South-East Pain Spreads To Lagos As Sit-At-Home Affect Transporters
Although a separatist group in the South-East, the Indigenous People of Biafra, has suspended every Monday sit-at-home it ordered in the zone, operators of buses, which ply Lagos-South-East lament effects of the order on their operations
Iyke (not his real name) would never forget what took place on Monday, September 20, 2021 in a hurry. He was travelling to attend a symposium for youth corps members in Abia State when the bus he boarded was stopped by militants along the highway.
Although Iyke had often complied with the sit-at-home order laid down by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra members, he made an exception due to the urgency of the event.
“I arrived at my location at almost 10pm. It was a miracle because I could have been mobbed. Those people were not joking. They stopped me and asked me questions. Imagine if I could not speak Igbo, my name would have been ‘sorry,” he said.
The members of the IPOB separatist group or the Eastern Security Network has been clamouring for an independent state of Biafra in the Old Eastern region consisting of Southeastern states.
The movement came under the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu in 2012 who advocated agitations against the excessive power abuse wielded by the Nigerian state which they deemed illegitimate.
Initially, Kanu had ordered that the entire South-East sit at home and shut down all commercial activities between May 30 and May 31 to commemorate the annual Biafra Remembrance Day, the move was not stridently enforced.
In June 2021, Kanu was arrested by the Nigerian government in Kenya and brought back to the country. He was re-arraigned on charges bordering on treasonable felony brought against him by the Federal Government over his agitation for the separatist Republic of Biafra.
On July 30, 2021, IPOB in a statement issued by its spokesperson, Emma Powerful, declared that every Monday starting from August 9, there would be a sit-at-home form of protest until Nnamdi Kanu, its leader, is released from the custody of the Department of State Security.
“We the global family of the Indigenous People of Biafra ably led by our great leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, wish to announce to all Biafra citizens, friends of Biafra and lovers of Biafra freedom and independence that IPOB leadership has declared every Monday ‘a ghost Monday.’”
The group sought to force the five eastern states into a self-styled mode of lockdown from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, and to ensure compliance to this, it issued a threat to dissidents.
Bullets, flames and terrors
Indeed, many who flouted the directive faced huge consequences as there were reports of violence unleashed on both sides.
In August, at least six people were killed and three buses set ablaze in Anambra State after a joint security patrol team killed two persons suspected to be a member of IPOB enforcing the group’s sit-at-home order in an area.
In the same month, two travellers were burnt to death with shops and vehicles, including buses belonging to Libra and Okey transport companies reportedly set ablaze in Imo State.
Eventually, after months of forced compliance, the sit-at-home lockdown was extended. The PUNCH had reported that the group on September 14, called for an end for the imposed order.
But the spiral of violence that has been set agog in the region was yet to stop. For about five weeks since the suspension of the sit-at-home, business activities were still grounded every Monday as the dark cloud of fear still hung over the people who would stay indoors to avoid being harassed by IPOB militants.
Chika (surname withheld) told one of our correspondents that he felt like a fugitive travelling on a Monday to Nnewi as the bus driver had to sneak past any crowd to avoid been mobbed.
“It felt like I was running away for committing a crime. Everyone in the 14-seater bus held their breath when they saw a crowd of protesters. At a point, they stopped our cars and we had to chant, ‘We are for Biafra! This is Biafra land!’ Even after all that, they impounded our vehicles and told us to wait. We had to wait till about 9pm.
Transport business, lifeblood of Igbo culture
According to a report by the Nigerian Informer, Lagos to Eastern Nigeria route is one of the busiest routes in Nigeria as it is ever busy 24 hours a day. It was gathered that most buses plying the Southeastern routes sometimes don’t wait to pick up passengers from the South-East to major cities like Lagos or Abuja. They usually travel back to the cities to pick more waiting passengers to the East.
The transport business is intertwined with the nuances of Igbo of culture. Hence, during festive seasons particularly, Christmas and New Year, many Igbo individuals travel home for various purposes such as meetings, weddings, funerals, family gatherings and community project commissionings.
