As part of its efforts to see its ambition to secede from Nigeria through, the Independent Peoples’ of Biafra (IPOB) has been employing sit-at-home protests in the South-Eastern region of the country. These have been carried out at specific times for different reasons, such as protesting the arrest of its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu by the State Security Services in 2015, or celebrating the Biafra Day, in commemoration of the declaration of the secessionist Republic of Biafra, an event which sparked off Nigeria’s civil war on 30 May 1967.
Following the rendition of Nnamdi Kanu back to Nigeria in the last week of June 2021, IPOB ordered a sit-at-home protest to start on Monday, 8 August 2021, and to hold every Monday in the region. The reason for this sit-at-home was to protest Kanu’s detention and to force the government to release him. Relative to previous sit-at-home protests, however, this has been enforced with greater violence.
On the first Monday, two commercial transport vehicles were burnt and as many as four people were feared killed in Imo State, while four others were killed in Anambra State. On 14 August, the group’s spokesman, Emma Powerful announced that “following a direct order from Nnamdi Kanu”, it had suspended the weekly sit-at-home exercise. But since that announcement, activities in the region have still come to a halt on Mondays, and violence is still visited on those who attempt to go out and work. For example, on 6 September 2021, a truck carrying mattresses from Onitsha in Anambra State to Orlu in Imo State was stopped and set ablaze at Kootu Road, near Orlu. On the same day, a trailer loaded with motorcycle spare parts was set on fire at Eluagu Obukpa, in Nsukka LGA of Enugu State. Both attacks and arson cases were conducted by unknown persons who claimed to be enforcing IPOB’s sit-at-home order. In Eke Okposi, Onicha LGA of Ebonyi State, on the same 6 September, a businessman and some of his apprentices were killed by IPOB enforcers
With this level of violence, it has been unclear if the level of compliance with the sit-at-home order is a reflection of the support that IPOB enjoys within the South-East or if it was due to fear of the repercussions of disobeying the order as alleged by an increasing number of voices from the region. To this end, in the week between 20 and 26 August 2021, SBM Intel conducted a survey in the region and spoke with a few experts who have not been named for their safety.
The survey was held across the five states in the South-East geopolitical zone to ascertain the level of compliance of residents. Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, our researchers were instructed to ask respondents about their willingness to take part in a survey of this nature only once. The survey had a target of 1000 respondents in all five states, a total of 200 in each, again because of the sensitivity of the topic, and the limited time we allotted for it.
All field researchers received warnings to desist from the survey with the most severe warnings in Anambra and Enugu states. The warnings in Anambra escalated to threats to life, which was responsible for the state failing to meet its target number of respondents. As a result, researchers in other states were asked to question more people in order to meet the target number of respondents. In the end, the total target was exceeded, with 1012 people responding to the survey across all five states.
The relative lack of support to the sit-at-home protests in Abia State, which is IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu’s home state, may be related to the impact of the three military exercises in the region since 2016 tagged ‘Operation Python Dance I, II and III. Operation Python Dance I was carried out mostly in Abia State in a bid to arrest Nnamdi Kanu. There were numerous reports of clashes between the military and IPOB, as well as the military’s invasion of Mr Kanu’s home to arrest him.
The effectiveness of the sit-at-home order in the various states might be as a result of the use of force by IPOB in enforcing it, particularly in Imo State which saw an increase in violence in the months leading up to the sit-at-home order. Although IPOB has refused to take responsibility for any of the attacks on police stations, paramilitary agencies and individuals including the murder of former presidential aide Ahmed Gulak, the government has continued to blame the attacks on them.
IPOB’s popularity in the South East has been the subject of debate, as some believe that the group’s resort to violent tactics is serving to increasingly alienate them from people in the region. Even the group itself is no longer speaking with a single voice as evidenced by the fact that despite Emma Powerful’s statement ending the sit-at-home on 14 August, almost a month later, some people are still violently enforcing it. In March, an SBM report showed that there are various factions within the group. This is in addition to several other groups such as the Biafra Zionist Movement who have divergent approaches towards the same goal of establishing a separate and sovereign country called Biafra.
Analysts resident in the region have told us that compliance should be seen as a combination of factors, most of which are public sympathy for the secessionist cause, consideration of personal safety and security in response to violent clashes between IPOB and security agents, as well as the group’s resort to brutality as a means of enforcement. They also believe that these factors at best contributed in no small measure to the “success” of the sit-at-home order.
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