Federal government steps in to stop the retaliatory cycle of non-indigene registration sparked off by the reported directive by Governor Rochas Okorocha that northerners in Imo State must subject themselves for registration
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Aug. 4, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THE recent directive by Rochas Okorocha, Imo State governor, that some residents in the state, mainly from the north, be registered, has triggered off condemnation from all quarters in the country. The directive was issued after a failed bomb attempt at the Winners’ Chapel in Owerri, capital of the state. Okorocha’s directive elicited reciprocal actions in some northern states which also directed that southern indigenes residing within their jurisdictions must also register.
This development became a serious worry to the federal government which, on Monday, July 21, condemned the registration of Nigerians resident in states other than their state of origin and the deportation of Nigerians to their states of origin by some state governments. It warned that the move was capable of disintegrating the country. Ita Ekpenyong, director general, Department of States Services, said the national security council had directed that the practice must be stopped forthwith as every Nigerian is free to live in any part of the country without molestation.
Ekpenyong revealed that the president had directed that no security personnel should be involved in the registration or relocation of persons by state governments or any group in any state. He also warned youth groups trying to foment trouble because of the registration issue to desist from it because government was taking serious notice of it. “Government is doing everything possible to stem this issue from getting out of control. As a matter of fact, to show the urgency, the Council of State meeting will be held anytime next week to discuss this issue” he said.
The Senate on July 3, ordered Governor Okorocha, to rescind his government’s proposed policy of identification cards for northerners residing in the state. Abdul Ningi, deputy senate leader, said the move contravened some sections of the 1999 Constitution. Ningi, in his motion entitled: “The Issuance of Identification Card to Northerners Residing in Imo State – Urgent Call for Policy Reversal,” noted with serious concern, a recent government policy statement by the Imo State Government, directing all northerners residing or staying in the state to be issued with an identification card.
He argued that the policy contravened the provisions of Section 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 the right of residence without any inhibition or condition whatsoever. He stated that the policy, if not reversed, was tantamount to gross abuse of the citizens’ rights and if not checked, could throw the entire country into chaos and threaten the survival of the nation’s democracy.
Rising in support of the motion, Victor Ndoma Egba, senate leader, described the policy as wrong-headed, unconstitutional and discriminatory. “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 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.
But the condemnation took a more potent dimension, when Chris Anyanwu, a senator from Imo State, made her contribution by hitting harder on the governor who, she described 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 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 Hausa children, most of whom are speaking better Igbo 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 said.
The National Orientation Agency, NOA, has also condemned in strong terms the registration of northerners in Imo State. It described the action as an impunity that must stop immediately. Mike Omeri, director general of the agency, said in a statement that the move was inimical to the unity of Nigeria and the cohesion which its citizens require to survive the security challenges facing the country. “Nobody should be subjected to the status of second class citizens in his or her own country. The purpose and goal of citizen registration in some states is inimical to national objectives of peace and progress,” he said.
Omeri called on states planning illegal registration to rescind the decision while urging them to initiate policies to further strengthen the unity of Nigeria. He emphasised that on no account should any state government subject Nigerians living in states other than their place of origin to treatments that would make them feel like foreigners in their own country. “The NOA condemns this act. We can’t be treating Nigerians like foreigners in their own country. This registration is illegal, null and void. We should dwell more on policies to advance the unity of this country. States that have started this process should put a halt to it.”
In retaliation to Okorocha’s forced registration policy, a northern group known as the Concerned Arewa Citizens, on Monday, July 21, submitted a bill to Shehu Tahir, speaker, Kaduna State House of Assembly, seeking the registration of southerners resident in the state, for consideration. The group also cautioned the south not to see petroleum resources as a blessing but a curse. Audu Bukarti, president general of the group, who presented the bill to the speaker, said it would be known as ‘Registration of Southerners and Allied Matters Bill’, if passed. According to him, the bill aimed at protecting the state from the evils of drug and human trafficking, baby factories, armed robbery and kidnapping among others” being perpetrated by Southerners.
The seven-paragraph bill, when passed into law, shall require that southerners, which means indigenes or any indigene of the 17 southern states wishing to enter the boundaries of the state, shall not be permitted to do so unless he or she was duly registered with the appropriate authorities. According to the bill, “every southerner desirous of entering the state for the purpose of residence shall give as security such amount as the appropriate authority may prescribe, and shall supply information as the authority may reasonably require.”
Another northern group under the aegis of Arewa Youth Development Foundation, also gave a two-week ultimatum to southerners currently living in the north to relocate to their respective states to enable northerners who would be returning home have space. The directive was contained in a statement read and jointly signed by Aliyu Usman, national president, and Alfred Solomon, secretary of the group, during a visit to the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sunusi II, in his palace.
The group described the recent arrest of all imams of Juma’at mosques in Abia State, the arrest of northern traders, the happenings at the national conference, among other issues, as regrettable. “In the event that all the resolutions failed, we call on all northerners to rise and support agitations for a peaceful dissolution of this union called Nigeria, for every region to go its own way.”
While addressing the youths, the emir called on youths to be ambassadors of peace and imbibe the culture of peaceful coexistence. “We should not forget that it is natural for people of different minds and cultural backgrounds to live in one entity called a nation. I, therefore, urged you to imbibe the culture of peaceful coexistence.”
Meanwhile, Imo State government has dismissed as false, the report of the planned registration of northerners in the state. In a statement signed by Sam Onwuemeodo, the senior special assistant to Governor Okorocha on media, explained that Okorocha’s government was not registering northerners in the state, stressing that those behind the malicious claim could not mention the places or offices of the state government where the registrations are taking place, since registration involving human beings could not be done in a vacuum.
He said that it called 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, were the same people now selling falsehood that the same man was 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 the Imo people and the Hausa Community in the state. But the God we worship will not allow them to succeed. However, as a government that has a penchant for thoroughness on issues like that, before reacting to them, we had taken time to find out how the claim came about and we have discovered that the Northerners in the state, on their own and under their leader, Alhaji Baba Saidu Suleiman, Sarik Hausawa, Imo State, had decided to have what they called data bank of their people in the state to enable them check infiltration in their ranks,” he said.