Prof. Ifeanyi Odoziobodo
Today as never before, many strange things are happening in Nigeria especially in Igbo land. One of such is the phenomenon known as sit-at-home which has become a critical juncture for the Igbo nation. It is a situation whereby the people are willy-nilly prevented from coming out of their homes on certain days designated and imposed on the people as sit-at-home. As a people, we need to deal with this strange phenomenon before it deals us a fatal blow from which we may never recover. Frantz Fanon succinctly observes that “every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.” Ipso facto, the success or failure of a people depends on how they respond to certain critical junctures in their journey to nationhood. It is such response that has divided the world into poor and rich countries. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have dealt with this assertion brilliantly in their epic and stimulating work “Why Nations Fail”.
Ndigbo and the Nigerian Question:
Events and circumstances surrounding the Igbos in Nigeria have compelled them to consistently question their place in Nigeria in relation to whether they are equal stakeholders with other ethnic nationalities in the Nigerian project; or whether they are second class citizens or whether they are merely being tolerated. After observing many happenings in Nigeria, one young Igbo boy asked his father, “Are we Igbos, really co-owners of Nigeria?” Many Igbos would quickly conclude that they are merely being tolerated in Nigeria. And you cannot blame them. Strictly speaking, since the events of January 15, 1966 and its aftermath, it would appear that Ndigbo are just being tolerated in Nigeria. They have been cast in the role of felons for no other reason than their courage and resilience to say no to injustice; and the courage to question the skewed federal structure in the country.
In the 57 years that have passed since the civil war, little has happened which seems to me to call for a change in the Igbo mindset that they are just been tolerated in Nigeria; that they have been reduced to second-class citizens that should be seen and not heard. Indeed, events, circumstances and time have, I think, reinforced rather than diminished the truth that Ndigbo are just being tolerated in Nigeria. Why do I say this?
The distorted federalist pretensions of the Nigerian state, the incompatibility of the various ethnicities in Nigeria, the thesis that Ndigbo should not be trusted with political power, the lopsided presence of federal infrastructures; the existence of serious economic inequalities and the different kinds of justices meted to different Nigerians, the multifarious incidences of government biases in favour of select groups etc – all these seem to have received apparent confirmation from Nigeria’s history in the past five decades and more that the Ibos are second class citizens in Nigeria.
For many Igbo people, the interpretation of this scenario is bound to proceed on two assumptions. The first is for the Igbo political class to synergize with other groups in the country especially the Middle-Belt region and Southern Nigeria to push for restructuring and a return to the 1963 Republican constitution. The second is to push for a separate state of Biafra through non-violent agitation as well as escalating the Igbo condition in Nigeria to the global stage.
The IPOB Approach to the Igbo Situation
Since 1999, a critical mass of Igbo youths appears to go with the second option, that is, self-determination. Buoyed by this conviction, several Igbo groups have mushroomed in the Southeast to drive this agenda. The first person to etch this notion on Nigeria’s consciousness was Chief Ralph Uwazurike with his Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). Following a split in the ranks of the MASSOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu founded the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) as a rallying platform for Igbo youths who share in his vision. Since its formation, IPOB has had many skirmishes with the Nigerian government. As part of strategies to remain relevant, IPOB leadership instituted May 30 of every year as a day to commemorate and honour all “Biafrans” that died in the 1966 genocidal pogrom and the civil war.
State Response to the IPOB Agitation
State response to the activities of IPOB has been less than salutary. On several occasions, the government has wielded the big stick to whip IPOB into line. IPOB leader was initially arrested and detained but after several months of protests by IPOB members and underground lobbying by Igbo elders, a political settlement was brokered paving the way for the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
After his release, a combination of events culminated in the invasion of his house at Umuahia whereupon he escaped. IPOB was subsequently proscribed and labeled a terrorist organization by the federal government. An international corroboration between the Nigerian and Kenyan governments led to the arrest and repatriation of Kanu to Nigeria. Since this second arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, the Igbo homeland has become a battle ground and a hotbed of insecurity. IPOB has become more daring and brazenly militant in its approach much to the harm of Igboland, its people and her economy.
Is IPOB justified in its Agitation and Method?
This is a very important question for which so many people would argue from various perspectives. Whatever your opinion, I am minded to submit that there could be some form of reasonability in the point that IPOB is making about the Igbo place in Nigeria. However, majority of Ndigbo and even the “Biafran” sympathizers are united in their rejection of some of IPOB’s method of agitation. One such method employed by IPOB is the sit-at-home and the brutal consequences that follows refusal to comply with the illegal order. Let us now take a look at the impact of sit-at-home order on Igbo people and their economy.
In the first place, sit-at-home is a very weird method of agitation because it is akin to self-destruction of the Igbo people and their economy. One certain way of ensuring the total collapse of the Igbo nation is to continue observing the sit-at-home order. A good freedom fighter does not turn the nozzle of his gun inwards in such a way as to kill the very people he claims to be fighting for.
The forgoing assertion is founded in history. For instance, the Ming Dynasty in ancient China collapsed irretrievably when it turned against itself instead of concentrating on overseas exploration that sustained its economy and fame. The same fate befell the Othoman Empire when it turned the instruments of its power inwards to destroy the very people that it was fighting for. A studied reading of Paul Kennedy’s “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” would indicate that when a society turns against its own, it inadvertently writes the script for its own self immolation. And that is what IPOB is doing; destroying the very fabric upon which Igbo emancipation is anchored. Not even snakes eat their own.
