Those who claim that the Sit-At-Home strikes in the South East are affecting only the economy of the South East are fibbing.
They are either doing so out of sheer ignorance of the interconnected ways the Nigerian economy works, or they are trying to hide the serious impact or toll which this very strategic action is having on the national economy.
The South East is an economic powerhouse in so many respects.
It has to buy power, not so much because of its internally generated capacity, but because of other factors, including the pouring into the South East, of money from international remittances by the Igbo abroad, who have to support their relations at home.
While the Nigerian government, through its policies of economic strangulation of the East and its radical de-industrialization program have ensured that the South East is now a dessert for big industries, with divestments, and lack of investment in large industries in the East over the years, local entrepreneurs have created local industries with small machine tools production.
Port policies and lack of investment in road networks and other necessary energy and logistical infrastructure by both the states and the federal authorities have made business and life generally difficult in the East.
But all told, the two factors of international monetary repatriation and local industrial and entrepreneurial initiatives have led to the creation of thriving businesses in the East. So, the South East is not inconsequential in the economic life of Nigeria.
The massive investment in education over the years has also created a very solidly middle class which for the most part has buying power and determines the nature of economic exchange in Nigeria.
The Igbo also have a global network of exchange that is supranational. Igbo enterprise is not only in Nigeria, it fuels Nigeria’s substantial international trade. 75% of the destination of goods imported in the Nigerian Ports at Lagos goes to the South East. If those imports dry up, Lagos ports become ghost operations.
The exchange of goods and services nationally has a great Igbo network, with the South East as the engine room of the Nigerian economy. If the East boycotts the goods manufactured by multinationals in Nigeria, many of their operations will collapse. The Nigerian brewery will collapse. Nestle will collapse. Lever brothers will collapse.
There will be a consequence because, any careful study of the consumption pattern of various Nigerian groups, will indicate that the Igbo middle class constitute, as a result of social and economic orientation, the most significant consumers of the products of these factories. Igbo consumer data will indicate their substantial link to the sustenance of the Nigerian economy. That power is what is now in use.
If the South-East boycotts Nigeria for a day, the national economy dips. That is the very dangerous aspect of the sit-at-home strike in the East. It is hitting Nigeria in her very pocketbooks.
It cannot be ignored. The effects are not confined only to the South East. The neighbouring states – Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta, Cross Rivers, Bayelsa, right up to Edo, whose economic lives are far more integrated with the economic and social lives of the South East in more significant ways than is immediately clear to the layman, is equally powerfully impacted.
Even the sale of cattle from the North, if halted for a day in the East, sends shockwaves to the commodities futures.
As the data is already indicating, more cattle are consumed in the South East of Nigeria than in any other part of this federation as a result of the weekly burials; title-taking ceremonies; domestic meat consumption, and all such things for which enormous resources are expended in keeping the cattle trade flush. So, it is not true that it is only the economy of the South East that suffers.
The hoary impact is multiple: governments of these South Eastern states lose revenue through sales tax or VAT; police and military folks have one day that they lose enormous “roger” because they do not see anybody to extort; but above all, national exchange halts for that single day of the week, and the Federal Government of Nigeria bleeds significant local revenue.
This is quite aside from the fact that empty streets are not good for the business of government. No power wants to rule over graves or empty streets. That is the significance of the “Siddon-Look” action which is currently going on in the East.
A great Igbo politician and one of Nigeria’s firebrand nationalists, Mazi Mbonu Ojike, a brilliant economist, did once put that power in clear terms when he led the “boycott” movement against British goods in Nigeria as part of the defiance campaigns by the anti-colonial Nationalists. “Boycott the Boycottable” – he declared.
That was the mantra. The South-East is leading a powerful defiance movement. It is hurting the pockets of Nigeria and biting hard at the proconsular forces who think they govern the Igbo, but increasingly have no authority over the Igbo people of South Eastern Nigeria.
