Concerns over incessant sit at home in South East
Mr.Ikechukwu Okeke, a businessman residing in Enugu state, has four children in the secondary school in the state. He paid their school fees on January 6th, this year, to enable them resume school after the Christmas break for the second term that officially began on January 10, 2022.
On January 10th, however, schools in Enugu did not open. The Children who were supposed to be in school were at home. That was not because of a shift in the resumption date; but because it was a sit-at-home day, purportedly declared by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the southeast region.
It did not stop there. From then till now, about seven weeks have gone into the year 2022. Of the seven weeks, which have five working days each, eleven days have so far been spent sitting at home in the southeast region. These included any other day the leader of the IPOB Mazi Nnamdi Kanu had a date in court.
These eleven days and still counting saw children of Okeke and other students in the southeast region not going to school. Okeke, told the Guardian that it has become a “herculean task to live in the southeast”.
He added that, “It was no longer easy to plan not to talk of doing business in the region”, adding that, “I have paid school fees and prepared my children for the session, yet they cannot go to school to learn”.
Okeke’s case is one out of the legion being suffered by parents in the zone, whose children and other activities have been disrupted either on Mondays or any other day, there was a court case involving Kanu.
Several socio-economic activities that ordinarily should take place during working days are either postponed or cancelled entirely with ease in the southeast region. Like a case of two worlds, while the rest of the country bubbles with activities on Mondays, the situation in the southeast is different as the people hole themselves in their homes due to the prevailing sit at home order.
The IPOB had declared the “ghost Monday” in August last year to protest the continued incarceration of their leader. Few days after the declaration, they had extended the order to include “any day Kanu will be appearing in court to answer charges preferred against him by the federal government of Nigeria or until he is released from custody”.
While the order lasted and apparently realizing the negative effect it was already creating on the economy and other activities in the zone, stakeholders in the region intervened and requested leaders of the IPOB to rescind it while pledging to interface with the federal government on possible ways to secure freedom for Kanu.
The IPOB acceded to the request and announced that it had cancelled the “Monday sit at home”. It also asked residents of the zone to go about their normal legitimate duties, adding that they would be informed anytime it was necessary to observe sit at home in the region in the cause of the struggle.
With the announcement, gradually, residents began to return to Monday activities. But some hoodlums soon sprang up in the name of enforcers of the “cancelled” sit at home exercise and began to unleash terror on those found to be doing businesses on Monday in the zone.
This group of enforcers burnt several vehicles and tricycles intercepted on the roads. Certain traders also lost their wares as these invaders sometimes attacked their shop, looting or destroying their goods while enforcing the order.
Gradually, life has returned to zero activities in the zone on Mondays as residents’ desert their lawful duties. The situation has been compounded by the activities of unknown gunmen who storm the streets at will and attack targets.
Last Thursday, no fewer than seven persons including police officers were killed in Enugu State. Two days later, the gunmen returned to the state and attacked another police checkpoint at Amodu-Awkunanaw and killed four police officers. Similar killings took place at Ihiala, Anambra state and in Owerri, Imo state the same day.
Decrying the development when he spoke as special guest at an occasion to mark the inauguration of Dr Jasper Nduagwuike, as the 16th President of Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ECCIMA), at the weekend, Senate Minority Leader, Enyinna Abaribe, stated that it had contributed to the poverty and poor economy of the region.
Abaribe, who noted that, bad governance policies, over dependence on federal allocation and lack of vision to harness the enormous resources in the region contributed to its dearth of infrastructure, disclosed that the situation had been compounded with the incessant sit at home by the Biafra agitators.
Citing a recent report of the poverty index released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), he indicated that the southeast region performed badly and below expectation, stressing that the zone had nothing “to brag about to the rest of Nigeria”. He said: “While productivity rates in Nigeria are very low compared to the world standard, the southeast has even fallen below that of the south-south and south west recently due to the self imposed “Holy Mondays’ that the zone is saddled with. While the IPOB has said that it has cancelled it and has urged everyone to go to work, we find unwillingness by the people to respond positively due primarily to the lack of security for those that may want to look for their economic welfare. This has led most people to prefer to be safe than sorry.
“The raging insecurity occasioned by the “Biafra” crusade by various groups in the southeast and the consequent violence, killings and kidnappings that have been witnessed in the region. There cannot be any development in an unsecure area. The sorry state of affairs has led to a gradual de-industrialization of the southeast where both corporate bodies and entrepreneurs have relocated to relatively safe places especially the southwest”.
