A little beyond Beach Junction, Obukpa, Nsukka in Enugu State, Nigeria, lies the charred remains of a truck containing motorcycle spare parts said to be worth over N30m. Since Monday, September 6, when it was set ablaze by masked hoodlums numbering about six, it has remained on the same spot; and as a constant reminder to residents of the dangerous turn the quest for Biafra in the region is taking.
The hoodlums who put fire on the vehicle were enforcing a Monday sit-at-home order issued by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which it had already cancelled via a statement issued by its spokesman, Emma Powerful, but which nonetheless continues to be enforced by the hoodlums whose capacity to unleash violence has unnerved many.
“What they did here is very sad,” said Mr. Fabian Ozioko, a local trader within the vicinity. “They have just destroyed the years of sweats of these young men over nothing. Is that how to fight for independence?”
The incident served to install fear on residents of Nsukka, host community of the University of Nigeria. A largely agrarian community, the impact of the continued lock down on Mondays has been telling. From interior villages to cities, men and women count losses.
“At ‘Eke’ market today, I almost had to abandon my vegetables,” said Nkiru, a middle aged woman from Ede-Oballa community. “Buyers who usually come from Enugu and other places couldn’t come the last market day because of the lock down. So, today, everybody brought their products and so there was glut. We were even begging them to buy, just whatever they can afford to pay. It’s very bad. I don’t know why they are punishing us in the name of fighting for independence.”
The complaints are widespread. And so are the violence being unleashed on the hapless populace by a gang of criminals in a zone becoming increasingly volatile. No one is safe, but prominent personalities are increasingly being targeted.
On Friday, October 1, the hoodlums enforcing enforcing yet another sit-at-home order issued by IPOB intercepted a bus along Owerri-Umuahia expressway, killed the driver and set it ablaze. Another truck conveying goods from Imo to Abia was burnt in Ahiazu Mbaise.
Same day the hoodlums razed the Orlu country home of a former Imo lawmaker, Gozie Nwagba, as well as the palace of the traditional ruler of the community, Raphael Ekezie.
In Amechi, Enugu, a palm wine seller conveying his products to Apugo early in the morning was apprehended and his Keke Napep set ablaze by hoodlums who also took N80, 000 he had on him.
“It was around 5:30 am, we heard the man screaming,” narrated an eyewitness, Emma Nnamdi, “I came out and saw something burning. Then as we moved closer, we the hoodlums running.
“The man was riding his Keke, conveying left over of him palm wine to Apugo to probably tap fresh ones and mix them. Those hoodlums stopped, collected his N80,000 and set his Keke ablaze.”
Days before, on September 28, Dr. Chike Akunyili, a prominent medical doctor and husband of late Minister of Information and Director General of NAFDAC, Dora Akunyili, was shot dead by gunmen at Nkpor, close to Onitsha.
Dr. Akunyili, a renowned philanthropist who owned one of the biggest hospitals in Enugu, St Leo Hospital, was shot while returning from a trip to Onitsha, where he had gone to obtain a posthumous award of excellence for his late wife. His crime being that he had police escort in his vehicle.
Since December 2020 when currently detained IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu launched an armed wing, Eastern Security Network (ESN), an outfit he said would tackle security threat posed by Fulani herders in the region, confrontations between the outfit and security agencies have led to death of hundreds, especially in Imo State where the recent spate of violence began.
The resultant effect has been proliferation of arms in hands of criminals who are now turning them against the population.
List of their victims are expanding rapidly. Aloysius Okolie, a mechanic in Okporo community, Orlu was shot dead on Monday, August 2 for leaving his house. Chigozie,16-year-old boy was shot dead in Enugu in July.
On August 9, a passenger was burnt alive in Nkwogu, Ahiazu Mbaise LGA of Imo State. On August 16, four oil workers of Lee Engineering Company operating in Assa Community, Ohaji/Egbema LGA of Imo were murdered. The list goes on.
Amid the violence, leaders of the region have been cowed. Many are silent, afraid of speaking for fear being branded a saboteur and targeted. Those seen to oppose the gunmen’s idea of Biafra have been attacked.
“Igbo intelligentsia, Bishops, Traditional rulers, Governors Senators, House of Reps members, Houses of Assemblies in the South East, Professionals, Business Moguls, Igbo intellectuals in diaspora, University Teachers etc maintained a grave silence in the period of emergencies simply for fear of being killed,” wrote Mr. Joe Igbokwe, aid to Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu at weekend.
