In Lagos, Deporting Fellow Nigerians…To Nigeria

In Nigeria, the press calls it the ‘internal deportation’ scandal: police in Yoruba-dominated Lagos round up dozens of supposedly indigent people of Igbo ethnicity in sweeps. After long periods of detention and mistreatment, they are shipped across the country, back to the states that are ‘their homeland.’ A startling glimpse into Nigeria’s struggles with urbanization, ethnic conflict; and perhaps a window into the ethnic warfare that came with the birth of the country.

“SEIZED AND ‘REPATRIATED’ BY THE KICK AGAINST INDISCIPLINE BRIGADE”
welcome-to-lagos21Welcome to Lagos. Photo Aphrodesia.

 

In this news article Punch‘s reporters interview several of the deportees, who say they were victims of Lagos’ grim, though colorfully named, Kick Against Indiscipline Brigade. Punch questions the state government’s claim that the deportees were in fact beggars, but fails to note the ethnic element which later became the most volatile part of the story: the fact that all of the deportees were Igbo, from regions to the East of Yoruba-dominated Lagos.

On Wednesday, some 70 beggars and other people described as homeless were reported to have been dumped at the Upper Iweka Bridge, Onitsha, Anambra State, by agents of the Lagos State Government.

The destitute, as some would describe them, told journalists that they were dumped about 3.00am at this location after being detained in Ikorodu, Lagos, for over six months for alleged wandering and other minor offences by the officials of Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline [Brigade].

While the action has drawn the ire of some humanitarian organisations, individuals and Anambra State Government, the Lagos State Government has not issued any official statement on the matter, either denying or confirming it.

But the victims said they were brought to Onitsha in four buses, escorted by riot policemen. What is, however, not clear is the definition of who a destitute is, especially in the context of the government’s action.

Besides, observers want to know how the state of origins of the people involved were established. Indeed, one of the victims of what can be described as ‘internal deportation’, Mr. Osondu Mbuto, who hails from Ohaozara in Ebonyi State, told one of our correspondents that he was a petty trader in Lagos. According to him, he was arrested by the LSG officials, in company with some policemen, while going to his shop on December 18, 2012.

This is not the first time the Babatunde Fashola administration would be sending the destitute to their states of origin. Not long ago, several beggars from the northern part of the country were ‘repatriated’.
Perhaps to show that the state is not discriminatory about this, the South-West too has tasted the pill of such deportation. Some of the destitute were, in the past, dumped in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, sometimes last year.

Yet, the deported may have to count themselves lucky. After all, some were, not long ago, arrested, arraigned and sentenced to different jail terms while some others have been given the community service option.

On February 4, 2013, 20 beggars were convicted by the Special Offences Court in Alausa for begging alms on the streets of Lagos. Among them was a cripple, Sunday Udoyo, who had hernia. He was brought to Lagos by a relation to raise money for the surgical operation of the ailing Udoyo.

Because of his predicament, Udoyo was remanded at the Lagos State Rehabilitation Centre, Majidun, where he will spend two years. […]

Special Adviser to the Governor on Youth and Social Development, Dr. Dolapo Badru, had told one of our correspondents sometimes last year in an interview that it was an offence for someone to beg alms on the streets of Lagos. He said it was also an offence to give alms.

He then warned Lagosians not to give alms to beggars as both the beggars and the givers were culpable.

The Babatunde Fashola administration does not hide its fangs when it comes to the issue of disorderly behaviour, and other things that it defines to constitute nuisance to the public.
But the latest action of ‘internal deportation’ has started generating disquiet among some stakeholders. The Chairman of the Nigeria Red Cross Society in the South-East, Dr. Peter Katchy, described the government’s action as condemnable.

He said, “It’s very deplorable. It’s very disheartening that a state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria will bundle people, who are not even indigenes of Anambra State, and dump them under the flyover at Upper Iweka in Onitsha. […]

The Anambra State Government, reacting to the development, has stated that it will take the matter up at the highest level. […]

Meanwhile, most of the ‘deportees’ have found their way out of Onitsha. The few left are being catered for by the Nigerian Red Cross Society at a camp within the former secretariat of the Onitsha South Local Government.

