Garba Shehu: “Jews (Read: Northerners) unwelcome” – The dangers of ethnic/religious profiling

by Garba Shehu


Profiling of citizens in accordance with their religion and ethnicity is wrong and condemnable. 

As the Nazi leaders quickened their preparations for the European war of conquest that they intended to unleash, anti-Semitic legislation in Germany and Austria paved the way for more radical persecution of Jews. These, as the reader may recall, led to the expulsion of millions, as well as the genocidal activity involving the extermination of six million Jews in Germany alone. The government of Adolf Hitler required Jews to identify themselves in ways that would permanently separate them from the rest of the population. In August 1938, German authorities decreed that by January 1, 1939, Jewish men and women bearing first names of “non-Jewish” origin had to add “Israel” and “Sara,” respectively, to their given names. All Jews were obliged to carry identity cards that indicated their Jewish heritage, and, in the autumn of 1938, all Jewish passports were stamped with an identifying letter “J”. (Read Google).

In the build-up to the genocide, Jews were removed from public services and purged from the security services. Their children’s enrolment in schools was curtailed and access to business opportunities and most public buildings were stopped. Signs as indicated above, “Jews Unwelcome” were a common sight at public places.

In addition to Germany, history has shown elsewhere that practices requiring displaced persons to carry ID cards to distinguish them as a non-indigene or “outsider” has only served to promote further discrimination and marginalization. A look at a few more global examples of ID card discrimination may be useful for this discussion.

Starting in 1935, the Belgians began a national ID system in Rwanda that indicated whether a person was “Tutsi”, “Hutu” or “Twa”. The Belgian government supported the Tutsis political power and sought ways to distinguish them from the rest of the inhabitants. The means to determining these classifications was highly arbitrary, based on physical appearances and the personal property of the person in question. The primary justification for this distinction was the “lighter” skin of the Tutsi people, signifying to the occupiers that they may have European ancestry. The privileges afforded by the Tutsis led to increased resentment by the Hutu populations who had been marginalized during Belgian rule, leading to several conflicts and finally the genocide of nearly one million Tutsis in 1994.

South Africa
South Africa has an extensive history in using ID cards, called “passes”, to restrict the movement of black people within the
territory. Passes were used to exclude native populations from the Cape Colony. Later in 1923 the Natives (Urban Areas) Act deemed certain areas in South Africa as “whites”, requiring all black persons in the areas to carry around passes at all times. Any black person found without a pass would be arrested and relocated outside of the “white” area.

So the discriminatory policies gradually being churned out by our brothers in South-Eastern Nigeria, against their own Northern brothers is really nothing new or unique to humanity. The government of Enugu has said that they are embarking on a house-to-house registration of Nigerian citizens of Northern extraction in their midst while the neighbouring Imo state has taken the further step of planning an Identity Card scheme that every Northerner living in the state will henceforth have to carry, and produce upon request. The government of Imo has, in addition, prescribed that northerners (read aliens) who are certified to continue in their state must henceforth show evidence of work that they doing and that any who did not have this will not be allowed to live in the state “to engage in terrorism.”
Another sore issue related to this, but of a different nature, is the increasing profiling of Northerners and Muslims in the region, as exemplified by the stop-and-search operation by the military in the state of Abia, as a result of which nearly fifty buses ferrying about four hundred northerners were barred from prom proceeding to their destination, Port Harcourt. This was on the basis of the allegation that the traders and migrant workers were Boko Haram terrorists. Of this number kept in detention for about two weeks, some were actually wedding parties, delivering a newly-wed bride to her suitor in Calabar
and Port Harcourt.

It is also now known that a large number of these travellers are persons internally displaced by fighting between Boko Haram and Government and others by poverty and killings between tribes and the followers of different religions.

But a few of them, as said by the army, were actually found to be Boko Haram. If Boko Haram are seen and barred from public places because of the harm they can cause, there is nothing wrong with that. Boko Haram is a problem for every one-Christian, Muslim, men and women, children and the aged whom they merrily kill and whose resources they pillage.

Everyone is a victim.

Last year, I bought a three-bedroom apartment in a growing settlement somewhere behind the Bayero University in Kano. I paid two thirds of the money through my cousin who inspected the building and approved the purchase. I was informed that the remaining third of the amount would be paid for the property to be taken over upon vacation by the sitting tenant. Before the man’s time was up, an incident happened in the city which the reader may have been well aware of. The respected late Emir, Ado Bayero, was attacked by terrorists and he barely escaped with his life. After a few days of investigation, the soldiers stormed this same building, taking away the tenant who they said was a suspect in the attack on the emir. On their arrival at the premise, they used a bulldozer to bring down the gate, went inside and grabbed their suspect.

Once the word was out, children and the unemployed in the neighbourhood stormed the house, chased the women and children out and looted the whole place. Before day break, not only had they removed furniture and fittings but that the roof had gone and the blocks were being dissembled. It was a personal loss and a sacrifice one had to bear and there is no where you can obtain a redress. An existing policy in the city is that wherever a terrorist is caught, the entire structure is brought down.

The plight of displaced persons who are mostly economic migrants among the Abia 400+ should be a matter for concern for the international community considering the disturbing lack of interest of the Nigerian Federal government in actions that clearly amount to an assault on the constitution.

The International Federation of Social Workers, IFSW, states that, “marginalised within their own society and facing the emotional trauma of their uprooting experience, displaced people turn into excluded people who suffer loss of economic opportunities, breakdown of cultural identity, loosening of social and familial structures, interruption of schooling and increased poverty levels. They also suffer from grief relating to dead or missing family members and, in extreme cases, resort to delinquency and begging in order to survive.”

I fear that if displaced persons are required to carry ID to distinguish themselves as non-native residents of a territory, we will find ourselves with millions of disenfranchised people whose desperation will cause them to turn to illegal activities to survive. In fact marginalization will only serve to breed resentment that could push people to retaliate with violence.

It is up to us to raise ourselves above such trivial distinctions and to remind ourselves that it is our duty as Nigerians and as a people to respect and help our brethren in need. Nigerians must harness their empathetic instincts and recognize the pain and suffering that internally displaced Nigerians have endured and to make our best efforts towards reintegrating them into society and making them feel comfortable in their new homes regardless of the length of their residency. We must work to remind them that they are still members of the Nigerian family and that there is hope for a better tomorrow.

Profiling of citizens in accordance with their religion and ethnicity is wrong and condemnable. We saw what it led to against the Jews in Europe and the Tutsi minority in Rwanda. State governments trying to create this type of environment with the silent complicity of the Nigerian Federal Government must know that the United Nations has a tribunal trying genocide cases all over the world and that this country is a signatory to that treaty.




This article was published with permission from Premium Times Newspapers

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


One comment

  1. My friend, where is the sense in what you have written?

    400+ northerners in buses traveling to the East in the middle of the night; with no identity cards to prove they are who they claim to be.
    If they're traders like they claim, to what Trade Association do they belong?
    Who were they going to meet?
    How about the wanted terrorists captured alongside?
    How about the two buses that escaped? Why did they flee from law enforcement officers?

    Kindly stop treating issues of National Security with tribal sentiments, Nigeria belongs to all of us.

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