Sirens blared as police convoys paraded the streets, local security outfits deployed to major markets and surveillance helicopters flew overhead.
Streets were deserted. Shops, schools and banks were shut.
Residents huddled together discussing the exercise while children and youth converted asphalt roads into make-shift football grounds.
These were the sights in some major cities in South-east Nigeria Wednesday following the sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Worst hit were Aba and Onitsha, the commercial cities of Abia and Anambra states respectively.
In other cities like Enugu and Umuahia, there were partial compliance while Abakaliki, Nsukka and Awka showed little evidence of compliance.
IPOB was proscribed last year by Southeast Governor’s Forum in the wake of the violence that greeted a military exercise in the geopolitical zone.
The army claimed the exercise was to curb criminal activities in the region but many believed it was launched to curb the growing influence of the pro-Biafra group and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
Last year’s sit-at-home was successful in most states of the region and this forced the military to take steps to clip the wings of the secessionist group.
Stalwarts of the group clashed with the army in Umuahia and Aba state, leading to loss of lives and disappearance of Mr Kanu and his parents after the army invaded their country home in Umuahia.
Since then, Mr Kanu’s whereabouts remains unknown with IPOB and the army trading counter claims.
The Federal High Court in Abuja later proscribed IPOB all over Nigeria and declared it a terrorist organisation.
But that has not stopped the group from carrying on with its activities secretly.
Another pro-Biafra group, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), clarified that it was not part of Wednesday’s sit-at-home. It however, said it was not against it.
Premium Times’ James Eze brings a summary of how the day went in the South-east.
Aba, the major commercial city of Abia State, was on lockdown Wednesday as residents observed the sit-at-home order of the proscribed IPOB to mark the 2018 Biafra Day celebration.
But it was a different scenario in the capital of the state, Umuahia, where business activities were in full swing.
Aba turned into a ghost town as major markets including the famous Ariaria International market did not open.
The streets of Aba were also deserted as commercial transporters parked their vehicles at home, hindering movement by people from one part of the city to another or out of the city.
Banks and schools were shut as parents held back children from school.
Teachers who went to work found the classrooms empty.
“As public servants, we are bound to report for work but we can’t force pupils to come to school if their parents did not allow them,” a primary school teacher who did not want her name mentioned said.
She said though “the idea of remembering Biafra heroes is good, we cannot observe it as public holiday since government has not sanctioned it”.
In sharp contrast to last year’s exercise residents of Umahia did not observe the exercise.
Banks opened for business while many private schools opened but later asked students to go home to avoid danger should violence break out later in the day. But as at press time, the city was calm with people going about their normal businesses
Onitsha, the commercial city of Anambra was completely shut down as traders and other residents observed the order to sit at home.
The order recorded complete compliance in Onitsha as the markets including the popular Onitsha Main Market was shut.
Also banks, motor parks, schools, filling stations and other businesses did not open.
A resident, Geoffrey Anioke who runs a filling station, told our correspondent that since the markets did not open there was no need for other businesses to open.
“The drivers will not see passengers since the markets did not open. This will also affect filing stations and the ripple effect continues. The markets more or less powers the other major businesses including the banks so if they had opened they wont have had customers”, he said.
Apart from bus drivers, it was also gathered that motorcycle and tricycle operators complied with the order forcing people who ventured out to trek long distances to their destinations.
However, in Awka, capital of Anambra State, government offices and other public places, including banks, schools, markets, motor parks and private offices all conducted their businesses without molestation.
Some residents who spoke with Premium Times called on IPOB to refrain from making the Federal Government regard the region as ingrate.
Charles Igwebuke, a civil servant, said it was high time such directives were not allowed to get to public domain.
“In the first place, which national tabloid published the directive that gave it the widespread it enjoys? For that is the beginning of the problem,” he said.
“It has come to a point where every publishing house in the country should abide with the things that unite us as a nation rather than the things that separate us or be sectioned,” he said.
Ifeoma Nnameka, a banker, on her part said that though she heard the sit-at-home order, her employer never informed her to stay away from work.
“I work with a bank that does not take nonsense from staff that don’t do what they should do in regard to this kind of directives that was issued by faceless individuals.
