Public policy experts at Nextier have advised the Federal Government to free the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu from detention, as that would unmask the criminal gangs using the cover of the separatist movement to cause mayhem while enforcing illegal sit-at-home orders in the Southeast.
Nextier also urged the government to engage the services of women as informants in order to expose those behind the brutal enforcement of the sit-at-home which has been adversely affecting the economy of the Southeast.
These are some of the recommendations contained in a report released by the Nextier, and authored by its researchers – Dr. Ben Nwosu, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, and Senior Lecturer Political Science Department, Nsukka Campus; and Dr. Ndu Nwokolo, an Honorary Fellow at the School of Government at the University of Birmingham, UK.
They contended that the general frustration arising from the weekly and other intermittent sit-at-home observances arbitrarily imposed by non-state armed groups is killing the economy, damaging education and frustrating services.
They also said that the situation has created a siege mentality among the people, pointing out that “compliance with this instruction is not out of support to its originators but rather out of fear of consequences which can sometimes be mortal.
“Besides, people are acutely aware of the government’s approach to the matter from a position of weakness and incapacity. Consequently, the vicarious conditions imposed by the factions of IPOB and other pretenders to Biafran agitation leave the people at the mercy of chance.
“Nonetheless, the frustrations of the people which now dispose them to volunteer information about the culprits of the sit-at- home crises and opportunities of the security sector to better partner with local stakeholders and deploy technology, are likely sources of hope for ending the illegal impositions of non-state armed groups.”
The experts noted that the two major demands of the agitators in the Southeast are the release of Nnamdi Kanu while the other is a referendum for the Republic of Biafra.
According to Nextier: “Based on judicial decisions on Mr. Kanu, the government should release him and work with the leadership of the South East to discuss the main issues of agitation by IPOB for a solution within the Nigerian framework rather than violent secessionist agitation.
“Step one above would undermine the basis of further secessionist agitation and expose the cover of armed gangs merely interested in robbery so that their offences would be responded to on their merit.
“The creation of systematic safe spaces for reporting about camps of criminal gangs in various rural communities is important. A network of relationships among community leaders like traditional rulers, town union president generals across the South East and between these sets of community leaders and the government. These community leaders should be important parts of the region’s security architecture.
“The arrest of female accomplices in the enforcement of sit-at-home in Ebonyi State also means that women could be important information networks that should be harnessed to track information for sources of possible security breaches in the community.
“The use of improved information technology by local vigilantes should be encouraged. In addition, there should be a fusion centre for intelligence gathered from local communities for the use of different state security outfits in combating criminal activities like illegal lockdowns of the southeastern states. Nnewi community in Anambra State has recently procured 700 such high-tech equipment for their vigilante services to enhance security.
“Their centrally monitored street cameras mounted in several parts of the community and communication gadget that simultaneously links up to 700 security operatives would support a model that enables quick mobilisation and reinforcement in responding to security incidents in the community. Trading and administrative urban centres that can organise such security could substantially mitigate disruptions through sit-at-home enforcement.
“Provision of security men in adequate numbers and capacity for rapid response in any instance of attack on any illegally sit- at-home day to enable citizens to go about their businesses unmolested.
“The geographical and spatial nature of South East Nigeria makes it essential that the state government must work jointly in security provisioning, as the likelihood of being an Island of peace and security is challenging. This is because cross-state boundary attacks are so easy, requiring joint patrols, information sharing and action execution.
“Rebuilding the infrastructure in the South East, especially the Federal government roads, will help win the hearts and minds of the people, forcing them to abandon the support or sympathy they have for the secessionist group and support the Nigerian state. This will further make them provide the necessary intelligence to work against the secessionist groups.”
The report further asserted that “it is tempting to view South Eastern Nigeria, which comprises Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States, as a model of anarchy. The reason for this is not the absence of governments in the states but the authorities’ seeming powerlessness in the face of a clear existential danger to the people posed by those who pretend to be Biafran secessionist agitators.
“Following the arrest of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), his members ordered that a ‘ghost town’ protest. commonly called sit-at-home must occur every Monday with effect from August 9 2021.
“This form of non-violent civil disobedience warrants a total shutdown of all economic, political and administrative activities within the South East geopolitical zone. The use of violence to enforce the sit-at-home protest compels substantial compliance.
“Indeed, since the commencement of the ghost town or sit-at-home protest in 2021, one could count at least 90 sat-at-home Mondays in addition to other special days of the compulsory sit- at-home obligation depending on the whims of IPOB factions and their leadership.
“This involuntary protest means a monumental loss of man-hours for public service and private businesses. It is difficult to accurately estimate what the South East and, indeed, the national economy loses to this protest, but the predominance of commerce in the region suggests that several businesses, services and value chains linked with them in the South East and beyond are rendered redundant during the protests. Schools also lose a lot of man-hours to the extent that some private schools have decided to make up what is lost on Mondays with Saturday classes.
“In all these, state governments merely issue occasional counter-orders that people hardly take seriously because they have little trust in the government’s commitment or capacity to protect them from danger connected to disobeying the sit-at-home order.
“The more recent trend is the declarations of weeklong sit at home by one Mr Simon Ekpa, who is based in faraway Finland. Mr Ekpa was nominated to continue the propaganda of IPOB when Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was arrested but was soon relieved of office due to internal wrangling in IPOB.
“Ekpa has continued to issue orders for South Easterners to confine themselves to their homes as protests that would culminate first in the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and second in a referendum for a sovereign Biafran state.
“As the 2023 general election approached, Mr Ekpa not only declared that elections would not hold in Biafraland (South East of Nigeria) but also imposed sit-at-home protests. He issued one such order the week before the election and declared another to coincide with the days of the election to ensure that people do not freely participate in voting. Mr Ekpa was largely ignored in both instances.
“However, since the end of the elections, his activities have gained momentum. He declared himself the Prime Minister of the Biafra government in exile and has been randomly imposing sit-at-home orders. The most recent one was from July 3 and terminated on July 10 2023. Another one is still declared to start from July 31 to August 14 2023.
“In the 3rd July version, the enforcers of the sit-at-home order were recorded and circulated on social media in Ebonyi State, destroying agricultural wares that obviously belonged to rural women who dared to go to market during the sit-at-home order while five of the enforcers were killed in Enugu State.
“Also, in Enugu state, a gang implementing the ghost town protest went to a primary school and humiliated a teacher and her pupils by ordering them to lie down on bare ground and explain why they defied the sit-at-home order.
“Subsequently, the police in Ebonyi state arrested 13 enforcers of the 3rd to 10th July sit-at-home order and their accomplices, which included young men, women and native doctors. Police statement linked their successes to the willingness of communities to volunteer information.”