Igbo traders observe MASSOB's stay at home order
From Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia), Isa Abdulsalami (Jos), Chuks Collins (Onitsha), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Chido Okafo (Warri), Abiodun Fanoro, Lekan Okusan, Uche Nwankwo, Temilola Afolabi, Funmi Adeniran, and Abimbola Akande, (Lagos)
THE stay-at-home directive of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) momentarily held sway yesterday as Nigerians of Igbo extraction, mostly traders, complied.
The result as could be predicted was a dearth of socio-economic activities, which hit various towns and cities across the land. Some were, however, more affected than the others.
Commercial activities were paralysed in Owerri, the Imo State capital. Residents, save civil servants, observed practically to the letter the MASSOB's directive.
Markets, banks, shops and other commercial enclaves were under lock and key. Only few commercial vehicles were seen plying the roads. Schools were also closed down.
The Guardian went round Owerri and discovered some banks such as United Bank for Africa (UBA) at Dauglas Road, African Continental Bank (ACB), First Bank, Hallmark Bank located at Douglas and Okigwe Roads closed to customers.
Customers were seen standing at the entrance waiting to see whether they would open later in the day or not.
At the Eke Ukwu and new markets also on Douglas Road, traders stood beside their shops discussing the development, buyers were however not forthcoming.
No member of MASSOB openly displayed his or her flag, symbol or t-shirt with the organisation's name but people gathered in clusters also contemplating what the aftermath would be.
Members of the Imo State Police Command as early as 4 a.m. had started marching through major roads such as Works Layout, Amakotia, Okigwe, Douglas, Wetheral and Imo State University, Owerri road, chanting war songs.
They dispatched themselves to strategic locations. Mobile policemen touched all parts of the town. They also called at the Okwe Onuimo, MASSOB leader's (Chief Ralph Uwazurike) residence.
The state's Police Commissioner, Mr. Hezekiah Dimka, told The Guardian that they started intensive surveillance from 4 a.m. in all parts of the state.
The executive assistant to the state governor on security, Ernest Ibejiakor, directed all members of the state reformed vigilance group to report to the police any case of security breach.
There was no report of any breakdown of law and order.
Civil servants in the state were, however, present at their duty posts unable to heed the MASSOB directive.
In Abia State, the situation was similar, residents succumbed to the MASSOB order.
The Guardian learnt that residents who were civil servants reported to their office and others to their ventures. Some of the traders who went to their shops found nobody to attend to.
Nobody was molested or were there reports of violence.
In Aba and Umuahia, traders were seen in groups around the markets. Some banks attended to customers through the back door.
The police moved about in patrol vehicles using public address system to announce to the public to go about their legitimate activities.
The state-owned radio repeatedly announced that security agencies were in control of the state and would protect anyone carrying on legitimate activities and that they were on red alert to quell any riot.
Contacted, Mr. Raymond Enarbor, the state police spokesman confirmed calm in Aba and Umuahia.
Yesterday afternoon, however, one Comrade Uchenna Madu who claimed to be MASSOB's director of information called at the Press Centre, Umuahia to address journalists.
Madu described the MASSOB's order and action as a legitimate form of civil disobedience.
Virtually all the shops owned by Igbos in Jos, Plateau State capital were closed to customers yesterday and their traditional ruler, His Highness Igwe Joseph Nnamdi Ejimbe, the Igbo I of Jos, was invited by the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Apapa, for questioning.
It was learnt that anybody who flouted the order would pay a fine of N5,000.
Most of the Igbos standing in front of their closed shops who spoke to The Guardian said that the directive came from their headquarters in Umuahia via newspapers, adding that they had to obey it religiously.
They said when they read about it in the newspapers that August 26 would be their 'Freedom Day', they held several secret meetings where it was decided that they should obey the " call."
Those interviewed, who refused to disclose their names, said that some of their members initially kicked against the observation of the day, but with much persuasion and superior arguments, they succumbed.
