The story of Nigerians made ‘illegal aliens’ in their country.
During the General Ibrahim Babangida regime, the country was once agog, following the deportation of Professor Wilmot, a Jamaican, who taught at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The professor had lived in the country for years and married a Nigerian but following what the government perceived as his “satanic verse,” as it were, he was shipped out of the country. This is normal.
Indeed, it’s common for nations to deport citizens of other countries, if such people contravene the law but it’s seldom heard that a citizen of a country is forcefully taken from one state in the country to another, no matter the circumstance. Surprisingly, this is happening in Nigeria.
As it stands, it appears that non-indigene residents in Lagos State run the risk of being abducted by agents of the government, detained under dehumanising conditions for several months and finally deported in the wee hours to another city. It has happened before and may happen again. At two instances, Nigerians have been arrested in Lagos and ‘loaded’ in a trailer, escorted by armed policemen and taken across the Niger and dumped in Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of Anambra State. It did not matter whether they hail from Anambra State or not but that is the most likely place you may find yourself if you are unlucky to be grabbed in the streets of Lagos by agents of the state government, hunting non-indigenes.
Recently, the Lagos State Government deported about 67 persons from Lagos to Onitsha. It was the second time, in less than one year, that officials of the state government are sneaking into Onitsha, in the ungodly hours, to dump people picked from the streets of Lagos. Specifically, the state had, on September 18, 2012, dumped over 100 citizens, made up of children, women, senior citizens and physically challenged people at about 4am under the Upper Iweka Flyover in Onitsha.
Also, during the administration of Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala of Oyo State, there was a protest about citizens of the state being dropped in the middle of the night at Ibadan, the state capital. Ogun State indigenes had as well tasted the bitter pill.
Last week’s deportation was done under the cloak of darkness. While residents of the city were sleeping, a truck loaded with ‘human cargo’ arrived at about 2.30am, accompanied by a detachment of policemen. After offloading the consignment, as it were, the truck and its escort melted into the night.
What greeted the residents at dusk was a congregation of people in dire straits. Sources disclosed that prior to their deportation last week, they had been detained in unconventional centres for about seven months. And while in the dungeon, they were poorly fed and utterly dehumanised. In the process, it was gathered, 29 of them died in the camp. As at the time the surviving ones arrived Onitsha, they had become walking corpses. Looking frail and disheveled, they painted the ugly picture of death or people, who walked through the valley of the shadow of death but survived by the skin of their teeth.
Why would Lagos State “deport” Nigerians? Why would the state government dump the people so deported at Onitsha?
In 2012, when people were first dumped in Onitsha, Governor Peter Obi had stated: “Investigations have shown that most of them (those ‘deported’ from Lagos) are not from Anambra State but were dropped here. I am going to make a report to the Federal Government that Nigerians cannot be refugees in Nigeria. It is a dangerous trend.”
“We have seen a situation where Anambrarians, working in other parts of the country are sent packing, even when they have served faithfully where they were.
“We have not been doing the same thing. In schools, we have most of them from other states. Even teachers and students, most of them are in our school system where we offer free education benefit.”
But if Obi’s threat to make a representation to the Federal Government on the issue yielded any result, it is yet to be seen. Barely 10 months after, there was a repeat of this, as 67 people were dumped overnight at Onitsha.
Last year, the Lagos State Government denied involvement in the deportation saga. Last year, the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Lateef Aderemi Ibirogba, had said: “We don’t query where you come from or what has brought you from wherever you come from. We always tell the people that we have the responsibility to take care of whoever is here, provided you are ready to go along with us, in terms of following our laws and in terms of the legitimate things you do and by that I mean legitimate business, without having criminal intentions. It is whoever does not have the intention of living with our laws that will have problem with the government.
“The only thing I want to emphasise is that you must subject yourself to law and order and you must do your legitimate business without being a problem to other people. You must be ready not to be selfish. We believe that where the right of one man ends is where the right of another man begins. If you do all that, we would have no reason to drive anybody anywhere.”
In the same vein, Ibirogba, last week, denied that the Lagos State Government deported 67 people from Lagos. He said: “We did not deport anybody. By the constitution of Nigeria, everybody has a right to live in any part of the country but we have been emphasising that people must live within the law. However, it is not true.”
If the Lagos State Government did not do it, who did? That is the question, agitating many minds across the country. While the Lagos State Government is denying deporting anybody from its shores, the deportees are singing a different song, a song of pains, agony and disillusionment. The deportees insist that they were bundled out of Lagos by officials of the state government.
One of them, who gave her name as Chima, stated that she was picked up on her way home. Her words: “I was on my way home to Okokomaiko in Lagos when a group of young men accosted me and took me to a place I do not know. When I got there, I met these people and over 29 some of whom died in detention.”
While Chima is Igbo and from South East, there are other deportees, who are from other states outside Igboland. Take this: Mr. John Irabor, who hails from Benin, in Edo State, among other ‘foreigners,’ was dumped in Onitsha last week, even when, according to him, he neither committed any crime nor charged to court for any crime.
“While we were in detention, they fed us only once a day and even when the food was brought, it usually tasted bad. If you look at us, you will see that we were treated badly,” Irabor lamented.
Putting the matter in perspective, the National Coordinator of Ebonyi Consultative Forum (ECF), Onowu Obini C. Obini, said Nigeria was on a dangerous bend, adding that the founding fathers of the country would be turning with anger in their graves.
“A few things could be deduced from the ugly development. One, it is a sign of failure on the part of government because they cannot provide for the citizenry in spite of the stupendous wealth of the country. The leadership is not creative but seems to be chuffed with the disheartening state of affairs. Two, it shows that human dignity has been eroded in the psyche of the people. The moral temperature of society is unhealthy, hence citizens are treated like such lowly animals as donkeys,” he stated.
