The sit-at-home ordered by the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) across the five states of the South-east is fast impacting negatively on the populace, as business owners and residents alike have cried out in anguish to say they have had enough.
From Abia to Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo and Anambra states, the trend remains the same as businesses have remained under lock and key while owners continue to comply with the IPOB order for fear of being attacked by the secessionists.
The order, which is to protest the continued detention of IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, commenced some two months ago.
Though to be observed whenever the IPOB leader surfaces in court, it has however become a permanent feature as people are afraid to come out to avoid possible attack.
Moreover, the group also declared the observance of the order every Monday.
The order intensifies as Kanu appears in court Wednesday to continue with his trial over alleged “terrorism, treason, running an illegal company, publishing defamatory material and illegal possession of firearms.”
In Abia state, where there was partial compliance last week, for instance business owners who dared the order forcefully shut down when news filtered that hoodlums were attacking Ohiya Mechanic village, Umuahia over non-compliance.
While there were skeletal services at the state secretariat, only one lawmaker was sighted by one of our reporters during a visit to the 24-member state legislature.
Although no serious incidents or loss of lives as witnessed in other states within the region, the sit-at-home order has impacted negatively on the economic life of both the people and government.
In specific terms, those who earn their livelihood from daily earnings are not finding things easy.
According to the residents, the situation has become so appalling that they, in unison, called for an end to the order for normalcy to resume.
Speaking on the development, President Umuahia Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (UCCIMA) Chief Nkem Chidi Aruoma said the ‘Monday order’ is badly hitting the economy of the state as well as those of ther states in the region.
The UCCIMA boss, who noted with dismay the economic loss worth millions of Naira, further said business owners do not open shops for business transactions on sit at home days.
He also said businessmen from neighbouring Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Rivers states would prefer to visit other states free of restriction orders than coming to Abia state.
“When businesses are not open, it affects both individual businessmen and government’s revenue base ,including the poor masses who hawk pure water for their living.
“Every day there is sit- at-home, we lose hundreds of millions of naira. Transporters are not bringing out their vehicles on the road, shop owners are not opening for business, we are begging the agitators to have a change of mind before the South East is completely killed,” Aruoma said.
Also, General Manager Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Safety Schemes (ASPMISS) Chief Ezinwa Abiri (JP) noted that Monday sit- at-home order was hitting the agency’s revenue base ‘below the belt.’
Prior to the order, he said ASPMISS as a self-sustaining agency used to pay salaries before the end of the month because they were generating revenue, saying “the agency has lost between N6 million to N8 million within these two months the sit-at- home order lasted.”
A female operator of Lotto games from Aba road Umuahia who craved anonymity, said the order has affected the volume of patronage.
When Blueprint sought the reaction of a traditional ruler in the state, he turned down our request.
And amidst all this, the state government has assured citizens to go about their lawful businesses, saying there is no cause for alarm.
In Awka, Anambra state, Blueprint reports that residents are passing through pains and agonies, while students missed their examinations and events rescheduled all in observance of the order.
Also, with less than a month to the state’s governorship election, some political parties cancelled or postponed open campaigns, with some others taking theirs to Anambra residents at Lagos, Abuja, Rivers, Delta and so on., even as many others launched and maintained only online campaigns.
“We can’t do anything for now. I will open my shops only when I see that people have done that too. I don’t want to die or lose my wares. Would govt feed my family? They are telling us to open shops but it won’t be possible unless we, the traders and markets agree to do if there is improved security. Truly, it is affecting us. We now have only five days to trade in the week,” a trader, Mr Sunday Egwuatu noted.
An economist and former governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Charles Soludo, at a recent stakeholders’ meeting posited that Anambra state alone lost a sum of N19.6billion at every sit-at-home.
Although IPOB later announced cancellation of the order as well as its enforcement, people are still observing it out of fear of the unknown.
Unknown gunmen and rival cult groups seemed to have latched on the ‘loophole.’
From September 28 to October 11, 2021, not less than twenty persons have been gunned down by hoodlums in the state. Among them are Dr Chike Akunyili, husband of the late Minister of Information, Prof. Dora Akunyili; and Dr Lawrence Ezenwa. Vehicles, houses and other valuables were also set ablaze across the state.
