Umuahia – Commercial banks, markets and business outlets in Umuahia, the Abia capital, opened for business on Friday, defying the sit-at-home order by the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB).
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the city was initially enveloped by an air of uncertainty in the early hours of the day as residents and commuters kept off the streets.
Business, however, began to pick up at about 7.30 a.m., when commercial vehicle operators, banks, markets and business premises began to open for the day’s activities.
As at the time of this report, business activities as well as vehicular movements and motor parks had resumed fully in Umuahia and its environs.
Government offices, public institutions and Automated Teller Machines as well as private outfits were open, while kiosks and roadside businesses went on unhindered.
Meanwhile, a detachment of anti-riot mobile policemen, army, navy and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps was seen moving through major streets and strategic points in the city.
NAN reports that private and public schools, however, did not open as the authorities reportedly advised the students and pupils to stay back home for fear of any violence.
A cross-section of the residents expressed displeasure with the IPOB order, saying that it was capable of instigating uprising against the Federal Government in the South-East.
A civil servant, who identified himself simply as Christian, said that the group’s activities could cause tension in the area.
“What we need are ideas and programmes that will encourage investors to establish their businesses in the South-East and not activities that project the region in bad light.”
A commuter-bus operator, Mr Nnamdi Ogbonna, said that no fewer than 15 soldiers in two Toyota Hilux vans were parked at the Umuahia South Local Government headquarters, when he resumed for the day’s business at about 7 a.m.
Ogbonna cautioned the people to be law-abiding, saying that it would be foolhardy for anybody or group to confront the Federal Government.
Also commenting, a trader, Mrs Nkechi Nnadozie, expressed concern that the pro-Biafra group decided to continue its activities after is proscription by the Federal Government.
Nnadozie said that she was not interested in any activity that would affect her business.
NAN observed that traders freely displayed their wares without any molestation at the Ubani Ultra Modern Market and Isi-Gate both in Umuahia.
The traders said that they were aware of the IPOB order but decided to open for business in order to get their daily bread.
Mr Johnson Onyekwere, a dealer in kitchen utensils, said that although he had sympathy for IPOB, he came to market because he could not afford to idle away his time at home.
“I opened my shop but I did not display all the goods as usual. I don’t like to stay at home. Nobody has come to harass us since we opened this morning,” he said.
Also, Mr Onyekachi Nwankwo, a textile dealer, said he had no reason to stay at home.
According to Nwankwo, only the die-hard supporters of Biafra will observe the order.
“I came to the market as early as 7.30 a.m. and as you can see, I’m displaying my goods.
“Will those who asked me to sit at home put food on my table?” Nwankwo asked.
Similarly, Mrs Chinyere Onwuegbu, a petty trader at Isi-Gate, said she contemplated staying back home but later changed her mind.
“I came to the market by 9.30 a.m., after I learnt that there was movement. We are suffering too much in this country. I pray for a genuine change.
“But if I don’t sell today there won’t be food at home for me and my family. This thing you see me sell is what I use to take care of my children,” she said.
Mr Chijioke Kalu, who sells fairly used wears on the railway line at Isigate, decried last year’s incident in Umuahia, where many innocent people were reportedly killed during a military operation to quell the activities of IPOB.
He expressed the hope that people would not put their lives at risk under the guise of agitating for Biafra.
The situation was, however, different in Aba, the commercial hub of the state, where the order allegedly recorded partial compliance in the early hours of the day.
NAN learnt that while banks remained closed, markets and other business outlets in the city and its environs began to open for business at about midday.
Security operatives were also said to be keeping surveillance in the city to avert a possible breach of public peace in the area.
NAN reports that a combined team of security agencies in the state on Wednesday organised a show-of-force parade in Umuahia to demonstrate their readiness to quell any acts of violence or threat to peace and order.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Abia Police Command, SP Geoffrey Ogbonna, told NAN in a telephone interview that the entire state was calm and that residents were going about their lawful duties unmolested.
Ogbonna said that the command had not recorded any breach of the peace, adding that security agencies were on top of the situation in the state.