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How IPOB sit-at-home is destroying South East, others

From Jude Aguguo Owuamanam (Owerri), Titus Eleweke (Awka), Bassey Willie (Yenagoa), Eyo Charles (Calabar), Iniabasi Umo (Uyo) & Tijani Labaran, Lokoja    Social and commercial…

From Jude Aguguo Owuamanam (Owerri), Titus Eleweke (Awka), Bassey Willie (Yenagoa), Eyo Charles (Calabar), Iniabasi Umo (Uyo) & Tijani Labaran, Lokoja 


Social and commercial activities in the South East and beyond have continued to bear the brunt of the enforcement of the sit-at-home order declared by the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to protest the trial of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, by the federal government. Several announcements of cancellation of the order and deployment of security operatives have not deterred criminals from enforcing it.

In Imo, the sit-at-home order has had a devastating effect on the economy as banks, companies and government institutions are forced to close.

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In Imo, weekends start from Friday as going out is likened to embarking on a suicide mission. In most cases, it stretches to other days of the week, especially on the days the leader of the outlawed group is scheduled to make a court appearance.

This week’s sit-at-home will stretch to Tuesday because Kanu is scheduled to appear in court on June 28.

The worst hit are the operators of small businesses, who are forced to close down during the period. Schools are also not permitted to open, while most hotels always discourage lodgers from stepping out from their rooms. Gatherings within the facility are even discouraged in some hotels and resorts.

Mr. Mike Ezechi, who operates a cab business in Owerri, told our correspondent that as a daily income earner, the sit-at-home had had a terrible blow on his finances.

He said, “My brother, it has been hard feeding my family. As a Catholic I refrain from working on Sundays, but the present situation has forced me to change that policy. After Sunday service, I work for some hours, just to look for what we will eat on Monday. Now we have sit-at-home on Monday and Tuesday next week. We heard that Kanu would appear in court. On such days, it is double jeopardy for me and my family.”

The situation is not different from sellers of foodstuffs and vulcanisers who depend on daily income for survival.

Mrs Grace Onyewuchi, who sells foodstuff at the Relief Market, said it was difficult for businesses to pick up because normally, goods are delivered on Mondays.

She said, “As sellers of perishables, if you don’t finish selling your goods before the sit-at-home days you will incur a lot of losses because they will become bad before the next market day.”

Some stop over places at NATACO Lokoja devoid of its usual busy nature PHOTOS: Tijani Labaran

A tailor in Eke Awka, Anambra State, Mr Uche Anichebe, said the sit-at-home order was affecting the ordinary people of the region.  

“Though I am a supporter of the IPOB and the agitation, we cannot destroy our economy for any reason. People are suffering because of the sit at home order,” he said.  

A transporter, Mr Christian Nwali, said that plying some routes in the region had become a nightmare because of the possibility of an attack. He lamented that he had not been able to fully pay for the bus he got on hire purchase over a year ago due to the violence in the region.  

“My brother, it is not easy, and if care is not taken, before we know it, the South East economy will collapse and to recover would be difficult even if we get Biafra,” he said.

Our correspondent observed that in most rural areas, the situation is worse as unknown gunmen operate unchallenged. This has made it difficult for movement of goods, especially from rural farmers.

Jude Oguzie, who described himself as an economist, said that apart from facing starvation, the fear of unknown gunmen had made life difficult for people who would normally want to come out.

He said, “There is this culture of fear, which prevents people from venturing out. This sit-at-home has damaged the economy in the South East and the government has to do something about it.” 

Economy slowly destroyed 

While there is no accurate data on the economic loss from the sit-at-home order, it is believed that the five states in the region and beyond suffer from the enforced lockdown. Banks and organisations, including government-owned agencies, are forced to shut down in most instances.

The Anambra State governor, Chukuma Soludo, recently said his state lost N19.6 billion to the sit-at-home order every Monday.  

He said, “Every day there is a sit at home, these poor masses lose an estimated N19.6bn in Anambra alone, 

“Due to the protracted breakdown of law and order, businesses are relocating outside Igbo land, with growing unemployment. Traders who used to come to shop in Onitsha, Aba etc are going elsewhere.

“Who is losing? By forcing our children—the future of Igbo land —to stay at home instead of being in school, while even the critically sick people (including pregnant women) cannot go to the hospital, we harm our future.”

In 2021, the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, put it mildly by saying the entire South East region lost over N10bn each time it observed the sit at home order.

