The plenary at the ongoing National Conference was thrown into a rowdy session yesterday due to the arrest of the 486 suspected members of the Boko Haram sect by the army in Abia State, with delegates warning of dire consequences should the activities of the sect be allowed to disrupt oil production through the destruction of the pipelines and oil and gas facilities.
Also yesterday, the secretariat of the conference warned those it described as absentee delegates to desist or have their allowances stopped as from Monday.
The Deputy Chairman of the conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, who was delegated to make the announcement, said the government was worried by the near empty seats at the plenary sessions by the delegates.
Before the conference went into the plenary yesterday, a member representing Rivers State, Chief Sergeant Awuse, raised a motion of urgent national importance.
The delegate raised the alarm about the safety of Nigerians, especially as it regards the arrest of 486 people in Aba, Abia State, on their way to Port Harcourt.
According to Awuse, “We were told that those men are members of the Boko Haram sect. These are happenings that make us to begin to see that we should be more proactive about these matters.”
He drew attention to a newspaper report quoting the Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, that if Boko Haram members succeeds in overrunning the North-east, they will try to overrun other parts of the country.
“We are asking that this conference should bring to the notice of the security agencies that any attack on any of the South-south states, will be felt by the people all over Nigeria. We don’t want Boko Haram in the South-south. From dependable security sources, we know that some of the buses had infiltrated the South-south region.”
Awuse further said if the activities of Boko Haram were allowed unchecked into the South-south, especially in Port Harcourt that houses several oil companies and their pipelines, the effect would be dangerous to the economy of Nigeria.
As he spoke, his motion continued to receive ovations from the delegates.
But the former Minister of Steel during Sani Abacha’s regime, Bashir Dalhatu, from Jigawa State rose to castigate the arrest, stating that those arrested are migrant traders from the North to the South, explaining that it was not fair for Awuse to tag the traders as Boko Haram members.
Bashir, who was almost shouted down by fellow delegates, warned that due to the security circumstances the country was facing, caution should be exercised when speaking on the floor of the conference.
He said information from independent sources had showed that those who were arrested in Aba were migrant traders, saying while he would not condone or support anything that would breach the security of any part of the country, he would stand against any action that would alienate and criminalise northerners in the South due to the ugly incidence of Boko Haram insurgency.
According to the Jigawa State delegate, the implication of criminalising northerners because of the Boko Haram insurgency could be better imagined, saying: “Let no one be left in doubt, we are law abiding citizens and would not be cowed to remain only in the North.
“The delegates from the North plan to address a press conference on the issue, but we have stood it down to allow for proper investigation. A warning is enough for the wise.”
Another delegate, Simon Adeoye, who is a retired Commissioner of Police, called for caution, urging the delegates to remain restraint to allow for full investigation into the matter.
It was along this line that Hanatu Ibrahim appealed to the delegates to give peace a chance.
She argued that delegates are respectable Nigerians, saying when the conference started, it faced some hurdles but that the hurdles were surmounted.
According to her, “As mothers of the nation and sisters, we want peace in this country because God created us as one. We must have respect for one another no matter where we come from. Today Mr. Chairman, we do not want to be a party to those who cause problem in this country. We need peace, we need peace. We need to love one. We should bury our sentimental feelings and march together in unity. For God’s sake, let us restrain ourselves. We want peace; we want unity in this country.”
It was at this stage that the conference Chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi, abruptly called off the debate and ordered for debates on the report of the Committee on Labour, Civil Society and Sports.
Before then, Justice Kutigi had called on the deputy chairman, Akinyemi to make a special announcement.
Akinyemi in the announcement, lamented that more than half of the seats at the conference were empty, explaining that government was worried that 50 per cent of delegates don’t turn up for plenary.
Accordingly, he said: “They are reminding us that when members of an intervention agency are being paid sitting allowances, they should sit.
We are considering not paying allowances to those, who do not turn up for plenary. We don’t want to be pushed to a situation where we treat esteemed delegates like secondary school students. We don’t want it to get to that. We are all very responsible people and we should show that here.
“With effect from Monday, delegates who don’t show up will not be paid sitting allowance except on health reasons and that should have been communicated to the conference,” he warned.
Meanwhile, a group, North-east Security Advocacy Forum has advised the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), under its National Coordinator, Mr. Emmanuel Onwubiko, to desist from twisting an academic presentation made by Shettima at a security conference in Kaduna to score political gains.
The coordinator of the group, Mrs. Stephennie Joshua, said they were surprised that a simple logic made by the governor that if Boko Haram succeeds in overrunning the North-east, the sect would expand to other parts of the North and the South twisted by HURIWA to link the statement with the bomb found in Imo State.
She said the statement by the governor was for all stakeholders to work towards containing the sect and for political gains.
The forum described such attempt by HURIWA as highly mischievous and dubious political game that was unexpected from a human rights group.
“A conference such as that security summit in Kaduna was meant for an open discussion so that all cards were put on the table in order to address the problem.
The governor, represented by his deputy in his academic paper rightly said if we don’t contain Boko Haram in the North-east, they will extend to other parts of the North and after that they may attack the South.