On July 12, 2023, the factional leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Simon Ekpa, announced plans to declare a sit-at-home in Lagos State. The sit-at-home was in demand of Nnamdi Kanu’s release. Kanu is a British-Nigerian political activist who advocates for the secession and independence of Biafra from Nigeria. Ekpa had also announced that there would be a two-week sit-at-home in the southeast.
Such sit-at-home orders have threatened business activities and human lives over the years. The Nigerian government should engage in diplomatic and national cohesion dialogues with IPOB and southeastern leaders. Also, the government needs to tackle the rising insecurity of lives and properties hurting private citizens and businesses in the region, which are some of the reasons for the secessionist agitations.
IPOB, which remains proscribed as a terrorist group, first introduced a weekly sit-at-home exercise in August 2021. Since then, the southeastern states of Nigeria, including Anambra, Imo, Enugu, Abia, and Ebonyi, are terrorized by supposed “unknown gunmen”. These gunmen have fuelled insecurity in the region through mayhem, killings, and destruction of properties.
The increasing number of sit-at-homes in the southeast is crippling business and driving more Nigerians into poverty.
Although the IPOB says it suspended the sit-at-home order, the Finland-based Simon Ekpa-led faction of IPOB has continued to declare a sit-at-home regularly in the country’s southeastern states. Should such announcements continue, IPOB’s persistent sit-at-home orders could undermine efforts by different levels of government to reduce rising poverty rates across the country.
The federal government must uphold the rule of law by obeying all court orders relating to Kanu and every other Nigerian still detained as against valid court rulings freeing them. Doing this is a step towards social capital trust and cooperation between the government, IPOB, and the Igbos.
The International Centre for Investigative Reporting stated that south-eastern states’ microbusinesses lost about ₦5.38 trillion ($12.22 billion) between August 9, 2021, and December 19, 2022. The loss was attributed to the sit-at-home orders during the period. If the disruption to economic activities persists, there is a high risk that more Nigerians, especially in the region, may slide into more extreme poverty.
According to a 2016 research published by the Governance and Social Development Research Centre, “conflict causes and compounds poverty. First, by depleting labor and human capital, then destroying productive and financial assets, and finally, eroding the social capital of trust and cooperation upon which strong political and economic systems depend.” In the southeast, IPOB’s activities disrupt labor and human capital as companies and businesses have shut down due to insecurity concerns.
The Nigerian government should establish a committee for roundtable discussions with IPOB representatives and respectable Igbo leaders. These discussions would allow the government to learn about the other party’s positions, interests, and needs, as well as their concerns, fears, and expectations. A constructive dialogue involving leaders from the affected states, IPOB representatives, and the federal government is a starting step toward bringing peace to the southeast.
Many harbor a deep sense of alienation due to the Nigerian government’s exclusionary policies that marginalize the Igbo public politically and economically. This sense of alienation has strengthened the activities of IPOB. To achieve national cohesion, the government must ensure that those in the southeastern region have equal opportunities. The government should ensure zero ethnic discrimination in all civic, social, economic, and political activities.
Equally, federal security agencies should swiftly protect the affected states against rogue gunmen. The police and military troops in the area should change their tactics to mitigate unlawful arrests, the use of excessive force, and extrajudicial killings. When the tactics change, residents will find it easier to trust and cooperate with law enforcement and security agencies.
The increasing number of sit-at-homes in the southeast is crippling business and driving more Nigerians into poverty. Therefore, the government must resolve this menace promptly, fairly, and diplomatically. The starting point is to engage leaders of IPOB and key Igbo leaders in dialogue to listen and understand the other party’s positions, interests, needs, concerns, fears, and expectations.
Also, the government should promote national cohesion through policies and actions. The government must obey all court orders relating to Kanu.
Sami Tunji is a writing fellow at African Liberty.