By Ik Muo
Lagos Island, Lagos. Alf Gillman/Flickr
Late last year, Chinua Achebe's memoir of the fratricidal Biafran civil war was published under the title There Was a Country. In the book, Achebe noted that although Nigeria started well, it has since descended into an intolerable existential nadir. He believed that things ought to be better; that things could be better and indeed that things should be better!
Happenings in this country and the way our leaders handle issues that affect our nationhood force me to ask, was there a country? Is there a country? Will there ever be a country? The recent expulsion of Nigerians from Lagos has once more brought to the fore the question of whether Nigeria is a country and what type of country it is. Dr. Dolapo Badru, Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos State on Youth and Social Development unabashedly admitted that they have deported 1,708 persons this year alone — proof that the deportation is an ongoing practice and that it may not be strictly an Igbo affair. But given the uproar generated by the latest deportation and the discordant tunes from the Lagos State government, it is necessary to re-examine the policy especially its justification, its modality and the implications.
The Lagos State government explained that the policy was aimed at ridding the streets of Lagos of destitutes and beggars; the jobless, homeless, moneyless, and in accordance with international standards, reunite them with their families. They also claimed to have reformed the deportees who thereafter indicated their interest to return home. According to the Lagos State government, It is a social intervention that is executed in collaboration with their ‘states of origin’. In one instance, the Anambra State government had been contacted after 14 indigenes from the state had been identified, and both governments had agreed to conduct the handover at Niger Bridge. But since no Anambra State official was there at that time (around 3:00 a.m.), the deportees were probably handed them over to ghosts. It is on record that they dumped about 100 persons on September 18, 2012.
Anambra State has formally protested to the federal government, noting that this forced deportation calls into question the validity of Nigeria and its federating components, and violates human decency, the rule of law and constitutionally provided liberties. But Governor Fashola of Lagos responded that the hype was political, specifically aimed at devaluing the yet to be concretised All Progressives Congress (APC). He reminded the Igbos that their markets are located all over Lagos and declared that the risks and stakes are high if Igbos were incited against their host community. He also advised Obi and other complainants to go to court rather than report to the President. Senator Chris Ngige, (Action Congress of Nigeria, Anambra) declared that Fashola is too good and harmless to commit such an unholy act; Orji Uzor Kalu has threatened to sue the Lagos State government while Dr. Fasheun who decried the impunity and arrogance of Lagos State government, declared the act as insensitive, provocative and asked the Lagos State government to render a public apology, with compensation and rehabilitation for the victims.
The deportation is in line with the elitism that characterizes our public policy in Lagos and other parts of the country. Hawkers are hounded off the streets, their shops destroyed and wares looted by officials of the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) agency officials; ‘illegal’ structures are destroyed so as to make the environment decent for the rich; typical okada is banned but the type used by the rich are allowed and now, unemployment and joblessness is being criminalized. This is what the rich does to the poor and the vulnerable. Just as Karl Marx theorized over a century ago, so it is today.
Does the constitution no longer allow free movement and domicile to Nigerians in any part of Nigeria? Why the talk about international practices while discussing internal, inter-state affairs? Are Lagos and Anambra states now different countries? It took 10 years of legal wrangling to get Abdul Qadata, a certified terrorist, deported from Britain to Jordan and he was conveyed in a chartered jet? When did petty trading, joblessness and poverty become offences? Will these deportees become home-full, job-full and money-full by being offloaded at Onitsha?! And if they committed any offences, why not take them to court? In any case, if Lagos has truly been rounding off miscreants, why are area-boys still a menace in the city, or where have they been deported to?
This practice of deportation is sadistic and against the interest of Nigeria. And it does not solve any problem. At every point and every turn, people are being reminded that they are not Nigerians and yet we are admonished to be patriotic. I expected that Fashola would have done better both as a champion of true federalism and as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Deporting fellow Nigerians, threatening the Igbos, and linking the complaints and condemnation to APC are very unbecoming and unfortunate. Nigerians are deported from all over the world, and at home, they are deported to their fathers’ compound. Even if there is a Nigeria, is there a country; is there a nation? And with this type of policy, are we moving towards nationhood?
This article was originally published on BusinessDay.