Now, this is the first phase of this movement: it would grow even more powerful, I predict, as more and more people realize the power of the “Siddon-Look Movement,” and join it nation-wide. I’m almost tempted to predict that first, the Igbo everywhere in Nigeria will join this movement nationwide and it would grow into other dimensions of defiance. As soon as other oppressed Nigerians realize the power of this brilliant movement they too will join. For years, governments have relied on the power of coercion to subdue public protests.
They have shot and killed unarmed Nigerians expressing through public marches, their grievances against the Nigerian state. The latest of such killings was in the ENDSARSprotests in which soldiers were mobilized to shoot and kill unarmed citizens on the streets, and very often, these soldiers who are ordered to kill Nigerians go scot-free.
The lives of these Nigerians were wasted for no reason other than the need for a show of primitive force, and without consequence. That is the great beauty and brilliance of “Sit-at-Home.” Soldiers armed to the teeth will have nobody to shoot at on the streets and kill. There would be no excuse to block the streets. It is the most peaceful of all peaceful protests to just sit at home, and do nothing.
Refuse to participate in the social life of the day, just to register your protest. The impact is devastating. An empty street haunts the government. Do this for one month, and the government of the day will feel the vast yawn of the abyss. The sit-at-home brings home the very fact that the people are supreme – “Oha Ka” – in spite of the pretensions of men who think they have power, and imagine that they matter more than the “ordinary Nigerian.”
But when this “ordinary Nigerian” sits at home and says, let’s see who really owns the land, Umahi and co who have talked rot about this matter begin to quiver and quibble about not being affected; about their children being safe abroad. Lie.
Their children are not safe abroad. For one thing, they are all immigrants. They get lost in the vast crowd of strangers and become estranged from themselves and their fathers. They become “nothing” abroad. All that move to “send them abroad” becomes meaningless, because in the end, they reject everything their parents stood for.
They never return to the land. And if they ever return, the land no longer embraces them, because they become strangers to it. That’s the great price they pay. All their strivings become as meaningless as washing hands just to crack palm kernels for chickens. Bloody pointless work.
But back again to this Siddon-look defiance movement shaping up in the SouthEast. What makes it work is that the people are impelled by reason. They have nothing else to lose.
Young men and women have no jobs, and so, they have nowhere to go. Markets close because, even if you open your shops, no one is going to buy from you. All the shopping are done a day or a week earlier in preparation for this general day of idleness. Workers who are hardly paid, are no longer afraid of being sacked from government work.
They have nothing else to lose. Ordinary folk who are afraid of the police or the army shooting at them, or being run over by the convoy of some “big man,” have no interest in stepping on to the street on this day. There is basically no incentive to defy the summons to sit-at-home. In fact, this movement is no longer in the hands of the IPOB. It is now automatic.
I have been told that people are now forming local town committees, church committees, age grade and guild networks to enforce the sit-at-home among their members. This is just one indication that the Igbo of the South-East are organized at various layers. You strike down one layer, another layer rises.
There is not a single head of the Igbo from which authority drips down. The leadership of the Igbo is hydra-headed. Strike off one, another head sprouts.
Last week the governors of the East declared they’d end the Sit-at-Home. But how? These are not the leaders of the Igbo of the South East. They have neither the authority nor the capacity to force the Igbo out of their homes to come out from their seclusions.
Very clearly, these governors of the SouthEast no longer enjoy the support, the respect, or the trust and goodwill of the people. The people are estranged from them, as they are estranged from the Federal government. Why? Because folks feel betrayed. Besides, they know that a man who did not win an election and was only appointed by a very corrupt Supreme Court owes his loyalty not to the people, but to his employers. It is as simple as that.
This “Siddon-Look” movement is brilliant because it is peaceful, non-violent resistance at its very best. All the attempts to undermine it, and to accuse the IPOB of using force to achieve compliance to a peaceful method of protest is poor propaganda. It ignores precedence.
Years ago during Obasanjo’s administration, the same Igbo called for a nationwide sit-at-home, and there was full compliance.
The very stubborn Igbo are not people you force or threaten to comply with what they do not believe in. They’d rather die. But once they agree to it, expect full, unambiguous loyalty. This is the whole truth.