Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Oracle on the Alleged Deportation of "Anambrarians" By the Lagos State Government: A Calm Voice After The Noise

On the 24th of July 2012, people said to number between 60 and 72 were dumped at the Upper-Iweka Bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State. These people were said to have been deported/evicted by the Lagos State Government. This act caused uproar, with exchange of words, threats and counter-threats between people of the Ibo and Yoruba tribes. Notable amongst these were the write-ups of a man I see as almost-sane, Fani-kayode, who went to a great extent to slander the Ibos on this issue by claiming they were like refugees who should count themselves lucky to be welcomed by the Yorubas, especially the Lagosians. When challenged and called anti-Ibo; Fani-Kayode, on trying to prove he wasn't an Ibo-hater, alleged he had once had an intimate relationship with Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu. Through to form as an almost-sane man, he is presently trying to withdraw that statement after he was once again challenged as to its validity by Mrs Ojukwu and her lawyers. So, owing to his rather 'unstable' nature; the Shrine would treat his contribution to this issue as an unfortunate result of a fad rather than facts and shall pay him no attention.

Now back to the issue at hand; the Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi had to write to President Jonathan concerning the alleged deportation. This prompted a reaction from Governor Fashola who was of the opinion that the issue was like a "storm in the tea-cup" and should not have been taken to that extent by Governor Peter Obi.  President Goodluck Jonathan had used this issue to land a punch on ACN during his speech at the recently concluded PDP National Convention where he said "In the PDP, we attack destitution, not the destitute"…whether this is true or not is for you to decide.

Today, away from all the brouhaha, the Oracle would present the issue as it is, and critically so. Many people have asked why Governor Fashola could do such and if it were constitutional; I would provide answers to these and more and my tools today shall be the Nigerian constitution which can be found here and Governor Fashola’s address to Aka-Ikenga (a socio-cultural Ibo organization)regarding this issue which can be found here.

Fashola's story in a nut-shell

According to Governor Fashola while addressing Aka-Ikenga, this issue arose out of the decision by his government to provide assistance to destitute like the mentally ill, beggars and the homeless. He also did mention that his government is aware of the fact that some of the wealthy of society make additional income by deploying infants and the vulnerable to beg in the streets. He said that it was only 14 and not 60 people that were sent to Anambra after passing through the rehabilitation centre in Lagos. He explained that beggars, the mad and homeless are routinely picked up round the state and sent to a rehabilitation centre. At this centre, they are cleaned up, detoxified and rehabilitated by the social and health workers employed to look after them. Governor Fashola also said that once the rehabilitation process ends, these people usually request to be taken back home and that Lagos takes them back to their indigenous States; not as deportees but as people who are to get re-integrated with their families and communities.

The truth with facts

  1.  Fashola and his government were not being and are not discriminatory against the Ibos: It is very easy to conclude that Fashola and his government were being tribalistic and anti-Igbo when one considers these following facts:

    • That this 'rehabilitation and re-integration' exercise by the Lagos State Government is targeted at beggars, the mad and the homeless.
    • That Fashola himself admitted to knowing that infants and the vulnerable are being used by some unscrupulous elements in society as money-making machines through begging in Lagos state.
    • That a bulk of such beggars and homeless destitute are the Almajiris from the Northern part of the country.
    • That never have our brothers in the North or elsewhere in Nigeria lamented that the Lagos state government 'deported' their people.
    • That it appears the Ibos were the first to receive such a treatment from Lagos State.

But the truth is that this exercise began way back in 2003 as Lagos state seeks to be a world-known city through beautification and increased security of lives and property. Findings show that Ogun and Oyo States were the first to have destitute dumped at their doorsteps. In 2009, about 160 persons alleged to be from Kaduna and Kano were dumped at the Northern part of the country. Ogun State again had about 70 people dumped for them in 2010. Though these generated some sort of friction between Lagos State and the affected States, it never reached the extent which the dumping in Anambra did and not a lot of people knew.

Another proof that this isn't the first time Lagos State has dumped destitute in other states: Fashola, while addressing Aka-Ikenga, made statements like "This is a very simple and routine procedure"; "In this particular case..."; "From time to time we have helped them back to the place they call home"; "Ladies and gentlemen, this is not new". This implicitly shows that people have been routinely sent back to their states in the past and that the latest occurrence in Anambra isn’t the first.

