Boko Haram: Senate rejects Imo State bid to issue ID cards to northerners

By The Citizen
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The Senate yesterday slammed Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State over his proposed Identification Card issuance for the people of Northern extraction living in the state, following alleged infiltration of the state by the Boko Haram sect.

The Police in Imo State had recently discovered bombs allegedly planted in a Pentecostal Church in the state, which was said to have been planted by the Boko Haram sect.

Governor Okorocha was said to have come up with the issuance of identity card for northerners residing in the state for easy identification in order to fish out strange faces, but this policy attracted the wrath of the Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi (PDP Bauchi Central), who condemned it, quoting relevant sections of the nation's constitution to back up his condemnation of the proposed policy.

Ningi in the motion, titled: ' The Issuance of Identification Card to Northerners residing in Imo State - Urgent call for policy reversal,' noted with serious concern recent government policy statement issued by Imo State government, directing all Northerners residing or staying in the state to be issued with an identification card.

He argued that the policy contravened the provisions of section 41(1) and 42(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended which guarantee among others, free movement of Nigerians from any part of the country to the other and right of residence without any inhibition or condition whatsoever.

He added that the policy, if not reversed, was tantamount to gross abuse of the citizens' rights and if not checked, could throw the entire country into chaos and threaten the survival of the nation's democracy. Rising in support of the motion, the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, described the policy as wrongheaded, unconstitutional and discriminatory and lampooned the governor for ever contemplating such a policy at this level of nationhood.

He said: 'Yes, right away, Nigeria is passing through the most difficult period of our history even worse than the civil war going by the kind of anxiety enveloping the country presently as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency but that should not be used as a license by any governor or anybody to go out of our constitutional provisions in coming up with a policy to tackle the problem.

'This policy is discriminatory and unconstitutional and must be rejected from the onset by all concerned Nigerians. I condemn it in its entirety and urge all stakeholders coming up with any policy to address the security challenges facing the nation , to tackle them within the confines of our constitution.'

Also condemning the policy, Senator James Manager, representing Delta South, stated that the policy was evil and dangerous for the survival of Nigeria as a nation.

Senator Manager said:   'The situation in Nigeria presently  is not that of China or Hong kong where people need to discriminated against when moving from one part to the other, People of Imo state are different from the government that came with this obnoxious policy and they must join other Nigerians outside their state to condemn it.'

But Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC Yobe North), threatened Northern retaliation of the policy if not reversed and likened the proposed policy to apartheid regime in South Africa of past years ,where the blacks were expected to carry cards in the form of pass, to access white dominated areas.

He said, 'The policy is abominable, unacceptable and certainly driven to cause disunity in the country. We Northerners will not accept this. If you do this to us in Imo, we shall definitely retaliate.' His alleged threat drew the quick interjection of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session as he called on the senators to debate the motion as patriotic Nigerians and not as senators from South or Northern part of the country.

Making her own contribution, Senator Chris Anyanwu, who represents Imo East, described Governor Okorocha as a man full of himself and working on his own and above the law without carrying anybody in the state along. Senator Anyanwu, said:  'Today,  the governor of Imo State has drawn an unusual attention to himself because he failed to respect the constitutional provision of free movement, free association,  free worship which are well cherished by our people.

'Our people are the best travelled and most liberal minded in the World.  We are highly accommodating. We are a people that are very friendly to the extent that we have a settlement for the Hausa people in Owerri who had been living there for generations. 'I have some of the Hausa children, most of whom are speaking better Igbo language, on my scholarship scheme while I have been sending some of their parents on Hajj.

'However, someone, somewhere, who doesn't respect the constitution of Nigeria, who doesn't respect the law, who doesn't believe in due process,  and who doesn't understand our people suddenly wakes up one morning and introduced a policy that tends to create enmity between us and our beloved neighbours.

'We cannot plead on his behalf because we did not believe in his policy and he is a governor that doesn't listen to the advice of his people' In his own remarks before putting the two prayers of the motion to vote, the Deputy Senate President Senator Ekweremadu, thanked the senators for being very patriotic in the contributions over the matter but lamented that ethnicity still remained one of the problems affecting the nationhood drive of Nigeria over the years.

He joined the other senators to condemn the policy by saying that the fact that some Northerners had been indulging in Boko Haram insurgency or terrorism did not make all Northerners to be seen or classified as terrorists.

He said:  'Regrettably in this country we have a strong sense of ethnicity profiling. We must find a way that only the guilt suffered for whatever offence committed and not innocent ones of his or her ethnic stock , doing that I strongly believed, will better make Nigerians live peacefully with one another and more united'.

Consequently the Senate as suggested in the motion, called on President Jonathan to direct security agencies not to partner with Imo state government in the implementation of the policy and also urged the Imo state government to rescind forthwith, the policy.