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Published On: Wed, Jul 9th, 2014

Demonization of Northerners

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Abia-TravellersLast month, Nigerian security forces arrested over 480 nationals of Northern extraction in Abia state on the suspicion that they were Boko Haram members escaping from the North-east where the Islamic sect is waging a sustained insurgency. They were being ferried in 50 buses, heading toward Port Harcourt, Rivers state. Unofficial reports had it that they were migrant workers heading South, where they believed they would find menial work. Indeed, they were fleeing from a part of the country whose economy has been ravaged by the rebellion. Others were said to be taking newly weds to their spouses in the South.

Footage of the young men, left in the open grounds of an Abia detention facility in Aba, the commercial capital, went viral. The security forces gloated over a’ big harvest’ in the counter-insurgency campaign, in spite of the fact that they found no implicating evidence on the suspects. But no matter, that they were Northerners and Musims was sufficient reason for them to be branded as Boko Haramists, and held without access to the outside world. An official Kano state delegation that went to Aba to see the suspects was reportedly turned back.

Shortly afterwards, as if to confirm they had not made a mistake, the security forces announced that an object in a black polythene bag that was found in the premises of a church in Owerri, Imo state, on Sunday, June 15, was indeed an unexploded improvised explosive device (IED) targeted at the church and worshippers. If it had detonated, tens of people would have been killed, they claimed.

Now the arrests and the IED find, true or not, have led to a rash of hasty decisions by the governments of some of the states in the mainly Igbo-speaking South-east, particularly Enugu and Imo, all targeted at Northerners. The Enugu government, first embarked on house-to-house registration of Northerners resident in that state, apparently to know those who are there ‘legally’ and ‘doing decent work’. Nearby Imo has gone even further to issue Northerners with IDs which they must show on demand. Anyone without it is promptly arrested and branded as a security risk. Besides, even if your ID card certifies you as qualified to live in the state, you still have to provide evidence that you are gainfully employed.  In Abia state, since the arrests of last month, the police have mounted checkpoints all over where they stop and search vehicles for Northerners they suspect for “terror activities”.

We have an issue with this profiling and open hostility against law-abiding Northerners in their own country just because their part of the country is being destabilized by a sect that claims to be fighting in the name of religion. To be sure, if there is concrete evidence linking some Northerners with this murderous sect, by all means, pick them up and lock them away – for the sake of public security.  But in the case of the Abia 480+, the security agents produced no such evidence. They were simply rounded up and clamped in jail. Worse, relations and an official government delegation were denied access to them. Even America, known for its toughness on terror, allows foreign terror suspects councillor contacts.

As we have repeatedly pointed out, Boko Haram elements are not known to move in convoys of vehicles that will easily give them away. And their movements are not long hauls – from the North to the South. It is unimaginable that they would have passed one Northern state after the other without having been stopped at the many military manned checkpoints at border crossings. In truth, what is happening is giving Northerners, escaping from harm and hunger in their region of the country in trouble to a region they consider safer, a bad name in order to persecute them. This is abhorrent and must stop in the name of brotherly love, mutual respect and peace of the nation.

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