IPOB: In The North, Igbo Businessmen Living In Palpable Fears
The campaign that the Igbos suffer high level hatred and discrimination in Nigeria notwithstanding, they are everywhere, in villages, cities and towns across the country and this has brought the nation’s economy firmly into their hands. Be it in the pharmaceuticals, transportation, aviation, telecommunications, textiles, building materials, or automotive (spare parts) they are in charge. ACJ’s Arome Attah, Ahmed Mustapha and Enyinnaya Stella of Abuja City Journal, x-ray the implications of the violent actions of the ESN on Igbo business interests outside the South East.
These are not the best of times for Kano based business man, Prince Ekwujuru Obi. Though he hails from Imo State, South-East Nigeria, Obi has lived in Kano for 49 years and speaks Igbo and Hausa flawlessly. Of course, he can also communicate well in Yoruba because of his close relationship with the Yorubas who have been his neighbours for decades in Yankaba area of the commercial city. He came to Kano as an apprentice under an uncle who brought him to the city two years after the civil war, precisely in August, 1972.
“Before the Biafra war, my late uncle, Chief Lucas Afigbo, through whom I came to Kano, had become a successful man here. He came to the village after the war and discovered that my father, Festus Obi and many members of the family had died. Until his arrival, life had become miserable for our mother who had suddenly become a widow and my four other sisters. As the only boy, Chief Afigbo thought it would be wise for him to take his nephew along and become his apprentice. One of my sisters was also taken to Oshogbo, the capital of the present day Osun State, to live with my aunt, whose husband worked with the Nigeria Railway Corporation. I was 12 when I got to Kano in 1972. He insisted I combined my work with school and that was what I did. I was already 15 years old when I finished primary school education in 1975, and I convinced my uncle to let me face the business to be able to become financially independent as soon as possible to take care of my mother and sisters. He agreed, though reluctantly. In all, I was with him for 8 years, leaving with his family and serving him with other apprentices. In 1980, I opened my first building material shop on France Road and by God’s grace and hard work, I prospered.”
According to Obi, within two years, fortune smiled at him as he added another shop to the first one on France Road, Kano. Today, he has diversified into Hospitality and Real Estate businesses with four hotels (two in Kano and two in Dutse, Jigawa State). By all standards, Chief Obi is an achiever, but his achievement has suddenly become a burden. Despite protest that finding time to see him would be difficult during the just concluded Biennial Convention of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, held in Kano, Chief Obi insisted on meeting our Editor on the recommendation of his niece, to pour out his heart.
Though the interview session was short, Obi was able to say so much. He painted a picture of fear and anxiety that envelope the commercial city of Kano and perhaps other northern cities where the Igbos have businesses. A very meticulous and progressive businessman, Chief Obi believes in one Nigeria and so would do everything humanly possible to hand over an olive branch to dissident voices in the country.
He said: “I feel bad for what the country has become and in particular I’m in pain for the role currently being played by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its paramilitary arm, the Eastern Security Network (ESN). I have witnessed war as a child and I don’t pray for another in my lifetime. In the last six months, the situation in the country has pushed the Igbo business community in the north to the extreme because we have a lot of business interests. Our fear became more intense last weekend following the killing of Alhaj Ahmed Gulak in Owerri. Since then, we have become confused. I have hotels in Kano and Dutse in Jigawa State and I have shops and other properties. Now we are appealing to our people down home to allow peace to reign because of likely reprisal attacks in the north,”
In a related development, the Igbo traditional rulers in the diaspora, under the umbrella body of Association of Eze Nigbo N’uzo Ije, have condemned in strong terms, the assassination of Gulak.
The Ezedioranma IV, Eze Ndigbo His Royal Highness Igwe Dr. Boniface Ibekwe (Ide I) in a statement in Kano on Saturday commiserated with the late Gulak’s family and the nation over the murder he described as a dastardly act.
Dr. Ibekwe, who is the president-general of the Igbo traditional leaders in the diaspora, called on security agents to fish out all those connected to the killing of the former president’s adviser.
The association also sued for peace across regions and warned all groups and individuals drumming for war and raising tensions capable of tearing the nation apart.
Meanwhile, as found out by our correspondents who spoke to Igbo businessmen in Abuja, Nassarwa, Aba and Owerri, the picture painted by Obi in Kano is the same with what is happening almost everywhere in the South West and in the North. The Abuja businessmen didn’t only express sadness over the activities of IPOB and other groups causing crisis in the Eastern part of the country, they appealed to the political leaders, especially the governors and members of the National Assembly from the region to find a way of nipping the crisis in the bud before it consumes their businesses scattered across the country. They also want Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural group in Nigeria that represents all Igbo communities within and outside Nigeria to go home and engage the boys.
