There are indications that separatist leader, and Finland-based factional leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr Simon Ekpa uses propaganda, scare mongering and spreading of false rumours to achieve the many sit-at-home exercises he orders from his base in Finland.
Ekpa had last week ordered a week-long sit at home exercise, threatening in a video, to deal with anyone who dared to come out in all the states of the South East.
This is besides the regular Monday sit-at-home which has become a norm in the South-East for the past two years.
However, there are clear indications that Ekpa deployed propaganda with which he caused tension, fear and grounded many parts of the South-East for one week.
Ekpa claims that the exercise was necessary to pressure the federal government to release the leader of IPOB, Mr Nnamdi Kanu, who has been in the custody of the Department of State Services, DSS.
He has severally been dismissed by the IPOB as an impostor, who is said to be working against Kanu’s release, and has long been expelled from the group.
Feelers show that the latest weapon of the group is to spread terror through unfounded news of gunmen attacks using various social media channels.
Once the rumour of gunmen attack is activated, residents take to their heels.
In Anambra State, the week-long sit at home exercise ordered by Ekpa revealed how he uses falsehood to scare south easterners into obeying his orders.
Ekpa had first circulated rumours of his plan to attack Anambra State on Friday.
Previously, gunmen suspected to be loyal to him were alleged to have attacked Ebonyi and Enugu States.
On Tuesday in Ebonyi, the gunmen, who are said to have already been arrested, destroyed wares at Isieke market.
In Enugu, innocent school children were made to kneel and beg for their lives, a development condemned by a former governor of the state, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani.
Four of the gunmen were said to have been killed Friday morning while attempting to infiltrate the state to enforce sit-at-home.
Also within the week, gunmen enforcing the illegal sit-at-home gunned down several persons in Imo State, including a tricycle rider and his passenger.
The rumour of a planned attack on Anambra was however ignored on Friday, as most markets, motor parks and schools opened for business.
This reporter experienced first hand as propaganda is deployed to destabilise the state. The state remained calm, with businesses going on well until about 10:30 am when rumours of attacks in various parts of the state broke.
Arriving Aguluzigbo in Anaocha Local Government Area, alongside other journalists, to keep an appointment, when the first sign of trouble was experienced.
St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Aguluzigbo was holding a burial mass of a deceased member when journalists arrived to witness a large cache of security men, comprising the police, vigilante operatives and soldiers, all at red alert.
A woman, Mrs Jane, who operates a kiosk was frantically trying to close her shop, but was urged by security operatives not to.
She said: “We have just been alerted that gunmen are operating at Afor Agulu now.”
Surprisingly, this reporter drove past the same Afor Agulu to arrive at Aguluzigbo, and noticed no scare at all, or any incident.
Further probe however showed that no one could identify anyone, who actually experienced attack, or agreed to knowing anyone attacked at Afor Agulu.
The rumour went round the community, causing businesses to hurriedly shut down.
Meanwhile in Awka, it was gathered that parents were already withdrawing their children from school, over rumours that gunmen were operating in other parts of the state.
A parent, Mrs Nwakaego Eleke, who hurriedly withdrew her children from school, said there were rumours that gunmen were operating at Eke Awka market, and would be headed to Aroma afterwards.
But a trader in the market told journalists on phone that there was no attack in the market, rather there was news that Aroma Junction was under siege, and that the gunmen would move to Eke Awka market, afterwards.
In Onitsha, a resident, Mr Felix Eze said: “I heard that six people have so far been killed around Upper Iweka. I’m not in Onitsha now, but I have friends who are giving me updates about the happenings in the town.”
When Eze was asked to ask any of his contacts if they witnessed any attack personally, he called back to say that all stories about attacks were all third party narration, as no one actually witnessed any.
Reacting to the rumours, Anambra State government and police authorities described it as being orchestrated to destabilise the state.
Press secretary to Anambra State governor, Mr Christian Aburime attributed the scare to misrepresentation in Onitsha, where Anambra Vigilante Group (AVG) operatives, who were on patrol were mistaken for illegal gunmen, causing the scare in the state.
Aburime decried the sustained falsehood on social media by people he described as enemies of Anambra State, who have been trying to de-market the state.
