These separatists operated under names like Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) Biafra Independence Movement (BIM) and assortments of street gangs that act as the militant wings of these groups.
The extent of suffering and economic hardship unleashed on the helpless population can be gauged from the headlines of newspapers in the aftermath of the punitive action. The Vanguard reported that “Biafra sit-at-home: Total shutdown in S-East” while the Sun read “Biafra: South-East shuts down” and the Guardian has “Sit-at-home order grounds South East”.
Separatists leaders quoted in all the reports gave the misleading impression that owners of these small shops and businesses voluntarily complied with the directive to shutter their premises to mark the anniversary of the tragic republic but the opposite was the case. Owners of these businesses were repeatedly threatened with arson, looting and rape (of women) for any business that dares to defy the orders of the Biafran “Supreme Leader” not to open for transactions.
Apparently, in an effort to avoid confrontation with the armed militant wing of the aforementioned groups, government security operatives refrained from interfering. Past interventions by security operatives to prevent economic blockades had resulted in their personnel being attacked and some killed by the militants in the process.
Unfortunately, while the approach of the security agencies averted confrontations, the economic blockade has further impoverished the low income earners that were forced to go one day without earning their livelihood. It must be stated here that the majority of the families that bore the brunt of this oppression from Biafran militants earn less than $2 per day – the implication of this loss of income for one day will amplify over time to further impoverish them.
More unfortunate is the fact that the sponsors and warlords that declared the forced closure have businesses that are considered too big to harass and were therefore not affected by the shutdown. These businesses include big brands like hotels and supermarkets chains that opened in other cities, oil firms that operated in other parts of the country and other firms with branded names that do not give away their Igbo ownership.
We therefore call the attention of the world to this atrocity, which has become more frequent as the separatists continue to find new excuses for declaring sit-at home orders that effectively translate into forced closure of businesses. Well meaning countries and international organizations must condemn the activities of the Biafran militants as the terrorism that it is. Actions must be demanded to protect the vulnerable population from being further impoverished by economic shutdowns that have no connection with the genuine calls for fiscal restructuring of Nigeria.
Demands must be made of the Federal Government of Nigeria not to again abandon the wellbeing of its citizens for political consideration. It is the responsibility of the government, through its security and military agencies, to uphold the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement and freedom to earn income from legitimate means that applies to all Nigerians.
Iloduba is Director of Strategy, Igbo for Nigeria Movement [INM], Awka, Anambra State.