Barely three days to the 50th anniversary of Biafra struggle, the South-East and South-South regions of the country are now gripped by tension ahead of the planned sit-at-home order by pro-Biafra groups, scheduled for the May 30 commemoration of the declaration of the Republic of Biafra in 1967 by the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The pro-Biafra movement gained strength and sinew with the recent release of the leader of Indegenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu. The last few weeks have seen allied groups such as Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Biafra Independence Movement (BIM) unite to drive the IPOB-inspired May 30 sit-at-home civil disobedience action, an exercise said to be in honour of Biafra’s heroes who lost their lives during the civil war between 1967 and 1970 and “those who died during our peaceful rallies and protests from August 30, 2015 till date.”
With three days to go, anxiety thickens, as security agencies across the country raise the red flag. IPOB further upped the ante with its extension of the sit-at-home exercise to pro-Biafrans in cities outside the southeast, including northern cities like Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Makurdi, Jigawa, Jalingo, Mubi, Yola and Lafia. Similarly, Igbos in Ibadan, Benin, Lagos and Lokoja, are also enjoined to join in observing the order.
The action of the day is simple enough. In the 11 states of south east and south south, “everybody, both old and young, man and woman must stay indoors, no protest, no human or vehicular movements…from 6:00 am to 6:00pm on that day.” Those outside the regions are expected to present written letters containing their plights as a people to the authorities and governments of their respective countries and observe the day’s two-minute prayer at 12 noon for the souls of the dead and for those continuing the struggle.
MASSOB, which considered the civil disobedience strategic to the struggle for self-rule, urged a total shutdown of schools, markets and workplaces, but also cautions against rash action, observing that “it’s better we stay at home to avoid trigger-happy security agents.”
Other groups, such as Onitsha-based Customary Government of Indigenous People of Biafra (CG-IPOB) that has plugged into the Biafra Day Fuse with its three-day golden jubilee celebration in which Sunday, May 28, 2017 is a day earmarked for masses for the dead, added a dire warning. A statement, attributed to its leader, Innocent Orji, but released by its Public Relations Officer, Ruben Okoro, threatened that “anybody or group found going contrary or making mockery of all our fallen heroes will be dealt with and be seen as saboteurs and anti-Biafrans.”
It is the hope of pro-Biafrans that a successful exercise on May 30 will send a strong signal to the international community, especially foreign observers and media, about the readiness of the people for a referendum for Biafra’s sovereignty.
For maximum effect, IPOB’s leadership wrote to all governors, market, religious and community leaders in the southeast to ensure a successful outing that will propel the “struggle for Biafra freedom…to another level.”
However, the unsavoury record of lethal clashes between pro-Biafra groups and operatives of the Nigerian security agencies, raise an ominous spectre that the day could take an unexpected twist that could end in bloodshed and further heat up the polity.
Security situations monitored across the region by Saturday Sun indicated that security agencies are not taking chances, as police chiefs and commands ramp up proactive measures even ahead of the IGP’s go-ahead. Overall, the message from the police is unambiguous: “We will not allow breakdown of law and order.”
South East on tenterhooks
In Umuahia, MASSOB fiercely canvassed that “the May 30 sit-at-home order must hold,” reports Chuks Onuoha.
This was contained in a statement by the Umunneochi chapter of MASSOB, which urged all to support the Nnamdi Kanu IPOB-led struggle.
The statement by MASSOB coordinator of Umunneochi, Comrade Monday Eboro, which called on the people and residents of Isuochi, Umuchieze, Nneato, Lokpa, Aroikpa and other towns and villages in Umunneochi Area to commemorate the 50 years anniversary of the declaration of Republic of Biafra, described the sit-at-home exercise as “non violence and peaceful method of telling the International communities that they are tired of Nigeria and her impunity against Biafra people.”
How the Abia State Police Command will react to the situation can be read between the lines of the statement by Commissioner of Police Leye Oyebade who said: “There is no republic that can exist in another republic, we can not disclose our mode of operations, I am only calling on parents to caution their children.”
In contrast, Enugu State command of the Nigeria Police Force talked tough about its not condoning of any civil disobedience in the state and its readiness to forestall breakdown of law and order during the pro-Biafra groups’ instigated sit-at-home action.
Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Ebere Amaraizu who spoke to Saturday Sun’s Petrus Obi urged members of the public to disregard the order and go about their normal lawful business as the state command, in partnership with other sister security agencies, will guarantee their safety.
He warned troublemakers to desist from any act capable of truncating the existing peace in the state, as any one caught will be made to face the law.
