IPOB sits at home for Buhari is Punch Columnist ABIMBOLA ADELAKUN’s interrogation of the latest methods for pressing the Biafran agitation.

Barring last-minute considerations, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), will arrive Owerri, the Imo State capital, today (9 September 2021). If the officials of the Indigenous People of Biafra have their way with the sit-at-home order they asked the state residents to observe, it is possible that Buhari’s motorcade will drive through mostly emptied streets. Also, the events organised in his honour likely scaled back to prevent any embarrassing breakdown in law and order.

According to IPOB, Buhari is not welcome to any part of “Biafraland”, and everyone must stay away from any event meant to honour him. Knowing how much brutality IPOB has now used to enforce their increasingly frequent sit-at-home orders, it will be hard for anyone to defy them. Compliance with the directive to dishonour Buhari will thus be near-total.

But the question is, does Buhari even care?

Buhari has been a politician long enough to know that presidential visits are a clown show that you still have to pay an audience to watch. Otherwise, who has the time? Even in the best of situations, it is hard for anyone to put aside the pursuit of their daily bread to go welcome a president. The non-political elites who appear at the venues where they host presidents are only there because someone would press rolls of naira into their hands later. Already, presidential visits are even a logistical nuisance and a massive disruption to people’s schedules. Many people would rather do without it for their entire lives.

IPOB needs to develop strategies that will register their dissent and which do not include depriving the people of their basic rights…

Abimbola Adelakun

The folks who need presidential visits are the state governors and their fellow politicians, who have to be there just so they can appear to the public as ultimately relevant in the scheme of things. Each time the President proposes to visit a state in Nigeria, the governor prepares all kinds of projects for inauguration by the presidential visit. They could have done without the ceremony, but those projects are not considered valid until they become a photo op. In short, a presidential visit is for everybody in the state except for the people who actually live there.

Denying the people of the state their right to free movement in order to show Buhari that he is not welcome in Owerri is therefore a waste of time. Neither the man nor his hosts fully reckon with the existence of anyone outside their coterie enough to miss their absence.

Of course, what is at stake here with the IPOB declaration is much more than the directive to people not to leave their homes. On a broader level, it is also a contest of political legitimacy between the governors and the political class who embody democratic authority and IPOB leaders who seek to delegitimise and usurp that authority.

IPOB sits at home for Buhari

The politicians, on their part, find themselves in a quandary. They have to play the politics of loyalty to the President, the man who holds all the political power in Nigeria and can determine their destiny. That is why someone like Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State sucks up to political power. Umahi, grovelling before the almighty power of Aso Rock, went as far as claiming to have prayed for another president with a “kind heart” like Buhari come 2023.

At the same time, these governors are also compelled to acknowledge the disaffection of their people who, like most Nigerians, are disenchanted with the current regime.

On the other hand, IPOB has been pushing to assert itself as a shadow government and has not been shy in using violence to achieve that aim. Although they once represented the face of political resistance to a repressive national order, they have gradually morphed. They have moved from agitating against the excessive power abuse held by the Nigerian state they no longer consider legitimate to attacking the very people they should be protecting. For instance, who do they suppose would be hurt by their latest stay-at-home order? It cannot be Buhari; the man is impervious to the very existence of Nigerians.

The victims of this muscle-flexing by IPOB are the ordinary people, from the heads of families who have to fend for a living to the schoolchildren who, unfortunately, will miss another day of learning. Why take people through such massive inconvenience to their lives just to disgrace Buhari? It makes no difference to the man, and the same people who should be shielded from him are only being victimised.

IPOB needs to develop strategies that will register their dissent and which do not include depriving the people of their basic rights…

IPOB sits at home for Buhari

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