By Our Correspondents
Mixed compliance greeted the sit-at-home order by pro-secessionist groups, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in several cities where the groups command presence.
This is as a Pro-democracy and Non-governmental Organisation- Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to end what it called “persistent political persecution” of Mr. Nnamdi Kanu- the Director of the Europe based Radio Biafra and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
While residents of Onitsha, Anambra State complied substantially, those in Owerri, Imo State and Umuahia, Abia State partially obeyed but those in Enugu, Enugu State and Asaba, Delta State shunned the directive.
The directive was a mark of sympathy for its detained leader, Mr. Daniel Kanu who had been under incarceration about a year ago despite a court order for his release. While all the markets in Onitsha, the commercial hub of Anambra State did not open for business, it was same story in the banking and education sector as all the banks on New and old market roads in Onitsha shut their doors against customers.
However in Enugu, Civil servants, shop owners, traders at the popular Ogbete market freely engaged in their usual activities. Different parks also witnessed beehive of activities as road transport operators as well as travellers moved freely as if no directive was given.
In Umuahia, it became apparent that the protest would not be as successful as the previous ones when markets and shops opened for businesses in the morning while commercial vehicles including the ubiquitous yellow tricycles (Keke) were all over the city. However there was noticeable reduction in the number of private cars on the roads as many people, probably out of fear of the unknown, parked their vehicles at home while coming to their work places.
In Asaba, although, there was initial apprehension about the planned protest, which IPOB leaders said was mainly a sit-at-home directive, many Residents in Asaba and environs generally went about their normal business though some shops remained under lock and key especially on the busy Nnebisi Road where the popular Ogbeogonogo Market is situated.
Some parents also did not allow their children and wards to go to school apparently for fear of a possible degeneration of what was termed a peaceful protest over the continued detention of the IPOB leader, Mr Nnamdi Kanu. Government offices, banks, schools (public and private), markets and other business premises opened for normal businesses, but traffic was fairly light on the ever busy Benin-Onitsha expressway, Nnebisi Road, Summit Road, Traffic Light/Cable Point and adjoining streets.
In the Owerri capital city, it was only in the areas predominately occupied by traders such as the Relief Market, New Market which is mainly for motor spare parts dealers were able to comply partially even as some defiant traders are busy carrying skeletal services.
In Orlu and Okigwe zones, where ordinarily are the areas where IPOB usually record massive loyalists did not carry the order to the letter, though, information reaching THISDAY indicated that there were compliance in the early hours of the day when banks, shops, etc did not open until the law enforcement agencies encouraged them to open shops for business.
In Onitsha, customers who had their Automated Teller Machines (ATM) made withdrawals. Both primary and secondary schools in Onitsha were also closed down though there was no violence recorded anywhere; as vehicular and human movements were skeletal.
It was almost the same story in Awka, the state capital. Though some of the banks closed shops, but the Diamond Bank on Onitsha / Enugu express road rendered skeletal services, opening and closing their doors intermittently. Government workers were at the secretariat, while some government schools opened.
But private schools and the markets in Awka were closed.
The Chairman of MASSOB , Mr. Uchenna Madu told THISDAY on phone that they were satisfied with the level of compliance which he put at about 80%.
He said the directive was like a referendum and that they were not expecting everybody to comply.
“We didn’t say that people should come out and protest. We asked them to sit back in their homes. That was achieved.
“From all indications the level of compliance was about 80% and we are satisfied”, he said.
The failure of the sit-at-home order in the Coal City state may not be unconnected with the arrest within the week of 12 suspected members of the pro-Biafran group while mobilising traders at the Ogbete market by the police.
The group had ordered residents of the entire south-east states as well as Rivers, Delta, Cross-River and Ndigbo all over the country to stay at home on September 23 in solidarity with their protest to facilitate the possible release of Kanu and other members of the group presently remanded in prison custody for alleged offence bothering on treason.
In a statement earlier in the week, the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, SP Ebere Amaraizu had declared that those arrested would be arraigned in court.
Giving more details of how they were arrested, the police said its operatives acted on intelligence and swooped on the pro-Biafra activists while they were allegedly mobilising innocent people.