At a recent interview with State House Press Corps, Governor Willie Obiano exonerated IPOB from the killings.
On why he was not at meeting of the south-east governors, the governor had said: “How did you expect me to sit down at table and discuss security with those who are sponsoring the insecurity and killings in my state? All I know is that we are going to find out the hoodlums and bring them to book!” he stated.
In a broadcast to people of the state September ending, the governor said:”Ndi Anambra, these attacks and accompanying deaths cannot be justified and must stop now. I have therefore conducted an extensive security meeting and have directed all Security Agencies to step up and confront this monster ravaging our land. I charge everyone involved in the security architecture of Anambra State to take very seriously, this threat to our livelihood and boldly rise to confront same.
“Traditional Rulers, Presidents General, Clergy men, Vigilante Groups and all leadership structures must now take responsibility and in conjunction with the Police, Military and other Law Enforcement Agencies, work to restore order immediately.”
We ‘re vindicated – IPOB
Mr Emma Powerful, the IPOB media and publicity secretary said: “We are the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), under the able leadership of our Leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. We have always distanced ourselves from the senseless killings in Biafra land especially in Anambra and Imo States but some gullible fellows do not want to believe us. Now we have been vindicated by the recent confession by Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State on why he did not attend the meeting of South East governors in Enugu.
“For the umpteenth time, let’s restate that we have no hands in the senseless killings of innocent citizens in Biafra land especially Imo and Anambra States.”
From January till date, Anambra has hosted four commissioners of police. They are John Abang who was moved following his promotion to the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG).
The rest are Monday Bala Kuryas, February 18 to April 29; Chris Owolabi, April 30 to September 9; Tony Olofu, September 10 to October 7; and the current CP, Echeng Owolo, who assumed duty October 8.
In a related development, there are also cries from business owners and individuals in Awka, Ebonyi state.
In an interview with Blueprint, the state Commissioner for Commerce and Industry and Businesses Development, Dr Stephen Odo said businesses and economy of Southeast had been affected.
Odo sued for peace and pleaded with the IPOB to adopt a more acceptable approach in driving their demand home.
He said: “For business to grow, we really need peace not just peace but peaceful environment and serene environment, environment that has ability to stir confidence in the mind of people . Businesses entails people moving from one point to another point, and if at any point there is insecurity, nobody will want to move.”
“And here we are in southeast we are suffering a self-inflicted problem because in self-inflicted problems, nobody achieves result by punching itself. For me southeast is just inflicting itself.
“We are a region that is known by trade, by commerce and it involves day- to- day business transaction and activities. So, anything that hinders business activities is actually destroying the economy of the southeast and this is our pride,” he said.
Businesses relocating from southeast
The commissioner also hinted that businesses were relocating from the southeast region.
“I may not have the data but it is obvious that when there are security challenges, people begin to take different decisions, so nobody can say it’s not possible that a lot of persons, for a strange happening, must have left the region. It is possible because people look for environment where their businesses are secured, we are no longer assuring our investors that kind of security that we need to have.
“Southeast used to be exceptional in terms of investment designations, southeast is notable for a peaceful coexistence, this is completely strange to our culture, this is completely strange to our environment, this is completely strange to the known ideology of the southeast, so it is possible that a lot of businesses are leaving. Imagine some banks closing up for a whole day or three times in a week, so it is possible that a lot of businesses may have considered looking for another safer region even closing some branches, and I think the earlier we address that the better for us,” the commissioner further said.
It’s same story in Enugu state where one of our correspondents quoted the apex Igbo cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, as pleading than an end be to the sit-at-home order.
Ohanaeze National Publicity Secretary Chief Alex Ogbonnia said if IPOB failed to stop the order, they might lose the respect and solidarity of the Igbo people, pointing out that their leader, Kanu loves the people and would not want the Igbo land to suffer unduly.
“I do not think the IPOB which Nnamdi Kanu represents would like to inflict hardship and injuries on Ndigbo. They would be playing into the hands of hoodlums even when IPOB has suspended the weekly sit-at-home, some hoodlums hijacked it and went on killing, maiming and destroying Igbo property.