“There is no way I can obey such when the government that is in place to save lives and property didn’t say so and my bank has warned us not to obey such directives that they are not aware of,” she said.
Kassim Ajayi, a tailor, said he opened his shop for business when he saw his fellow Igbo brothers doing same.
“I have to open for business when all shops around me have opened for the day, for I heard on radio when the state government directed all residents to go about their normal day’s work without fear,” Mr Ajayi said.
The state’s Head of Service, Larry Uduh, had earlier issued a statement that Governor Willie Obiano directed that work resumes on Wednesday (May 30) after the Democracy Day public holiday on May 29.
Enugu Police nab pro Biafra group BZM’ s leader, 20 others
The Police in Enugu confirmed the arrest of leader of Biafran Zionists Movement (BZM) on Wednesday in Enugu metropolis.
Premium Times gathered that members of the group in the morning made a futile attempt to take over Enugu Government House.
Led by their self-acclaimed President, Benjamin Onwuka, the group which marched from Bisalla Road was heading to the Government House as early as 7 a.m to hoist the Biafran flags.
But upon their arrival at the Government House gate, they were rounded up by security operatives.
A combined team of security operatives made up of the SSS, anti-terrorism squad, mobile policemen, SARS, among others carried out the operation.
Confirming the incident, spokesperson of the police, Ebere Amaraizu, said 20 other members of the group were also arrested.
“The Enugu State command of the Nigeria Police Force through its operatives today nabbed the leader of Biafran Zionist Movement identified as one Bejamin Onwuka alongside with some of his members numbering about twenty one”.
“Onwuka has been standing trial in a court of competent court of jurisdiction over his alleged role in murder, armed robbery and unlawful possession of firearms before he resurfaced today but fell into the hands of the eagle-eyed security operatives of the command.
“He was nabbed within the Enugu metropolis alongside his members based on the intelligence information. Suspects are helping the operatives in their investigations.
Mr Amaraizu said the sit at home called by IPOB and other groups failed in the state.
“There was movement of vehicles, commuters and traders within and outside the metropolis contrary to the early threat and order of sit-at-home.
“Security operatives were at strategic places just as shops, media houses, markets and banks were open to the members of the public,” he said.
Residents of Enugu partially observed the sit-at-home order.
This was even as another Pro-Biafra group, Biafra National Guard (BNG), said it had launched a transitional government.
Although some markets were opened for business, just few traders or buyers were seen in the vicinity.
Almost all the markets in the city including Ogbete, Timber, Artisan, coal camp spear parts markets, among others were affected by the order.
Even the street shop keepers were not as functional as obtained in normal days while some civil servants failed to report to work. They cited transportation hiccups for not doing so.
Commercial transportation was not in full swing even though there was no enforcement on anybody or groups to comply with the Biafra directive.
An auto electrician at Coal Camp markets, who gave his name simply as Mr. Izuchukwu said he prepared to go out for business but could not find transportation from his Agbani Road residence.
“So I went back to stay at home. Tomorrow we continue with work,” he said.
Nsukka residents ignore order
Resident of Nsukka in Enugu State ignored the order as they went about their businesses.
Government offices, banks schools, market and shops all opened for business.
Commercial buses, tricycles and motorcycles were busy picking and dropping passengers at their destinations and bus-stops.
A trader, Jude Amadi, said IPOB has no right to give him such order as they will not feed his family.
“I thought government has proscribed IPOB. I do not know the right the group has to order people to sit at home, ” he said.
Peter Ozioko, a driver also said he was not aware of the order as he has no business with the pro-Biafra group.
“It is what I get daily from driving this bus that I use to feed my family and take care of other responsibilities as a man. Even if I heard about the sit at home order, I will be very foolish to obey it because the so-called IPOB will not give me money to buy food for my family today. What we need in Nigeria is peace and progress not what will scatter the country”. he said.
For Regina Urama, what the country need now is restructuring so as to achieve stronger economy and not tribal agitations to divide the country
According to her, tribal agitations for separation would not solve the problem of the country but cause more problems.
“We must learn how to live in peace with one another in this country irrespective of tribe, religion or political affiliation”, she said.
