By Clifford Ndujihe, Vincent Ujumadu, Dennis Agbo, Steve Oko & Chinonso Alozi
WITH ONE VOICE, some Igbo leaders and groups, yesterday, condemned the recurring lockdown of the South-East by the Finland-based Simon Ekpa-led faction of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and tasked the Federal Government on decisive action.
Noting that the lockdown was gradually grinding the economy of the South-East zone to a halt, some of the leaders, among others, urged the Federal Government to diplomatically engage the government of Finland to tame Ekpa.
For several months now the Ekpa-led group has been issuing and enforcing sit-at-home orders in many parts of the South-East as civil disobedience in pursuit of the Republic of Biafra.
For many years, the zone has been observing sit-at-home on Mondays and other days directed by the separatist group.
During days of lockdown, gunmen enforced the order by attacking traders, school children and anyone caught on the road, market and schools. Many lives have been wasted in the process, including burning of buses and buildings.
Also, there have been clashes between security agencies and the enforcers with casualties on both sides.
With distraught residents just coming out of a seven-day lockdown, Mr Ekpa, in a statement he signed as Prime Minister on behalf of Biafran Government in Exile, on July 11, issued a 14-day lockdown of Biafra land.
According to Ekpa, there would be total lockdown of Biafra land from Monday, July 31 to Friday, August 4; Monday, August 7 to Friday, August 11; and Monday August 14.
However, he said there would be breaks for opening of markets on Saturdays and Sundays, that is August 5, 6, 12 and 13.
Former Anambra State Governor and 2023 Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Mr. Peter Obi, on Thursday, condemned the insecurity in the South-East, saying the frequent sit-at-home order in the region was criminal.
Making a general statement on rising insecurity in the country, Obi tweeted: “What is going on in the South-East is essentially a criminal activity that must be nipped in the bud, with all hands being on deck, security agencies, and the people alike.”
Obi said it was “disturbing” that gunmen enforcing the sit-at-home order in the South-East have continued to disrupt businesses and social activities in the region noting that the detained Mazi Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB has publicly denied issuing the order for the lockdown.
The main faction of IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu, has repeatedly disassociated itself from the order given by Ekpa, the leader of the breakaway IPOB faction.
Obi said:” The South-east Governors are to be commended for their renewed efforts at curbing this menace but there is a need to be more strategic and intelligence-driven in our approach to reducing the suffering of innocent people.”
Ekpa working for his paymaster to destroy Igbo land
Condemning the lockdown, some Igbo leaders and groups alleged that Ekpa was working for his pay masters to destroy the economy of the South-East zone.
They also advised communities to strengthen the vigilante groups in their areas to be able to confront enforcers of the sit-at-home order using it to cause mayhem in Igbo communities.
Govts must up their game
Speaking for the Coalition of South-East Youth Leaders, Goodluck Ibem, said: “The people will obey the government and come out. But at the end of the day, you see the criminals coming to attack the citizens who obeyed government’s order.
"And after the attacks these boys go away freely after burning people’s shops, houses and businesses. And the government is doing nothing to bring succour to the families attacked by these boys.
“As we speak, many families’ livelihoods have been destroyed. Families suffer and some of them no longer go to school. Ekpa is not protecting the people he claims to protect, he is working for his pay master, causing problems here in Igbo land and it is not acceptable.”
Need for political solution
To the Igbo National Council, INC, led by Chilos Godsent: “We must adopt a political means to resolve these issues. He can’t be there (Finland) enjoying himself and causing problems. Even if you say let us take strict security measures we are still killing ourselves. We must address it politically.”
Also, a human rights activist, Ebubeagu Ekenulo, said: “Needless to emphasize that the security situation in the entire South-East is very dangerous and unprecedented. Sit-at-home, as usually ordered by IPOB in the past and in recent times by Simon Ekpa is disrupting the South-East economy and causing groaning poverty beyond comprehension. The fear in Igbo land is massive, incredible and unprecedented.
“The killing of innocent people and destruction of properties by the combination of unknown gunmen, kidnappers, criminals and terrorists can no longer be explained to the understanding of Ndigbo. Human life no longer matter in the entire South-East."
Time to empower town unions’ security outfits
However, the Convener and Executive Director of PADDI Foundation, Mr. Eze Eluchie, said: “The South-East is a very compact area. If the Town unions were empowered, their security outfit empowered, it will stop these rascals immediately.
“I emphasize immediately because with the compact nature of the South-East it will be impossible for these people to move from one town to the other without being blocked or wedged. Even if they overwhelm community A or B the other ones should rally round and curtail them.
“The basic problem started when the government authorities politicized community leadership. And this is the basic side of the Igbo community leadership. They balkanized it and made them redundant.
“Even as it is with the various communities having their security outfit whether you call it vigilante or whatever, just like government empowered some youths in the North-East zone and incorporated them into the security outfit, I assure you once such thing is done these rascals will be eliminated.”
Why FG must engage Finland to tame Ekpa
The Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of Igbo Think Tank, Professor Madubuike Ezeibe, has said that the reluctance of the Federal Government to engage the Finish Government for collaboration on how to tame the self-acclaimed Biafra Prime Minister in exile, Simon Ekpa, whose “orders” had become injurious and counter-productive to the economy of South-East, suggests that it does not care about the fate of the zone.
He further said it would be surprising for one to expect a Federal Government that turned deaf ear to the genocidal threat by ex-militant leader, Asari Dokubo, against the Igbo race, to take any meaningful action that could help save Igboland from further destruction.
According to him, the docility of the Federal Government over the on-going destruction in the South-East suggests that Aso Rock may be indirectly gloating over the ordeals of the zone.
“Is it the same Federal Government that has not condemned Asari Dokubo after threatening the entire Igbo race with AK 47 that you expect to go to Finland and engage her Government to stop Ekpa?