-Samuel Awoyinfa and Emmanuel Obe

“I AM NEITHER A BEGGAR NOR A HAWKER”
beggars21Jailed for begging. Photo Nigeriana.

 

A few days after the deportations, Vanguard‘s reporter visited the town where the Igbo deportees had been dumped, discovering that many of them had been detained for months before being bused hundreds of miles away and discarded on the other side of the Niger river in Igbo country.

Since the unfortunate incident of deportation of some Igbos from Lagos to Onitsha, old wounds were re-opened over similar incidents that happened in the past.[…]

The incident is attracting this much comments because it is the second time Lagos state government evacuated people to Onitsha, under the same circumstance. The first one was on September 18, 2012 when they evacuated over 100 persons in nine loaded buses and dumped them in Onitsha. […]

The same residents of the commercial city of Onitsha woke up early on Wednesday, July 24, this year, and discovered to their chagrin that 67 persons, majority of whom were of Igbo extraction were deported all the way from Lagos and dumped at almost the same spot at the popular Upper Iweka area of the commercial city. […]

The initial deportation, which had larger number, sparked off fear among the residents of the commercial city of Onitsha who were afraid that the people may not be destitutes after all but members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect, given the present security situation in the country then and still now.

The development equally sent the security apparatus in Onitsha into frenzy as they mobilized their men to take position at the strategic locations in Bridge-head and Upper Iweka areas.
The Commander of the 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha, Col. Taritimiye Gagariga told newsmen on phone then that they were observing the situation, but assured that there was no cause for alarm.

The police Area Commander for Onitsha, Mr. Benjamin Wordu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, also told newsmen then in a telephone chat that it was not yet certain whether the people were prison inmates, lunatics or destitutes, adding that he had directed the police authorities at Fegge Police Division to look into the matter properly and find out who actually the evacuees were. […]

On enquiry, the deportees told the residents that they were arrested by the officials of Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) from various parts of Lagos, detained in different prison custody for a period ranging from six months to two years and finally deported to Onitsha where they were dumped at about 3.20 a.m.

As early as 6 a.m., officials of the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS), led by its South East zonal chairman, Dr. Peter Emeka Katcy arrived the scene and interviewed the deportees one after the other.

According to the deportees, the KAI officials were instructed to flush out hawkers and beggars out of the state and as such, the KAI officials embarked on indiscriminate arrests and detention of non indigenes of the state, without asking questions.

According to one of the deportees who gave her name as Rosemary Nathaniel, a native of Ubakala in Umuahia, Abia State, “I was neither a beggar nor a hawker for the past five years I lived in Lagos. I was working at a T-shirt weaving center at Mile 2, Lagos and I lived with my sister but in January, this year, the KAI officials arrested me and my friend while we were standing and discussing”.

On how she was arrested, Rosemary stated that she was just standing somewhere discussing with one of her friends and all of a sudden, the KAI officials, accompanied by some policemen double-crossed and dragged them into their waiting vehicle and then off-loaded them at a prison in Alausa area of Lagos.She noted that it was when they were forced into the vehicle that they saw others who were already inside the vehicle, adding that as they moved about, more persons were arrested and dragged into the vehicle until the vehicle was filled to the brim. […]

Another deportee who identified himself as Osondu Mbuto from Ohaozara in Ebonyi State and who claimed to be a petty trader in Lagos, said he was arrested by the same KAI officials who were in the company of some policemen, while going to his shop on December 18, last year. […]

According to Mbuto, “I am a Lagos-based petty trader but on that December 18 fateful day, I packed my load somewhere and decided to go and buy something and exercise myself and as I was walking on the road, I saw three persons who came and approached me. Initially, I thought they were all these people who snatch peoples’ bags and I thought I could scare them away by giving them a little change from my pocket.

“All of a sudden, “he continued, “I saw an armed policeman in uniform who pointed his gun at me as he ordered me to follow the KAI officials and out of fear, I joined them as they marched me into a waiting vehicle and drove away.

