Rep Aminu Sulaiman (APC Kano), recently raised a motion on the floor of the Federal House of Representatives urging lawmakers to wade into the series of arrests of northerners in the south-east, particularly in Abia state, but the motion was unfortunately thrown out when put to vote. In this interview with Umar Muhammad Puma, Sulaiman explains further on what the motion intendeds to achieve.
You recently came up with a motion on the series of arrests of northerners in the south-east, particularly in Abia state, but unfortunately the motion couldn’t scale through. What informed your decision to come up with this?
First of all, I have to respect the individual and independent position of my colleagues. I lack competence to question their judgment but I also like to emphasize that I’m one of the very few that have enjoyed the confidence of my colleagues, having had the privilege to sponsor 23 motions in my three years at the National Assembly with all of them scaling through with the exception of this one.
I therefore owe much gratitude to my colleagues. I want to sincerely believe that because they did not have the benefit of getting to know the motion in details, perhaps that informed their decision to shut it down. I feel pained because I have lost an opportunity to correct an ill that is gradually settling in the way and manner certain operations are been carried out by our security agencies.
I lost an opportunity to call the attention of the Commander in Chief on the dangerous slide being perpetrated by some overzealous members of our security agencies. I have also lost an opportunity to draw our attention to the dangers and implications of this gradual but silent harassment of a very significant segment of the nation. I feel sad that such an opportunity was lost that would have enabled us address the Gestapo-style administration that has happened in other places outside Nigeria, and how the security agencies failed to place the nation and the unity of the country above primordial and personal sentiments.
However, I would want to believe that the battle is not entirely lost; because I’m making consultations to ensure that we discuss this matter. This is the only reason why people call us the chamber of the parliament. We don’t write, we don’t administer, we don’t execute. What we do is debate for the benefit of the Nigerian people. Therefore, if you did not allow for debates, to hear the merit or demerit of an argument, then gradually we are making nonsense of our own existence.
I will reach out to my colleagues so that we did not allow the issue to degenerate because while the incidence occurred in only Abia today, anybody can use the same excuse to repeat the same condemnable act.
The way the members voted against the motion seemed already there was some kind of divide between the north and the south. How do you view that?
So it seems. That is why I said that my respected colleague did not view the issue at stake from the perspective I had wanted to present. I’m a Nigerian, a very proud Nigerian for that matter, but God in his wisdom, made me a Nigerian of northern extraction. And I was voted by the people who are now being profiled needlessly. I represent a people that are serially being harassed and maligned and perpetually put on the negative spotlight.
Therefore, it is the Nigerian in me that made me to raise the issue so that we would not allow this seeming divide between the north and south to degenerate into an issue that we will not be able to tackle. Rightly, our colleagues from that part of the country felt or thought that this is a northern affair. That is not correct, it is unfair to hold such opinion.
Therefore, if today we are having security challenges as symbolized by the heinous, irresponsible and unacceptable activities of the people who call themselves Boko Haram, because they profess Islam and they are domiciled in the north and because they dress like northerners, in my own opinion, it will become a lazy approach by the security agencies to assume that every northerner is a potential Boko Haram. It is very unfair and highly despicable.
If we allow that thinking to prevail, then if today we overcome Boko Haram, then there is a proliferation of kidnapping as it were, then the same security will now assume this thinking that where the kidnapping is prevalent and who are the perpetrators, then they will begin to go to stations and to begin to upload luxurious buses passengers and anybody who is either from the east, or who look like an easterner, will immediately be arrested and clamped into detention.
That is why I said it is not only callous, irresponsible but despicable and a lazy approach to security issues. We have in abundance a significant number of security operatives to gather intelligence for us. But the laziest way and unacceptable manner of presuming or stereotyping northerners to the effect that because Boko Haram is domiciled in the north, then everybody in the north becomes a suspect. It is terrible and unfortunate.
For me, and like Fela would say, I’m having double jeopardy; because I would not want a situation where northerners tomorrow would harass easterners residing in the north, either in reprisal or as proactive measures. That is to say we don’t want issues of kidnapping to be smuggled and institutionalized in the north, when security agents will begin to arrest and incarcerate Igbos. I, as an individual, will find myself in a quagmire because part of the votes that brought me to this place included significant votes from Igbo speaking people who are resident in Kano. The whole Igbo that are staying in Kano are in my constituency.
So if tomorrow, in seeming retaliation of what is happening in Aba and other eastern state, if the government of Kano decides to take proactive measures to stem the proliferation of kidnappings and ritual killings in our state, government would want to put the Igbos on the spotlight. Then I will be compelled by the constitutional duty to raise a voice in support of the Igbos.
Therefore if today I’m raising my voice because significant number of members of constituency is being put into this situation through the unwarranted actions of our security agencies, then nobody should see that from regional or tribal perspectives. I can bear witness that if this activities are being perpetrated against a tribe, either the tribe I represent, I would raise my voice against it.
Therefore, I will not be ashamed or intimidated into keeping silence when negative actions are being institutionalized aimed at harassing and denying the people that I represent from moving freely and doing legitimate businesses as they wish. I will never be cowed, intimidated or ashamed to raise it tomorrow even if I’m going to lose it. I will continue to do that until my tenancy at the National Assembly expires.
What were your prayers for the motion?
My prayers were three, because we have taken similar measures, when it happened in Port-Harcourt, we have taken another motion when it happened in Owerri, now it is happening again in Abia. The first prayer of the motion is like an injunction: to pass a resolution banning the security agencies from harassing any Nigerian traveling or residing anywhere in the country on the basis of his faith or his tribe.
Number two is to invite all the heads of the security agencies, particularly the Army, SSS, to come before relevant committees and to explain what informed their decision and for them to tell us that whether they realize their attitudes could instigate tribes against each other. Because what they are doing is gradually building enmity between the otherwise friendly region of the east and north.
These actions are being perpetrated by the security agencies apparently with the collaboration of some powers. I’m not sure an average Igbo man is in support of this nonsense; I’m not sure any Igbo person is consulted before this nonsense is being perpetrated. Therefore, innocently they will now be setting the two tribes to look at themselves as enemy of one another.
The intention is to bring them to tell us the reasons why they want to set Nigeria on the part of Kigali, because that is what they are trying to do. Let them explain to us because we have a responsibility, people will ask us, they will not go and ask the Chief of Army Staff because they don’t have access to him. Nobody will go and ask the DSS because they don’t have access to them. But they send me here so that if issues like this arises, I should be able to stand up and say no, this is not fair, it is not in the spirit of one Nigeria.
The third prayer is to ensure that those who are involved in this, because it is becoming consistently perennial, therefore, those responsible must be identified and fished out from the system and be ask to go, because they are bad elements within the security system. Those were the three prayers I had wanted to present to the House.
Now that the House had rejected the motion what is the way forward? Are you going to pursue it or what?
I have already consulted the leadership of the House and I have explained in full what I had wanted to utilize the opportunity of the floor to do, and the entire leadership is not only sympathetic, but they are in support of it, and I have received green light to re-prepare the motion for re-presentation. I will do wider consultations to ensure that the motion scales through.
It is the northerners that are at the receiving end. What we are trying to do is where tomorrow you will also not have a sentimental or primordial security officer from the north, who because of advantage like it exists today, will now assume and say, already there was a precedence and he will begin to cite instances in far away Bayelsa for instance and begin to mount gates along Zaria road and say anybody from that axis who comes to the north must identify himself and must state his missions here. As a Nigerian, this is what I’m trying to prevent.