Markets and businesses closed down Monday and streets were mostly deserted in cities across southeast Nigeria, residents said after a separatist group called for a protest over the arrest of its leader.
The outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra movement (IPOB), which wants a separate state for the ethnic Igbo people in the southeast, has called for businesses to close every Monday in the region.
IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu is still being held by the Department of State Services intelligence agency after his lawyers say he was arrested in June in Kenya and extradited back to Nigeria to face trial.
In Owerri, capital of Imo state, normally bustling main roads were mostly deserted Monday morning as many shops and markets closed in compliance with the IPOB protest, residents said.
“I never believed that this order will take effect like this,” said Chinonso Agomuo, a local trader. “See the roads, no one is on the road.
“Nobody goes to the market because no one will come and buy what you are selling.”
In Enugu city in southeastern Enugu state, some main streets were also quiet.
“Banks are not working. Even markets are all locked,” said motorist Christian Ekekwe.
IPOB spokesman Emmanuel Powerful has called for a 6:00 am to 6:00 pm protest every Monday to demand Kanu’s immediate release.
Crackdown on separatists
Separatist tensions frequently flare up in southeast Nigeria, where a 1967 unilateral declaration of an independence for a Biafra republic by Igbo army officers triggered a 30-month civil war that left one million people dead.
The region has seen a spike in violence this year, with attacks on about 20 police stations that authorities blamed on IPOB and its armed wing the Eastern Security Network.
IPOB has repeatedly denied responsiblity.
Earlier this year, the group called a similar shutdown protest across the southeast to mark the anniversary of the Biafra civil war.
The trial of Kanu, 53, resumed last month in Abuja where he faces terrorism and treasonable felony charges among others.
Nigerian officials have said only that Kanu was brought back after he jumped bail and went on the run in 2017. They have given no details about where he was detained.
His family and lawyers say he was illegally arrested in June while in Kenya, tortured and flown back to Nigeria.
His arrest was just one action taken by President Muhammadu Buhari’s government against separatist agitators in Africa’s most populous nation.
Another activist, Sunday Igboho, who advocates for independence for the southwestern Yoruba people, was arrested last month at the airport in neighbouring Benin, police and airport sources said.
Igboho, who faces extradition back to Nigeria, had been on the run after a gun battle with security forces that killed two of his men, and after weapons and ammunition were discovered at his home.