Stay-away to Mark Biafra Secession Bid Shuts Nigerian Businesses

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A stay-away shuttered banks and markets in five southeastern Nigerian states as residents heeded a call by a separatist group to commemorate the failed declaration of the Biafra region’s independence 54 years ago.

The cities of Onitsha, Aba, Enugu and Awka were deserted as businesses closed for the day. Some firms were partially shut in other parts of the Niger Delta, including the town of Oyigbo, which has been previously targeted in separatist attacks.

“Awka, the capital of Anambra State, is empty of people,” James Eze, a government spokesman, said by phone from the city on Monday.

The Indigenous People of Biafra, or IPOB, called for the stay-away to mark the May 30, 1967 anniversary of the region’s declaration of independence. The bid to establish an autonomous state in southeastern Nigeria sparked a civil war in which more than a million people died.

“All of the cities of the southeast are deserted,” said Richard Agwu, director of the Institute of Professional Industrialists and Management Development that represents about 100 companies in the southeast. “Vehicles are not on the road, except those of the military and police. Banks are not open, shops are closed and government workers are also at their homes.”

Separatist groups including IPOB and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra have renewed campaigns for the region’s independence after Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, won presidential elections in 2015. The groups accuse Buhari’s government of marginalizing the region in political appointments and the distribution of infrastructure.

Buhari declared IPOB a terrorist group in 2017. Its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, fled the country the following year after facing trial for treason. Besides IPOB, Nigerian authorities are struggling to deal with a decade-long Islamist insurgency in the northeast and increasing clashes between nomadic herders and crop farmers in the north-central region.

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