War of Words Over Deportation

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Fashola

Lies and politics take the centre stage as Lagos and Anambra States and their supporters make a case for or against deportation of Anambra indigenes from Lagos

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Aug. 19, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

IT IS no longer news that the Lagos state government deported 72 Nigerians to Onitsha, Anambra state on the pretext that they are indigenes of the state. What is at issue now is the various lies, half truths amidst facts that have been peddled by the actors in the game namely the Lagos and Anambra States government officials – all in the name of politics. There is also mixed reactions that have continued to trail their actions which invariably point to the danger such poses to the nation’s unity.

The deportation saga has dredged up fundamental and constitutional issues regarding the right of every Nigerian to dwell anywhere in any state in the country without being expelled under any pretext, according to section 41(1) of the country’s 1999 Constitution as amended. Section 41 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria states that: “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom.”

Aregbesola
Aregbesola

The heat which the deportation threw up has been watered by sectional, religious and political interests. Political parties and regional bodies have politicised the action which is a threat to fundamental human rights and mostly rights of those living and coming into Lagos.  Most Nigerians who are not adequately informed of what actually happened view the deportation of 72 people to Anambra State as an assault on the constitution of Nigeria, and in fact a violation of the various international treaties on respect for human dignity that Nigeria is a signatory to. These reactions were strengthened by the letter Peter Obi, governor of Anambra State wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan complaining about Fashola’s action. It was also said that the Lagos State government did not inform his counterpart in Anambra before taking the action.

Contrary to this claim, Realnews investigation has shown that the Lagos state government informed the Anambra State liaison office in Lagos about the deportation of 14 of its indigenes. In a letter dated April 9, 2013, with reference number: OYSD/596/VI/762, the Lagos state government intimated the Anambra liaison officer in Lagos on the Lagos State Government’s Social Welfare Policy in respect of the integration of beggars/destitute with their families.

The letter signed by O.T. Ajao, special adviser, Office of Youth and Social Development, said that the rescue of beggars/destitute from the streets of Lagos is a continuous exercise. “In view of the above, I am to inform you that Fourteen (14) persons who claim to be indigenes of your state are currently in our centre awaiting your response for identification towards evacuation and integration with their families back in Anambra State. I hereby solicit for your urgent response in this regard to screen them to verify if they are truly from your state,” said the letter which is in possession of Realnews magazine.

Replying, Chukwudum Ucheoma N, senior special assistant to the governor of Anambra state/liaison office, Lagos, in a letter dated April 15, 2013, acknowledged receiving the Lagos state letter on April 13, 2013. “May I request that the particulars of the 14 persons claiming to be indigenes of Anambra State be furnished to us to enable us make enquiry as to finding out their true origin. The above request is of urgent importance, to facilitate their integration with their families if they are from Anambra. Please be assured of my esteemed regards,” said the letter which is also in the possession of Realnews.

In view of the controversy which has centred around the fact that the Lagos State government did not inform its counterpart in Anambra state, the pertinent question is could the liaison officer have kept Governor Obi in the dark over the correspondence it exchanged with the Lagos state? If, indeed, the Lagos state notified Anambra State liaison office, is it true that it dumped 72 people in Onitsha instead of the 14 stated in their letter to the liaison officer? Who are the remaining 58 people and where are they from?

One other equally disturbing development is the list of 14 persons which the Lagos state government sent to the liaison officer. The list which is in possession of Realnews had names like Emmanuel Okon from Ikolegbene village, Andy Oshornogor, (Anambra), Grace Udoh, (Isia village), Victoria Agboola, (village not stated) and Joseph Eto from (Gbogbosan village). Of the 14 names stated in the list, six are not Igbo names and the villages are also strange to Igboland (see the published list). Also the names of the villages and local government and are not in Anambra state, for instance, Joseph Eto was listed to be from Gbogbosan in Obudu local government area.

Deported people in Onitsha
Deported people in Onitsha

Nonetheless, Realnews gathered that after receiving the letter of the Lagos state government, the liaison officer did not go to identify the destitute persons as requested because she argued that her office did not have the logistics to take the destitutes home. But the Lagos state government offered to provide the vehicle to take them home so long as Anambra government officials would be around to collect the destitute persons.  On reaching Onitsha, the driver and officials from Lagos called the liaison officer’s telephone number but it was switched off. Hence, they had to dump the destitute at the internal revenue office in Bridge Head, Onitsha.

Piqued by the dumping of the destitute persons in the wee hours at Onitsha, Peter Obi, Anambra State governor, wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan requesting him to intervene in the brewing face-off between the two states over the forcible relocation of some Igbos to his state. Obi, in the letter, the content of which was released to the public on Wednesday, July 31, warned that if the action of the Lagos State government was not checked, other states could emulate it by forcing out non-indigenes from their states. This, he said, could lead to anarchy in the country.