“The bubbles burst and many of inexperienced and unlettered young men in the South East who declared war on the Nigerian police and police formations and killed many of them were neutralized for nothing and for no just cause. They did not know that killing policemen and burning police stations, and opening the prison gates is an attack on the government of Nigeria. By the time the elders found their voices a lot of water had passed under the bridge, the falcon cannot bear the falconer and anarchy set in. Again the rest is now history.
“I am in pains because the overwhelming majority of our leaders in Igboland chickened out for fear of their lives and we witnessed an unmitigated disaster. Men in Igboland swallowed their voices and children began to play with poisonous snakes. The snakes bit them. But I remember the admonition of Professor Nnoruka Udechukwu, Professor Obi Nwakanma, Dr Ugo Egbujo, Mr Peter Opara, Emmanuel Onyilofor, Martins Nwabueze, Emeka Ugwuonye and many others who spoke before the children began to take laws into their hands. I salute your courage.”
Igbokwe’s outburst and his constant criticism of the activities of the violent agitators are sure to make him a target. And on Sunday, his Nnewi home was razed by the armed men.
“IPOB invaded my House in Nnewi about now,” he wrote after the incident on Sunday evening. “I am sure they razed down my House giving the jerrycans of petrol I saw being offloaded from Sienna car via CCTV.
“To God be the Glory. I am Still alive. My Study is my greatest regret.”
The gunmen, after torching Mr. Igbokwe’s house went on to set both the operational officers of the Department of State Services (DSS) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in Nnewi, killing two individuals; including a 300-level student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University identified as Chioma, who attempted to record the incident.
It’s a violence that has left many dumbfounded. For residents of the region, it’s double jeopardy. Series of attacks by an emergent group of armed men branded unknown gunmen on police and military formations, resulted in the heavy deployment of military and police personnel in the region by the Buhari government.
The result has been extrajudicial killing of residents, especially in Owerri, Imo State capital and only Orlu, a suburban town in the state.
“What those soldiers and police did in Owerri is terrible,” said a resident who preferred anonymity. “Sometimes, they would park their vehicles at a junction and just start shooting in a direction. Many people were killed.
“They also brought some strange looking men who spoke only French. Those people went to people’s houses in the dead of the night to kill them. It was sad.”
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Since the recent spate of violence began in January, residents of the zone have caught up in the crossfire. Sit-at-home orders are hurting the economy. And more military and police deployment means more movement restrictions and harassment.
“We are being humiliated at every turn by the soldiers,” said Chikamso Ede, a driver with one of the transport companies in the region. “When you get to a military checkpoint, they ask you to discharge all your passengers. Then they are all forced to walk a distance with hands raised. The only alternative is to beg and pay about N1,000 bribe.”
A report by SBM intelligence last month showed that the lock down has had telling impact those in the transport and hospitality sectors, as well as students and blue collar workers.
The report listed occupation most affected as follows: “Transporters (73.3%), those in the hospitality industry (71.4%), self-employed persons (73.9%), artisans (62.1%), blue-collar formal sector workers (64.5%), students (47.6%), and white-collar formal sector workers (49.53%) note that the sit-at-home protest of the 9 August 2021 had a serious effect on their productivity/ economic activities.”
Last month, the First Vice President of Nnewi Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NCCIMA), Chief Moses Ezukwo, said the sit-at-home has robbed the zone over N50 billion so far, including over 60 per cent in private sector.
Similarly, former CBN governor and APGA governorship candidate for Anambra election, Prof Charles Soludo, noted last week that the state loses an estimated N19.6bn each day there lock down.
“Anambra State economy loses an estimated sum of N19.6billion every time the sit-at-home directive is enforced in the state,” he said. “Such actions do not define who we are. That is why we are calling on those responsible to stop because we are hurting ourselves.”
But even more painful is human cost of the violence that has followed. Random people, politician and prominent personalities are increasingly getting murdered by the gunmen. Opinions are shifting from sympathy for the Biafra quest to resentment.
“If this is what the Biafra is about, then it should not be achieved,” said Ken Nneji a business owner in Enugu. “What we are seeing before our very eyes is the worst form dictatorship. People who don’t believe that you have freedom of choice. It’s very scary; I’m scared. I used to think that our people are intelligent and that we will never have Boko Haram, but I was wrong.”
Anambra Election Threatened
The agitators have been historically opposed to elections in “Biafra land.” They have been campaigning and calling for the boycott of the Anambra governorship election billed for November 6, and as the election approaches, the state is emerging as the new epicenter of the violence. Campaign vehicles are routinely attacked and politicians targeted.
