Opinion: Who Will Save The South East? – By Kazeem Akintunde
The southeast geo-political zone in Nigeria has been in turmoil for some time now. The nebulous activities of a group known derisively as ‘unknown gunmen’ have rendered the zone prostrate and about to completely cripple business activities in the region. Governors in the region have been turned to toothless bulldogs that can only bark but not bite.
The gunmen are known but many are now playing the ostrich. They have become the lord of the manor, dishing out instructions on what goes on in the region. Political leaders in the zone are either silent or have been cowed to look the other way. In the not-too-distant past, the southeast region was one of the most peaceful in the country. All that changed when Nnamdi Kanu began his agitation for an Independent Biafra land.
Kanu, who resided in the United Kingdom with his family was not happy with the treatment the region was getting from the Federal Government. He believes, and rightly so, that the southeast always gets the short end of the stick when it comes to sharing the national cake and getting federal appointments. He began his ‘liberation struggle’ while in the UK where he holds dual citizenship by establishing a Radio Station (Biafra Radio) through which he mobilizes and galvanizes locals back home for the cause. When he started describing Nigeria as a zoo and bad-mouthing other regions, the Federal Government began a clampdown on Kanu and his supporters who have by then, formed the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. Kanu was arrested when he came to Nigeria for the burial of his father in 2017 and charged to Court for sedition but he escaped and fled the country while on bail.
His men in Nigeria also went underground and the war of words escalated. Kanu was lured to Kenya last year where he was picked up by Nigerian security agents and repatriated back to the country. He has now been re-arraigned in court for treason and terrorism-related charges while his group has been branded a terrorist organization.
In its determination to free the region from the scale of oppression from Nigeria, IPOB in August last year, declared Mondays as sit-home days throughout the region to put pressure on the Nigerian Government to release its leader, Kanu. The Monday sit-at-home was later extended to everyday that Kanu appears in court. Since then, the Southeast has become a ghost region with businesses of Ndigbo shut down on such days and every Monday as residents stay at home, mainly out of fear of attack.
“Monday sit-at-home is sacrosanct,” the spokesperson of the group, Emma Powerful, stated, adding, “nothing can stop it apart from the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.” Since then, the group has ensured total compliance with the order through brutal suppression of offenders which atimes includes death for violators of the harsh order.
One wonders: Is that how to liberate the people of the southeast? Crippling the business of your people because you are fighting for an independent country? Are there intellectuals in IPOB that can drum it into their heads that the path they have chosen is not the best for the region? How is killing your own people and preventing them from working contributing to the liberation of the region? I have not been able to wrap my head around the path chosen by IPOB and what they intend to achieve through the forced Mondays sit-at-home order.
In the few weeks of its enforcement, the destruction of government assets in the region has been on the rise – with several police stations, Army Barracks, Local Government offices , to mention a few, have come under attack with properties worth several billions of naira set on fire. Just last week, Ogidi headquarters of Idemili North local government area, Military checkpoint at the highbrow 3-3 Housing Estate in Onitsha and Eke Oko in Aguata local government area were all torched on the same day. The incidents occurred barely two days after the Governor of the state, Chukwuma Soludo, visited Kanu in prison. Many had thought that the Governor’s visit would end the weekly Monday sit-at-home in the region but it turned out to be wishful thinking. While the body counts of those killed is ongoing, the ‘known gunmen’ wrote letters to residents of no fewer than 10 local government areas in Anambra State, vowing to attack them soon and urging residents to be ready for their unwanted visit.
The local government areas penciled to be attacked by the hoodlums are Ihiala, Aguata, Nnewi South, Awka North, Awka South, Idemili North, Idemili South, Orumba South, Orumba North and Anambra East. According to the message, they urged the security operatives in the state to get ready for action and also send a subtle warning to Soludo: “We are warning our dear Professor that it is time for action and not time to speak big grammar. All the security men occupying our region should get ready for action. Go and tell the President to release our oga, Onyendu, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, or face continuous war.” Is that how IPOB and ESN hope to gain independence for Biafra land?