Obi’s letter said in part: “Last September and again on 24 July, 2013, the Lagos State Government contrived inexplicable reasons to round up Nigerians, whom they alleged were Anambra indigenes (most of whom the State Security Service, SSS) report shows clearly were not from Anambra State) and forcibly deported them to Anambra State, dumping them as it were, in the commercial city of Onitsha. This latest callous act, in which Lagos State Government did not even bother to consult with Anambra State authorities, before deporting 72 persons considered to be of Igbo extraction to Anambra State, is illegal, unconstitutional and a blatant violation of the human rights of these individuals and of the Nigerian constitution.”

The Lagos State government through its attorney general and commissioner for justice defended its action insisting that the deportees were actually destitutes that had one type of aliment or the other, including mental derangement and that they were picked up at various points in Lagos, rehabilitated prior to moving them to their states of origin.

Governor Babatunde Fashola too, while speaking with some Igbo leaders recently at a meeting, gave the same explanation. Fashola told reporters in Lagos that the propaganda on the issue was meant to tarnish the reputation and credibility of his government as well as the newly registered All Progressives Congress, APC, because of the November 16, governorship election in the state.

“It is unfortunate that my colleague governor made this a media issue. As I speak, I haven’t received any telephone call or letter from him to complain. And I don’t think that is the way government works. On less important matters like this, he had called me before,” he said, adding that those hiding under the controversy to portray the state government in bad light before the Igbo speaking communities, have failed to realise the existing bond between the government and the Igbo residents over the years.

Many Nigerians have reacted to the development in various ways. Chris Ngige, a senator from Anambra State, in a letter dated July 30, 2013, (see published copy for details) which he presented to the president of an Igbo professional group, Aka Ikenga, on July 30, said that his finding on the issue showed that it was not a deportation, “but a social welfare intervention.” Ngige said that he had a meeting with the group on July 28, and was requested as a senator elected on the ticket of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, to find out what transpired.

Fasehun
Fasehun

The senator said that when he met with Fashola, he discovered that the state’s intervention involved several homeless destitutes and other psychiatric cases roaming about the streets and some living under the bridges in Lagos. “These people were taken in and treated and cared for by the Lagos state government free of charge and thereafter needed to be reintegrated with their families. After this rehabilitation, the affected people disclosed their true identies and the disclosure revealed that 14 of them were from Anambra State. For the purpose of reintegration with their kith and kin back home since most of them have nobody in Lagos) and for further social support and care, Lagos State government communicated the Anambra State Government as well as other affected state governments to come forward and identify and take over their people,” the letter said.

According to the letter, with further contact and pressure, Anambra State government preferred the handing over to be done at Onitsha bridgehead and Lagos State government obliged but found no Anambra state government representative on arrival on the agreed date and was hence forced to leave the people at the Government office they found at the Niger bridgehead”.

Ngige’s letter also said that the “Lagos government further explained that this kind of exchange of destitutes occur between states, as she recently went to Akwa Ibom State to take back two of its rehabilitated citizens.

Realnews is in possession of the letter from the ministry of women affairs and social welfare, Akwa Ibom State to the commissioner of women affairs and social development, Lagos State. The letter dated July 23, 2013, is entitled: Repatriation of Lunatics, Beggars and Destitute to their Home State. The letter signed by Akaninyene S. Ubara, commissioner of Women Affairs and Social Welfare, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, informed her counterpart in Lagos that two people who have been rehabilitated and placed on trial leave have no relation in Akwa Ibom State. The letter which listed their names as Babatunde Obamaiviaya and Tunde Jimmy, both males, referred them to the commissioner for “further medical management/treatment and necessary action” (see published letter for details)

Despite this, most Nigerians are appalled at the actions of both Lagos and Akwa Ibom states, stating that the people are Nigerians and should be taken care of by the states, irrespective of their state of origin. Frederick Fasehun, leader of a faction of Oodua People’s Congress, OPC, has called on the police, federal authorities, as well as civil society groups to investigate and prosecute Lagos State officials for this gross human rights violation. He sees the action as insensitive, provocative, unpatriotic and unconstitutional.

Goddy Uwazurike, president, Aka Ikenga, an Igbo group, has also condemned the action. He said the deportation was against sections 35 and 41 of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution. He maintained that if necessary steps were not taken by governor Fashola, the newly registered All Progressives Congress would be wrongly perceived in the East and Nigeria at large. “Everything that happens in one government affects another like what is happening in Lagos now. The deportation will definitely affect the perception of the APC in Igboland and even in Nigeria. That is why I want the governor to be careful of some of his actions because I am sure this will not be the way he wants to reward more than 90 percent of Igbos in Lagos who voted for him. It will affect their chances unless they take steps to remedy the situation. As a matter of fact, Lagosians are very hospitable and do not really do anything to obstruct other people who reside here. But from time to time, some ruffians get into one position or the other in the government agencies and use it to give vent to their hitherto hidden animalistic tendencies. Such people end up messing up the well intended government policies,” he said.

 Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youths Congress, also joined forces in criticising the action of the Lagos government. The group gave the state government three days to apologise over the deportation or risk public protests. Nonso Ozoemena, secretary of the group, said that governor Fashola’s action was capable of breaching peace in the country and if mismanaged could grind the nation to a halt. He described the action as not only reckless and insulting to the Igbo, but a clear infraction on the rights of Nigerians regardless of where they may come from.

Peter Obi
Peter Obi

According to him, interrogation with the deportees revealed that many of them were not from the South-East, how much more from Anambra State, where they were dumped. “This apparent abuse of Nigeria’s constitution, that is done with so much impunity, clearly negates the rights and freedom of movement and right to live in any part of the country by the Nigerian citizenry. “We totally condemn this act and demand immediate apology from the Lagos governor, as his action, if reciprocated by the South-East governors, will clearly breed distrust and fan the embers of hatred amongst Nigerians,” he said.

The International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, Intersociety, said the negative publicity that has trailed the deportation will cost the All Progressives Congress, APC, dearly in the coming elections. Emeka Umeagbalasi, board chairman, of the group, while reacting to the claims of the APC that governor Obi and NGOs that have made an issue out of the Lagos State Government’s action, did so for political reasons said: “Didn’t they know that the action is capable of marring the chances of the party in the forthcoming elections? If they knew, why did they engage in such atrocious act? The question is: Is it constitutional? The deportation will mar APC’s chances, if any, not only in the November governorship election in Anambra State but also during the nationwide general elections in 2015 because what it means is that it is the policy they will implement if they take over power,” he said.

However, some people have criticised Obi for trying to make political capital out of the issue. Lai Mohammed, interim national publicity secretary, APC, criticised the decision of the Anambra State governor to sensationalise the deportation issue from Lagos. He said instead of reaching out to his Lagos counterpart, as he had done on less important issues in the past, Obi fired an over-dramatised letter to the presidency and leaked such to the media, thus setting off an avoidable friction between the Igbo and the Yoruba that will not augur well for the nation’s unity.

“We are not saying Obi has no right to play politics, but he must fight clean and avoid any action that could hurt not just the enduring harmony between the Igbo and the Yoruba, but also the unity of the country. Resorting to primordial sentiments anytime election is approaching is Obi’s modus operandi. He did it just before the 2009 election, when he labelled the ACN under which Dr. Chris Ngige contested as a Yoruba party, and he is going down the same path now. This is all about the November 2013 election. If Governor Obi is sure of his performance, he should allow that to speak for him and stop whipping up tribal sentiments. It is very dishonourable for a political leader at the level of Obi to show total disregard for the truth and to whip up emotions for personal gains, as he has done on this issue. By his deliberate and blatant distortion of facts, as we will show shortly, Obi has raised a serious doubt about his leadership qualities,” he said.

Aka Ikenga 1Also, C.Don Adinuba, head, Discovery Communications Limited, said the Lagos State action was based on its ambitious project to turn Lagos into a mega city. According to him, this entailed, among other things, the enthronement of a new social order and a different aesthetic regime and it was not designed to witch-haunt anybody or tribe in particular. “Some politicians who are determined to make political capital out of the so-called repatriations have been busy simulating the hysteria. But perhaps, unbeknownst to these people, they are hurting in a most profound manner strategic Igbo interests. No people can survive let alone progress on a diet of lies and emotions, or by allowing politicians to create and sustain a culture of paranoia or siege mentality, otherwise called persecution complex,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lagos State on August 7 deported another batch of 46 people to Oshogbo, Osun State. Biyi Odunlade, special adviser to Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, who received the deportees called destitute, said that the state has no option than to welcome them. According to Odunlade, 26 out of the 46 destitute evacuated from Lagos, were genuine indigenes. He further said that about 150 of such destitute have been repatriated to the state from Lagos, Oyo and other places since the current administration came on board.

“We were invited by Lagos State to pick our brothers and sisters who were destitute and 46 persons were brought, out of which we discovered that just 26 of them are actually indigenes of the state, comprising of 19 males and five females with two children who are from different local governments in the state. It is our responsibility to take the matter up because Governor Aregbesola believes in quick and responsible action, and that is why the state government insisted that any time Lagos invited us for their evacuation, we should respond on good time,” the governor’s aide said.

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