Teddy Oscar, Abuja
The Senate on Tuesday paid deaf ears to Governor Rochas Okorocha’s demand for an apology, following the Red Chambers’ condemnation of the governor’s alleged proposed policy to issue identification cards to northerners resident in Imo State as a way to checkmate the Boko Haram insurgents from infiltrating the state.
But an attempt to probe the policy in the House of Representatives on Tuesday was turned down by members on the floor of plenary.
Members of the Senate had unanimously condemned the alleged plan to institute a policy of issuing identification cards to northerners.
But Okorocha demanded an open apology from the Senate over accusation.
He accused the senators of engaging themselves in unwarranted blackmail of the state government.
Okorocha’s reaction was made known through a statement, which was signed by the senior special assistant to Imo State governor on media, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo.
“The Imo State government wishes to take exception to what transpired in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly, the Senate, on Thursday, July 3, 2014 during which the distinguished senators engaged in wild goose chase by allowing themselves to be deceived into deliberating and having resolutions on a matter that does not exist in Imo State and that is the claimed registration of northerners in Imo State with a view of issuing them identification cards.
“It is curious that this allegation against the Imo State government registering northerners in the state began in Abuja and being discussed in Abuja and appears strange to the Imo State Government and the citizenry in general.
“First, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, Alhaji Suleiman Kawu Sumaila was the first to issue a release in Abuja on the allegation, and the Imo State government reacted immediately. The government’s reaction denying the allegation in its entirety was widely reported in the media, including the Daily Trust, and Daily Sun of Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
“And in spite of the stout denial of the Imo State government that it has not begun to register northerners in the state or people from any other part of the country, the distinguished senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria seen by most people, as the conscience of the nation because of the calibre of Nigerians there, still went ahead to discuss the matter and taking decisions on that, and we consider the action of the senators as most unfortunate. It is irritating, to say the least.
“We know those behind this blackmail. The same people, who deceived Charly Boy into action of absurdity, were also behind the blackmail in the Senate. They used the senators because the three senators in the Senate are all of the PDP and all governorship aspirants, who want to replace Governor Rochas Okorocha. They are entitled to their aspirations, but our worry is the crude tactics they have employed.
“We want to tell Nigerians that the Imo State government has not, and does not have any plan to register northerners in the state with the aim of issuing them ID cards. We stand to be challenged or contradicted on this denial.
“It is even disturbing that the senate could not even send at least two senators to Imo State to find out the truth. Or even find out from some of the northerners in the state. The allegation is heavily political. It has no iota of truth. It is a wicked blackmail aimed at distorting the popularity of Governor Okorocha in the North.
“However, it calls for concern that those, who told the world that Governor Okorocha allowed many northerners to come into the state, which they said caused the Winner’s Chapel bomb incident, are the same people now selling the falsehood that the same man is registering northerners.
“The northerners in Imo State have enjoyed long existing hospitality more than any other state in the South-East and more than most of the states in the country. Those desperate to come back to power in Imo State are bent on destroying this long existing conviviality between Imo people and the Hausa Community in the state. But the God we worship will not allow them succeed.
“Again, if the senate didn’t want to send a delegation to Imo State on fact finding on the issue at stake, they would have got in touch with heads of security outfits in the state like the SSS and the police. And we are sure that if they had done that, they would not have been deceived on the matter. Indeed, the senate acted like an opposition party in the state.
“We challenge the Senate to prove the allegation to Nigerians because the onus or burden of proof is always on the accuser. Where the senators cannot prove the allegation, they should be distinguished enough to apologize to the government and people of Imo State.
“And for Senator Chris Anyanwu, she has no right to speak on the floor of the senate on behalf of Imo people like she claimed, because she represents only one zone in the Senate and not the whole state. Her claim of speaking on behalf of Imo people was an outrageous claim and we do not like that.
“Nigerians of goodwill should ask the Senate to show evidence of the existence or reality of their accusation or simply tender the requested apology. Imo State is in the hand of God and not in the hand of power seekers.
However, deputy Senate leader, Senator Abdul Ningi, at the beginning of the plenary, drew the attention of the Senate to a newspaper publication, where an aide of the governor confirmed that the project had commenced.
He said that the aide attributed the proposed ID project was an initiative of the northern elders in the state.
He said the governor’s aide granted an interview to a tabloid based in the northern part of the country where he stated that the screening of all northerners residing in Imo State had started.
He further noted that the governor’s aide explained that each of the northerners there would be duly registered to know their trade, residence and location and that they would be confirmed by the head of their trade union before they would be issued a card.
According to Ningi, the Okorocha’s aide also claimed that all the northerners would be fully documented and that none of them should stop entering the state with their trucks by night.
Ningi further stated that the Imo State government had been employing media strategy to create an impression that the residence card project was an agenda initiated by the northern elders in the state.
Deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, said the Senate would not subject the point of order raised by Ningi because the issue was adequately debated last week.
Ekweremadu declared that the Senate’s verdict on the issue was final.
On the issue of apology demanded by Okorocha, Ekweremadu said the governor had the opportunity to brief senators from his state on the matter when the matter was first raised on Tuesday last week and eventually debated on the floor of the Senate on Thursday.
He also ruled out insinuations that the Senate was prosecuting Peoples Democratic Party agenda by its resolution on the matter, stressing that senators from opposition political parties participated actively in the debate and vote on the motion.
He said that the Senate believed that what it did was the right thing and would not tender any apology to either Okorocha or the government of Imo State.
Rising under ‘matters of urgent national importance’ in the House, Hon. Aminu Suleiman reported the alleged systematic profiling and harassment of persons of northern extraction in Imo State.
Suleiman had called for the House intervention and a probe.
But when the proposal was put for a voice vote by the presiding deputy speaker, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, the lawmakers voted against it.
The decision to block legislative debates and a possible probe checks was on account of the religious and political sensitivity of the subject matter.
House deputy minority leader, Hon. Suleiman Kawu Sumaila, had condemned the reported decision of some Southeast state governments to register all northerners living in their states.
Kawu said the move recently announced by the Imo State government was “unconstitutional” and “provocative”.
He threatened similar treatment to people from the Southeast living in northern states, if the decision is not reversed.
In a statement on June 26, Kawu said that such actions by the Imo State government is tantamount to making northerners second class citizens in their country.
“These kind of actions are misguided, unfortunate and highly provocative. I strongly condemn it and warn those propagating it to desist from such paths of perdition.
“The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) guarantees freedom of movement for all citizens no matter their ethnic group, religion or section, therefore any attempt to compel our people to register in Imo or any other state for that matter is a gross infringement of their fundamental human rights to liberty and violation of the constitution.
“I urge the state governments involved to as a matter of urgency and necessity reverse the ill-informed decision in the interest of peace, stability and national unity.
“Nigerians need to be reminded that there are millions of Igbo people in all nooks and crannies of the north, who are engaged in genuine businesses. These are law abiding Nigerians, who are our friends, and we have for long continued to offer assistance to them on individual and collective basis. This relationship should not be destroyed at this point in time.
“It is on record that many people from the south east region have been arrested in the acts of armed robberies and kidnappings in the north and other parts of the country but there was never a time when any of the northern state government compelled innocent Igbos to register in their states.
“If this decisions is not reversed however, we may not be left with any option than to met out similar treatment to their people living in our states. It is the responsibility of the Imo state government to forestall this by reversing it’s decision.
“I call on President Goodluck Jonathan who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and father of the nation to call these state governments to order as he has both the legal and moral obligation to protect all Nigerians from being made foreigners in their country,” the statement read.