inciting violence

Nigeria: Will southeast leaders solve economy-stifling sit-at-home conundrum?

By Ben Ezeamalu

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Posted on July 13, 2023 13:41

 © Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu speaks at the National Collation Centre in Abuja, Nigeria, March 1, 2023. REUTERS/Esa Alexander
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu speaks at the National Collation Centre in Abuja, Nigeria, March 1, 2023. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

Dozens of prominent leaders from south-east Nigeria rose from a meeting in Abuja on 10 July with a resolve to dispatch a “high-powered delegation” to meet President Bola Tinubu over insecurity in the region. Will this be a step towards solving the protracted problem?

The meeting came following a one-week sit-at-home order by Biafra separatists led by the Finland-based Simon Ekpa to demand the release of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

In their resolution, the south-east leaders, under the umbrella of the Igbo socio-cultural group Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said security is on the exclusive list in Nigeria’s Constitution and that the powers to deploy police and the military are in the hands of the presidency.

The leaders said the daily loss of lives and properties in the southeast requires urgent attention from the Presidency. They intend to discuss the issue of Kanu’s continued detention during the meeting with the president.

At least 160 people were killed in attacks in the southeast between October and December 2022, according to Nigerian research firm SBM Intel.

“There is no way you can discuss the insecurity in the southeast without talking about Nnamdi Kanu,” Chiedozie Ogbonnia, the national publicity secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, tells The Africa Report

Kanu, who founded IPOB in 2012, has been in detention since 2021 after being re-arrested in Kenya for jumping bail. He returned to Nigeria to face charges of criminal conspiracy and membership of an illegal organisation. 

In October 2022, the court of appeal ordered Kanu’s release after dismissing the charges against him, but the government prosecutor quickly filed an application to freeze the order.

The matter is currently awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court but Kanu has remained in the custody of the State Security Services (SSS), despite his lawyer’s request that he be transferred to a facility where he could get medical attention.


With IPOB’s rising influence in the Igbo-dominated southeast region, Kanu began to flex muscle with the government. 

The group issued a directive for everyone to sit at home every 30 May to honour their heroes and those who died in the Nigerian civil war. On those days, businesses, and markets must remain shut.

But following Kanu’s detention in 2021, the group issued a further directive that the sit-at-home would hold every Monday to force the federal government to release its leader. 

The position of Ohanaeze is that releasing Nnamdi Kanu will help to reduce the tension, so that we know exactly those who are the criminals and those who are trying to create unnecessary problems.

Although the group later reversed the every-Monday order, the practice continued, with hoodlums taking advantage of it to unleash terror on people.

Analysts say the practice negatively impacted the economy of southeast Nigeria as well as heightened insecurity. Armed men often attack and kill people who defy the order, and set ablaze vehicles on the roads. 

Road transporters lose about N13bn ($16m) on any sit-at-home day while businesses lose up to N31bn, according to SBM.

Timothy Nwachukwu, the president of Ebonyi Ambassadors Movement, says the situation has forced businesses to begin moving out of the southeast to neighbouring regions where peace is guaranteed. “The economy of the southeast is already crumbling and it’s quite unfortunate,” he tells The Africa Report

“The governors must stop deluding themselves, they are the chief executive officers of their states. They want to make the federal government believe they are in charge. But as you can see, they are not in charge, because if they were, people will not even have obeyed [the sit-at-home order] at all.” 

‘Devilish order’

One of those who exploited the Monday sit-at-home directive is Ekpa, a self-proclaimed Biafra separatist leader who became a known figure after the arrest and detention of Kanu. 

Despite Kanu’s IPOB reversing the weekly Monday sit-at-home order, the fear of attacks has kept people in their homes. Ekpa and his goons in Nigeria have also continued to enforce the order, terrorising people and crippling their businesses.

Last week, he ordered a one-week sit-at-home to demand the immediate and unconditional release of Kanu. But IPOB publicly dissociated itself from the move, describing the order as “irresponsible.” 

Emma Powerful, IPOB’s spokesperson, said in a statement that those behind the “devilish order” are not their members. They are not working for Kanu either. 

Critics say Kanu and IPOB must share in the blame for initiating the sit-at-home as a bargaining chip, a practice that is now causing hardship in the region. On 11 July, Ekpa announced another sit-at-home, a two-week lockdown between 31 July and 14 August.

Powerful tells The Africa Report that Kanu and IPOB would not take any blame for any “criminal” perpetrating the sit-at-home order.

“IPOB said in its numerous press releases that they are not behind any sit-at-home except the days our leader is going to appear in court,” he says.

“These people blackmailing and blaming IPOB are blindfolded by criminal activities. IPOB is far from them and they cannot understand the strategies IPOB is using to achieve Biafra freedom and independence.” 

More lockdowns

Undeterred by IPOB’s position against him, Ekpa has continued to carry on his business as usual, inciting violence in the region from his safe haven in Finland. 

During the one-week sit-at-home order, which he held between 3 July and 10 July, armed men enforcing the order attacked commercial motorcyclists in Abakiliki, the Ebonyi capital, shooting at them and injuring several. 

In Imo, they shot and killed two people, witnesses said. A video on social media showed hoodlums assaulting teachers and schoolchildren at a school in Enugu. Police responded by going after the hoodlums, killing five in Ebonyi and four in Enugu. 

Although Ekpa termed the one-week sit-at-home order a “total lockdown” of the southeast, Ifeanyichukwu Nweli, a businessman in Abakiliki says most businesses and banks were not closed. 

“It’s some people that, out of fear, decided to stay at home. Even on the Monday sit-at-home, activities were ongoing, I opened my office that day,” Nweli tells The Africa Report.

He says he participated in a security summit in Abakiliki last week, where they suggested dialogue and community policing. Meanwhile, Nwachukwu criticised the governors of the southeast states for continually preaching to Igbo business people outside the region to come home and invest. 

“Do you know what it means for a businessman, banks, institutions to close for one week? For fear of their lives?” 

Ohanaeze’s position

Southeast Nigeria, comprising five states, is the smallest among Nigeria’s six geo-political zones. It is the only region in the country governed by more than three different political parties. 

Analysts say the political differences have contributed in prolonging the insecurity. Within the first five months of the introduction of the sit-at-home, more than 150 people were killed across the five states.

The Ohanaeze group has also been on the receiving end of criticisms for failing to unite the region and present a common front to mount pressure on the government for a lasting solution. Although Ohanaeze Ndigbo backed the creation of Ebubeagu, a joint security unit by the five southeastern governors in 2021, the unit’s frequent clashes with the IPOB’s militant arm, the Eastern Security Network, worsened the insecurity.

Ohanaeze’s Ogbonnia says the group can only persuade those in authority to act because they do not have the wherewithal to go after the criminals. “The position of Ohanaeze is that releasing Nnamdi Kanu will help to reduce the tension, so that we know exactly those who are the criminals and those who are trying to create unnecessary problems,” he says.

“Because, if Nnamdi Kanu is released, they will not have any other problem.”

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