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By Chukwudi Anyianuka

The sit-at-home order in Nigeria’s southeast geopolitical zone has maintained news salience since its declaration in August 2021 and gained more media prominence lately, following its cancellation on 1st June 2023 in Enugu State, by Governor Peter Mbah. He declared it illegal and subsequently ordered government offices, schools, businesses and markets to disregard any such orders and open their doors to business every workday. Mbah has also backed up his directive with unprecedented zeal and action by embarking on unannounced visits to markets and work places, where he addressed citizens and assured them of their safety and protection. Enugu residents have in turn witnessed an increased presence of security operatives, as many are beginning to comply with the government directive in regard.

Beyond the pronouncements and activities of the Enugu State Government, which appears to be yielding positive results and which have received a mixed bag of reactions, from praise to acceptance, and criticism by some quarters of the population, it has become imperative to interrogate the usefulness of the sit-at-home order to the southeast region. For the past two years citizens of the southeast region have been coerced to sit-at-home on Mondays and on several other workdays, on the whims of some criminal elements that claim to be working for the freedom of detained Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. In the twisted narrative of the promoters, the sit-at-home order is to ostensibly pressure the federal government to set Kanu free. Yet, they target, harass, intimidate and butcher citizens who are compelled either by hunger or health emergencies to leave their homes on such days to seek help. Many citizens have lost their lives, livelihoods and property to the mayhem unleashed by these hoodlums on several southeast cities and communities. Government property and security outposts have also been attacked and torched with some security personnel and unwary citizens murdered. In the same vein State governments in the southeast have suffered image damage, financial losses and worsened insecurity, and cannot meet their statutory obligations to citizens. The southeast zone is now a subject of ridicule in Nigeria.

An examination of the characters behind the current push for the sustenance of the sit-at-home and the strategy they are deploying, easily exposes their selfish motive against what they project to the public; since IPOB has on several occasions formally denounced having a hand in the ongoing so called enforcement of the order. It is time we began scrutinizing the narrative they front with the claim to be fighting for the people. As Stuart Hall, Jamaican-British sociologist and political activist, once noted, “what we know of our society depends on how things are represented to us and that knowledge in turn informs what we do and what policies we are prepared to accept.” Hall, had also instructively argued that “within a text, there will oftentimes not be a true representation of events, people, places, or history.” The promoters of violence and death in the name of sit-at-home are shaping views of citizens through their false misrepresentation of events and facts.

There already exist copious commentaries about the sit-at-home order and its attendant psychological, economic and social toll on the southeast population, with little light beamed on the strategy of the promoters of the illegal order, who are deploying psychological warfare to instill fear and unleash terror on citizens, with the primary intent to satiate their appetite for blood and violence, and sustain their financial exploitation of the ignorant. They prey on the Igbo-Biafra sentiment by employing name-calling, lies, fake news and recorded broadcasts laden with invectives to threaten, strike fear into and intimidate the people into submission. These masters of deception suspend reason, disregard evidence and push for the acceptance of their unwholesome order. Sadly some persons are swayed by this gibberish and lend support to them by reposting such broadcasts. Their actions if allowed to continue will ultimately deplete the value of the southeast geopolitical zone, a once very vibrant and enterprising people, whose redemption now lie in adopting a more effective strategy of galvanizing Igbo leaders and think-tank to seek a political solution to the Mazi Nnamdi Kanu debacle.

Given its history and present circumstance, the southeast should at this time be collectively and aggressively engaged in industrial and technological development, to harness the latent potentials of its resourceful population and natural assets. According to Benjamin Kalu, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, the southeast has lost N4 trillion in the last two years to the sit-at-home order. Governor Peter Mbah also insists that Enugu State was losing N10 billion every Monday and every other workday there was a sit-at-home. Before the ban of this order in Enugu, government offices, hospitals, schools, markets and streets were deserted, and artisans, petty traders, bus drivers and keke riders could not freely go out to earn their daily bread. Students were forced to remain home and on the days they attended school, operated under the atmosphere of fear. The long-term implication of which is that the southeast may relapse in providing qualitative education to its citizens and not continue to command the top position it has maintained in national examinations. The political and social life of the people has also not been spared, as events for which resources had been expended, like weddings, had to be cancelled. Enugu that was well known for its vibrant entertainment and nightlife suddenly turned a ghost of itself. Even its status as the favourite destination for Nollywood productions became lost overnight.

It is unacceptable that a people renowned for wisdom, courage, intelligence, resilience and their adventurous spirit would allow themselves to be cowered into subjection by a few self serving individuals who from safe abodes issue orders that are destroying their people. Where is the “ako na uche” for which the Igbo are revered? A people that produced such legends as Achebe, Azikiwe, Akanu Ibiam and many bright minds in the academia, engineering, arts and technology. No sane person burns down his own house in order to get to his enemy. Is this not what continuing with the sit-at-home amounts to? The southeast will most likely witness more military boots on ground following the FG’s resolve to deploy more soldiers to combat insecurity in the zone. Citizens are already bemoaning the proliferation of checkpoints and humiliation and dehumanization people suffer on the roads in the hands of security operatives. Government should adopt more of non-kinetic approach of using technology and intelligence in tackling insecurity.

Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo, which supports the recent banning of the order by Enugu State Government, recently recommended eight ways the FG can explore to end the sit-at-home, viz: release of Nnamdi Kanu, dialoguing with agitating groups, addressing concerns of marginalization, boosting infrastructure development, enforcing the law with a human face, promoting reconciliation and healing, empowering and educating the youth, and running an inclusive government. I cannot agree more with Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo. But while these are being worked out we need to stand up as a people to say enough is enough. I maintain that nobody burns down his house to make a point to his oppressors. Who does that?

Chukwudi Anyianuka, PhD wrote in from Enugu.

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