Right from the First Republic, the South East region of Nigeria has always been seen as a viable place for commerce and industry. Owing to the entrepreneurial acumen of the people and the peaceful environment therein, business and commerce had thrived in this Igbo enclave. The going was, indeed, good, as it were.

During the First Republic, the economy of Eastern Nigeria, comprising the current South East and South-South, was recognised as one of the fastest-growing in the world. With agriculture as the mainstay, and special focus on palm oil, among others, the region’s economy blossomed. Indeed, the Eastern Nigerian government, at that time, was able to accomplish some developmental wonders, with buoyant economy anchored on agriculture and human capital.

Even with agriculture taking the back burner in the economy post-First Republic, and the Balkanization of the Eastern Region into today’s South East and South-South, the trajectory of a good economy, as it relates to individuals and organisations in the South East in particular, has persisted, with commercial cities like Onitsha and Aba attracting businesses from far and wide, including beyond the boundaries of the country. The development of industrial centres in cities like Aba, Nnewi, Enugu, Onitsha and others added fillip to the buoyancy of the South East’s economy. The resultant effect is that the region’s per capita income has been good.

In the last two months or thereabouts, however, the reverse is becoming the case, as it relates to the economy. The South East’s economy is steadily going down, not because the people, whose enterprise is legendry, have suddenly become lethargic but because the environment is increasingly becoming averse to entrepreneurship and even social existence. There is, in the South East, a sit-at-home order, which has become an acceptable phenomenon every Monday or any other day, depending on developments. The irony is that nobody is claiming responsibility for this.

At first, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had issued a sit-at-home order every Monday, as a mark of protest against the extraordinary rendition of its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, who was arrested in Kenya and forcefully brought back to Nigeria for trial. Later, the group cancelled the order, but said it would only apply any day Kanu’s trial holds. Despite IPOB’s directive on the suspension of the weekly sit-at-home, the South East has always been paralysed on Monday, with markets, banks, schools and business places shut. Inter-city and intra-city transportation as well as social activities are also forbidden on Monday.

Since August, Mondays or any day there is sit-at-home, millions of naira are lost. With cities and villages locked down, economic activities no longer thrive and the South East bleeds. At the rate it is going, there are fears that an exodus of business enterprises may hit the South East soon. The multiplier effects of frequent sit-at-home would be job losses, low or no tax revenue and other sundry economic losses. These would certainly take a big toll on the South East.

The matter, having reached an alarming dimension, deserves urgent and proactive action. Agitation or no agitation, it is the South East that suffers from the weekly lockdowns of the zone. It is southeasterners who cannot ply their trade on Monday. Southeasterners are those who would not go to work and whose jobs are at risk. Southeasterners own the majority of the industries and companies that cannot do business on Monday and whose revenue is dwindling. Head or tail, therefore, the South East as a region and southeasterners as a people lose.

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Finding a solution, and a permanent one at that, is necessary. This is why the recent appeal made by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, to the IPOB not to carry out its threat of ordering and enforcing a weeklong sit-at-home or lockdown in South East, with particular reference to Anambra State, from November 5, 2021, is a move in the right direction. Also, the call by Ohanaeze for an emergency meeting of South East leaders makes a lot of sense. Those who may consider this as a mark of cowardice by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo could gloat. The truth, however, is that a man whose house is on fire ought not to waste his time chasing rats plaguing the home. The proper thing for such a man is to put out the fire first, before worrying about the menace of rats.

Igbo leaders should rise up and find a solution to the problem plaguing the South East, with special focus on insecurity and paralysis of business activities. I find it shocking that the government of Anambra State, for instance, may be considering shifting school days to Saturday as an answer to the loss of Monday by pupils and students to the sit-at-home. This is not the type of solution needed for such a problem. Shifting school days to Saturday, to make up for the loss of Monday, is tantamount to addressing the symptom rather than the ailment. What is required is to end sit-at-home and the siege of security personnel in the South East.

The recent statement by Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, that Igbo leaders were working towards a political solution to the problem in the South East, gives some hope. The South East caucus of the National Assembly first mooted the idea of finding a political solution. Since governors in the region have also keyed into this, there is need for collective efforts of leaders of the South East to solve the problem. There should be a solution to the problem, whether it is political, legal or simple application of common sense.

In this regard, dialogue at this point in time is paramount. Dialogue may look simple or even stupid sometimes, but it does solve problems. It is through dialogue that people understand each other. It is through dialogue that compromises could be made. It is through dialogue that rough edges could be smoothened. I have heard government officials argue that there is no basis for dialogue with Nnamdi Kanu, as, according to them, he is the leader of a proscribed organisation. If IPOB is a proscribed group, Kanu remains a Nigerian, a bona fide Nigerian. Besides, the problem in the South East or the agitation in the region goes beyond IPOB. If it was about IPOB, the proscription of the organisation should have put paid to what it represents. The question is: Has the proscription of IPOB and the extraordinary rendition of Kanu ended the agitation and restiveness in the South East?

Talking about political solution, Igbo leaders should know that this would not work in exclusion of Kanu. It is really surprising that, four months after Kanu was brought back to the country, Igbo leaders, who have told the world that they would monitor his trial, have not found it expedient to meet with him in custody. It is not enough for Ohanaeze Ndigbo to say it would monitor the trial of Kanu and also to raise a committee to do so. One expects Ohanaeze to go a step further to press for an opportunity to meet with Kanu in custody and discuss.

Inasmuch as one may not support the route IPOB is taking in its campaign, the truth remains that injustice and inequity cannot make anybody happy. The Nigerian government must find a way to address the issues the Biafra or Oduduwa agitations have raised. In addressing the South East issue, government should understand that the agitation is not about Kanu or IPOB. Believing that putting Kanu on trial and perhaps getting him jailed for treasonable felony or whatever crime would solve the problem is a clear fallacy. What is happening currently, where Kanu is in custody but the tendency he represents is still an issue, says it all.

The survival of the South East is imperative. The peace and unity of Nigeria are paramount. Whatever it takes to achieve these must be pursued.