At the end of the National Security Council meeting of July 21, 2014, the Federal Government directed the nation’s security agencies to stop the registration of Nigerians resident in states other than their states of origin. The ban was also extended to the deportation of Nigerians to their states of origin by some state governments. The Director-General of the Directorate of State Security (DSS), Ita Ekpeyong and former Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, apparently acting on the instruction of President Goodluck Jonathan, addressed the media immediately after the meeting on the position of the Council. “Council discussed in detail the issue of registration of Nigerians, how people are being ejected. Council noted that this trend is more dangerous than Boko Haram… Council resolved that the issue of registration and expulsion should stop forthwith,” they said.
The contentious registration and ‘deportation’ exercises have been major sources of suspicion and discontent, especially among citizens at the receiving end. The reason is that some, if not all of the registration exercises, are targeted at particular ethnic groups, in a country where the Constitution guarantees freedom from any form of discrimination and the right to be domiciled and own property in any part of the federation. In Imo State, for example, the state government was about implementing a policy that would have had only citizens from the northern part of the country being registered. The measure, the fallout of raging Boko Haram insurgency, is meant to ensure that members of the violent Islamist sect do not penetrate Imo State. Indeed, the contemplation came on the heels of a bomb threat at a Pentecostal church in Owerri, the state capital, and the arrest of some suspected Boko Haram members, described in some quarters as legitimate traders on their way to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, on the Abia State axis of the Enugu-Port Harcourt highway.
That some northerners vehemently kicked against the move by the Imo State government amplified how volatile such a panic-stricken measure could be. Indeed, a group from the North took the state government to court to stop the registration. In truth, no matter the rationale behind it, Boko Haram or no Boko Haram, subjecting citizens to registration and being issued identity cards in states where they choose to reside and pursue their life endeavours, not only affronts just the nation’s Constitution, it is in bad faith. The panicky measure is an indication that governments at all levels are at crossroads on how best to handle the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the nation and protect lives and property. We are not talking about taking care of citizens’ welfare, which has been on recess, in a nation so generously endowed, human and material resources wise.
The convenient, yet simplistic option of the Imo State government to protect its citizens from insurgents’ infiltration and attacks, without considering the larger implications, is short-sighted. It is, therefore, objectionable. Imo State, or any other state for that matter, may not be able to bear the repercussions of the reciprocal policies that their citizens in other states might be subjected to. Nigerians have exercised so much restraint since 2009 when Boko Haram’s campaigns of violence became a major national challenge. Religious and cultural groups across the country have also been battling to prevent ethnic and religious conflagrations.
The nation’s leadership should desist from the temptation of taking rash decisions that will hasten Boko Haram’s ambition of engineering a major tribal and religious conflict nationwide. What has become very imperative is embarking on painstaking and united resistance to insurgency anywhere it rears up its head in the country, not succumbing to religious and tribal intolerance capable of destroying the corporate existence of the nation.
In Lagos State, the ongoing citizens’ registration, it has been claimed, is not targeted at a particular ethnic group, but became necessary for planning purposes. It is not unlikely that the FG directive may affect the exercise in Lagos, since what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. But with the FG being controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Lagos State being governed by the All Progressives Congress (APC), there might be clash of interests and the matter politicised. Our expectation, however, is that the FG and Lagos State government should resolve whatever disagreements that may crop up with poise in the interest of securing the populace and ensuring peace and stability in the country.