Uneasy calm currently pervades Nigeria’s Southeast following a sit-at-home order issued by separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), as residents say they are afraid of being targeted by either the group of security forces.
“The whole thing is getting out of hand,” said Ken Ngwu, a business owner in Enugu. “How can you be ordering sit-at-home every Monday? Does it make sense?. Do they realise that people have to earn a living? The way these people are going, if they get Biafra, it will be worse than North Korea.”
Ngwu who spoke to our correspondents Monday morning, said movement is scanty in the city, noting that ideally, there would be lots of movement.
It’s same situation in Awka. A resident, Tony Okeke, told our correspondent that there is limited movement in the Anambra capital.
“There is no much movement, everywhere is largely calm because of the order. Nobody is sure how things will develop.”
Streets in Aba and Owerri are also scanty, feedback suggests.
For many residents and business owners in the region, the re-arrest of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the IPOB in Kenya by Kenyan authorities on the request of the Nigerian government, and his subsequent renditioning to the country in June, was bad news; as it was certain to compound an already escalating security challenges in the region. It’s now an unfolding reality.
When Kanu was first arrested in 2015, it sparked sporadic protests in major cities of the zone which were quelled time and again by the country’s security forces in rather heavy-handed manner, leading to the death of hundreds and the disappearance of several others between 2015 and 2017. Global human rights body Amnesty International said between August 2015 and August 2016, security forces killed at least 150 protesters, but noted that the actual figure is likely much higher.
Commercial activities were disrupted time and time again, as protesters took to the streets to demand for their leader’s release. But the mode of protest has since changed, amid onslaught by security forces, with the agitators calling instead for sit-at-home protests as opposed to marching on the streets.
Following attacks on security installations by some unknown gunmen the police say are members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a militant wing of the IPOB launched in December last year ostensibly to fight herdsmen wreaking havoc in the region, tension has continued to rise, with security agencies allegedly engaging in random arrests and extrajudicial executions, even as suspected members of the separatist group are said to be targeting and executing residents branded saboteurs in places like Orlu.
As at June 2021, Igbo Council of elders said up to 5,000 youths have been killed by the a combined team of police and soldiers in the crackdown that followed, while 10,000 are being detained.
Last week Amnesty said in a report that not less than 115 persons from the Southeast have been extrajudicially killed by Nigeria and security operatives between March and June.
The report said Nigerian security forces in response to attacks on police facilities have committed a catalogue of human rights violations and crimes under international law, which have included sweeping mass arrests, excessive and unlawful force, and torture and other ill-treatment, while noting that relatives of the victims denied the deceased were part of the militants that were attacking security agents.
It’s against the backdrop of these events that the IPOB has resorted to ordering sit-at-home, which had proved to be more successful as many residents, either of fear of being attacked or in deference to Kanu, stay away from markets and streets when such order is issued. And perhaps emboldened by the compliance, the group has begun issuing similar orders every now and then, and on July 30, it ordered yet another sit-at-home for today, Monday; a development that has since triggered apprehension, even as the police in Imo say they are mobilizing to ensure order, while encouraging residents to go about their normal businesses.
“I’m now holed up here,” a business owner in Orlu, Imo State, who said he intended to return to from Enugu on Monday morning said. “I’ve been making calls to people in Orlu to know how things are there. I’m worried, I can’t just go back because it’s dangerous.”
The business owner who preferred anonymity said people are being beheaded in Orlu every now, for “being saboteurs,” and the and their heads displayed on tables.
“Now, they are cut people’s heads for being saboteurs. Today, if they see you on the road, they might tag you a saboteur and kill you, that’s my worry.”
Previous sit-at-home orders had been to mark events such as the beginning or the end of the Biafra civil war, but increasingly its become whimsical. Ahead of Kanu’s court appearance on Monday, July 26, the group ordered that shops be closed in his honour, but eventually the trial could not hold because of Department of State Services failed to produce him.
Yet, on July 30, the group, in a statement by its spokesman, Emma Powerful, ordered another sit-at-home, tagged tagged ‘Ghost Monday,’ starting from today, which according to it, will hold every Monday until Kanu is released. The ordered has state governments to issue stern warnings, even as it has caused disagreement within the group’s ranks.