On Thursday last week, gunmen attacked Ajali Police Station in Orumba North Local Government Area of the state, killing five officers, while setting the station ablaze.
The gunmen numbering about seven and dressed in red T-Shirts and black Jean trousers, stormed the Police station in a Lexus car, and shot their way into the Police station after killing a policeman that accosted them on entry and a civilian.
They were said to have released all the people detained in the Police Station and ordered them to leave the premises of the station without further delay or get killed.
Same Thursday at about 3:15 pm, gunmen attacked the convoy of Honorable Chris Azubogu, the member representing Nnewi North/Nnewi South and Ekwusigo Federal Constituency, killing one of his drivers.
Another attack in Nnobi, next door neighbour to Nnewi on Sunday, September 26, claimed the lives of Chairman of APGA in Uruagu-Nnewi Ward 1, Chukwuemeka Benjamin Nwokebuagu; a schoolteacher; and an executive member of the APC in Uruagu-Nnewi Ward 3 in Nnewi North Council, Ofomata Somadina.
“Many people have been killed,” lamented Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, senator representing Anambra South and candidate of YPP for the November governorship election. “In Nnewi, our brother, Eze B was killed. There are many others. Nobody knows why they are killing people. But we hear that they are are saying they don’t want election in Anambra.”
In Anambra today, driving a decent vehicle makes one a target. Having a police or military officer in the vehicle, or being in branded campaign vehicles, is death sentence.
At the weekend, Fabian Onwughalu, a lawyer and former chairman of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Lagos branch, narrated his deadly encounter with the gunmen he said were armed to the teeth.
According to him in a report by online medium, Cable, “As I concluded my case at high court 3 Nnewi, Anambra state today, I drove to the New Spare Parts Market to buy engine oil for my generator. Thereafter, I quickly proceeded to my country home to meet one of my errand boys, Mr. Anayo, who had been waiting at the gate since 4 pm to see me for some allowance. After the traffic light junction, I decided to increase my speed to 80 kph, but lo and behold, a black Toyota Rav 4 suddenly appeared behind, trailing me.
“When I noticed that the car though old despite the model, 2010, had no number plate, I became very curious and suspicious. My first line of thought was that they could be either armed robbers who trailed me from the Access Bank ATM where I withdrew N20,000, out of which I had used 6k and 2k to buy PMS and engine oil, respectively or some exuberant youths on an alcoholic and drug spree. Whichever was the case, I decided to speed off far away from them since I trusted my turbocharged ride called “Terrorist Kid” a new model 2018 model.
“In a twinkle of an eye I had cruised to 100kph, but the vehicle kept following up with a gap of less than 5 yards. I thought of driving into the Otolo police station but quickly remembered that they had relocated to the CPS due to the fear of the unknown gunmen.
“As I was contemplating what to do, the worst happened. As I slowed down to avoid the potholes at Orizu petrol station, their car overtook me in a Gestapo style as in a James Bond movie and blocked both my car and an oncoming Range Rover sports 2020 model.
“I then said my last prayers and asked God to have mercy on me and accept my soul in paradise. One came to me and barked, “Oga Judge, what are you doing to bring Nnamdi Kanu out?”
“I told him that I just came back from Abuja last week where I joined his defence team free of charge. He told me to continue and that God will bless me. While two of them were interrogating the driver of the Range the other two were chanting “no Biafra, no election”.
Onwughalu said the boys also threatened to blow up political meeting venues henceforth if the government does not stop “wasting the lives of innocent youths who throng their meetings.
“After about ten minutes, he retreated to the Range and ordered the driver who introduced himself as a son of Igwe Orizu, Igwe Nnewi and the owner of the petrol station, out of the car and returned his two phones to him,” he continued.
“As this was going on another team arrived with a Honda Pilot. The second group shouted that they were the backup squad. “Meanwhile as their eyes concentrated on the vehicles, I quietly reversed into the Obindu petrol station, left my keys in the ignition and scaled the dwarf fence into the cassava farmland nearby.
“They later left with the four cars and the owner of the last car which they commandeered. Thank God they did not see any political party insignia on me and my car. Moreover, they thought I was a security agent trying to escape from them, but when they saw me in my lawyer’s apparel, they became friendly.
“I am still in shock after so many hours as my BP which shot up to 180 is yet to subside. Only the almighty God can intervene on this imbroglio.
“Today, I confirm that these boys are armed to the teeth as I saw them ‘korokoro’ wielding AK 49, machine guns, antiaircraft missiles Russian made SMG, LA rifle and pistols. One particular boy of about 30 years who seems to be the leader had the ammunition belt rolled round his body like wrapper with two pistols by his trousers side pockets.”
