Simon Ekpa, self-styled leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), in a viral video, imposed sit-at-home and curfew on South East and some parts of old Eastern Region during the 2023 general elections. His orders span from February 23rd to 28th 2023. Nigeria’s presidential and National Assembly elections hold on 25th Feb. 2023. Ben Aroh examines how such orders might disenfranchise eligible voters in the region.
Ekpa was appointed interim leader of IPOB shortly after the arrest of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, founder of IPOB, in July 2021. Ekpa was later ‘sacked’ in a release by IPOB’s media head, Emma Powerful, over some imbroglio. Ever since then, Ekpa always gets away with his decisions, including the five days’ sit-at-home (9th to 14th Dec. 2022) preparatory to boycott the 2023 polls in South East. Ekpa believes South East, designated as ‘Biafra’, should not participate in the polls but seek its excision from Nigeria.
Ekpa’s State of the Nation Address
Ekpa in the video declared that, “On 24th and 25th of Feb., in addition to the sit-at-home, there will be a 6pm to 6am curfew in all federal roads leading to Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states. This curfew will also be implemented in Okigwe, Owerri, Orlu, Abakaliki, and Enugu metropolis, in addition to sit-at-home.
“On these days, it will be an open war between Biafra and Nigeria because we are fighting to protect our lives, cultures and values. We’ll engage anybody who Nigeria sends to Biafra. The current financial Jihad in Nigeria trying to cripple Biafra will be over.”
Ekpa listed provinces barred from the polls as Abakaliki, Afikpo, Oji River, Enugu, Nsukka, Owerri, Orlu, Okigwe, Aba, Umuahia, Nnewi, Onitsha, Awka, Agbor, Warri, Ugheli, Asaba, Yenegoa, Ahuda, Degema, Calabar, Igwocha, Ogoja, Ekett, Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Auchi, Benin, Idoma, and Ighara.
He predicted that from 15th of February, 2023, ‘Nigeria will go under a very serious chaotic situation’, and called on ‘Biafrans to be careful’ as there are plans against Biafra’ in Lagos and the North’.
Ohanaeze, ADF, Maka Odinma Ndigbo, EU Chide Ekpa
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, through Dr Alex Ogbonnia, its national publicity secretary, said, “Ohanaeze had earlier condemned Ekpa and his calls. It is shocking that a true Igbo will unconscionably embark on a disingenuous duplicitous adventure that is aimed at denigrating, disenfranchising and decimating his people. We pose a question to Ekpa: is he a hero or a villain? South-East governors, South-East Traditional Rulers, other stakeholders should rise in one voice to ensure the smooth conduct of the 2023 elections.”
Alaigbo Development Foundation described Ekpa ‘as unfortunate’. Its president, Prof Uzodinma Nwala, said the action was inimical because ‘a son of the region is a leading contestant in the presidential election’.
Nwala said, “Our people must put themselves together to confront this gimmick by Ekpa. He is trying to thwart efforts of Obi. Kanu supports the forthcoming presidential election to be held in South East, so who is Ekpa? Ordinarily, I shouldn’t be answering this question because there is no need.”
The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) also warned against boycotting the 2023 general elections in the South East. Comrade Samuel Edeson, MASSOB’s national director of information, said, “MASSOB resolved that Nigeria state will independently and internally conduct their political exercises, including general elections in Igbo land. The people of South East are free to participate because our political space must be filled. MASSOB allows INEC to conduct elections in Biafra land for our people that still believe in the Nigeria state.”
Maka Odinma Ndigbo, a body preaching preservation of Igbo values, led by Nze Kanayo Chukwumezie, said, “Calling for boycott of the elections is anti-Igbo, especially when someone from the region is the preferred presidential candidate. Agitation for self-determination in South East is caused by years of marginalization. Addressing the causes will end the agitation.”
Ndigbo Should Wake Up! – EU, Al-Bishak
A pressure group, Eastern Union, led by Hon Charles Anike, blamed Ndigbo for their political woes. In his words, “The biggest challenge to Igboman is Igboman. IPOB cannot coordinate its members. There’s Emma Powerful, there’s Ekpa. The group has been hijacked. South East has been bleeding. Most people are confused on how the group claims to be freedom fighters, yet watching their people being killed. What is the essence of Eastern Security Network? Who are the ‘unknown gunmen’? Ekpa’s sit-at-home will have devastating effects. Enemies of South East and opponents of Obi are behind this.”
In view of Mallam Al-Bishak, a professor of African Literature at the Federal University, Lafia, “The belligerent activities of IPOB create fear in the minds of the people of different sections of this country. Igbos must re-strategize to win the support of all sections of the country to produce the president.”