In his own reaction, the spokesperson of Anambra State Police command, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga said: “We have observed with great dismay, the mischievous act of persons sharing false security alerts/messages, and doctored old videos of security incidents to cause tension/panic in the State. Given the above, the Command shall invoke relevant cyber laws on persons found wanting in this regard.”
He dismissed allegations of attacks anywhere in the state, saying that the police have adequately mobilised to counter any attack in the state.
A public affairs commentator, Barr Julius Ekemezie said: “When people were running up and down, withdrawing their children from school, I knew it was propaganda.
“Apart from Simon Ekpa, IPOB as a group has mastered the use of propaganda and scare mongering. The only question I asked everyone who spoke about the attack that day was, ‘did you witness it’?
“The truth is no one witnessed any attack, they were just sharing false information.”
The situation is not different in Enugu State where the Governor Peter Mbah-led government has also blamed the sustained sit-at-home on the activities of rumour mongers.
The government has in a statement on Wednesday by Professor Chidiebere Onyia, Secretary to the State Government vowed to go after those who were spreading terror and instilling fear in the minds of residents.
He said such people want to test the government’s resolve “to end the illegal sit-at-home order by intentionally spreading panic and fear among the good people and residents of our state.
“The peddlers and instigators of the fake news and pandemonium are already being tracked down by government and the security agencies with a view to bringing them to book.”
While urging members of the public to disregard the falsehoods and fake images being spread on social media, the state government urged them to “go about their businesses, as security measures are fully in place to enforce law and order as well as safeguard lives and property.
“We must not succumb to the evil machinations of those who have no stake in our state; those who mostly live, work, and educate their children overseas, while destroying the economy of our people and the education and future of our children at home.
“The government hereby reiterates that the ban on sit-at-home in Enugu State stands and will be enforced to the full extent of the law.
“All offices, markets, business premises, schools, among others, remain open and fully functional. Those who want to test the collective resolve and strength of Ndi Enugu will not only be defeated, but will be met with the full wrath of the law,” the government declared.
In a similar statement two days later, the government urged members of the public” to disregard any scaremongers and go about their businesses, as security measures are fully in place to continue to enforce law and order and safeguard lives and property.
“It is noteworthy that many enemies of Enugu State and Igbo land, the hoodlums, anarchists, and criminal elements, who hide under freedom agitation to perpetrate destruction, violent crimes, as well as those who engage in scaremongering through fake videos and images, have been tracked down, apprehended and are being brought to book.
“We are winning the war and therefore call on Ndi Enugu to volunteer information to the authorities on any suspicious person and movement as well as those who use the social media to spread rumours and instigate panic among the members of the public.”
Meanwhile, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo has also accused Ekpa of playing the script of enemies of Igbo land, having allegedly collected huge sums of money to destabilise the region and undermine its progress.
The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation accused Finland-based Ekpa of using the pro-Biafra struggle and Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s name to enrich himself at the expense of the lives and property of Ndigbo.
These were contained in a statement signed by the National President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide, Mazi Okwu Nnabuihe, and made available to newsmen in Enugu on Sunday.
The group described Ekpa’s sit-at-home orders as part of a deal to destroy the economy and social life of the South East, and also de-market it politically.
“We want to make it abundantly clear to Ndigbo, Nigerians, and the international community that Simon Ekpa is not fighting the cause of Biafra or the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
“He has instead sold all of us to our enemies, who are bent on destroying us economically, politically, and socially. He is also actively working against Kanu’s release in order to continue making money, knowing that the Federal Government will continue to detain Kanu so long as Igboland is restive.
“In the same vein, because South-East loss is the gain by other parts of the country, it is obvious Ekpa is being sponsored and encouraged to destroy and keep the region down, which is seen in the high loss of investments and the migration of existing ones to other parts of the country”.
Ohanaeze also called out the government of Finland for what it described as the European nation’s complicity in the bloodletting and havoc in the South-East region.
“We want to put it to the Government of Finland that it cannot count itself innocent of all the atrocities and the killings that enforcers of Ekpa’s insane sit-at-homes in the South-East region.
“We cannot stop wondering why such a society renowned for its high value for human life will continue to harbour Ekpa and also allow Ekpa to freely incite disaster and direct wanton destruction of lives and property in Igboland. Will they also treat him with kid gloves should his utterances and actions lead to the death of a single Finnish citizen?” Okwu queried.