There was no rally or any demonstration or any solidarity whatsoever. It was quiet and there were no assembly of any kind in the Jos metropolis.
The stay-at-home call by the MASSOB in Anambra State was complied with in all parts of the state yesterday.
Residents of major cities of Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi, Nkpor and Ekwulobia defied every persuasion and instruction by the police and even the State Government to disregard the MASSOB.
There was virtually no movement as commuter buses and commercial motorcycle operators were off the roads. Private car owners also parked their vehicles in the safety of their homes, perhaps to avoid being vandalised.
The whole streets were empty and devoid of their usual boisterous activities while few individuals who came out were monitoring events as they unfolded.
The police however arrested five people for being in possession of three bundles of MASSOB newsprints for distribution and sale to the public. The other three were arrested while molesting those who came out for normal businesses.
According to the State Command's Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Kolapo Shofoluwe, they attempted to invade and torch the popular Onitsha Main Market.
One Kymco motorcycle, four Biafran flags, and one Samsung brand mobile phone handset were recovered from them.
In Awka, the arrested man was caught vandalising cars in order to prevent those who attempted to defy MASSOB directive of stay-at-home.
All the arrested persons had been transferred to the State Command Headquarters for further investigation.
Shofoluwe assured that they would be charged to court as soon as the investigation was completed.
However, all the markets in the state remained locked, including shops in the street corners. Armed mobile policemen kept watch over the whole area. No bank opened for business and civil servants were stranded on the roads and bus stops.
There were little or no activities at the Government House in the Governor's Office.
In Enugu, commercial activities were paralysed yesterday as residents complied with the sit at home order declared for the people of the South-East zone by MASSOB. The Police had on Wednesday asked residents to go about their normal duties assuring them of protection against attack by members of the MASSOB.
But except for some Federal Government establishments, banks, private offices, markets and motor parks remained closed throughout the day.
Although no casualties or arrests were reported as at press time, MASSOB members in a convoy of motorcycles moved from street to street to ensure that residents complied with the directive.
Few shop owners who opened their shops in the early hours of the day were persuaded to close by the members of the group who wore black atop red attires and sang solidarity songs as they marched.
When The Guardian visited some key offices in the state, as well as the Ogbete and Kenyatta markets at noon yesterday, all the shops remained under lock and key.
It was gathered that the market authorities had the previous day, at about 6 p.m. moved round the markets announcing to the traders that all shops and markets would remain closed for the day as a mark of solidarity. The few private vehicles that operated bore green leaves.
Some residents who spoke to The Guardian said that they could neither come out nor open their business for fear of being attacked by members of the group.
The much announced "Biafra Day" celebration which had pitched the MASSOB against the police was yesterday, marked in Warri, Delta State and environs by Igbos, who demonstrated their loyalty to the cause by shutting down their businesses and staying at home.
The previous day, words had gone round in Warri that shops be locked, but no organisation claimed responsibility for the order. It was believed to have been secretly circulated among the traders, especially, and they complied absolutely.
Warri residents were taken aback as they discovered yesterday that virtually all the shops and stores belonging to the Igbos were under lock and key.
Seven days after business activities were grounded in major markets in Lagos, yesterday was no exception as most major markets witnessed low activities as Igbos in the state celebrated the "Biafra Day".
At Oshodi, most shops were not opened for business while a few operated with caution. The whole shops at the electronic section of the market were under lock and keys but as at 3 p.m. some started attending to customers.
When The Guardian went round the market, some traders were seen discussing while others continued with their business activities. Traffic at Oshodi was light with most commercial buses moving freely on the roads.
Business activities were also paralysed at the Alaba International Market, Trade Fair Complex, Ladipo Spare Parts Market, Balogun and Yaba.
"As early as 6 a.m. some of us that are Christians came out to pray for the realisation of the Republic of Biafra. There had been injustice against the Igbos in the country.
"In most northern states, roads have been constructed as well as in the South-West but in the eastern states, there are no roads in most of the states. The Onitsha/Owerri roads are in a deplorable state," Ezidiukwu said.