Moving away from the issue for a bit; it is pertinent to state that Fashola has been known to have Non-Lagosians, including Ibos as members of his cabinet; this definitely is not one of the characteristics of a tribalistic Governor

2.   The exercise isn't about helping the destitute; it isn't about rehabilitation and           it isn't about re-integration: In Fashola’s words while still addressing Aka-Ikenga:

“Mental health ,for example,  is one area where because of stigma no one has attended to it...there are people who have mental  illness...I am concerned about those people and I have gotten my colleagues in government to let us show concern about these issues. I think that somebody should stand up for them and that is why we started...I think our government should be commended...”

Governor Fashola had tried to present this  exercise as one which his government had embarked on with good intentions and with the good and welfare of the destitute as priority but the way by which they have gone about 'rehabilitating' and 're-integrating' these people says otherwise.

As I initially said, findings have shown that between 2003 till the latest occurrence in Anambra State, the Lagos State Government had literally dumped these destitute at the door steps of States which they "believe" they must have originated from. Note the word "believe" …most of these so called destitute have ended up being dumped in states which they are not indigenous and have never been to. Furthermore, it is also common for these dumping to be made late in the day and under the cover of darkness. One could argue that this could be due to the distance between Lagos State and the affected States. But when one considers that on two different occasions Ogun State (Lagos State's next door neighbour) had woken up to see dumped destitute, including the blind and crippled, at its doorstep and on enquiry it turns out that they had been sent back from Lagos by the State Government; it becomes obvious that the dumping at night is intentional. Lagos State has become a criminal at night though this time they don't steal but they dump and run.  

Again, if the Lagos State Government; as claimed by Fashola; is so concerned about the welfare of these destitute that they routinely go through the pains of rehabilitating them, of what use is the so-called rehabilitation exercise if these same destitute are dumped somewhere and left to fend for themselves just like they used to? Where really does re-integration arise? If the Lagos State Government were really sincere about making better people out of these destitute; they would ensure that these people are re-united with their families and with people who will care for them...sadly though, this is never the case. To me, the whole exercise is just about cleansing Lagos of destitute and moving them to other States and Regions.

One would also expect these destitute to be happy with the Lagos state Government for "cleaning them up, detoxifying them and rehabilitating them"; but they have all told about being detained for months like prisoners before being moved out of Lagos. Some of the so called destitute turned out to have had honest means of livelihood in Lagos before being arrested like common criminals without an idea of what they did wrong. Apparently, they may not have been expensively dressed and were thought to be too poor to stay in Lagos state...so obviously, there is a problem here.

3.   Fashola is not proud of it:

As I have earlier shown and in his address to Aka-Ikenga, Fashola implicitly revealed that the deportation of non-indigenous destitute has been a common practice in his administration but he never mentioned a state which had previously reached an understanding with the Lagos State Government as to the resettlement of certain destitute, neither did he cite previous instances where the Lagos State Government has dumped destitute in other states. He only mentioned Akwa Ibom, which he said sent him 2 individuals whom they believed were Lagosians.

Why Fashola chose not to explicitly state how they have been dumping destitute in one state or the other is suspicious and could point to the fact that it is really not an exercise he is proud of.

4. Lagos state is not the only state that deports or has deported destitute:

The same Governor Peter Obi who is screaming blue murder at the deportation by the Lagos State Government of destitute alleged to be from Anambra, sent about 29 beggars from Onitsha back to Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi states in 2011. Ironically once more; Governor Obi had written to President Goodluck Jonathan to complain about Fashola's misbehaviour ...the same Goodluck Jonathan, under whose nose beggars were forcefully  ejected from the FCT in 2011 and again in May 2013 and he uttered no word…what a foolish man Peter is turning out to be. Akwa Ibom and Rives states are also said to have sacked destitute from their states in recent times.

