There was anger yesterday in the Senate as lawmakers took turns to criticise a new policy introduced by the Rochas Okorocha administration in Imo state, which compels every northerner resident in the state to procure and wear an identity card, before he or she could be allowed free movement in the state.
The Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi), had in a motion on Tuesday, drawn the attention of the Senate to the new policy in Imo.
Debating the motion tabled by Ningi, senators yesterday condemned the discriminatory policy, saying it was anti-human rights, and urged the governor to suspend it forthwith.
Rising in support of the motion, the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (PDP, Cross River Central), described the policy as wrongheaded, unconstitutional and discriminatory and lampooned the governor for even contemplating such a policy at this level of Nigeria’s nationhood.
“Yes, right away, Nigeria is passing through the most difficult period of our history even worse than the civil war (era), 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 licence 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.
Also contributing, James Manager (PDP, Delta South), described the policy 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 said.
Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe North), who threatened retaliation by the North, if the policy is not reversed, likened the situation in Imo to the apartheid era in South Africa, during which the blacks were expected to carry cards in the 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. Other senators such as Hellen Esuene (PDP, Akwa Ibom South), Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi West), Mohammed Bello Tukur (PDP, Adamawa Central), Martin Nwaogwu (PDP, Imo North), Olugbenga Kaka (APC, Ogun East), Ita Enang (PDP, Akwa Ibom North East), also condemned the policy.
But the condemnation took a more potent dimension when another senator from Imo state, Chris Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East), made her own contribution by hitting harder on the governor, describing him as a man “full of himself”, and working 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 provisions 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”, Senator Anyanwu emphasised.
In his remarks before putting the two prayers of the motion to vote, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, thanked the senators for being very patriotic in the contributions on the matter.
He lamented that ethnicity still remains one of the issues impacting negatively on Nigeria’s nationhood drive. He joined the other senators in condemning the policy, saying the fact that some northerners have indulged in insurgency or terrorism does not make all people of northern extraction 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 believe, will better make Nigerians live peacefully with one another and more united”, he said.
Consequently, the Senate, as suggested in the motion, called on President Goodluck Jonathan to direct security agencies not to partner with the Imo state government in the implementation of the discriminatory policy, and also urged the Okorocha government to rescind the obnoxious policy forthwith.