“If a known ex-militants’ leader could threaten a whole race publicly and no security agency has invited him for questioning how do you think it will give a hoot if the same people are perishing?
“It would be expecting too much for anybody to think that the Federal Government would bother to take any action to stop Ekpa.
“That thing that made the FG to ignore Asari Dokubo after threatening Ndigbo with AK 47 is the same thing making it not to engage Finland with a view to calling Ekpa to order.”
The Igbo Think Tank leader said he did not believe that the Federal Government might not be remotely involved or happy with the on-going destruction of Igboland, otherwise it would have taken the expected action that would have permanently quelled the festering insecurity in the zone.
Igbo people in authority not helping matters — Ohanaeze VP
The Vice President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene is unhappy with the role Igbo people in government are playing on the continued acts of terrorism in the South-East by the Finland- based Ekpa.
Okeke-Ogene said the issue of Ekpa ought to be handled diplomatically, recalling that an Igbo man who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Muhammadu Buhari presidency could not do anything through the Finish embassy in Nigeria.
“It is not something the government will jump in and tell the government of Nigeria, bring Simon Ekpa to us. No. It has to be approached diplomatically and our brother was there and couldn’t do any diplomatic work in that regard,” he said.
The Ohanaeze chief, however, expressed optimism that the South-East governors will rise to the occasion because the activities of Ekpa are seriously affecting the economy of the region.
S/East people appear to be enjoying lockdown — Anambra
Also speaking on the issue, the new Anambra State Commissioner of Police, CP Aderemi Adeoye, who assumed office, this week, wondered why the people of South-East have chosen to be staying at home when they have no reason to be doing so.
He, however, assured that the police would continue to provide security for people who want to go about their businesses without hindrance.
According to him, the police have no business with people who prefer to sit at home when they are supposed to be working or doing their businesses.
He said: “From the point of law enforcement, sit-at-home is an illegal affair. Those making the declaration for the sit-at-home belong to an organization which competent courts have described as illegal.
“Our duty as security agencies is to provide adequate security for the people to the best of our ability. But it is the people who have the prerogative to decide whether to sit at home or not.
“We cannot enter anybody’s house to drag him out because if we do that, we will be infringing on the person’s fundamental human rights since he has freedom of choice.
“In spite of the action of security operatives, some people support the sit-at-home, which is rooted in the agitation for a separatist enclave called Biafra. Those who work for four days see Mondays as extra holiday. As long as we are able to protect those doing their businesses, we have no business with those who prefer to sit at home.”
Adeoye vowed that under his watch, Anambra would be a hot place for criminals, adding that the command would collaborate with other states in the South-East to secure the zone.
He said further: “We are not in the habit of telling criminals to relocate from the state. We will not create problems for neighbouring states by asking criminals in Anambra to relocate to other states because we have all it takes to deal with them here in Anambra State and we will deal with them squarely, unless they turn a new leaf.
“We have no delight in seeing people lose their lives but if that is what it takes to protect the people of Anambra State, we will not stop to achieve the mandate given to us by the Inspector General of Police.”
Simon Ekpa can be tackled traditionally — Chekwas Okorie
Prominent Igbo leader and pioneer National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Chekwas Okorie said that the menace of the leader of Auto pilot, Simon Ekpa can be tackled from many dimensions, including use of his native kinsmen, traditional rulers and the Amadioha native religious practice.
He also suggested the intervention of the federal government on bilateral application with the Finnish government; the use of community or street policing, anti-cyber terrorism agencies and other forms of combative measures could be used to subdue Ekpa’s terrorism in the south east.
According to Okorie, “the issue of Simon Ekpa is exceedingly embarrassing because the young man sits comfortably in Finland and is causing disruption of lives among the whole of Igbo people in the south east. It’s scandalous that we are not doing anything to call him to order.
“His home town in Ebonyi state is not difficult to find. He has umunna and we have a traditional way of doing things. There must be a traditional ruler in that area, even if his parents have died, he has relations. But if the parents are there, they should be told that their son is causing an abomination that may follow his generation for a long time.
“Traditionally, when you call on the Igbo god of justice, known as Amadioha, it’s a merciless god, it’s more like a nemesis, it doesn’t spare. But have any such traditional steps been taken? No! And this does not require the President of Nigeria to come and do it for us.
“Going beyond that, the Governors of the south east claim to be in unity, especially after the recent meeting in Abuja, but I’ve not seen that unity of coming together to find a solution to the insecurity we have in the south east.
“From the Presidency, there must be a diplomatic approach to issues like this. Even if they have extensive freedom of expression in Finland as their law, there is also the treaty on cyber terrorism which Finland, I believe, is a signatory to and what Simon Ekpa is doing is worse than cyber terrorism and I don’t see why our federal government will not take steps to invite the Finnish Ambassador to meet the appropriate officers to express the strong resentment of our government.
“Our people in Finland should also go to court to lodge a suit that Simon Ekpa is making life unbearable for people in their homeland. As you can see meetings of Igbo leaders have now been shifted to Abuja because they are afraid to gather in the south east.
“Prominent people now bury their dead outside Igboland which is an abomination but it’s now happening every day. Traditional marriages now hold in the cities. These are cultural tourisms that are now taking places outside Igboland.
“So the damage is immeasurable but it’s such a shame that those in positions of authority, who manage our tax payer’s funds, are not doing anything.
“I’ll suggest again that the five Governors instead of running to Abuja or Lagos to holds meetings should convene an extensive security summit in Igboland where stakeholders such as traditional rulers, leaders of market associations in Igboland, town unions, transport, and petroleum union leaders and so on, will be invited because they are major stakeholders that determine movements and life.”