With many Ndigbo’s means of livelihood gradually being wiped out, many businessmen are gradually leaving the region and relocating to a safer environment to seek greener pasture. Asaba, in Delta State, Lagos and Abuja are now choice locations for these businessmen. Students writing external examinations such as WAASCE and JAMB in the region have been forced to miss their papers, thereby complicating their life. Travel and the tourism business in the region have been completely wiped out with many hotel owners lamenting the sad turn of events.
Those engaged in the Transportation business are also counting their losses as Mondays have been adopted as a ‘rest day’, like Sunday.
In September 2021, Dave Umahi, the chairman of South-east Governors Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, said that the region loses over N10 billion each time it observes the Mondays sit-at-home order. About six months later, Soludo, said the poor masses lose an estimated N19.6 billion in Anambra alone on these days. “Due to the protracted breakdown of law and order, businesses are relocating outside Igboland, with growing unemployment, and traders who used to come to shop in Onitsha, Aba, etc going elsewhere,” he pointed out in his inaugural address on March 17.
There were cheers on April 2 across the region when the Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council announced that IPOB had stopped the sit-at-home holiday. The Igwe of Onitsha, Nnaemeka Achebe, who is the chairman of the council, said IPOB took the decision after Igbo leaders, including religious leaders, declared their intention to find a lasting solution to the insecurity and other problems that agitate the minds of people in the region. Achebe said that after its meeting with the group, IPOB called all its members to drop their arms and embrace dialogue. But the joy was short-lived as the holiday continued the following Monday. Fear has been ingrained in the psyche of the same people IPOB intends to liberate through their nefarious activities.
In another effort to end the lockdown, Soludo directed churches in Anambra State to hold prayers to mark the end of the sit-at-home holiday in the state on April 4. That was in addition to the amnesty his new administration offered to gunmen, who are alleged to be part of the Biafra agitation. “Following the unanimous agreement of our leaders across the board, and the entire body of Christ, I am pleased to inform our people that today, Monday, April 4, 2022, marks the official end to the ‘Monday sit-at-home in Anambra State,” Soludo posted on his verified Twitter handle. “I have also offered amnesty to all our brothers in the various forests around us. Give us your guns, and trust us to help you forge a meaningful living,” he posted. But the group has told the governor to stop speaking big grammar as they have stepped up their attacks on government facilities and whoever has the misfortune of running into them.
As the group that calls the shots, IPOB has told Reverend Kumuyi not to bring his Church programme to the region as his safety and that of his congregations may not be guaranteed. In the same vein, IPOB has informed the All Progressive Congress, APC, and one of its gubernatorial aspirants in the state not to bring APC rally to Abia State. It is yet to be seen whether Kumuyi will dare the group and hold his revival programme or the APC gubernatorial aspirant will visit Abia state to campaign. Many of the presidential aspirants that have been crisscrossing the country campaigning for votes from delegates have found a tactical way of avoiding the region. Just few days ago, a lawmaker, Okechukwu Okoye was kidnapped and later murdered. His severed head was later displayed for all the see.
Foreign Direct Investment that Soludo said he intends to use in the rebuilding of the state is already a mirage as no investor will be ready to put its money where there is no security. In fact, what the region has lost in the last one year would take more than 20 years to recoup. I still do not understand why IPOB will deliberately under-develop the southeast when in actual fact, they claim to be fighting for a separate country and better welfare for the people. The method chosen by IPOB and its military wing, the ESN, is not in the interest of the people of the region. Take the fight directly to the federal government in Abuja through the legal system or adopt a more refined approach to the struggle. It is time for intellectuals from the region to condemn the IPOB-style of the struggle. The sit-at-home, the killing of innocent Ndigbo and others, as well as the burning of government facilities will only set the region back by several years. It is time for men of goodwill to rise up and save the region from total collapse.