The National Council of State rose from its emergency meeting on Thursday to condemn policies by some state governments to register citizens, as it set up a six-man committee with a mandate to fish out discriminatory practices across the country that threatens the country’s continuous existence.
At the Extra Ordinary National Council of State meeting called by President Goodluck Jonathan, the council expressed its fears that the alleged discriminatory policies could send wrong signals which might lead to disintegration of the country if not urgently checked.
Briefing State House correspondents, the Governor of Akwa Ibom, Godswill Akpabio alongside Babangida Aliyu of Niger, Sullivan Chime of Enugu and National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd), said, council X-rayed the dangerous discriminatory trend which include disparity in school fees between indigene and non-indigene, discriminatory locations of cemetery based on religion, the registration of non-indigenes as well as deportation of non-indigenes, calling for the immediate stop of the practices as the nation’s unity depended on it.
“It was an emergency meeting called by President Jonathan as a result of the exigency of the moment.
“It was the most important council of state meeting we have had in the last five years, we did not only look at the security of the country, we also tried to x-ray in a very frank way the contributions of all nationals, the role played by every of the leaders and the led, to see how we can take preemptive steps not just to stop the possibility of the deterioration of the situation but to ensure the situation is brought to an end in the shortest possible time to give confidence to all Nigerians.
“One of the most important thing we took up at the meeting today was the issue of how Nigerians can actually be Nigerians in their country and feel free to live and do their business without molestation. So the issue of ‘indigeneship’, the issue of deportation or return of Nigerians from any part of the country to their various states were discussed.
“Council viewed the report seriously that some citizens were being deported, deportation should be from one country to the other but where you have a Nigerian who is being returned to his state of origin from other states then you know there is a problem. We felt that that was capable of disrupting the unity of the country, making Nigerians to become apprehensive and unsafe.
“Also council frowned at the idea of even registering Nigerians in various parts of the country and felt this must be brought to an end immediately. And so we looked at all these issues and the role every leader should play from the local government level to the federal level. The role each one of us should play to ensure that we solidify the unity of this country. We also looked at this discriminatory practices across board from all parts of the country, north, south, west and the east and we felt all those issues must be brought to the front burner, solutions proffer to ensure that Nigerians are united, live freely and do their businesses without hindrance.
“Council in the course of conclusion decided to set up a committee to further discuss with Nigerians and identify discriminatory practices in all states of the federation and in all the local government areas and then this committee to submit report to council in the next two months, in order for us to know what steps to take to stop such practices. Whether we need to go to the National Assembly then we will go to National Assembly, whether we need to do so through policies at federal, state or local government levels just to make sure that the country is totally united and all those discriminatory practices are brought to an end so that Nigerians can truly feel free and safe to work in any part of the country without hindrance.
“The committee is composed of six governors, one from each of the geo-political zones of the country. We have the governor Niger, Sokoto, Enugu, Gombe, Akwa Ibom and Ondo states. These governors are selected from each zone of the country to seat together, invite people to make contributions and then of course look at all practices in this country that we may term discriminatory.
“One of such was the idea of some people in some states complaining that they are unable to getting certificate of occupancy to build mosques or churches, and we said that will be looked into. Another thing that looked very mundane that because of the religion you belong, on your death you are expected to be taken somewhere else to be buried because they don’t have cemetery provided for people of certain religion. Those kind of things does not augur well for the country.
“Our elder statesmen also made solid contributions on how we can tackle the current security situation in the country.
“Security agencies were commended for what they were doing and the federal government for setting up the victims support fund for those affected by the activities of Boko Haram,” Akpabio stated.
On his own, the Niger State governor said, “what came to the fore in addition to the discriminatory aspect you may recall that in some states, they even give contract appointment to some people who are not from the state. In some states, there are some discriminatory school fees paid, if you are not a so called indigene, you pay higher than the indigenes. In fact the very concept of indigeneship came to the fore that whether in Nigeria we should be concerned with the so called indigenship or residency. Those are some of the issues that the committee we mention will look into. But more fundamental is the issue of the bug stopping with the leadership. In fact, it came to the fore that if there is any threat to either the state or democracy probably the threat is coming from politicians and from leaders of the country. We must understand the boundaries of leadership and also the responsibilities that are involved. Leadership is not about beauty contest. In leadership, you must take difficult decisions and really go about implementing them. So, all these things came to the fore at the meeting and subsequently, each of us made it a deliberate resolution to all to be bi-partisan or non-partisan to support the President to make sure that we get rid of this insurgency and indeed suggesting that before December.”
Enugu Governor, Chime said “Today I saw commitment demonstrated by our leaders past and present, we want to save this country, I can assure you that Nigerians are really out to save this country”.
Dasuki stressing on the importance of the meeting said, “Last week there was a security council meeting and you were told after that meeting of our concern which was what led to the council of state being summoned. In particular we were very troubled, this idea of registering people and the counter thing, there was a group that came out in the North and said that all Southerners should leave. And then, there were comments that followed that, and there was a statement issued by MASSOB saying that all Southerners should also leave the North.
“The danger, as we saw it, it will only lead to when one misguided individual will feel that all these things are too much for him, and picks up his things and goes home and that will be the beginning of the division of this country.
“Those of us who were around will remember very well that that was how the civil war started, we saw the danger, we said there is really need for everybody to be sensitized on this. It looks very innocent now to say well, I have security concerns, I can register anybody who is not from here. But you don’t think that you have some people on the other side, what will you feel if they have the same concerns and decide to register everybody who is not from there. That is not the way the framers of the constitution envisaged that the constitution should be operated.
“And that is why this meeting was held and I’m very happy that there was a lot of commitment, the governors who are the main operators, who are the leaders at that level are all committed that this issue is resolved. There are a lot of commitment and support across party lines by those who attended”, he said.
The meeting was attended by five former leaders including General Yakubu Gowon; Alhaji Shehu Shagari, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Also in attendance were Vice President Namadi Sambo, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal as well as former Chief Justices Muhammed Uwais and Alfa Belgore.
Governors in attendance include Gabriel Suswam (Benue), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Dr. Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo), Babangida Aliu (Niger), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Ibrahim Dankwambo (Gombe), Ramalan Yero (Kaduna) and Sullivan Chime (Enugu).
Also present were Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Abdufatah Ahmed (Kwara), Adams Oshiomhole (Edo), Willy Obiano (Anambra) and Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto).
Other governors at the meeting were Abubakar Yari (Zamfara), Ibrahim Shettima (Borno) and Acting Governor of Adamawa state, Umaru Fintri.
Deputy Governors in attendance were those from Abia and Lagos.