As the yuletide season gears up in the country, apprehensions over insecurity are hindering the usual mass travels to the South East for the celebrations.
Millions of indigenes of the South East fix major cultural, traditional, religious and family events in the yuletide season, which is around December 15 to January 15, and this triggers mass travels and exodus from other parts of the country into the area.
However, inquiries by our reporters show that there has been a significant apathy towards travels to the South East resulting in reduced activities in motor parks and airports.
Following the agitation for secession by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which has spun out of control as different criminal elements, including violent agitators, bandits, kidnappers, cultists, contract killers and Ebubeagu have gone on the rampage, the usual peaceful atmosphere in the South East have been replaced with perpetual tension, especially on the highways.
The inflationary trends and the skyrocketing prices of commodities, which have worsened the poverty levels in the country, is another reason for the reduced interest in travels this yuletide, some respondents said.
Some residents of Lagos who have had the habit of visiting home in the East over the years during the yuletide, confirm that Igbo indigenes are not enthusiastic about visiting home this year due to the tense atmosphere in the zone.
A salesman, Francis Nzediegwu, who recently had his wedding confirmed said that he would not be traveling this December, explaining that the cost of transportation has doubled and the East is presently volatile.
“For the first time in a long while also, I will not be traveling for the Christmas celebrations,” he said.
An entrepreneur, Ebuka Ndive, who also confirmed that he will not be travelling said it is majorly because of the situation in the East, adding that this is the first time he would not travel to home.
Business owner, Johnson Ezeliora, who recently visited the South East said though it is not as bad as it is being portrayed, he will not be traveling because of the increase in prices of goods.
“Business has not been good. If I travel, I would spend a lot of money and we do not know what next year holds for us. I will spend Christmas in Lagos,” he said.
A businessman, Oba Kalu, usually drives during this period with his family. But he informed Daily Trust that he won’t be doing so this time around, adding that he would visit the East alone to attend to some pressing family events.
Another businessman based in Okigwe, Imo State, who pleaded anonymity, said the situation in the state is tense and no family would encourage their loved ones to return to the South East whether from other parts of Nigeria or abroad as the situation is unpredictable and many are leaving the zone in droves.
“The unknown gunmen led by Simon Ekpa are terrorising the entire zone. They can emerge from nowhere and attack the army and provoke their reprisals against the populace,” he said.
A lull at motor parks
A check at the popular motor park in Jibowu, Lagos and similar parks in the FCT also revealed that most people were not travelling to the region in large numbers as they usually do at this time of the year.
One of the bus drivers, Jude Nwankwo, said they are expecting an increase in the number of travellers from December 24.
“I don’t think insecurity is the major issue. The price of transport has gone up. From Lagos to Nnewi is now between N25,000 and N28,000. It is the same for Port Harcourt. In fact, you can’t go anywhere in the South East from Lagos with less than N23,000,” he said.
A traveller at the park, who identified himself as Simeon said other people are taking advantage of the insecurity in the region.
The current insecurity is not caused by IPOB. What we have now are gunmen masquerading as IPOB. I am travelling because I have no fear,” he said.
Passengers who spoke to our correspondent in Abuja expressed worry over the Christmas trip.
Johnson Ojunta, traveling to Abia from Nyanya Park, said although insecurity lingers in the East, he is left with no option.
Ojunta said, “I just have to travel because it has been a long time since I went home. My parents are expecting me. I have five children but as you can see, I am traveling alone. Whatever will happen will happen.”
Emeka Uche, who lives in Kubwa, and travels to Imo State to celebrate Christmas with family and friends yearly, said the tradition had been put at risk by insecurity.
“I have already decided that I won’t travel home this year due to the insecurity in the country, particularly in the South East. People are being killed and kidnapped. It’s safer to remain where you are until the security situation improves,” he said.
A father of three, Ikechukwu Daniel, said he was still watching if IPOB would give any order capable of compromising Christmas and New Year celebrations in the South East.
He said, “I may risk going home for Christmas but my wife and children will not go. Let us not put too many lives at risk. If IPOB comes out with any order that will not allow people to enjoy themselves during the celebration, I better stay back in Abuja, but if nothing like that happens, I will join my colleagues to travel home. People are scared of being killed, kidnapped, or wounded.”