“We are destroying our economy. The sit-at-home is not happening in the South West and the North. Each time we sit at home we lose over N10bn in our economy,” Umahi said.

Some businessmen in Onitsha said over N25bn was lost in the city alone each day the order was observed.

They lamented over the loss of patronage, saying their customers had been diverting businesses to Lagos for fear of being attacked.

Similarly, a group known as Igbo Business Forum, which urged the IPOB not to use the Biafran struggle to destroy the economy of the South East, lamented that every Monday, the zone would lose billions of naira because of the sit-at-home order.

“How can some people decide to ruin the economy of their people because of a struggle? And come to think of it, they are not more Biafran than us. How can you tell people to sit at home when you have nothing to manage the effect of hunger in the land? Those of us in the business sector lose an average of N25bn in Onitsha alone. I believe we also lose the same sum in Aba, Nnewi and other places, and this is not good for our economy.

“My colleagues in other zones are celebrating what we lost to them due to the sit-at- home order. What is happening in the South East, if it continues, would spell doom to the zone? Those that usually came to the South East to transact business have deserted us and moved to Lagos instead of the normal Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi. We are losing a lot as a result of this sit-at-home,” the spokesman of the group, Chief Ndubuisi Ehibundu lamented,  

Schools, emergency services not exempted  

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that in South East, schools are closed on Mondays, denying students in the area the opportunity to learn.

There have been instances where hoodlums enforcing the order chased away students writing examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). They also set motorcycles belonging to teachers and students ablaze, warning them not to disobey the sit-at-home order.

“Schools are always under lock and key on Mondays. There is nothing the school can do about it because no parent wants to risk the lives of their children. It is even difficult for us as teachers to get to the schools,” one of the teachers in a government-owned secondary school disclosed.

According to him, schools now open from Tuesday to Friday, excluding days that Kanu makes appearances in court.

In an address earlier this year, Soludo lamented that the order was destroying the future of the children of the region.

“In other parts of the country, schoolchildren attend classes for five days, but in Anambra and other parts of the South East, it is only four days. At the end of the day, our children will go into common or unity exams with other children from other parts of the country,” he lamented.

Pa Nnamdi said he lost a neighbour because there was no vehicle to take him to hospital when he took ill during one of the sit-at-home days. He said efforts to get medical assistance for the late Pa Ejiofor, whom he described as one of the oldest in the community, were futile.  

“Ejiofor was loved by the people of this community but there was no way to help him when his illness deteriorated because we couldn’t take him to the hospital. The boys were having clashes with the police and soldiers. If you dare step out, you can get killed by either the IPOB or soldiers,” he said

Inter-state movement grounded

Although the order is in the five states within the region, the effect is felt in other places, especially in the area of inter-state movement and trade.

Inter-state transporters in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, said the order had affected their sources of livelihood, especially on Mondays.

The drivers said they could not transport passengers from the state to the commercial town of Aba in Abia State or Onitsha in Anambra State.

A bus driver in Ekeki park who identified himself as Tinder Victor said he had been plying the Yenagoa-Aba route for many years, but since the declaration of the sit-at-home order in the South East, he would not work on Mondays because going to that axis would amount to a suicidal mission.

He said most commuters and business people were always stranded every Monday due to the order, adding that the situation has affected prices of things in the state.

He said, “The Yenagoa-Aba route was the busiest, but now, people are afraid to travel there, aside from Mondays they declared sit-at-home.

“You know that most of the goods, particularly cloths we use here in Bayelsa, come from Aba or Lagos. People now prefer going to Lagos to buy their goods because of the security situation in the South East, so we have lost most of the passengers.

“I am planning to change my route to either Warri or Ugheli so that I can have good patronage.”

A driver in one of the commercial transport companies in Yenagoa said that when the sit-at-home started, he almost lost his life to hoodlums in Onitsha. He said the incident prompted the transport company to prohibit their vehicles from going to the South East on Mondays.

He pleaded with government to intervene and restore peace in the South East.

Transporters devise alternative routes

In Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, some business owners who rely on the South East for their goods, said they had been forced to suspend any business trip to the region on Mondays. They now use alternative means to source for their goods. Transporters also said the situation had affected their patronage; hence, income.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered from Akwa Ibom Transport Company (AKTC) that the sit-at-home order has affected patronage, especially on Mondays and even forced the company to devise alternative means to tackle the challenge.

