Ghost Mondays: What Is The Exit Strategy?
There is an ongoing debate over the importance or effectiveness of the weekly sit-at-home that is generally observed all over the five South Eastern states every Monday for the past five weeks or so.
For the proponents, there is no price that is too much to pay in order to focus world attention on what they consider to be the illegal abduction and incarceration of the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, which by extension will quicken the ‘Restoration of Biafra’, whatever this term really means. They feel that this is the most effective strategy of protest to avoid confrontation with Nigeria’s bloodthirsty security agencies.
For the opponents of the weekly sit-at-home, the measure is counterproductive. In a period of hyperinflation and grinding poverty, people are being put through further suffering by being compelled to stay away from their workplaces on Mondays, a day that many people consider to be the most important day of the week.
In most places in the South East where majority of the people are traders, the days of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the most effective business days. Fridays are mostly for burials while Saturdays are for weddings. Many traders do not usually bother going to their shops on Saturdays. So, when you subtract Monday from their effective business days, you have their income halved by a quarter. This could be devastating at this time of severe financial crunch.
Schools have resumed for a new academic year. Does that mean that our children in the South East would only go to school four times every week, which would affect their syllabus and put them at a disadvantage compared with kids from other parts of the country?
The opponents also point to the recent news report that stated that more than N50b has been lost in the South East as a result of the sit-at-home order at such an economically challenging time. And the fact that there is no evidence to show that the sit-at-home is giving President Buhari sleepless nights or that it has in any way changed his policies or appointments.
In the midst of these arguments, there are four cardinal points that have often been ignored or not highlighted enough.
Firstly, we are fixated on the economic effects of the sit-at-home at the moment. What of the effects in future? Most times we are so focused on what I call Political Biafra with little thought about Economic Biafra. The South East needs investments to develop the local economy. Most economies thrive via investments. Who will invest in a place where there would be four weekdays instead of five? If by magic Biafra comes tomorrow, how are we going to provide jobs for the millions of people to whom the Eldorado and Utopia of Biafra have now been etched in their psyche?
Secondly, the sit-at-home has finally decimated the widely celebrated IPOB map of Biafra, which consists of all the states if the South East and South South geopolitical zones and even stretches to some areas in Kogi and Benue States. Asaba and Onitsha are just separated by the 1.4 Km Niger Bridge but every Monday since the weekly sit-at-home started, they are entirely two different towns. While Asaba bustles with business activities with traffic congestion at every corner of the city, Onitsha lies fallow as a ghost town. It is obvious that the often derided ‘Dot in the circle’ statement from Buhari has an element of truth in it because the reality is that it is now clear that agitation for Biafra has very little support outside the five South Eastern states.
Thirdly, for the people who insist that people in the South East do stay at home every Monday in sympathy to the plight of the detained IPOB leader and determination to see ‘Biafra Come’ and not for the fear for their lives, you just need to consider the attitude of Igbo people outside of Igboland to the sit-at-home order. How many people close their shops in Alaba International Market, ASPAMDA, Ladipo, Idumota and other Igbo-dominated markets in Lagos and other parts of the country outside Igboland in sympathy to Nnamdi Kanu’s travails?
The case is worse with the Igbos in Diaspora, most of who stridently support the sit-at-home order. How many of them do we see on social media abandoning their work places every Monday in support of Nnamdi Kanu? Why are they exempt from making sacrifices for the release of Nnamdi Kanu and support for the Biafran agitation?
I was Toronto, Canada in June 2019 when the Mayor of the city declared a work-free day to celebrate the Toronto Rapids winning the NBA playoffs. Even as most of the residents of the city were ecstatic over the historical feat, most Nigerian migrants I met at that period were seriously concerned over how their weekly wages would be reduced by one day. This is to show you how much most Igbo people in the Diaspora, who are mainly economic migrants cherish a single day’s wage. But what we have today is that people who live in places where they are paid as much as $15 (about 8,000) per hour as ordinary unskilled factory workers do not think twice before asking their brothers and sisters in Nigeria, some of who earn below the N30,000 (about $54) minimum monthly wage to make further sacrifices for the ‘Restoration of Biafra.’
The fourth and most important factor that many people have not considered regarding the sit-at-home order is the exit strategy. The leadership of the IPOB initially called for the sit-at-home every Monday but later rescinded it. But those who probably believe that Nnamdi Kanu’s release and the ‘Restoration of Biafra’ are more important to them than the IPOB leadership insisted that every Monday must be ghost Monday in ‘Biafraland’ until Nnamdi Kanu is released.
I don’t want to dwell on the propriety or otherwise of Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest or the validity of the offences he is being charged with. But one reality is that he may likely be in detention for a long time as you can hardly find a judge would want to grant him bail after he jumped bail the other time. So, if he stays in detention for the next five years (I don’t hope so), at what point would the sit-at-home be officially called off by the fanatics of the Biafran project? Who is going to make the call since the extremists have no known leader or leadership structure? Are we not in for a situation whereby after hundreds of billions have been lost, people would simply get tired of sitting at home and begin to defy the order to lessen their economic woes? Would this not demean sit-at-home as an effective means of protest and lessen the support of the citizenry for the Biafran project?
The reality of the Nigerian situation is that the whole country is groaning under harsh economic conditions and acute insecurity being exacerbated by an incompetent president who has greatly mismanaged Nigeria’s diversity. The South East, South West, South South and North Central are all victims of Fulani hegemony been championed by President Buhari. All the oppressed regions are adopting different kind of measures to survive the Buhari presidency. However, it seems that the South East is adopting the worst kinds of strategies. From Unknown Gunmen to sit-at-home orders, the South East is clearly pressing the self-destruct button.
By the time Buhari departs, we may realise that our house that we set on fire so that the fumes would choke our neighbours have been completely burnt to aches.