Secondly, the imposition of sit-at-home order by the IPOB in the Southeast is driven by the supposition that such order will arm-twist the federal government into releasing Nnamdi Kanu. IPOB feels that by inflicting such economic pain on the people, the entire Southeast will be galvanized to see IPOB’s agitation as Igbo agitation and thus compel the high and mighty in the Southeast into joining the clamour for the release of the IPOB leader. This again is an ill-conceived strategy by IPOB because it is not helping Nnamdi Kanu’s case. It is also not helping the people of the region especially the poor. Jobs are getting lost. Retrenchment is high. Businesses are migrating away from the Niger and economic decay arising from deliberate economic sabotage is rearing its head. The Igbo people living in the region are becoming poorer and sliding into the pathetic state of nature succinctly painted by the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth” is more apt in describing the sorry state of the people. All these are byproducts of IPOB’s version of sit-at-home.
There are historical examples that show how the IPOB-type agitations and imposition of sit-at-home order can cause great human misery as well as significant economic and social costs. In the first instance, investment and economic progress can be hindered by sit-at-home order because its enforcement by IPOB and the associated clampdown by the government would naturally lead to loss of lives. It will also lead to destruction of infrastructure, human capital, and institutions; cause political instability and increased level of uncertainty, making it challenging for such society to record any form of economic growth. The IPOB agitation and the attendant sit-at-home order have also complicated the total budget of the Southeast in terms of reducing tax revenue; wiping off a portion of the tax base and increasing security spending. As a result of fiscal deficits and public debt increase, resources are diverted away from social and developmental spending, amplifying the crippling effects of such agitations and sit-at-home orders.
Since the imposition of the sit-at-home order by IPOB, economic activities have been grossly dislocated in the Southeast region basically because on every Monday all productive assets and resources in the region are disrupted. This has been worsened by the intermittent unilateral declaration of days and weeks of sit-at-home order by one Simon Ekpa, who pretentiously claims to be an apostle of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. In all these, we cannot quantify the economic cost of disrupting all the productive assets and resources in terms of lost man-hours.
Again, IPOB appears impervious to contrary opinions and anyone that disagrees with its method or approach is immediately branded number one enemy of the Igbo nation. In enforcing the order, IPOB has wittingly or unwittingly created an atmosphere of fear, insecurity and constant confrontation with the Nigerian security forces leading to many deaths and destruction of properties. In the main, both formal and informal sectors of Southeast economy are losing money on account of the sit-at-home order. However, this is having no effect on the federal government except the Igbo people at the receiving end.
Since the introduction of the sit-at-home order, there has been a general disruption of life as the order is enforced by IPOB. It will be recalled that in August 2021, IPOB claimed to have called off the sit-at-home order. But despite this claim, shops are forcibly shut down and goods burnt or confiscated by the IPOB operatives enforcing the order. One indisputable fact is that the economy of the Southeast would not improve in an atmosphere of insecurity, uncertainty and restriction of movement.
The sit-at-home order has also drastically affected foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Southeast. A statement by the US Department of Trade in 2020 stated unequivocally that the Southeast of Nigeria is one place in Nigeria where investors’ confidence is threatened by insecurity. Foreign investors are wary of making investments in the Southeast due to the nature of IPOB’s execution of the sit-at-home order. By implication, the sit-at-home rule discourages foreign direct investment (FDI), harms enterprises, and tourism because no investor would be willing to invest in industries where they are uncertain that their money will be protected.
What should we do?
It is a truism that when the going gets tough, the tough keeps going. Ndigbo are not cowards. We cannot bow to the threats of IPOB out of fear. Igboland cannot be held hostage by an amorphous group called IPOB that is bent on destroying the Igbo economy. We should demonstrate courage to say no to sit-at-home orders.
At this juncture, I want to salute the courage of the Governors of Enugu State, Peter Mbah, Anambra State, Chukwuma Soludo and Ebonyi State, Francis Nwifuru for rising against IPOB and its sit-at-home order. The security measures are particularly commendable in Enugu State and this is a reassurance of the business unusual the governor had promised the people.
It will be an aberration for the State to allow non-state actors to usurp its powers and make life uncomfortable for the people. That should not be allowed to stand again. Governments in the Southeast cannot afford to allow non-state actors dictate for their people.
Government should be proactive in rising up to the challenge by mobilizing more security and resources to deal with this menace called sit-at-home order. To this extent, the governments should empower local vigilante groups and equip them adequately, through its community policing system, to contain the scourge of sit-at-home and its enforcers.
Anambra state has shown the way in this direction with what happened a few weeks ago at Igbariam, Anam, Otuocha and other parts of the state where local security groups demobilized the sit-at-home enforcers. Enugu governor has also mobilised special forces squad and rally round the security to ensure safety. We have seen the result manifesting.
The people have their role to play by supporting and appreciating the government by taking ownership of project meant at bidding goodbye to sit-at-home and its vestiges. The time to act is now for it is said that “a stitch in time saves nine”.