The deserted Niger Bridge

On May 30, motorists and commuters deserted the ever busy River Niger Bridge linking the South-east with western Nigeria, in compliance with the sit-at-home order by members of IPOB and MASSOB. David-Chyddy Eleke reports that economic activities in Onitsha and other parts of Anambra were ground to a halt

On a normal day, driving through Upper Iweka in Onitsha towards the famous Niger Bridge, one is confronted on both sides by the presence of several commercial transport companies, all loading passengers to Lagos and Abuja. On both sides too are the relief market to the left, a provisions market, which is thickly populated and to the right; roadside traders who have equally constituted themselves into a legitimate market, with a growing population that drives human traffic of traders who have travelled from far and near to make purchases.

On approaching the bridge, the Niger Bridge head market also draws a large population of people, causing vehicular and human traffic snarl before one finally enters the bridge. The bridge itself, provides a 1.4 kilometres drive out of not just Onitsha but out of Anambra State and of course the entire South-east zone, taking one into Asaba, the Delta State capital, where the journey outside the South-east to Abuja and other northern cities, and to Lagos and other South-western cities begins. The traffic on the bridge itself presents enough concern for its users. The traffic on the bridge occasioned by large usage, both from the Onitsha and Asaba ends, and the security check point on both ends too makes it a tedious spot to drive through.

All these were absent on Tuesday, 30th of May, when members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) marked the remembrance of its heroes, who lost their lives in what they refer to as the genocidal war of 1967-1970, and all who have also lost their lives in recent struggles to attain the sovereignty of Biafra Republic.

Economists have said that the sit-at-home protest observed by the people of the area had cost it revenue in billions of naira, even though no amount has been stated as the official loss of the people of the zones involved. May 30th was an unusual day, as the hustle and bustle that characterise the beginning of every day as early as 5a.m. was totally absent. Those who live close to the motor parks testify that vehicular and human convergence at such early hours, with the howls from park attendants as they make frantic efforts to convince passengers to join their vehicles is usually what wakes nearby residents up from their sleep.

This was not so on Tuesday, May 30. The famous Niger Bridge which usually bade goodbye to each vehicle that ran through its tunnel out of the state or welcomes one into the state as the case may be may have wondered where everyone had gone. The bridge was a ghost of itself for several hours on that day, with no human or vehicles traffic around. If the bridge wondered whether the Second Niger Bridge which is still being constructed has taken up its job to allow it rest, then it would have also wondered where the large number of traders who always milled around were, or why everyone learnt to speak in whispers overnight, and the loud voices of traders, and those of park operators which usually drowned the noise of engines operated by factory owners around the bridge suddenly went quiet.
Incidentally, just as everyone abandoned the bridge to observe the sit-at-home protest, one person who stood firmly in his usual place, manning the bridge and keeping watch over it was also incidentally, the same man whose cause the IPOB are helping to fight on that day. Just before the bridge, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the eternal leader of Biafra stood stoutly in complete military gear, a riffle in hand as if to say; ‘I am here to watch over the cause which I started 50 years ago’. Ojukwu may be late, but his spirit every Biafran still believes is working for the attainment of the cause; Republic of Biafra.

A visit to parks around Onitsha showed that hundreds millions of naira were lost to only transportation on the day of the protest. For example, ANIDS Park, one of the most popular transport companies in Anambra State, told THISDAY through one of its drivers, Mr. Kingsley Eze that on a normal day, ANIDS loads about eight buses to Lagos, while five vehicles load to Abuja. This is exclusive of other businesses it does, and its vehicles that are sent out on special assignments. He placed the estimated loss of the company at about N1.5 million. This is just for a branch of one transport company, not to mention the tons of companies that exist in Onitsha, nay Anambra and all the South-east and South-south states. Perhaps, what is even more interesting is that those who lost the said revenue still feel happy that they did, just to prove a point to the federal government about their determination to leave. Kingley Eze, the ANIDS driver said “We have no regret, if only to send a message to the federal government on our determination to secede.”

Transport company owners were not the only ones who heeded the protest call. In major towns and villages in Anambra State, the residents refused to heed police assurances for them to go about their daily businesses as they locked shops and markets to observe the sit-at-home protest. Markets in all the major towns; Awka, Nnewi and Onitsha were under lock and keys, while commercial banks failed to carry out businesses, leaving long queues in front of their Automated Teller Machines(ATM). Schools were not also left out as kids whose parents had dropped them off in school were alerted to return and pick them. Transport companies refused to load buses to various destinations, leaving passengers stranded.

In Onitsha, the popular Upper Iweka Motor Park which remains busy round the clock was a ghost of itself as no human being or vehicles were seen around. A resident of the town, Mr. Tochukwu Adaenu, a vulcaniser told THISDAY that the sit-at-home protest was more of a celebration than mourning of their fallen heroes to them. He said; “We need to do this for the government to see how ready we are to leave Nigeria. We support this sit-at-home and will be ready to do again if we are called upon,” he said. Another respondent, Mr. Kelechi Anukwu said, “We have been hustling everyday, year in and year out, yet we have nothing to show for it. If this is the only sacrifice we need to show government how important we are, then we have to do it.”

Not minding what the South-east and South-south economies lost to the protest, the media and publicity secretary of IPOB, Mr. Emma Powerful has said that the event would be made an annual ritual that will be awaited by all in the Biafra territory with euphoria. He said next year’s event will not only witness a sit-at-home protest, but will entail all citizens of the territory travelling back to their communities to mark the ceremony, the same way Christmas is observed.

On his part, the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu has expressed happiness over the level of compliance in the protest. In a press release by Emma Powerful, Kanu said the protest was observed in 175 countries of the world and Nigeria, and that most importantly, no life was lost. He added that the success of the exercise meant total defeat of some elements whom he said were sponsored by the federal government to sabotage the event, and also showed that the realisation of Biafra was almost at hand. “Biafrans have proven to the entire world that they need Freedom and the world must know that we are not going back in the quest for independence of Biafra,” he said.