Obini argued: “Population is an asset of inestimable value. Assuming that the ‘deportees’ were jobless, as alleged, it behoves the leadership to create the enabling environment so that they can achieve their full potentials, help themselves and the country at the end of the day. But by this deportation, the constitution is thoroughly breached, even as the nation’s fragile unity is further buffeted.
“Surely, Nigeria is making itself a laughing stock in the comity of nations. However, it provides Ndigbo an opportunity for introspection or self-searching. And as long as injustice is perpetrated in the land, we will continue to grope in the dark.”
But what is the position of the law on this matter? Does the Lagos State Government have the right to accost people on the streets, hold them in captivity for several months before dumping them in a place, which is not necessarily their place of origin?
Providing answers to these questions, Mr. Chukwuanugo Ejikeme averred that deportation from one part of the country to another was an aberration, stressing that Lagos erred in every material particular. He argued that such acts would make people lose faith in the polity.
Maintaining that the action of the Lagos government smacked of impunity, Ejikeme said: “Under our constitution, no state government has the right to deport. You cannot deport somebody from one part of the country to another; deportation is from one country to another. If any Nigerian resident in any part of the country commits a crime, he ought to be tried and if found guilty, punished within the state. The action of Lagos State Government is condemnable and a complete violation of our constitution. And it gives the impression that Easterners are criminals, who are merely being tolerated in Lagos. The government ought to know that the brothers and sisters of those deported are the ones developing Lagos. If you deport a fellow Nigerian because he or she has no home or mentally sick, have you not failed as a state in assisting the needy? Why engage in segregation? How are indigenes that are in the same situation treated? This is part of the bad treatment meted to the Igbo; they are being treated like second-class citizens, to say the least. Worse still, the Federal Government has remained mute, not doing or saying anything about the ugly development.”
In the same vein, Aka Ikenga, an Igbo group, frowns at the development. In a statement issued by the president of the organisation, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, he stated: “We question the pedestal on which they were deported. Was the deportation by a court order? Was it at the whims and caprices of anybody in authority in Lagos? Some of those deported claimed they were abducted on the roads, detained in a camp and then dumped in Onitsha, Anambra State, by trailers and trucks.
“This is horrible and an aberration for a citizen to be deported from one part of the country to another. This is a democratic era and it is difficult to believe that the highly respected government of Lagos State will be suspected of involvement herein. Whatever be the case, this travesty must stop forthwith before it degenerates.”
Looking at it from the political point of view, Chief Onwudiwe of the South East, South South Professionals stated: “If it is the Lagos Sate Government is doing this, it is trying to kill ACN. About 43 per cent of ACN votes came from the Igbo and whose stake in the development and investment in the state are huge. The first time deportation happened, I was in Anambra State; I went straight to the Government House and saw the Secretary to the State Government (SSG). He told me that they got the information at about 2am that a bus came and dropped more than 100 of them at the bus stop and drove off. The SSG said the government immediately moved them to camp and first of all brought in a medical group to test them and be sure that they were okay and not a case of some people, who wanted to come and infect Anambra with diseases.
“They interviewed them and found out that about 90 per cent of them were not from Anambra. Some were Igbo-speaking and some were not. Some were from Akwa Ibom and Kogi, among other states but they dumped them there because once you are not speaking Yoruba, you are Igbo. They just crossed the Niger River and dumped them, as they perceived it’s the boundary of the Igbo nation. Is it a message that the Lagos State Government is clearing Lagos of destitute? You didn’t drive them to the borders of Lagos; you passed through Ogun, Ondo, Edo and Delta States and eventually landed in Anambra, where destitutes belong.
“I know that Governor Obi then took it up with President Goodluck Jonathan. I know that Fashola was called and he denied knowledge of it. He said he was not aware that such a thing happened. And it has happened this time again. Luckily now, the media was alert enough to have photographs, evidence that these are the people. The first time it happened, Obi tried to play politics of accommodation. He didn’t allow the media access to them but this time around, the media were on ground.
“I was listening to radio talk on the issue. It is nice that the governor of Lagos is ACN but being a lawyer, he should say what part of the constitution allows him to do this.
“I have received a lot of calls on this matter and their reactions have been that maybe, the support we have been giving to ACN is being taken for granted. Maybe we should support another political party, which will, at least, respect the constitution in that regard. Most of us are registered here and we use the people’s power to stop that rubbish.
“I know the governor of Anambra will allow it to be settled politically and as along as that happens, for the media, the governor of Lagos would continue to deny or they will say, ‘we are investigating the matter to find out who is causing it’ and for eternity we will not get to know the result. However, 2015 is coming and part of our jobs is to remind everybody that the constitution told one little truth: ‘We the people.’
“These beggars that you see on the streets of Ebute Metta and other places, who have been there for long, are not the destitute and nobody bothered to tell them to go anywhere or deport them. The destitutes are these street hawkers; these people who decided not to be robbers, who decided not to steal but carrying goods to sale. I personally saw it happen around Tejuosho area when one of the task forces in the state was pursuing the hawkers. I asked one of the boys what was happening, he said he was running because he couldn’t speak Yoruba and if they caught you, they would throw you into the van and confiscate your goods.
“This is a kind of subtle discrimination. I don’t want to believe that Fashola could have given instruction for that kind of thing. I don’t believe that he would ever do it. But let me use this opportunity to thank the Lagos State Government that what they have done was to deport because our brothers in the North might not have deported.”