Anarchy appears to be be on the loose. And the state government appears helpless. On Wednesday, Anambra governor, Chief Willie Obiano, in a state broadcast, placed a bounty on the head of the gunmen and vowed to bring them to justice, but that doesn’t seem to have worked.
On Friday, October 1, the popular Alex Ekwueme Square that is often a beehive of activities on Independence Day was completely deserted as residents stayed indoors for fear of being attacked.
The violence has shocked many. And there are growing speculations that it may be orchestrated by those intent on destabilising the region.
“The violence is synchronised to make the East ungovernable. They want anarchy,” argued Chief Goddy Uwazurike, president emeritus of Aka Ikenga, an Igbo think tank. “They are people who kill for pleasure and play football with human heads. It’s totally condemnable.”
Many have blamed the IPOB for the violence. The group’s sympathizers, on the other hand, have accused the federal government of using the Department of State Services (DSS) to orchestrate it with the intention of blaming same on the separatist group.
The DSS, has, meanwhile, denied any involvement, especially with the killing of Dr. Akunyili, contrary to speculations in that regard. The security outfit in a statement by its spokesman, Dr Peter Afunaya, on Thursday, said it would track down those behind the murder, while advising the public be wary of the false narratives by those desirous of using the DSS to cover up their heinous acts.
But the IPOB issued its own denial. In a statement on Wednesday, its spokesman, Mr. Powerful denied any involvement of the group in the attacks on the region, arguing that Dr. Akunyili’s killings may have been politically motivated.
In another statement on Thursday, Mr. Powerful vowed to order ESN to go after the masterminds of “these dastardly acts in the region.”
He also warned residents in the region to be on the alert as “some enemies are planning to unleash mayhem on innocent citizens under the guise of enforcing the sit-at-home order.”
According to him, “They will commit these murders and hide under the name of unknown gunmen to attack more innocent and prominent people during the sit-at-home.”
Given the dimension of the violence, however, it is hard to see it as being perpetrated by individuals that are sympathetic to the quest for Biafra, but it appears that the IPOB leadership itself has lost control. While, for instance, it has cancelled sit-at-home on Mondays, hoodlums have continued to enforce the order in its name.
“I don’t think these people are IPOB members,” said Kene Nnaji, a community leader in Nkanu, Enugu State. “I think they are just criminals capitalizing on IPOB sit-at-home to perpetrate criminality.”
Nnaji, however, admits that many youth have been brainwashed into believing that Biafra will soon come, hence the level of commitment to the quest.
“People are gradually realizing that it’s not as they were told,” he said. “But it’s just that the level of propaganda they deployed is too much. If people can realize that Nigeria can’t just split up as they have been made to believe, they will wake up. But many of them have this mindset that before Buhari leaves office, Biafra will come. They keep saying that Britain, U.S. and other world powers are interested in creating Biafra. Unfortunately, they don’t know that nobody even cares.”
Years in the Making
For decades, since the end of 30-month old Biafra war that lasted from 1967 to 1970, with its attendant destruction of lives and property in the – an estimated 3 million souls perished in the violence, mostly civilians and children starved to death – Nigeria’s Southeast has remained an troubled region. Wounds never healed and the preponderance of police and military checkpoint continued to trigger a feeling of oppression and a sense of resentment.
Anger had built up over the years. Many never felt part of the larger Nigerian federation. Cries of marginalisation have remained a regular feature of the political narrative. The Biafra sentiment which never went away, was, however, subdued by apprehension, as the generation that saw the horrors of the war dreaded the mention of it. However, the emergence of a new generation has since changed the altered the status quo.
From the early 20s when India trained lawyer, Chief Ralph Uwazurike formed the Movement for the Actualization of Biafra (MASSOB), an organisation that heavily promoted Biafra course, before it was was eventually crushed by the government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the quest for separation has remained prominent in the region.
Things, however got to a head when in 2012, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, a former disciple of Uwazurike, broke away to form the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), subsequently launching a pirate radio station, Radio Biafra – not to confused with an original Radio Biafra that existed in the short-lived Biafra Republic – through which he preached his Biafra gospel. But which while he existed in on fringes, ignored by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, he would become mainstream in 2015, upon his arrest and incarceration by the President Muhammadu Buhari government.
His continued detention in defiance of court orders for his release, and the continued unleashing of state violence against his supporters in the region, helped to win more sympathy for quest, even as Buhari’s lopsided approach to governance further alienated many in the region and elsewhere.