Danger signal as MASSOB order cripples business in Lagos, South-East
By CHRISTIAN OCHIAMA, PHILLIP NWOSU, OLA AGBAJE, (Lagos), GODDY OSUJI, (Enugu), GEOFFREY ANYANWU, (Awka), VAL OKARA, (Owerri), KINGLEY EMERUWA, CHUKS ONUOHA, (Umuahia), NWABUEZE OKONKWO, (Onitsha), HENRY CHUKWURAH, (Port Harcourt), PETRUS OBI, (Abakaliki)
Friday, August 27, 2004
|•Deserted shopsand road at Umuahia|
Photo by:Sun News Publishing
In what appears to be an endorsement of the campaign by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) to keep the ideals of Biafra alive, Igbo across the country yesterday stayed off their businesses in obedience to the group’s stay-at-home order.
Reports from parts of Lagos and the South-East indicated that the order by MASSOB to "draw attention to the agitation and aspirations of Igbo for the independence of the state of Biafra" was massively complied with. It was however, a peaceful exercise.
This was even as the Abia State governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, advised MASSOB to "refrain from carrying out activities that would portray the South-East geopolitical zone as working against the unity and oneness of the country."
Kalu expressed worry that the "agitation for the realisation of the defunct Biafran Republic is illogical and capable of derailing the demand for Igbo presidency in 2007" and insisted that "the purported declaration was not only illegal but uncalled for as it lacks constitutional backing."
The Abia State governor’s worries did not however, deter his compatriots from giving vent to their emotional attachment to the Biafran spirit.
In Lagos, areas with a concentration of Igbo population observed the order by closing their businesses. Transporters also stayed at home in solidarity for the Biafran cause.
The popular Oshodi, ever busy and busting with activities, was a ghost town yesterday. Same for Olodi Apapa, Kirikiri, Mazamaza, Idumota and Tinubu Square areas of Lagos.
From Enugu, the political capital of the Igbo nation, came the report that despite police clamp down on MASSOB members who wanted to enforce the order for people to stay at home, commercial activities temporarily came to a halt as vehicular movements were restricted.
As early as 7am, traffic came to a halt in Abakpa, Emene, Agbani and Obiagu roads as youths blocked entry points to Ogui New Layout, the commercial never-centre of the city, the report said. Also at Ogbete, the city’s main market, shops were shut as transit operation was suspended throughout the stipulated hours of 6am to 4pm.
Owerri, the capital city of Imo State, was a ghost town also yesterday. Economic activities in the state capital and its environs were paralysed as all the major markets, motor parks, banks, hotels, remained under lock and key.
Our correspondent who monitored the compliance order observed that all the major gates leading to the popular Ekeukwu-Owerri market, along Douglas road, were opened, but the shops within and outside the market remained closed.
It was also reported that almost all the commercial banks in the city shut their doors and only attended to few of their customers who had earlier turned up to transact business with them. Among the affected banks were UBA, First Bank, Standard Trust Bank, Citizens Bank, Wema Bank, Habib Bank.
Commercial bus operators on both intra and inter city routes also withdrew their services even as motorcycle operators, popularly called okada, were not left out of the stay at home order.
The busy streets of Douglas, Wetheral, Tetlow, were deserted. Even hawkers were nowhere to be seen. Also affected was the state Police Command which turned out to be a ghost place.
In an interview with Daily Sun, one Damian Obi, who claimed to be a business man in Owerri, said he had no regrets complying with the directive. He commended the group for adopting a peaceful means to achieving its objectives rather than being confrontational. He said: "I am well pleased with what I have observed today. It means this group is on ground and the problem we have in this part of the country is not followership, but few elite who claim to be leaders of the people".
At one of the banks along Douglas road, a disappointed soldier lamented that he had no money in the house to feed his family and said, "if I knew that banks will not open today, I would have been here on Tuesday or Wednesday to make withdrawals".