5. It is unconstitutional:

Governor Fashola, while addressing Aka-Ikenga reminded them that he was not just a lawyer but a leader of the Nigerian Bar by virtue of rank. In his words:

“The worrisome thing of course is that some of the debate that has gone on also by our so called constitutional experts has not helped matters...freedom of movement; we respect those freedoms. I’m not just a lawyer; I’m a leader of the Nigerian bar by virtue of rank; I respect those freedoms but they are not absolute...even the constitution provides that laws can be made in a democratic society that limits these rights...so you have a right to freedom of association fine, but there are laws that say that you can’t be a member of a secret cult; so your rights stop where the need for decency and law and order and the protection of other citizens begin. You have a right to move anywhere you like; what the constitution says really is you can’t be deported from Nigeria, it does not mean that each of the component states cannot act in a way to prevent dumping...the rights are not absolute, none of them; not even the right to life is absolute because there is a criminal law that says that if you take life, they would take your life back…”

Yes, Fashola was definitely correct when he implied that none of the fundamental human rights as contained in our constitution is absolute; but I must not be a lawyer to point out that there are absolute provisions for when a citizen should be denied these rights.
He cited an example using the right to freedom of association which he said does not validate being a member of a secret society. Actually that right can only be constitutionally limited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in cases where the association is with political parties that are not recognized as stated in Section 40 of our constitution:

   40. Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests:
Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.

The right which is limited by the law against being a member of a secret society is the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as stated on Section 38 (Subsections 1 and 4) of the Nigerian constitution:

   38. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
(4) Nothing in this section shall entitle any person to form, take part in the activity or be a member of a secret society.

Fashola also cited an instance where the right to life is not absolute and, constitutionally, he was right. But again; the provision for when this right should be denied a citizen was made absolute by our constitution as stated in Section 33 (Subsection 1):

     33. (1) Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.

When Fashola talked about the freedom of movement; he mentioned that the constitution only stated that a Nigerian should not be deported from Nigeria and that the constitution never said that States in Nigeria should not act in a way to prevent dumping. Implicitly, Fashola was saying that though it is constitutionally wrong to deport a Nigerian from Nigeria; it is right for States to deport Nigerians from one State to another in other to prevent dumping. What is dumping, Mr. Fashola? And what really does the Nigerian constitution state about freedom of movement? Section 41 (Subsections 1 and 2) says:

   41. (1) Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society-
(a) Imposing restrictions on the residence or movement of any person who has committed or is reasonably suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving Nigeria; or
(b) Providing for the removal of any person from Nigeria to any other country to:-
(i) Be tried outside Nigeria for any criminal offence, or
(ii) Undergo imprisonment outside Nigeria in execution of the sentence of a court of law in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty provided that there is reciprocal agreement between Nigeria and such other country in relation to such matter.

Although the freedom of movement is not absolute, it is not constitutionally limited by any law which seeks to prevent "dumping".

Furthermore, these deportations of destitute who are not indigenous to the deporting state explicitly contravene Section 42(subsections 1 and 2) of the Nigerian constitution which states that:

42. (1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
(a) Be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b) Be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions.
 (2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.

When destitute are forcefully sacked from one State and discarded at the other, the following rights are further violated:

1. The right to respect for the dignity of his person (Section 34)
2. The right to his personal liberty (Section 35)

So, no matter how Mr. Fashola wants to paint it; the act is unlawful and not even the fact that it is being practised by other clueless Governors and Ministers as in the case of the FCT or the fact that a clueless President and the National Assembly overlook it makes it constitutional.

My Advice

Nigeria is the only place that Nigerians of different classes and social statuses can call home, their indigenous states notwithstanding. It doesn't matter if its 1, 2, 14, 60 or 72 destitute that get ejected; once every state starts to systematically eject the poor instead of fighting poverty, where will they go to and who would take care of them?

Again, it would not be surprising if this exercise is further worsened by being converted into a malicious tool for oppression by KAI (Kick against Indiscipline) Officials in Lagos and their counterparts in states where deportation of destitute is being practised. A KAI official, for instance, may have a misunderstanding with his poor neighbour who isn't a Lagos indigene and due to the undefined and haphazard style of picking people around the State; this KAI official can get his colleagues to arrest the poor neighbour; take him to the ‘rehabilitation centre’ and send him packing after a while without his property and family members.

I call on well meaning Nigerians to stand against this rising trend in their individual states.  The life and comfort of any Nigerian should be more valuable than the desire to develop beautiful cities oozing false sense of wealth and comfort but which truly reeks of decadence. Let us build a structure that accommodates the poor and destitute; let us genuinely fight destitution and not the destitute; let us fight poverty and not the poor…and only then would we have beautiful States and a beautiful Nigeria.

The Oracle Has Spoken!!

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