Chief Dominic Anyanwu, a top businessman with interest in hospitality, furniture and other businesses in the Federal Capital territory, described what is currently going on in the East as a direct invitation to war. According to him, the Igbos would be the greatest losers if nothing is urgently done to avert the ugly situation.
He said: “For Christ’s sake, the Igbos own at least 80 percent of businesses in Abuja. If anything happens to Nigeria today, we would be the greatest losers. Look, we dominate Apo automobile spare parts market, we dominate Zuba, we are thick in Suleja-Kaduna express way, we own most of the hotels in Abuja, we are the biggest investor in Real Estate, and we are in charge of the malls and supermarkets. Our people are in charge of at least 75 percent of the automobile spare parts market in the entire northern states. Go to the cities, towns and even villages in the north and see our investments. They are mind boggling. Where do we then turn to if anything happens today? Or is it not an irony that our own brothers at home are the ones inviting war on us. It’s appalling that all these are being promoted by a certain Nnamdi Kanu, who is living comfortably in Europe with concubines. If our people continue to attack the Yorubas and Hausas in Igbo land, they are directly inviting woe on us and our businesses. At this stage, I can only appeal to our political leaders to wade in before things get out of hand,”
However, in Owerri, Ikechukwu Eugene, a retired civil servant, also told ACJ that the current crisis is a direct result of leadership failure from both the states and federal governments. “Igbos are blessed with wisdom but the bad ones among us have grown up and the Igbo society is allowing these bad children of hate to be speaking for her. That is a tragedy of full proportion. You see, our own vagabonds are the worst kind of vagabonds. And unfortunately, we have an extremely large number of vagabond Igbos that are overrated in the area of wisdom. My brother, the few wise ones among us will overcome this large army of vagabonds among us.”
“You see, the sit at home order by Ndamdi Kanu/IPOB to mark the Biafran day, was a success. But the people obeyed especially because of the killing of Gulak in Owerri and a retired Judge in Enugu which created much fear among our people and those that could talk have remained silent, but their days are numbered. You will notice that this is not the first time IPOB has called for a stay at home order but it has been a failure. Let the government wake up to its full responsibility and everything will work fine. It may not be immediate, but things will normalise.”
Udechukwu Abraham, Maraba building materials chairman stated that the unprecedented rage of unknown gunmen in the south east is not only worrisome and disturbing, but the rampage on security agents have limited their (traders) movements to and from the east.
“Aside from the skyrocketed prices in goods as a direct result of my brothers’ actions, the silence of our political leaders in the zone is not helping matters. Even with the discrimination and marginalisation, (against Igbos) anywhere you go, we are there. No one should fight for one Nigeria like the Igbos because through sheer hard work, Nigeria has been good to us. Some of the imperfections we don’t like are not only peculiar to Igbos, but other ethnic groups are also facing the same and I believe with good restructuring and orientation we will get there.
The IPOB/ESN will not succeed, rather, they will further paint us in a bad light. My brother, no non-state actor outside of the political leaders in the zone can represent us. Ojukwu was the military leader of the old eastern Nigeria when the Biafran nation was born back in the 60s and only our political leaders can talk on our behalf for meaningful impacts like the Yorubas are doing. If this current carnage continues, we shall be the worst for it. Kanu is a fraud, if you ask him the map of Biafra, he does not know. He wants some ethnic nationalities to join the Biafra of his dream, but he has never sat down to dialogue with any representatives of any organization since he began. Why are other ethnic nationalities not killing security personnel like the ESN? I am pained and annoyed”
Maduabuchi Agoha, an Aba based business man, told ACJ that the genesis of the current violence and lawlessness began in Orlu. “There is nothing like unknown gunmen. Everybody knows every other person. Before the arrival of the incumbent Imo governor, these gunmen were used in maintaining law and order in many parts of the state. Uzodinma even invited them to a dialogue in the government house but we were told it broke down because they were demanding so much money from the government. Rather than pay them or further dialoguing with them, he invited the army and the gang went underground. IPOB/ ESN perceived erroneously that the government hates them and the madness spread across the zone like wild fire because the leaders are far away from the lead. IPOB/ESN couldn’t have made any meaningful impact if the leaders had not left a vacuum. In the short and long term, we are the losers and the earlier the governors of the region come together and dialogue with them, the better for all, otherwise, the collateral damage will be so much that none of us will escape it”
Meanwhile as stakeholders in the Nigerian project, continue to call for calm, members of the business community from Igbo extraction have appealed to the youths from the region to sheath the sword and heed the advice of President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on the need for peace to reign in Nigeria.
When it was obvious the agitators were not yielding to subtle approach, the Imo State Government, backed by the people of the state on Friday gave a matching order to the agitators. In a peaceful protest, which has since gone viral, the people threatened to begin identifying members of IPOB group who are terrorizing the state.