At the weekend, the IPOB leader’s younger brother, Kanunta Kanu, issued a statement that the group has suspended the ‘Every Monday’ sit-at-home protest to allow the students in the geopolitical zone to participate in the National Examination Council .
He said a new date for the commencement of the sit-at-home order would be announced later, noting that the group arrived at the decision after listening to pleas from well-meaning individuals and groups within and outside Biafraland that the order be suspended to allow students from Igboland to participate in the NECO Exam.
“IPOB has listened to pleas from well-meaning individuals and groups within and outside Biafra land that we consider the fate of our children who will be involved in the NECO Exam and based on that, we decided to shift grounds over the sit-at-home order,” he said.
“IPOB on its part, having realized the academic deprivation the already marginalized Biafra students who entered for this year’s NECO would suffer, decided to suspend the sit-at-home order to a later date, to allow the students take their exams.
“Allowing the sit-at-home to go ahead as earlier announced, in the face of the NECO Exam would amount to assisting enemies of Biafra to inflict more injuries on her children.
“As a group fighting for the liberation of her people from oppression from her enemies, we realized that it would amount to assisting the said enemies to inflict more harm on our children if we do not suspend the sit-at-home order to allow Biafra students take their exams.
“The sit-at-home order has not been cancelled, but only suspended for the sake of Biafra students taking this year’s NECO Exam. IPOB global family members and Biafrans at large to await further directives in this regard.”
However, the IPOB in another statement on Sunday, countered Kanunta, insisting that sit-at-home order is still in place.
IPOB’s Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, in a statement asked residents to disregard the information, adding that anybody who listens to that ‘deceptive’ statement and dares to go out tomorrow (Monday) will regret their life.
“The attention of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), ably led by our great leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has been drawn to the purported suspension of Monday sit-at-home order issued by the leadership of IPOB has been suspended by some section of media (sic). We wish to remind every Biafran that the sit-at-home order remains sacrosanct on Monday, tomorrow,” he said.
“Anybody issuing press statement concerning IPOB sit-at-home order is fake and any statement without sit-at-home order or any activity of IPOB remain Comrade Emma Powerful the media and publicity secretary for IPOB (sic).
“Therefore, every Biafran should disregard regard every statement that is not from Emma Powerful or DOS and Radio Biafra.
“We know the situation of those going for exam tomorrow but our demand is for them to release our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and our people must understand that Fulani terrorists and Co. stopped our people school (sic) for three years during the genocidal war in 1967 to 1970 and it did not kill our people and this one day sacrifice for the release of somebody who has sacrificed a lot for our land.
“Anybody who ventures to come out tomorrow will regret his or her life. We warn you, tomorrow is total lockdown in every part of Biafra tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, governors of the Southeast, particularly those of Imo, Hope Uzodinma; Abia, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu and Anambra, Chief Willie Obiano, have asked residents to shun the directive and go about their normal businesses.
Anambra government went a step further by threatening not to pay August salary to any worker who abstains from work on Monday in obedience to the sit-at-home.
A statement by the State Head of Service, Barry Harry Uduh on Sunday, said, “The Government of Anambra State has directed that all workers in the State must attend to their duties on Monday, 9th August 2021 as failure to do so will result in severe sanctions, including loss of salary for the month of August.
In a related development, Imo State Police Command on Sunday, paraded 29 suspected members of ESN, allegedly planning to attack the state ahead of the Sit-at-home order.
The State Commissioner of Police, Abutu Yaro, who paraded the suspects at the Command’s headquarters in Owerri, said they were arrested at the various camps of ESN, in the State.
According to Yaro, the Police got intelligence of the planned attack and deployed the tactical teams of the command to apprehend the suspects from their hideouts.
Also, among the arrested were three women who were alleged to be offering catering services to the members of ESN.
According to Imo CP, “We got information that they have concluded their plans to launch an attack in the State as a way to enforce their sit-at-home order and we moved our men to action and unfortunate for them all, they were captured in their different camps of ESN, in the State. Also, arrested were some women who offer them catering services.
“I am glad to report Imo has remained largely peaceful. We have security measures to ensure everything is secured.
“We are not unaware that there are some people bent on trying to destroy it. However, a lot of mileage has been scored and Imo still remains a leading light. We are not relenting. We must always be ahead of them.”