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Last week, residents of the South East wittingly or unwittingly observed three ‘Sit-At-Home‘ days. The level of voluntarism notwithstanding, the truth is that the habit of locking down the South East unilaterally for any reason has become a scourge on the greater majority of the people.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was formed to pursue self-determination and, by implication, the restoration of the independent State of Biafra from areas geographically located around the Eastern region of Nigeria. For nearly a decade, the secessionist group has managed to make itself a factor in the Nigerian polity such that it can no longer be taken for granted.
Unfazed by the challenges posed by the Nigerian State, whose sovereignty and territorial integrity is being tested, IPOB has continued to push its narrative while also introducing different interventions from time to time.
One aspect of the IPOB’s modus operandi that has attracted severe criticism is the illegal imposition of a weekly ‘sit at home’ order throughout the Southeast. This mode of protest, which was first test-run by its detained leader, Nnamdi Kanu, has become a household tactic today by the group to send their message to the Nigerian State. Today, the Sit-At-Home phenomenon has metamorphosed into a culture, driving its roots deeper into the normal lives of every inhabitant of the South East region.
The IPOB leadership announced in August last year that they would begin a weekly Monday sit-in to force the Federal Government to release their leader, who was arrested in June 2021. Although the group shortly afterwards went on to suspend the order, life in the South East has not remained the same again since then.
It is pertinent to note that ever since then, during the lockdowns, usually every Monday, businesses, offices, banks, markets, and other essential services are compelled to remain closed. Urban streets, interstate highways, and sometimes schools are usually deserted or face ‘severe consequences’. On those days, the zone is filled with an eerie silence that feels like a state of war that hasn’t been declared.
Sadly, between the enforcement of supposed IPOB wishes and involvement in petty crimes, the dividing line is often thin and frequently breached. On the part of the security agencies, enforcement of citizens’ rights to free movement gets dangerously entangled with curbing potentially treasonous escapades that often arise.
A more worrisome angle to the sit-at-home policy has been the colossal decline in business transactions and general shrinkage of economic opportunities for the people of the zone, who are highly respected for their industrious disposition. The net loss to the economies of the affected states has been calculated to amount to several billions of Naira. The extensive economic hemorrhage is multiplied by the fact that most citizens in the South East actually operate in the informal sector as traders, shop owners, artisans, craftsmen, industrialists, wholesalers, and retailers of a motley of merchandise who would only count their losses at the end of each episode.
It is true that shutting down the economic space and closing schools in the entire zone may have been IPOB’s most effective way of popularising its grievances over the last few years, but the big question remains, at what cost? People who complied on the sit-at-home lockdown days did so not necessarily in willing obedience to IPOB and its separatist argument, but rather out of fear for their lives and the safety of their property from rough enforcers, violent vigilantes, and plain thugs. To compel the citizenry to go about their normal legitimate undertakings, the security forces often come into violent confrontation with these armed miscreants at the end of the day, which still has the ‘common man to affect’ at the end of the day.
The obvious decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the South East because of the unwise weekly lockdowns is a direct challenge to the political control of the zone by its five governors. The populace was obeying the regime of fear imposed by IPOB and largely ignoring the pitiable elected governors. Presently, aside from the Anambra State Governor, who was recently sworn in as Governor, other governors in the zone have completely lost touch and completely shoved out of the equation.
Such a loss of sovereign control was indicative of a larger erosion of political authority and a series of failures of the states as agents of the law, order, and security. To a large extent, therefore, the IPOB sit-at-home’ order has become a matter of national security. It had started to create a psychology of war and desolate exclusion in the zone, to the embarrassment of the federal government. But it was up to the political leaders in the affected states to get the communities to stop the bad lockdowns.
In the final analysis, it is time for IPOB to rethink its strategies. The people who violently go about killing and destroying people’s sources of livelihood should be made to have a rethink. Employing the use of violence to force people to stay in the houses would not restore Biafra.
The truth remains that any sit-at-home in the states of the South East, South South, South West, North East, Northcentral, or North West has no effect on a president like Buhari. The only areas that have the capability of getting and sustaining the attention of Nigeria are Lagos, Abuja, and the oil facilities, especially in the Niger Delta. As long as these key areas are not affected, Nigeria will never be bothered. The people enforcing the Sit-At-Home should be made to understand that whatever they do in the South East will only hurt Ndigbo.
If they resolve to lock down the South East for one year nonstop, the truth is that Nigerian authorities would not care and will not be moved. The foreign countries they hope will notice them will not be bothered as long as their embassies or companies in Nigeria are not affected or threatened. Their embassies and companies are mostly located in Lagos and Abuja.
It’s high time people are made to understand that regular sit-at-home in the South East is not a sacrifice for the actualisation of Biafra. It is a direct way of killing businesses in the South East. Soon, big and small businesses will consider the South East unsafe and migrate to other zones. A sacrifice is something one suffers to achieve something bigger. Sitting-at-home will not bring Biafra any nearer. It won’t affect Nigeria and won’t attract the outside world. If the hundreds of Igbos killed at Nkpor, Emene, Aba, Owerri, etc., did not draw the attention of the outside world, then the sit-at-home that affects only the Southeast will not attract the attention of the outside world. A hunger strike can achieve some results in some countries, but not in Nigeria. The action you use against your opponent should affect him and not you alone. If it does not affect him, you are merely working against yourself and your people.
And finally, those who live outside Nigeria or outside the Southeast and don’t sacrifice even an hour of their work hours in solidarity should stop the hypocrisy and selfishness of encouraging the stifling of people’s means of livelihood and the destruction of the economy of the Southeast. The South East is bleeding.