This week alone, there were paralyses of economic and social activities in the South East, in the name of sit-at-home, twice. The first one was on Monday, purportedly observed in protest of the detention of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The second sit-at-home, observed on Tuesday, was to mark the anniversary of the invasion of the home of Kanu by security agents.
Last week, also, there were two days of sit-at-home in the South East. The first sit-at-home on Monday that week was also in protest of the continued detention of Kanu. The second one was observed on Thursday, the day President Muhammadu Buhari visited Imo State on a working visit, wherein he met with Igbo leaders and inaugurated some projects of the Governor Hope Uzodimma government. In all these sit-at-homes, markets were shut. Banks and schools were closed. Commercial and private vehicles as well as commercial motorcycles stayed off the road. People stayed in their homes, as the entire South East became a ghost town.
The paralysis of activities in the South East on Mondays and any other day whatsoever has been the norm since Kanu was arrested in Kenya and brought back to Abuja to face trial. In response to Kanu’s extraordinary rendition, IPOB had declared a sit-at-home every Monday in protest. The group said the sit-at-home would continue until Kanu regains freedom. However, IPOB had had to cancel the sit-at-home, with a caveat that it would only be observed on days Kanu appears in court. Despite this “first amendment” to the sit-at-home order, the South East is shut down every Monday, as people stay at home.
From June 29, when Kanu was taken to court in Abuja, after being forcefully brought back to the country, the South East has been shut down not fewer than 13 times in observance of the sit-at-home order. On those days, the South East suffered economic and social losses whose magnitude may not rightly be quantified. Some people have said that the South East has lost more than N100 billion to these sit-at-homes. Others believe that the losses are far beyond that, up to N300 billion. Yet others strongly state that the South East has lost nothing less than N1 trillion, everything put together.
No matter how much has been lost, the fact is that the South East is bleeding as a result of the sit-at-home order. When markets, banks, supermarkets, schools and others are shut on days they are supposed to be open, money is lost. When commercial vehicles are forced not to operate, money is lost and people’s sources of livelihood are affected. When schools are shut, South East students and pupils lose out, as their counterparts in other geopolitical zones in the country are at school. At this rate, the South East is gradually dying. The South East has become the proverbial bird in fire emitting oil but which thinks that it is a sign of good living, as the Igbo say. However, sooner than later, the bird would be burnt completely by the fire and totally consumed.
This question must be asked: In whose interest is the sit-at-home in the South East? Asking people not to go about their business, as a mark of protest, is a wrong strategy to get Kanu out of detention. Sit-at-home can never be in the interest of the South East and would not bring Kanu out of the current quagmire. From whichever angle it is looked at, the South East is the loser in the sit-at-home mess, head or tail. The zone will continue to lose as long as this continues.
IPOB, which first ordered the sit-at-home, although it later made a volte-face and rescinded the decision, miscalculated to have contemplated it. If you ask people to stay at home and by so doing indirectly freezing their businesses and sources of income, this has no affect on whoever you think you are protesting against. The South East is losing billions of naira every day people are forced to stay at home. Apart from the question of morality, this does not, in any way, affect the Federal Government or President Buhari, who are supposed to be the targets. The people living in the South East and the companies and organisations in the zone are the ones suffering. At a time of economic hardship, people are forced not to go to their business to eke out a living. This is complete bunkum.
IPOB has completely lost it. Although it has washed its hands off the sit-at-home order, having called it off, it would still take the blame. If the group is fighting for the South East geopolitical zone, as it has always said, it should not take actions or measures that would be inimical to the progress of the zone. Taking actions that gravely and negatively affect the South East is an anathema. It is counter-productive. It is foolish.
No matter how angry anybody could be, it would amount to foolishness to cut off the nose in order to spite the face. Nothing would be achieved using tactics that would impoverish the South East in protesting against the detention of Kanu. The South East suffered economic losses during the civil war. At that time, social and economic activities were halted in the South East. Bombs and grenades devastated the region. By providence and dint of hard work, Southeasterners rose from the ashes of that war to become an economic power reckoned with in Nigeria. Even in the face of subjugation and political marginalisation, the South East’s economy is good, with an impressive per capita income. Taking actions that would reverse this trend would amount to the South East shooting itself in the foot.
Sit-at-home, no matter the good intention those sustaining it claim it is meant for, will destroy the South East. With sit-at-home, IPOB and its supporters are making the same mistake the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) made many years ago when it frustrated the participation of the South East in the last national census. The pro-Biafra group, then, frightened the Igbo from participating in the census. Census enumerators were not also allowed to work. The South East became the ultimate loser, as the result of the last census is not the true reflection of the population of the region. Pray, if the Igbo, using sit-at-home, destroy the economy of the South East, the region would lose relevance in Nigeria completely. This is so because it is because of economic power that other zones in Nigeria still respect, fear and listen to the South East and Southeasterners. Without it, the South East would amount to nothing.
It must be stated, however, that the continued observance of the sit-at-home in the South East, even when elected governors had called on the people to shun it, is a result of the failure of government in that region. When a people would rather obey IPOB or indeed people who have hijacked the sit-at-home, instead of elected governors, it is a clear vote of no confidence. Power and authority, which should reside with governors, have been seized by IPOB in the South East. The bitter truth is that Southeasterners obey IPOB, instead of governors and state governments. Now, residents of the region fear IPOB and don’t respect the state governments. This can explain why the sit-at-home continues.
The agitation for Biafra did not start today. It has been with us, since the current democracy started. However, the South East has never fared this badly, to the extent that the economy of the zone is being threatened by the agitation. Since the quest for Biafra did not become such a big threat to the region in the past as today, it shows that there was something past governors did well, which those in authority now have failed to do. The governors of the South East should, therefore, examine themselves and make amends. They should rise up like leaders to address the Kanu detention matter. The recent decision by South East senators and House of Representatives members to seek a political solution to the Kanu impasse is sure the way to go. The governors should learn something from this and decide what they should do collectively to restore confidence and end the anarchy that is evolving in the South East.
For IPOB, the time has come for it to look at itself. If the group cancelled the sit-at-home it ordered but people are observing it because some elements outside the authority of IPOB are enforcing it, this shows that the group is losing control.