The situation was the same in Awka, capital city of Anambra State. All markets, parks, banks and offices were under lock and key in the city. The roads, especially the busy Onitsha-Enugu Expressway and Onitsha-Owerri Expressway, were a ghost of their former selves.
Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre, which hardly observe such calls, was totally deserted. The situation was the same at Nnewi, Awka and Ekwulobia. Workers, who wanted to go to work, stood at the various bus-stops for hours without seeing any vehicle and had to return to their homes.
Few commercial vehicle drivers, who had the heart to enter the expressway, carried people at cut throat fares. For example, Awka to Enugu, which used to attract a fare of between N80 and N100 went for N150 and N200. Same as Awka to Onitsha.
The Government House, Awka and the State Secretariat were all ghost towns as only few workers who could walk down to their offices, from their homes, came. But they had to leave after some hours.
However, there were massive presence of policemen at strategic places to ensure that no incident took place.
The state police command, which issued a statement on Wednesday to charge people not to obey the order, had to issue another statement yesterday afternoon when it saw that people obeyed the MASSOB order.
The statement, signed by the spokesman of the command, for the commissioner, Mr. Kolapo Shofoluwe (ASP), read in part: "The Anambra State Police Command wishes to inform the good citizens of Anambra State once more to ignore the call for a public holiday/stay-at-home order issued by the so called MASSOB members.
"The call is unconstitutional, deceitful and is aimed at creating unwarranted panic on the good people of this state."
Speaking to Daily Sun later, Shofoluwe said that the police recorded no incident and had the situation in control.
Said he: "The situation is perfectly under control. We are incharge, we don’t have any problem. No incident is recorded for now and no arrest made.
The order by MASSOB was monitored for compliance in Lagos by Elder Basil Imo, chief provincial administrator of the Movement in Alimosho zone and the President of Igbo Freedom Movement, Brother Ndubuisi Igwekani.
In Umuahia, Abia State capital and Aba, the ever busy centre of commerce, everything was grounded as all shops, business premises, markets, including banks complied with the directive and closed shop.
The success of the order saw the streets of Umuahia clearly deserted with youths playing street soccer, while the ever-busy Isi gate at the Umuahia market was completely deserted. The motor-parks were also not left out in the boycott exercise.
Some commercial banks rendered skeletal services to known customers, while some closed shop entirely. Among those that rendered skeletal services were the Standard Trust Bank, Citizens Bank, Afribank and Manny Bank.
The timber market, near the World Bank Housing Estate, was a ghost town as not even one shop was open. Same for the Umuahia main market which was under lock and key.
At some state ministries, few workers were seen while most top government functionaries were either away from office or said to be attending official engagements outside the state.
In Port Harcourt and its environs, partial compliance was recorded. In the places, only traders observed the stay-at-home order for a few hours.
Most of the shops owned by Igbo traders in any part of the towns remained locked. The markets also had a feel of the purported holiday as traders either stayed away or refused to open even when around.
The tempo of commercial activities however, rose later in the day, partly due to repeated assurances by the State Police Command that it was in control of the situation and a seeming division within the MASSOB rank.
In Ebonyi, commercial activities were crippled, and almost all the banks in Abakaliki, the state capital, shut their gates.
As early as 7pm, the streets were deserted for fear of what could happen. But as the day grew older people, especially civil servants, were seen trekking to work.
The entire motor parks in the metropolis were closed. The same thing was observed at Abakaliki Rice Mill, while the two major markets, Abakpa and Kpirikpiri markets remained shut all day.
However, government offices and the state secretariat were not affected as normal activities were recorded.
Meanwhile, a pan-Yoruba group, Oodua Liberation Movement (OLM) has called on the Federal Government to release, without delay, over 1000 members of MASSOB currently being detained.
According to a press statement issued by OLM and signed by its Director of Publicity, Durojaye Awoyemi, "continued detention of the activists violates their constitutional right."