Teddy Oscar, Abuja
Members of the Senate on Thursday berated the Imo State governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, over his infamous contemplated policy of issuing identification cards to northerners residing in Imo State.
Okorocha said that the policy is aimed at preventing Boko Haram insurgents from infiltrating the ranks of northerners in the state.
But Okorocha’s policy came under heavy criticism by members of the Senate, who advised the governor to rescind the unpopular policy without further delay.
Consequently, the Senate called on President Goodluck Jonathan to direct security agencies not to partner with the state government in the implementation of the policy.
This was sequel to a motion moved against the policy by the deputy Senate leader, Senator Abdul Ningi, who cited relevant sections of the constitution, which the proposed policy contravenes.
Ningi argued that the policy contravenes the provisions of sections 41(1) and 42(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, which guarantee amongst 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 observed that the policy, if not reversed, is tantamount to gross abuse of the citizens rights.
“And if not checked, it could throw the entire country into chaos, and threaten the survival of the nation’s democracy,” he added.
Speaking in support of the motion, the Senate leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, described the policy as wrongheaded, unconstitutional and discriminatory.
He lampooned the governor for even contemplating such a policy at this level of the nationhood.
“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,” he said.
Senator James Manager, who also condemned the policy in its totality, described it as evil and dangerous for the survival of Nigeria as a nation.
“The situation in Nigeria presently is not that of China or Hong Kong, where people need to be 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,” he urged.
Senator Ahmed Lawan, who threatened a northern retaliation of the policy, if not reversed, likened the proposed policy to apartheid regime in South Africa of past years, where the blacks were expected to carry cards as a form of pass to access white dominated areas.
“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,” he threatened.
At this juncture, the deputy Senate president, Ike EKweremadu, quickly interject by calling on the senators to debate the motion as patriotic Nigerians and not as senators from south or northern part of the country.
Other senators, including: Hellen Esuene, Smart Adeyemi, Mohammed Tukur Bello, Martin Nwaogwu, Olugbenga Kaka, Ita Enang, etc also debated the motion by condemning the policy in its entirety.
But the condemnation took a more potent dimension when Senator Chris Anyanwu from Imo State hit harder on the governor in her own contribution.
She described Okorocha as a man full of himself, who always works on his own and above the law without carrying anybody in the state along.
“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,” she concluded.
In his own remarks before putting the two prayers of the motion to vote, Ekeremadu, who presided over the session, thanked the senators for being very patriotic in their contributions over the matter.
He, however, lamented that ethnicity still remains 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 have been indulging in Boko Haram insurgency or terrorism does not make all northerners to be seen or classified as terrorists.
“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,” he said.
The motion is entitled: the issuance of identification card to northerners residing in Imo State – urgent call for policy reversal.