Nnamdi Okeke, a Lagos resident who hails from Ogidi, Anambra State, explained, “Most of us travel to our villages toward the end of the year. This is why our markets are usually shut down between that December to January interval. It is a time of rest, from the city stress to meet with our families and friends in the East. We also have village meetings that take place annually and everyone is expected to participate in them.”
However, with the months of enforced sit-at-home observed in the South-East, transport agencies have had many sad tales to tell.
For instance, an official of Young Shall Grow Motors in Lagos, who who pleaded anonymity for fear of attack, confided in our correspondents that the sit-at-home had badly affected their business.
“The loss we experience cannot be quantified, because we are losing. We have over 46 parks in Lagos, and on Monday the least number of vehicles to leave Lagos are 100 while only 10 leave for Abuja. We are losing and we can’t quantify the loss. The company is losing resources.
“In four-five Mondays in a month, we are losing. We still have to pay workers. It also affects the company in the sense that the workers who earn a percentage from what they charge the passengers have to fend for themselves. Some of these people affected are the loaders. We also have managers and assistant managers who fend from the proceeds of the loaded buses, they are not on salary. It also affects the passengers too,” he said.
Pointing in the direction of the transit buses parked in the premises for emphasis, he added, “A new bus can cost over N25m, you really don’t want to lose that kind of investment. In fact when passengers come on Monday, nobody will attend to them because travelling is a risk on the lives of innocent people and on the drivers’ lives. There is no point taking that risk.”
In the same vein, a customer service officer at God is Good Motors, who simply identified himself as Oluwaseyi, also told our correspondent that the sit-at-home had badly affected their revenue because their buses no longer ply five routes.
“Since the sit at home policy, we have lost six routes. For us, we don’t go to Aba, Enugu, Awka, Uyo and Owerri on Mondays. On a normal day we get to go to these places. That affects the revenue and also gives us extra workload. The people who are to travel on Monday, end up rushing to travel on Tuesday or Sunday in order to avoid all of those things. So it has not been easy. This has affected us so much that I really wish the government and IPOB would agree,” he said.
An official of Peace Mass Transit, also complained of losses incurred by the transport firm.
“We lose a lot in terms of financial income. We don’t move on Mondays for now. Our passengers know this and they don’t often come around. Those that come around, we beg them and advise them to travel the next day.”
He admitted that in spite of the commercial activities have resumed in some states in the East, transporters still fear the implications of not obeying the sit-at-home directive.
A top official of E. Ekeson Transport, said the experience has been the same.
“Yes, the sit-at-home has really affected us. I think the government needs to listen to what these people are agitating for and also listen to us, because we are being affected. For instance, on Sundays, we don’t do anything. We just come here. The travellers themselves already know this.
“Every week, you find one way or the other to sustain yourself. If you eventually travel there the next day (Monday), whatever you see, you take. But it is dangerous. People’s lives and belongings can be wasted, so it affects us.”
To attract patronage and sustain their continuity in business, the transport managers said they have had to lower their fares and bear the burden of loss occasioned by the sit-at-home.
The Ekeson Transport official said, “We don’t charge additional fares for our passengers. We even lessen the fares. Before, travelling to the East used to be N8, 000 but now we are talking of N6,000.”
Oluwaseyi noted that except for festive seasons, their fares remain the same. “For us at GIGM, except on special periods like Christmas season, the prices are fixed. The change in price is around N50 to N100. It is just that a whole lot of people who wouldn’t travel on Monday, would now show up on Tuesday.”
Peace Mass Transit official confirmed this pointing out that the agency bears the loss in revenue. “At Peace Transit, we don’t charge our passengers any additional fare. Because of this, we bear the financial cost,” he said.
Regarding passengers who alight in Edo or Delta State due to safety measure to avoid reaching the South-East on Mondays, the transport business men who spoke to our correspondents gave nearly uniform responses.