A staff of the AKTC, Mr Ubong Andem, who preferred to be silent on his designation as he was not authorised to speak for the company, said they lost patronage and income every Monday because of the sit-at-home order.

Andem said the company had suspended trips to the South East on Mondays but made use of alternative routes to convey passengers travelling beyond the region.

“The sit-at-home order has affected patronage. There are no trips to the South East on Mondays, so we have to use Warri if we are travelling beyond the region,” he said.

Another business owner, Emole Lovely, revealed that before the sit-at-home order, many of them travelled on Mondays to Aba and Onitsha to source for their goods as the cost of goods in the market was cheaper on that day.

Lovely, however, noted that the sit-at-home order had forced them to now embark on those business trips on Tuesdays or request that the goods be sent through waybill.

She added that to recover from the effect of the sit-at-home on Mondays, business owners now open their shops on Sundays.

“The sit-at-home order has really affected businesses here. We cannot travel on Mondays. Goods are cheaper on Mondays in Aba or Onitsha. As a result of this, we now travel on Tuesdays.

“If we cannot travel we request that the goods be sent to us, but the process is more expensive because we pay more for waybill, and the goods may not meet our requirements when they arrive,” she said.

Hike in prices of goods

As a result of the situation, a good number of traders in Cross River State, especially Calabar, who rely on bigger markets and wholesale dealers in Onitsha, Aba and Owerri, have had to increase the prices of their goods. This is because of the inability to re-stock their shops, while there are demands on the few available goods.

Mrs Rosemary Akpan, 49, a seamstress who often travels to Ariaria market in Aba to buy textile materials and other accessories said, “Sometimes when I want to travel to Aba over the weekend I will plan to accommodate Mondays or skip it. The fear of being caught up on Mondays in Aba usually scares me.

“Once I cannot meet up on Sunday I have to pay extra for a hotel, which is not even safe for me.

“We no longer travel frequently to Aba or Onitsha due to the risk on the road. There is the fear of being kidnapped or waylaid by these criminals,” she said.

She said one of her colleagues was attacked on her way back to Calabar, which left a permanent injury on her.

She called on security operatives to step up operation on the highway.

However, the IPOB has repeatedly urged residents to go about their normal lawful businesses on Mondays, warning that it would deal with anyone found enforcing the sit-at-home order, but the fear of the unknown has kept the five states of Imo, Anambra, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi in perpetual fear.

Shop owners groan over poor sales, lose millions in Kogi

Kogi State, particularly Lokoja, the capital, has its own share of the effect of the sit-at-home order in the South East.

The NATACO area of Lokoja is acclaimed as the business hub of the capital city due to the influx of travellers who stop over for final shopping before leaving for their various destinations.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that most travellers from the South East are the driving force behind the flourishing restaurant business and others in the Kogi State capital. It was noted that because of the sit-at-home in the South East, these business owners are no longer smiling to the banks as they are currently suffering low patronage.

Petty traders like POS operators, fish, yam and akara sellers, as well as others, are not left out of the low patronage.

One of the restaurant operators in the area told Daily Trust on Sunday that millions of naira had been lost since the sit-at-home order started in the South East.

“Although we have been experiencing dull business climate for months due to harsh global economic climate, which has affected patronage, the Monday sit-at-home order in the eastern part of the country has worsened the situation.

“We now use Mondays as cleaning days. No vehicle comes by and no sale is recorded on such days. In most cases we don’t even open our restaurants for business on that day. The number of travellers to the eastern region has dropped badly.

“I cannot estimate how much we are losing here, but I can tell you that it is very bad. We are losing millions of naira for lack of patronage,” a restaurant operator who craved for anonymity said.

Some of them said they would open for business on Mondays from late evening and close in the early hours of Tuesday in order to beat down the present situation.

A fish seller at the ABC Transport loading point who  preferred to be called Mama Jubrin  said that before the lockdown order her average take home stood at N20,000 or N30,000 daily, but these days, she hardly goes home with N10,000 daily.

“Some of us have resolved not to come on Mondays. Sales are also dull on other days, apart from Mondays because people no longer travel as before, probably for fear of insecurity,” she said.

A newspaper vendor in the area equally lamented the dull patronage of national dailies due to what is happening in the South East.

Business owners who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday appealed to the federal government and stakeholders in the South East to resolve the crisis before the economy of the zone and other affected places would be completely destroyed.

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