“They, IPOB, will lose the solidarity and sympathy of the people. In the process, the essence would become questionable and will become counterproductive,” Ogbonnia said.
Also making similar plea, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Chief Edward Ubosi, urged IPOB to let go of the order to save Igbo people from hunger and starvation, noting that many depended on daily sales and services to survive.
“It is necessary to note that the sit-at-home exercise being embarked upon in the Southeast zone is a great disservice to our people. This is because our people who mainly depend on buying and selling can no longer move about to fend for themselves. This is a time bomb,” the lawmaker said.
However, many continued to comply with the order for fear of being killed or injured.
“Me, go to market? I’ll not go to market until this thing is over. I know that I am losing money any time I did not go but I’ll not go out and risk my life,” James Okoh a trader who deals in foodstuff at Garriki Market, Awkunanaw, Enugu said.
On the effect of the order, a former minister of power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo said: “I foresee blood bath. Criminals have been posting names on the social media who are abroad causing trouble in Igbo land. I foresee a gang war and a bloodshed in Igbo land.”
“Sit at home today, sit at home tomorrow, what for? Who are those suffering these things? Is it not my people, our people? When I talk, they say I should concentrate on preaching the gospel,” said the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah.
Like all other states in the region, the weekly protest has continued to render all commercial banks, shopping malls, markets and business centres in Imo state inactive.
A staff one of the banks along Bank Road in Owerri, the state capital, who pleaded anonymity said the protest “has really affected bank businesses in particular and the country’s economy in general as the usual turnover is not recorded.”
“Since it started, the normal business atmosphere has disappeared as they open towards afternoon sometimes and don’t open at all some other times for fear of their facilities being destroyed.
“Lack of security from the state government has made it difficult to open. We feel that the government cannot provide enough security with which to fight for us when they come to enforce the order, so as a result, we prefer to lock up everywhere till the next day. And this makes our customers patronize Point On Sale( POS) operators scattered all over the place. This situation also makes us to have an uncontrollable mammoth crowd every Tuesday which slows down business, even at our Automated Teller Machines(ATMs).”
In the same vein, traders in the markets and other business centres also suffered similar economic losses resulting from lockdown.
For Madam Oluchi who deals in rice and beans in cups and paint containers at the World Bank Market Owerri, replenishing their stocks has become difficult.
Also, for Uche, a Toyota spare parts dealer at Alaba Market at Naze, most of his customers come Mondays.
“This means the sit-at-home has taken my customers and the money which would have gone into my pocket on that day. I suggest, we re-strategise for a better protest which will not affect our businesses as Ndi Igbo. You know we have families that we cater for,” he said.
Same pains are also shared by operators of commercial vehicles, commuters as well as residents, just as education which is the greatest industry in the state continues to suffer.
For instance, a parent, James Ajomiwe had complained about how his wards missed their English papers during one of the national examinations.
On the way out, Hon. Vincent Anthony Ubani, Director General, Nigerian Corporate Social Responsibility Fund, said all states in the region should allow the youth and people’s choice to prevail against the wishes of the few.
Ubani also appealed to the federal government to fast track release of the detained IPOB leader and other Nigerians “illegally” held hostage by the security apparatus.
Condemnation trails order
Also condemning the ugly scenario, the South East Igbo Youth Stakeholders said the order was negatively affecting lives, property and socio economic wellbeing of the people.
The youth, through their spokesman, Mazi Chukwuma Okpalezeukwu, observed that the challenges facing the region cannot be divorced from angers of the youth against the system and leadership, and appealed for a larger stakeholders meeting where all would brainstorm on ways forward.
Similarly, leaders of Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo worldwide and the Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU), at a recent joint press conference, urged the federal government to listen to the voices of people as “it has become difficult for the elders to control the youths due to the perceived inequality meted out on the South East people.”
National Vice President of Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo Worldwide, Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene and his ASATU counterpart, Chief Titus Akpudo, also sought release of Kanu and need for all regions in the country to be respected and treated equally.
The religious institutions have also resorted to prayers at their various churches for an end to the mayhem and peaceful Anambra state November 6 governorship election.