Ekpa ‘Anti-Kanu, Enjoying Borrowed Attention’ – Clergy, Psychologist
A clergyman, Chike Agwuncha, leader of Orthodox Judaism of Nigeria (OJN), blamed the press, especially the social media for giving credence to such calls, adding that, ‘if such calls are not given publicity, nobody will take such orders serious’.
Similarly, Rev Fr Gabriel said Ekpa’s actions might keep Kanu in prison forever. In his view, “He should rather be preaching to have credible elections to get a president that can obey court orders. Anybody that tells us not to vote hates Kanu, or hates Ndigbo, or has taken bribe to betray the Igbo. This is the first time, after Zik, that the Igbo have a candidate globally accepted. If we truncate Obi’s chances, we shall suffer for a long time.”
Osmond Onuh, a psychologist, blamed social media for giving Ekpa attention. He said, “Ekpa has gained cheap popularity. How can somebody in Finland be dictating the pace of a people. We are naïve. His latest video is being shared as if he is important. Igbo detractors readily find him as a tool to destroy Ndigbo from within.”
Real Reasons Igbos Should Vote – Ex-Lawmaker, Youth Leader
Former member of the House of Representatives, Chief Ralph Obioha, called for adequate security to guarantee the confidence of the voters during the polls. He said, “The mainstream IPOB led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is openly opposed to any election boycott. I call on all Ndigbo to ignore or caution anybody calling for boycott of the 2023 election and prepare themselves to vote despite any hindrance. I call on those pushing the self-destructive election boycott to retrace their steps.”
GOC Nwadike, state youth leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, Imo State, stated that, “Boycotting elections would not augur well with our region. You recall that during the last census, MASSOB deceived us not to take part. Today it placed our region as one of the least in number.
“In some other countries where agitations for sovereignty are ongoing, such as Spain (Catalonia), Cameroon (Ambazadonia), etc, members and agitators of these agitating countries are still members of Parliament, speaking for their people. Telling our people not to take part in elections would hurt our people and region as we do not have the number or force to stop general elections. People will be imposed on us if we don’t take part, and we will continue to suffer bad governance.”
The national president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council, Igboayaka O. Igboayaka, said Ekpa’s calls should be ignored: “The Biafra Referendum should not only be discussed on the streets; self-determination is part of fundamental human rights. Therefore self-determination of IPOB must be discussed at the National Assembly. I urge Ndigbo to see 2023 as ‘Operation Recapture AlaIgbo from Political Gangsters’. Therefore, not voting is out of it.”
Obi Is Distraction to Biafra – Ekpa Disciple
A disciple of Simon Ekpa in Abakaliki, Ebonyi Sate, Sunday Okosisi, ruled out participating in the elections on the premise that he had lost hope in Nigeria. According to him, even if Obi won the polls, he would simply ‘serve the purpose of his paymasters’.
He said, “Ndigbo should know that they are not needed in Nigeria. The North is using our evil politicians to do this job perfectly. Votes don’t count, as exemplified in the ‘Supreme Court Governor’. We won’t vote to avoid the validation of the evil entity built on deceit. We want to achieve freedom and self-determination. Just know that Obi is a distraction to Biafra freedom. They will give him the presidency just to delay the freedom.”
A woman at Oyigbo in Rivers State, who begged not to be mentioned, said, “I lost my relative to Biafra agitation. Whatever they say we should do, I will do. People who suppose to protect us will go to Abuja and Port-Harcourt and be issuing orders. I can’t lose anybody to this agitation again.”
A resident of Igboeze North in Enugu State, Uwakwe Eze, demanded to know if there will be adequate security. In his words, “If we obeyed Ekpa’s five days’ sit-at-home warning, why won’t we obey the latest? Since then, has anybody addressed the masses on why we should not obey Ekpa? ESN operatives occasionally run over us here, and nothing happens. Politicians know what they are doing.”
Release Kanu To Eclipse Ekpa – Opinions
A majority of people who spoke to our correspondent say releasing Nnamdi Kanu will end the relevance of Ekpa. Nze Chukwumezie said, “They should release Kanu to end the sit-at-home phenomenon. The groups ordering and enforcing it claim loyalty to MNK, but Mazi Nnamdi Kanu MNK has asked for an end to the malaise. Sit-at-home has negatively affected South East. Freeing Kanu will end everything.”
For Nwadike, Imo PDP youth leader, “I call on President Buhari to release Kanu. Courts had freed the man. I see no reason for his continued detention. Freedom to MNK would bury the crises in South East.”
Obioha aligns with them: “Igbo leaders should unite behind the release of Kanu before the election, not only because he deserves his freedom but also because his release will obliterate the only justification offered by those that are calling for election boycott.”
Postscript: South-East traditional rulers declined to comment, but agreed that Ekpa does not represent the interest of Igbo.
This investigation was supported by Civic Media Lab.