“Suspects were nabbed inside the popular Ogbete market of Enugu state as they allegedly went into the market with public address to threaten and inflict fears on the members of the public precisely the marketers not to come to market from 20/9/16 and that if anyone is seen that the person will be dealt with by the group.
“Recovered from suspects includes 21 handsets of different types, various leaflets in which some of them reads ‘IPOB for the betterment of your children and that of yourself, please sit at home in 23/9/16, there will be no work, no school, no business, no market, free Nnamdi Kanu, free Biafra, All Hail Biafra’.
“Also recovered includes flags suspected to be that of the group with their insignia, public address systems, one wireless microphone. Suspects are helping the operatives in their investigations and will soon be charged to court,” he said.
The command further noted that security has been beefed up by the command around markets and every corner of the state and that
people were free go about their normal legitimate activities without fear.
“In the light of the above, the Enugu state command of the Nigeria police Force working in partnership with relevant security Agencies and relevant stake holders in the state, has advised members of the public, particularly law abiding people of the state not to allow themselves, children and wards to be used by any person under any guise in the state to cause mischief as anyone caught will be made to face the full wrath of the law.
In Abia State, among those that observed the sit at home directive was the father of the detained IPOB leader, who along with members of his family stayed at home. Eze Israel Kanu the traditional ruler of Afaraukwu Ibeku, said that IPOB was right to call for the sit at home protest because it is their way of expressing their anger over the continued detention of their leader.
“I joined in the sit at home,” he told journalists at his palace in Afaraukwu Ibeku, adding that the federal government has no justifiable reason to keep his son in detention.
He said that the IPOB leader and his group had never taken up arms against the Nigeria authorities, pointing out that “Kanu’s only weapon was words of mouth and freedom of expression is guaranteed in Nigerian constitution as well as international covenant on civil and political rights”.
A handful of private schools in Umuahia also shut their gates against pupils and students as school authorities were apprehensive and did not want to take “the risk of exposing innocent children to street violence.
A school proprietor, who did not want to be named, said that she wanted to be on the safe side as nobody knew if there could be violence on the streets as was the case in past protests when police crashed with Biafra activists.
“I just took precaution by asking parents not to bring their children to school because you never can tell what would happen in situations involving people protesting on the streets.
All the markets in Umuahia and Aba were opened for business. The chairman of the Auto Spare Parts and Allied Markets at Ohia, Hon Victor Elewor said that even though the cause for which IPOB was fighting for enjoyed the support of many of his members, there was no unanimity of opinion on the issue of compliance.
He said that the sit at home protest “is a step in the direction since it is peaceful” traders had the liberty to choose whether to comply or not, adding that the market leadership did not compel anybody to obey the directive of Biafra activists.
In Asaba, government offices, banks, schools (public and private), markets and other business premises opened for normal businesses, but traffic was fairly light on the ever busy Benin-Onitsha expressway, Nnebisi Road, Summit Road, Traffic Light/Cable Point and adjoining streets.
The state police command, which had on Thursday warned the Biafra separatist group to steer clear of Delta State concerning Friday planned protest, deployed about 500 policemen with several Hilux patrol vans and armoured personnel carriers at strategic points including the Niger Bridge head, the state’s boundary with Anambra State simply to forestall any movement of IPOB members between Asaba and Onitsha.
Armed policemen were also seen in patrol vehicles on major streets, in line with police assurance that people on legitimate business would be protected by the police from molestation by IPOB which advised all shops owned by Igbo traders to be shut in solidarity with its cause.
“The Command wishes to warn IPOB members to stay clear of Delta State as the state does not subscribe to such an agenda”, the police e-mailed statement said on Thursday.
At least seven persons, including three policemen and four protesters, were reported killed when police and military personnel clashed with members of the IPOB during a similar protest by members of the separatist group in Asaba, the Delta State capital on May 30th this year.
However, schools in Owerri which just opened for the 2015/2016 academic session did not observe the order as school children and their teachers went to school without any molestation.
Although, the state secretariat along Port Harcourt road was almost deserted as workers probably were adhering to the state policy of three working days and two free days in a week which might be responsible for the empty secretariat.
THISDAY observes a handful of Policemen keeping vigil at different junctions and check-points in the state capital, probably to keep eye on the happenings in the state.