Reports from the popular Gwagwalada Motor Park indicate a low level of people travelling to the East from the park compared to last year.
A driver at the park attributed the situation to the insecurity in the zone, saying the current economic situation in the country is also a factor.
Igbos in the North not travelling en masse
From states in the far North, Igbo indigenes also identified insecurity and the high cost of transportation as a result of fuel scarcity for the decline in the number of people travelling to for the Christmas.
Daily Trust gathered from many Igbo residents in Kaduna and Niger states that there is uncertainty on whether they will travel to the South East or not.
Our correspondent who went around the Abdulkadir Kure Market in Minna on Tuesday observed that most of the Igbo traders had not travelled for the celebration.
Emeka Moses, who is from Enugu State, however, told Daily Trust that many Igbos do not travel during the Christmas period but wait to travel for the New Year celebration.
Moses said he plans to travel to Enugu State immediately after Christmas, despite the security situation and the high cost of transportation.
Insecurity in the east will not stop us from travelling to our villages for the festivities,” he said.
His explanations were similar to Hope Ogbonna, a resident of Kaduna State who told Daily Trust that she will be traveling to Anambra State at the weekend despite the security challenges.
“The transport fare has almost doubled and there is insecurity in Anambra State, but I believe there will be no problem as long as one can monitor his or her movement,” she said.
Ogbonna explained that: “If you don’t stay out late and you mind the places you visit, I believe you will be fine”.
But Isaac Okoro, who sells electronics in Kaduna says he may not travel this year due to the high cost of transportation.
“We are still observing the situation, do you know how much is a bag of rice at the moment? It is not the insecurity that is the problem but the cost of living,” he said. However, the President of the Igbo Community Welfare Association in Kaduna, Francis Uchenna Ani said there is a decline in the number of people traveling to the South East this year. He said the cost of feeding, transportation and insecurity were the major factors.
“But another thing is that even if people don’t travel for Christmas, every year, people will be traveling for other festivities such as burial or traditional marriages. Anytime from December 27, people will be traveling home, we must try to reach our villages at the end of the year to recount our stock,” he said.
In Kano State, many Igbos not travelling en masse to the South for Christmas have been linked to economic hardship, insecurity and the risk of plying the roads.
A businessman in Abubakar Rimi Market in Kano, Ifeanyi Anosoke Frank, said he has no intention of travelling either alone or with his family for Christmas due to the economic hardship as his business had not been doing well in the last 12 months.
I am not going anywhere because I can’t afford that. I would have loved to but, honestly, things are not in our favour,” he said.
“I have three kids, my wife and myself, beside the burden of providing clothes and other needs, one has to be very calculative.”
For Chukwudi Ibekwe, who works with a private firm in Sharada Industrial Area, it is all about taking the risk of plying Nigeria roads, which he said counts lots of uncertainty and cannot afford.
“My brother, we all know how Nigerian roads are. I don’t have a car and I cannot pack my family in this time of insecurity and bad roads to start a journey like that.
“I wanted to go alone, but my children will not be happy celebrating Christmas without me just as I wanted to go and celebrate with my parents,” he said.
The case is different with a 45-year-old spare parts dealer, Chukwunonso Ebuka, who said, despite all the risk, insecurity and economic hardships, he will be going home.
“If I have to borrow, I am going home, my brother. This is the only time I have to visit and reunite with family members that are also far away living elsewhere.
“You might not be opportune to meet someone again in a lifetime. What will be will be and it’s worth risking it for,” he added.
Relocating as double jeopardy for some
For some Igbo indigenes, who returned to the South East due to insecurity in other parts of the country in the past years, the discomfort of having to relocate out of the zone with its present security challenges is a case of double jeopardy.
Chike Ugochukwu, a native of Enugu State, but a resident in Abuja whose native community has been attacked by kidnappers and armed herdsmen, his efforts to get his senior brother to relocate from the village has proved futile because he returned from other insecure parts of the country.
“We have a situation with our older brother who has insisted on staying put at the village. He relocated from the North to the village last year. His position is that insecurity cannot pursue him home from the North and the same thing will pursue him from his place of birth,” she said.
He, however, vowed to ensure that he relocates his family members from the village to Abuja before long.
“Whichever way it is, this Christmas celebration will be low-key in our village because people are leaving for the city rather than going home to celebrate,” he said.