the Election Day is their civic obligation. There is so much fear in the zone due to insecurity and threats here and there but we should resist it, knowing that whether we vote or not, the elections must produce a winner who will be there for another four years. I therefore appeal to the academics and elites to use whatever means that is available to them to talk to our people and allay these fears. To the students who are the future hope, you must be prepared to take your destiny in your own hands and ensure that a better tomorrow can only come through the right choices and decisions. You must not allow yourselves to be cowed while your destiny is eroded,” she said.

In the same vein, the Anglican Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Rt. Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma, visited several churches in his diocese last Sunday with a message that they must ignore calls to boycott the elections next Saturday.

“I know that there is a lot of pain out there. There is no cash; cost of petrol has tripled. Salaries have not been paid and many homes don’t have food to eat. But I will encourage you to continue to bear and hope for a better tomorrow. This brighter future can only come when we make good use of the opportunity of this election. Do not succumb to intimidation; do not be cowed. Go and vote the right person that will lead Nigeria. Security agencies have promised to provide adequate security. So ignore any person that will tell you that you will be attacked. Ignore anybody that will want to buy your vote and do what is right for the good of our country,” the cleric told members of Our Saviour’s Church, One Day, Enugu.

Also, both MASSOB, led by Uchenna Madu and the Kanu-led IPOB have vowed to resist any sit-at-home during the elections. In a statement last week by its spokesperson, IPOB had said: “IPOB led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has never forcefully obstructed the election process in Nigeria. Rather, we once called Biafrans to boycott elections, which were later called off.

“We have maintained that we don’t have any interest in the Nigeria shambolic political selection process called Nigeria elections scheduled for February 2023. Our interest and focus is the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the date for the Biafra referendum for Biafrans to determine their political future in or outside Nigeria.”

MASSOB, through Madu, had warned that it would deal with any group that attempts to disrupt elections in the South East, insisting that though it was poised for the realisation of Biafra, it would not do so through any violent means. He, therefore, urged the people to go out and cast their votes, stating that doing so was part of their civic rights.

National Coordinator, Southeast for Presidency Movement 2023 (SEFORP2023), Rev. Okechukwu Obioha, told The Guardian that the call for election boycott was a distraction, stressing that the people of the zone should not fall for it. Insisting that it was an attempt to blackmail the zone, he wondered what benefits would accrue to the people by not voting on the election day. Obioha stressed that he had always canvassed that those agitating for Biafra can always realise their aspirations by engaging in politicking, such that would enable them leverage the political platforms to register and deliver their members at the polls.

“These members will in turn implement those policies and programmes that will usher in the desires so expressed. It is better than engaging in violence and creating unnecessary tension in the polity. Joining the struggle for Biafra should not be by force. When you order people to sit at home or not to vote on election day, you are pushing them against their wish and that is against the spirit of the constitution that guarantees freedom of choice,” Obioha noted.

During the signing of peace accord by political parties in Enugu State last week, the state Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Ammani, had urged residents to come out on the election day and cast their votes. He insisted that adequate security had been planned, just as he called on those planning to obstruct the process to refrain or have themselves to blame.

Meanwhile, there are underground moves to cage Ekpa and his group in the southeast region. Last year, an association of Igbos residing in Germany – Overseas Igbos Federation – submitted a criminal complaint against him at the Prosecutor’s Office in Southern Finland over the crisis in the Southeast region.

The Germany-based group accused Ekpa, a lawyer based in Finland of committing crimes against humanity; leading, participating and funding terrorism activities in the Southeast zone.

Also, on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, the media were awash with reports that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Finnish Ambassador, Leena Pylvanainen, over misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and inciting comments by Ekpa, which it fears could derail the peaceful conduct of the 2023 general election.
It was reported that at the meeting, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, had expressed displeasure over the orders given by Ekpa to his teeming followers who consequently embarked on killings, maiming, burning and other destructive activities.
The Minister, who was represented by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Zubairu Dada, said Ekpa’s action was fast becoming a threat to the forthcoming election, adding that the Federal Government would not take it lightly with him and the Finland governments if nothing drastic was done.
Will these interventions stop further moves by Ekpa and his adherents against the 2023 general election and encourage the southeast to participate fully in it? The coming days will provide the answer to this question.