Sit-at-home flops in Ebonyi
The order also flopped in Ebonyi State as citizens in the state went about their normal businesses without harassment and intimidation
Governor David Umahi during his May 29th Democracy celebration warned that any trader that closed their shop in line with the directive of IPOB would forfeit it forever
When Premium Times visited the Abakaliki Main market, meat market and Kpirikpiri markets within the metropolis around 9a.m, they were all opened for business.
Also a joint patrol of major security agencies with over 20 vehicles were seen patrolling the streets of the city to forestall any breakdown of law and order.
Later in the day, a police surveillance helicopter flew over the city.
The Senior Special Assistant to Governor David Umahi on Internal Security, Kenneth Ugbala, later on Wednesday spoke with reporters on the situation.
“I have gone round the two major businesses area in the state. I visited the banks, Abakpa main market, the parks where commuters do their businesses and I am happy that in Ebonyi State, we have full compliance to the directive of government. Even in the rural communities or areas, we don’t have any challenge at all.
“The little little cases that cropped in had been resolved in the rural areas; we want to thank God; we want to advise those championing the cause of IPOB or MASSOB to follow the normal process that will be in line with the law and we had always said that in Ebonyi State here, we had been economically disadvantaged.
“We cannot leave our productive periods to engage in nothing because we have suffered criminal marginalisation from the states we were carved out from and we want to meet up and we cannot sit at home when we are supposed to be working.
“The oil is drying up. We have to work; go to farm and do our business transactions to make sure we keep the state moving; we want to thank Ebonyians for the full compliance to the directive of the Governor. I think today has been awesome and we thank God for it.”
However, major transport companies like Peace Mass and Ebotrans as at the time of this report were not loading to Aba, Onitsha and Port Harcourt where they felt people would obey the sit at home order of IPOB.
A driver for one of the companies said they were afraid of being attacked in those three cities for flouting the order.
The major streets like Water Walks, Ogoja road and Gunning road were busy and had heavy vehicular traffic like any other day.
Meanwhile, there was zero compliance by Abakaliki residents to the sit-at-home as government offices, shops, private and public schools, banks as well as commercial activities within the Abakaliki metropolis remained opened for businesses and operation.
A shop owner at the popular Abakpa Main Market in Abakaliki, Lawrence Obiekwena, said he defied the order because market officials said the market would not be closed for business.
He maintained that people should not be forced or intimidated to observe the sit – at – home order.
MASSOB accuses Ebonyi govt of intimidating residents to shun sit-at-home
MASSOB accused Ebonyi state government of intimidating residents of the state into flouting the sit-at-home order called by IPOB.
Speaking to Premium Times, leader of the group, Uchenna Madu, said residents of the state wanted to take part but were intimidated by the state government not to do so.
He was referring to Governor Umahi’s speech on Tuesday at the Oruta Ngele Stadium Abakaliki during Democracy Day where he urged the people to disregard the order.
Mr Umahi had threatened that anyone who failed to open their shop for business would be made to forfeit the shop to government.
Reacting to the sit at home, Mr Madu said despite the intimidation the people still believe in the Biafran cause.
He said though his group MASSOB was not part of the sit-at-home, it was not against it either.
According to him, MASSOB decided to hold a convention in other to diversify the celebration.
The convention held at the Rojenny Sports Stadium Conference Hall in Oba, Idemili South local government area of Anambra state.
“We are having a convention to commemorate the 51 year anniversary of Biafra.
“We were not part of it (sit-at-home) but at the same time we are not against it. We wanted to have a colouration, a new initiative where we converge, interface, discus and deliberate. So though the sit at home was ordered by IPOB, we are not against that.
“All these things are part of Biafran celebration and struggle, different groups have their own way of celebrating it. So it is also a welcome exercise, we have been doing it and we are gong to it next time.
“The fact remains that today all over the world, the people of Biafra celebrated their day. We don’t believe in failure , some people are saying it flopped or wasn’t observed. But as far as some people that believe in Biafra observed the sit at home and many others attended the convention we are having shows that they believe in us, it shows that we are winning and that we are prevailing.”