IPOB orders and reign of fear
I had reason to be in the South East last Monday. Precisely, I was in Imo State and particularly in Dikenafai. My being around afforded me the opportunity to observe the sit-at-home order of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). So many people around me talked about the sit-at-home like it was one of the Ten Commandments. They were afraid to venture out. I interacted with locals who rely more on hearsay than radio or any other news medium for news. For these people, ‘they said’ is the most authoritative news source. So, almost everyone quoted ‘they said’. I felt their fears and I feared for them. It was such that even when there had been assurances by the state governor that no one would be forced to sit at home or harassed if they went about their businesses, people still locked themselves inside. But I defied the ‘order’ just so as to see the level of ‘compliance.’
I drove to Anara, a major commercial town in Mbano. It has one of the busiest motor parks in that part of the state, with shops and beer and pepper soup hubs on both sides of the road. It was a ghost town when I got there. Youths converted the highway that passed through the town into a football field.
They played football for as long as they wanted. No vehicles interrupted them. Petrol stations in the town opened partially. Some were shut. The motor park was closed. The adjoining market was under locks. Only a few shops opened with their owners at alert for immediate lock-up, should any persons attack. I wasn’t satisfied with just seeing. I asked questions.
I stopped at some points to ask shop owners why they did not open for business. Almost all the shop owners I asked left me with the same impression. Separately, they told me that “they said we should not come out today.” But who is this ‘they’? I was told it was “IPOB.” But they had no way of identifying “IPOB” in the event it came around to enforce the ‘order.’ Since they had no way of identifying who was asking them to sit at home and for no clear reasons, the shop owners I spoke with told me that they were not complying with the ‘order’ because they believed it should be complied with but because they feared that their shops would be attacked and vandalized by persons they did not know and could not identify. They also feared that they could lose their lives in the process of defending their shops. For this reason, the discretion to close shop and observe things was the lesser evil.
I left the shop owners with the understanding that, if their security and the security of their businesses were guaranteed, they would defy the reckless order. I guess that is the biggest challenge of those who lack the courage to challenge those orders. Those who could, actually opened for business in other places around Anara. This is where governments of states in the South East zone come into the mix. As it is, it seems that the state governments have surrendered their states to a group, which now terrorizes the people with unconscionable violence. The people comply not for the fact of acceptance of the philosophy, mission and vision of the group, but out of fear. The bigger challenge, therefore, is for the state governments to become more creative in working out ways to secure the people and guarantee their rights to free movement, which those orders violate.
Securing South East states has become imperative, given the highly negative narrative about security in states of the region. Living outside the South East and reading reports about insecurity in the region could make one run further away from his homestead. The fact is that many of the reports about insecurity in the South East are unfounded. They are sometimes highly exaggerated. One gets the impression that they are orchestrated to cause panic, spread fear and scare investments in the region. While it is true that all is not well with security all over Nigeria, it, however, cannot be said that a state like Imo, for instance, has collapsed to insecurity. Somehow, it is this narrative that is driving the fear of IPOB and making many people to believe that IPOB is now the commanding authority in the South East.
While IPOB may have its reasons to champion the cause it believes in, it is systematically destroying the South East and the livelihoods of the same people it claims to be fighting to liberate. How does any group achieve freedom or liberation for its people by jeopardizing their livelihood and the future of their children? Does it make any sense that IPOB would allegedly carry out an arson attack on a transport company belonging to the same people it pretends to liberate? Some Igbo people allegedly lost their lives last Monday as the sit-at-home was being enforced. But ask: how does that enhance the demand for the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu? (Reason for the sit-at-home order)
The most ideal thing for IPOB to do, in seeking the release of Kanu, is not the destruction of life and property of Igbo people but securing the services of the best lawyers to work to secure his release. Nigeria is not lacking in brilliant lawyers who are capable of winning arguments over his abduction by the Nigerian state. That is the best way to show seriousness in advancing the cause of justice for the detainee. Taking the law into their hands and enforcing an illegitimate order while being armed with weapons impresses on the group the terrorist tag, which does not believe in the rule of law. That way, its members and enforcers make themselves vulnerable to the laws of Nigeria and they expose themselves to criminal prosecution when arrested.
IPOB advisers will do very well to help the group to rethink its strategy. This is now very urgent. As it is, the reign of the fear of IPOB may not last too long. Someday, those who fear that their businesses may be attacked by IPOB enforcers may develop a thick skin and decide to face their attackers. If it comes to this, market associations and trade groups will form their own vigilantes to stand up against any IPOB group that comes around to enforce such illegitimate orders. If the situation gets to this, IPOB will be defeated by the people who will now see it as the enemy of their progress and survival. Already, it has made several enemies for itself.