Northerners, particularly traders in Aba, Abia State, have called on their hosts to stop labelling them as Boko Haram sympathizers, saying not every northerner is in support of the group.
The appeal came on the heels of the arrest of 486 traders, who were traveling from the North to Port Harcourt on Sunday in Abia State by soldiers, on suspicions of being members of the deadly terrorist group.
But speaking with journalists in Aba yesterday, the Chief Imam of Aba Central Mosque, Alhaji Idris Bashir and Secretary of the Aba Onions Market, Alhaji Sani Jos, lamented that ever since the arrest, the Igbos have been labelling every northerner Boko Haram.
They noted that calling everybody from the North ‘Boko Haram’, is like giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
“When you drive your vehicle anyhow, they (Igbos) will start abusing you by calling you Boko Haram and this thing (name calling) is making us angry. Honestly, we are not happy at all”, Alhaji Idris said.
“Due process should be followed in the screening so that those who are innocent are released immediately. And if they (soldiers) find anyone among them who is a member of Boko Haram, they should take him or her away”, the Islamic cleric added.
Bashir, who said the Muslim community in Aba are 100 per cent behind soldiers and other security outfits in ensuring security of the country, urged the military to publish the name of the Boko Haram kingpin, who it said was among the 486 northerners arrested.
“We are not saying that soldiers or security agents should not do their jobs; we did not say so. What we are saying is that they should do it properly. How can they continue to hold the innocent people among them? If there is any bad egg among them, let them take those people to Abuja and continue their investigation”, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Mike Omeri, the Coordinator, National Information Centre, said the 486 people arrested by security operatives were travellers.
Omeri disclosed this at a joint news conference organised by the centre in Abuja, which was reported by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
He stressed that the arrest of the travellers was not targeted at any group of persons or individual, but done in view of the general security situation in the country.
Omeri noted that when the suspects were interrogated, one of them, who had been on the watch list of the Department of State Security Services (DSS) since 2007, was identified.
He further stated that the incident led to the questioning of the suspects, who were travelling in “a convoy of over 30 buses with none of them having up to N1,000.
“Clearly, their mission was suspicious and had to be thoroughly investigated; we, therefore, appeal for the understanding of the public in allowing our security agencies carry out their legitimate duties”, he said.