Why civil servants, traders now savour IPOB’s sit-at-home order
Gradually, what started like a child’s play is fast gaining traction and becoming a part of the Southeast region.
When the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), last month, mooted the idea of ordering a sit-at-home every Monday in the five states of the Southeast as a measure to force the Federal Government to release “unconditionally” its detained leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, only a few believed that residents would heed the directive.
IPOB had hinged its reasons for the directive on the allegation that Kanu was not receiving the best of treatment in the hands of the Department of State Services (DSS) which were granted leave by the Federal High Court, Abuja, to keep him in its custody. They had also alleged that the interception and repatriation of their leader did not follow due process. They said they were infuriated by the fact that Kanu, who was arrested on June 27, 2021, and was to appear in court on July 26, 2021, was not produced in court on that date by the DSS, which attributed to the failure to logistics.
As a reaction to the development, IPOB had declared from August 9, “a ghost Monday in all Biafra land”, forbidding the people from moving on the streets, doing any work or business between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. It added that the sit-at-home would continue until Kanu is released, warning residents of the consequences of flouting the directive.
Indeed, despite counter directives from the state governments in the zone, residents fully complied with the IPOB’s order on August 9. Campaigns and pressures were later mounted on the group to withdraw its directive a week later, especially after it was discovered that some lives were lost in certain parts of the zone in an attempt to enforce the order. The pressure yielded fruits when, two days to the second leg of the sit-at-home, IPOB announced its “suspension”, with a call on the residents to resume their normal activities on Mondays.
In making further clarification on the “suspension”, the group had added that the sit-at-home would now be observed on days Kanu would appear in court.
Although many had heaved a sigh of relief following the amendment to the directive, a follow up warning from the group that it had uncovered a plot by security forces to attack residents who open their businesses on Mondays in the zone and blame it on the IPOB made residents to retire to their shelves out of fear.
Since the last two weeks that the statement became public knowledge, major towns in the region now look like “ghost towns” every Monday; even much more than when the sit-at-home was in force.
In Enugu, a state that was not too notorious for observing a call for civil disobedience from IPOB, staying at home on Mondays appear to have become a part of the people. This is because the residents have relied on the suspended sit-at-home order by IPOB to extend their work-free days from Saturday to Monday.
Now, civil servants work from Tuesday to Friday while businesses operate from Tuesday to Saturday in the state. Banks, markets, petrol stations, educational and health institutions, public and private car operators, and government establishments all have continued to remain under lock and key on Mondays in the state. Major streets and roads in the city centre are usually turned into football fields by some youths. In some neighbourhoods, especially those who operate beer palours, neighbours use the opportunity of the situation to wine together and play games. There are equally those who rely on the development to do farm work and other house chores.
Speaking with The Guardian on how he observes the sit-at-home directive, Mr. Vincent Eze, a trader in Ogbete, Enugu said: “I use the period to sleep. I have time to stay with my family since I can neither go out nor do any other business. So, you can say I am learning to stay home.”
Eze added that he was looking for an alternative business that could occupy his time while the sit-at-home lasts.
In Abia State, every Monday has also become a sort of public holiday despite repeated assurances to residents who go about their legitimate businesses by the state government and security agencies that they would be protected. While banks close shops, a large percentage of public servants also absent themselves from work. Some traders apprehensively stay in front of their shops discussing and playing games like draughts but ready to attend to their customers. Many residents also play football on the streets. Although transporters opened for business last Monday to convey commuters to their destinations, passengers did not turn up as expected.
A civil servant in the state, Mrs. Lucy Njoku, said the sit-at-home had given her an extra day to rest. “I now enjoy a four-day working week. I sleep and wake up as I like on Mondays. In fact, I now save what I would have spent on transport to and from work,” she said.
A bus driver, who plies Aba-Umuahia, lamented that the number of commuters had reduced out of the fear of what they might meet on the way, following reports in some states that IPOB members allegedly attacked people and vehicles.
Asked why she sits at home despite the protection assured by government and security agencies, a restaurant operator in Aba, who pleaded for anonymity, said: “What did they do for those who opened their business or went to work and were attacked. I considered it wiser to use Mondays to clean my house, do laundry and other chores, and have some rest rather than risk going out.”
In Ebonyi State, The Guardian observed that the situation might get out of hand if unchecked. Findings showed that many people that observe the order do so out of fear as hoodlums and miscreants might seize the opportunity to cause the crisis.
In the state capital, Abakaliki, banks, motor parks, fuel stations, eateries, major shops, major markets, and supermarkets did not open for business last Monday.
At Abakaliki International Market and Ophoke-Abba Market in Kpiri-Kpiri, the majority of the shop owners did not open for business. Also, the Abakaliki Rice Milling Industry did not open for business.
There was also the scanty movement of human beings and vehicles on major roads including the Abakaliki/Enugu; Abakaliki /Afikpo highways and other busy internal roads including Afikpo and Ogoja Roads.
Many concerned residents called on the state government, religious bodies, and major stakeholders to embark on an aggressive enlightenment campaign that would expose the danger the state would face if people continue to obey the order.
A resident, Utobo Peter, said the sit-at-home was affecting his business, noting that he would have been going to the market but was afraid of being harmed by hoodlums. He maintained that many others were willing to come out but also opted to sit-at-home out of safety concerns
A public affairs analyst, Mr. Tony Oke, told The Guardian that the development was putting further pressure on the economy of the region.
“You can imagine the kind of pressure you have on the streets after the sit-at-home. These days, people no longer do anything that can generate revenue on Mondays. The economy of the Southeast is one that thrives on buying and selling but we are fast removing our people from this. Several households don’t feed unless there is work to do. Now, when these ones are not on the streets, it creates more problems for society.
“I am sure that billions of naira are being lost from this sit-at-home every Monday. This is coupled with our children who no longer go to school on Mondays or write their examinations on that day. The situation is setting development backward in this region. When other regions have something to talk about, we are busy talking about sit-at-home. It is an unfortunate situation,” he said.
Oke’s submission notwithstanding, IPOB does not seem to see anything wrong with ordering residents to shut down their means of livelihoods every Monday. Just last Tuesday, its Director of State Service, Mr Chika Edoziem, issued a statement declaring that a sit-at-home would hold in the Southeast on September 14, 2021.
He stated that the September 14 sit-at-home would be in commemoration of the “carnage of September 12, 2018, by the Nigerian Army, which through its ‘Operation Python Dance II’, without provocation and without any reason whatsoever, invaded and occupied Biafra Land, humiliating, maiming and massacring our people.
“It is still fresh in our minds when on the 14th of September, these murderers in army uniform went further to desecrate the traditional stool of the Afaraukwu Kingdom in Umuahia, shooting and killing everything in sight resulting in the murder of more than 38 Biafran youths and arrest of an unspecified number of Biafran men and women.”
He, however, stated that Fire Service vehicles and ambulances would be allowed to move about during the September 14 sit-at-home.
So, the question is when will IPOB and the residents of Southeast zone realise the danger in the path they have chosen to toe? Only time will tell.
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