Lamenting the situation further, he said: “It has bequeathed us with lack of basic amenities, epileptic power supply, very poor schools, no standard of water supply systems, bad roads and poor sanitation. In addition to the above is the near absence of the rule of law in our society; where contracts are not honored and those who break the law are not punished.
He added that the type of politics being played in the zone where cabals imposed leaders against the will of the people has contributed to the current economic challenges in the region, adding that the productivity rate of the zone has remained the lowest due to low human capital, low skill and inadequate education.
Abaribe, who went memory lane to compare the economy of the region in the 50s/60s “where there was no Paris Club fund, no excess crude funds, no 13% derivatives for oil producing states and no sharing of allocation because it focused on comparative advantage such as palm produce that then generated an income of 54 million pounds yearly, massive employment in farming and agriculture”, explained that “whatever has made the region thick before now is gradually eluding us.”
One of the zonal leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), who preferred to speak on anonymity, stated that nobody should delight in what was going on in the zone with the incessant sit at home directives.
Explaining why he preferred to speak anonymously, he said: “If you say that the federal government of Nigeria is not fair in its approach to the agitation by these groups, they will tag you as the sponsor of the IPOB. If you tell the agitators that their approach is not proper and there are better ways to engage in their demand, they will tag you an agent of the federal government and in the long run, their enemy. So it is a dicey situation”.
He however, added: “Nobody will be happy to see his home being decimated. There is an evil wind blowing and it is not doing anybody any good. We are in a serious problem and from my own end; we are praying and calling on God that there should be an end to these challenges.
“This week alone, we have lost two active days to sit at home. You cannot regain the period any way you look at it. The children did not go to school, offices did not open, markets did not open, and banks did not work. That is a great loss to the economy.
“We are ravaged more by this Sit at home than we were ravaged when the Covid-19 was at its peak. It is worse when you go out there and somebody chases you back with a gun. Imagine in a week, civil servants who are supposed to go to work five times now go to work three or even two times and it is not once or twice, how do you think the government can cope? What if the same government turns back to insist that it can only pay for the days that those civil servants worked? So it is a dangerous situation.
“I pity businesses, businessmen and women, who survive by their hard work and what they make daily. Businesses are winding down. There are those who have left the zone to other areas. Employment rate is now at zero. When these businesses close, the tendency that some jobs are affected is also there. These are the issues”.
An Enugu lawyer, John Nwobodo, who also lamented the current situation of the zone, following the incessant sit at home directive, said if not checked could heighten inflation and skyrocketed prices of goods and services.
According to him, it would also impact productivity severely with reduction in business inflow due to closure of markets as well as on local and foreign investments due to heightened insecurity.
“There is loss of earnings with its concomitant aggravation of poverty, hunger and diseases. Loss of jobs and diminished capacity of employers to pay salaries and wages arising from drastic drop in income of companies. The reduction in the number of working days thereby impacting negatively on public services, education, and justice delivery and in fact every aspect of life”, he said.
Nwobodo suggested that “until the situation returns to normal, Saturdays should be made a working day in substitution for Mondays in the zone”.
Chief Jude Ugwu, a businessman, who said it has become difficult to plan in the zone added:
“I hope the staunch supporters of the group are happy now with what’s going on? No one can plan or fix any event again in the southeast. I even saw a leaflet they circulated some days ago purportedly prohibiting movement and worship on Sundays. One day they will begin house to house invasion and it will be seamlessly carried out, having totally intimidated and subdued the security agencies by then, as they are currently doing now by attacking security posts.
“Sometime last year when they began and went about hitting the police and military formations sporadically in the southeast, especially in Imo, Ebonyi and Enugu states, no one had the thinking that it wasn’t for nothing but preparatory for something bigger ahead, which eventually came into place, the stay-home coercion of every Monday and any day the trial of their lord and master comes up in court. They have started attacking security posts here and there again and no one is thinking of anything ahead”.
Meanwhile, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has asked governors and political leaders of the southeast region to end the sit at home order before seeking offices in the 2023 general elections, insisting that the exercise had destroyed the economy of the region.
The group agreed that since it was almost a general belief that hoodlums had hijacked the exercise against its original intentions, efforts should be made by the leaders to proffer solutions to it “so as to imbue the confidence of our people that they have the right persons working for them at all levels.”