Enugu Sit-at-home Crisis: Compensate families of protesters killed during protest, coalition tells Governor Mbah

Gov. Mbah

 

An umbrella body of civic society organisations in Enugu, the Enugu Network of Civil Society Organisations (ENSNet), has slammed Governor Peter Mbah-led government over the killing of protesters following the sealing of their businesses because they didn’t trade on Monday in alleged observance of the sit-at-home order.

Security agencies deployed by the state government to Ogbete Main Market on Wednesday killed two traders and injured several others when traders took to the streets to protest the sealing of their shops by the government for not opening for business on Monday.

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group agitating for the separate state of Biafra, in September 2021 called for a sit-at-home protest in the South East Region every Monday to force the Nigerian government to release its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who has been in custody since June 2021.

The group later cancelled the order, saying it would affect businesses in the region.

However, a self-proclaimed disciple of Kanu based in Finland, Simon Ekpa, has insisted that the sit-at-home protest would continue to hold.

Meanwhile, residents of the South East including Enugu State have been observing the sit-at-home on Mondays, largely out of fear of being attacked by hoodlums who have been implementing the sit-at-home directive.

But on July 5, 2023, Governor Mbah declared a ban on sit-at-home, insisting that the protest is ruining the economy of the state.

He subsequently warned that any business, market, or school that fail to open on Mondays would be shut indefinitely.

True to his threats on Monday, Mbah began to seal businesses and banks he accused of observing sit-at-home. In the end, he sealed over 106 shops and malls and vowed that the sealed shops would remain closed for one week before his government could consider whether to unseal or auction the shops off if certain conditions were not met.

Reacting in a statement issued on Thursday, titled: “Condemnation of the use of force against protesting traders in Enugu State,” ENSNet called on Governor Mbah to immediately open all shops sealed, describing the attack on the traders as simply a show of raw power that lacks constitutional backing.

Signed by Comrades Osmond Ugwu and Ugonna Ozor, its President and Secretary respectively, the Network called on Governor Mbah to locate the families of those gruesomely killed during the protest by security agents and pay them adequate compensation, while those that sustained injuries should be treated and paid necessary compensations for damages suffered because of the government’s action.

While the group shares the same position on the economic implications of the sit-at-home on residents and the people of the region, it however, condemned the approach taken by the Enugu State Government which it described as “not the best practice and running counter to democratic norms.”

ENSNet maintained that the action of sealing off the shops of traders who voluntarily decided not to open shops on Mondays is tantamount to ultra vires as the state government under a democratic setting has no such powers to seal or close down shops of traders because no law empowers it to do so.

Citing constitutional provisions, the group said, “For the avoidance of doubt, those shops were genuinely acquired via the local government and the right to property as provided in chapter four (4) of the 1999 constitution as amended has been conferred on the owners of those shops and no individual or the Government has the power to take it away from them without following the due process of the law; of which the sealing off of the shops is certainly not part of it.

“Such action of the government is to the least can be described as “totalitarian in nature” and amounts to intimidation and suppression of citizenry.

“That the government of Enugu State should locate the families of the casualties of the protest and pay them the necessary compensations arising from the loss of lives while those that sustained injuries are to be treated and paid necessary compensations as damages sustained in the course of the protest occasioned by the action of the State.”

The organisation which is the umbrella body of civil society organisations in Enugu State, said that it is preposterous to hear the government linking the ugly recent at the market to the alleged invasion of imported miscreants when the same government told traders that there was adequate security in every part of Enugu metropolis including around Ogbete Main Market and that they should come out on Mondays for business.

“We call on Amnesty International, National Human Rights Commission and other relevant Human Right Defenders to intervene in this case and monitor development in Enugu State to avoid the escalation of use of force and intimidation on the citizens by the government in the course of further enforcement of the ban on sit-at-home order of the state government as well as to ensure that necessary compensations are paid to the victims of the attack on the protesters and their families.

“That the Government of Enugu State should rescind its conditions for unsealing of those shops and unseal the shops in the interest of justice, peace, integrity and honour and stop using “force” and “intimidation” to secure compliance to the ban as such approaches constitute aberration to democracy. Democracy requires persuasion and dialogue and not intimidation,” the statement partly read.

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