In Anambra State, Commissioner of Police Sam Okuala called on the people of the state to ignore IPOB’s sit-at-home order. He called the citizens to go about their normal business on that Tuesday without any fear of harassment and molestation by anybody as police is ever ready for any eventualities and will provide good atmosphere for everybody to be secured.
Okuala confirmed to Saturday Sun correspondent Jeff Amechi Agbodo the command will deploy patrol teams on roads to maintain peace and order through out the day. Like his Enugu State counterpart, he also enjoined parents to talk to their children on the need to remain calm and ensure peaceful movement by members of the public.
Emmanuel Uzor, reporting from Abakaliki, Ebonyi, said Ebonyi State Police Command’s no-nonsense stance is indicative of its readiness for a showdown with IPOB and MASSOB.
Commissioner of Police Titus Lamode who spoke through the state Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Jude Madu, disclosed the command’s ongoing sensitisation of people to disregard the proposed sit-at-home and go about their normal business.
“The sit-at-home is very unlawful because you don’t force people to
observe sit-at- home when you are an illegal group,” the statement reads.
In South-South, tougher stance awaits pro-Biafra agitators
In Edo, where the state police command rated IPOB agitation low key, the force is nonetheless on alert for any eventuality.
“The agitation here is not so much pronounced. However, there is an operation order in the state, we are on top of the situation,” the command’s spokesman, DSP Moses Nkombe told Saturday Sun in Benin.
Joe Effiong reports that the police in Akwa Ibom State have declared the state a no-go area to IPOB members or other allied groups.
PPRO Chukwu Ikechukwu reportedly asked people to ignore the May 30 sit-at-home order and go about their normal businesses.
“We have read it in papers and listened to it in the news that come May 30 all IPOB members should sit at home especially in the South East. Here in Akwa Ibom State, we have put security in place. They are not going to observe it here. We are advising everybody to go about their normal business. Security for their lives and property is guaranteed. There is nothing to fear about,” said the police spokesman.
While acknowledging that the police had not interacted with Igbo community leaders to gauge their feelings towards the IPOB order, Ikechukwu disclosed the police had been on red alert even before the Biafra’s issue since, in preparation for the Democracy Day celebration.
The same sentiment was echoed by the Commissioner of Police in Yenagoa, Bayelsa, Mr. Asuquo Amba, who urged residents in the state capital to go about their lawful and legitimate duties, and not be bothered about the civil disobedience action being called by pro-Biafrans.
Amba told Saturday Sun’s Femi Folaranmi adequate security measures are in place for citizens to go about their duties without any hindrance. The Police, he affirmed, have stepped up surveillance on all entry points into Yenagoa to prevent troublemakers from gaining access into the state.
The command also embarked on public education.
In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Saturday Sun correspondent Tony John reports the State Police Command’s preparedness for the May 30 Biafra Day ‘sit-at-home’ order. This was explicit in the statement issued by the State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Deputy Superintendent of Police Omoni Nnamdi: “The Police Force is established under extant law, to protect lives and property at any given point in time. We are not shying away from that responsibility. So, whether IPOB are organising a peaceful protest or not, it is our duty to provide adequate security and protect lives and property of the citizenry.”
He advised people to go about their lawful businesses without fear of any molestation. “We, of the Command, are on top of our game and we are going to ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order,” he said.
IGP orders crackdown
There was no ambivalence in the orders of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris. He ordered a watertight security in the southeast states of the country, the IGP directed Commissioners of Police of affected states to deal decisively with any group that attempts to disrupt commercial activities, vehicular movements and safety of lives and properties in any part of the country.
A statement signed by the force public relations officer Moshood Jimoh, said: “The Nigeria Police Force will not hesitate to deal decisively with any group(s) and their sponsors that attempt to cause disturbance of the peace or carry out any unlawful demonstration, unlawful assembly/procession or gathering and public disobedience that can jeopardise law and order and harmonious co-existence within and amongst Nigerians throughout the country.
The fact that freedom of expression as one of the dictates of democracy is being observed by the Police, should not be misconstrued as liberty by any group(s) for sectional or group interest to violate the laws and cause mayhem, confusion and apprehension in the minds of more than about one hundred and seventy Millions Nigerians.”
Saturday Sun’s Molly Kilete reports that the statement which expressly put “police personnel and police anti-riot equipment on red alert,” delegated power and authority to police commands across the regions power and authority to “deal decisively in accordance with the law with any eventuality from these groups, that can disrupt commercial activities, vehicular movements and safety of lives and properties in some States of the Federation considered to be flash/vulnerable points which have witnessed the unfortunate disturbance of public peace by these groups in the recent past.”