Tension heightened in most states in the South East zone on Thursday as the residents discussed the protests and sit-at-home order fixed for today by members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB).
The apprehension was further increased by the heavy presence of security operatives in some major highways, towns and cities in the states.
The IPOB said the protests, which it scheduled to hold in over 100 countries, were meant to draw the attention of the international community to the Federal Government’s continued detention of the group’s leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
Most residents in the Eastern states have shelved their engagements and programmes for today to avoid molestation by the pro-Biafra agitators.
Although the security agencies have allayed the fears of the people and asked them to go about their normal businesses, there were speculations yesterday that markets in Anambra State, particularly those in Onitsha, Awka, Ekwulobia, Umunze, Ihiala and Nnewi, would be shut.
Worried parents have also resolved not to allow their children and wards to go to school today. They appealed to the proprietors of schools to shut them.
Following raids on IPOB and the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), they have relocated to the hinterlands to strategise for the protests.
IPOB spokesperson, Emma Powerful, did not want to speak on the issue when contacted but asked the reporter: “If your life is threatened when you are unarmed, by people who are armed to the teeth, what would you do?”
A leader of MASSOB denied that the group was holding its meetings in farmlands. He said the people seen by the farmers in bushes might be Fulani herdsmen.
But reports from some rural communities in Anambra showed that due to constant harassment and arrests by the police and the military, IPOB and MASSOB members now hold their meetings in remote and riverine communities in the state.
A farmer in Olumbanasa community, Anambra West Local Government Area, on condition of anonymity that he saw members of the two groups severally in farm lands, bushes, primary schools and uncompleted buildings in the area holding meetings.
He stated that the groups took advantage of the poor presence of the police and the army at the areas to put fear on the rural people, adding, however, that sometimes in the past, especially during the planning stage for the burial of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the groups visited some communities in the council and sensitised them on their activities.
The farmer said that the communities did not inform the police about the development because the agitators were harmless, adding however that the local vigilantes were aware of the visitors’ activities.
The new Police Commissioner in Anambra State, Mr. Sam Okaula, said that the Command would not tolerate any form of lawlessness from any group, adding that the police would form alliance with local vigilante groups to stem the tide.
He said: “We’ve not gotten any report that MASSOB and IPOB are holding meetings in remote areas as you said. However, we are going to beef up police/vigilante cooperation in rural communities with a view to stemming the tide. We are going to nip their activities in the bud, because we cannot tolerate any form of lawlessness from any group”.
Okaula advised rural dwellers to police themselves by being vigilant and report any suspicious movement to security agents.
Meanwhile, a splinter group from the IPOB and MASSOB has distanced itself from the planned protest.
In a statement yesterday, the group said: “We, the Indigenous People of Biafra and MASSOB hereby disassociate ourselves from the directives of Radio Biafra broadcasting from overseas that people should stay indoors on Friday, September 23, in solidarity for the release of Nnamdi Kanu”.
The directive to ignore the indoor protest was issued by a Coalition of the IPOB and MASSOB.
In a statement signed by the Coordinator and Secretary of the coalition, Messrs Okanu Muoneme and Basil Okwuzi, issued in Awka, the group said it would no longer allow the death of their members for avoidable reasons.