“My initial suspicion was that they were taking us to Alausa police station, where they used to detain people unlawfully only to release them later with a specific amount of fee for bail. But this time around, they took me to another place called Ikorodu which is different from Ikeja local government. That place is very close to Ijebu Ode”.

He said after taking his statement, they put him into their cell, adding that it was two days before their deportation to Onitsha that one of their elders came and asked that those who would want to go home should write down their name, which he did.

He said those of them who wrote their names and indicated their interest to go home were later separated from others and were later pushed into a vehicle down to Onitsha where they were dumped at the Upper Iweka Flyover at about 3.20 a.m.

As at 12 noon, that same Wednesday, the news of their arrival to Onitsha had spread like a wild fire, to the extent that the relations of some of the deportees surged to Onitsha, identified and took up to 41 of them home, while the Red Cross team later took the remaining 18 of them to Onitsha South Local government township Stadium where they were given blood tonic, lucozade boost, biscuits, food and bottled water and counseled.[…]

Reacting to the development, the South East Zonal Red Cross boss, Katchy, described the action of the Lagos state government as condemnable, adding, “it is very despicable and very disheartening that a state in Federal Republic of Nigeria will bundle people who are in that state, who are not even [natives]of Anambra State, bring them back to Anambra State, dump them under the fly-over bridge at Upper Iweka in Onitsha and leave”.

“It is an insult to Anambra State. We shall draw the attention of His Excellency, the Governor of Anambra State, Mr.Peter Obi to ask why such invasion in his territory and we will find out why Lagos State should invade Anambra State territory; and why Lagos State should come and dump people here helplessly”, he lamented.

– Okonkwo Eze

“LAGOS BELONGS TO THE YORUBA PEOPLE”
lagos-greetings21Three wise men greeting entry into Lagos.By Kehinde Wiley. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

 

As it gradually became clear that Lagos authorities were systematically rounding up Igbo traders and deporting them across the Niger river, a debate raged in the Nigerian press. In Vanguard, prominent Yoruba political figure Femi Fani-Kayode launched several verbal and printed torpedoes at the idea of national unity, and of Lagos as an entrepot that belongs all Nigerians. This, he said, is a Yoruba city:

Permit me to make my second and final contribution to the raging debate about Lagos, who owns it and the seemingly endless tensions that exist between the Igbo and the Yoruba. It is amazing how one or two of the numerous nationalities that make up Nigeria secretly wish that they were Yoruba and consistently lay claim to Lagos as being partly theirs. Have they forgotten where they came from?

I have never heard of a Yoruba wanting to give the impression to the world that he is an Igbo, an Ijaw, an Efik or a Hausa-Fulani or claiming that he is a co-owner of Port Harcourt, Enugu, Calabar, Kano or Kaduna. Yet more often than not, some of those that are not of Yoruba extraction but that have lived in Lagos for some part of their lives have tried to claim that they are bonafide Lagosians and honorary members of the Yoruba race. Clearly it is time for us to answer the nationality question.

These matters have to be settled once and for all. Lagos and the South-west are the land and the patrimony of the Yoruba and we will not allow anyone, no matter how fond of them we may be, to take it away from us or share it with us in the name of ”being nice”, ”patriotism”, ”one Nigeria” or anything else.

The day that the Yoruba are allowed to lay claim to exactly the same rights and privileges that the indigenous people in non-Yoruba states and zones enjoy and the day they can operate freely and become commissioners and governors in the Niger Delta states, the North, the Middle-Belt and the South-east, we may reconsider our position. But, until then, we shall not do so. Lagos is not a ”no-man’s land” but the land and heritage of the Yoruba people. Others should not try to claim what is not theirs.

I am not involved in this debate for fun or for political gain and I am not participating in it to play politics but rather to speak the truth, to present the relevant historical facts to those that wish to learn and to educate the uninformed. That is why I write without fear or favour and that is why I intend to be thoroughly candid and brutally frank in this essay.

And I am not too concerned or worried about what anyone may think or how they may feel about what I am about to say because I am a servant of truth and the truth must be told no matter how bitter it is and no matter whose ox is gored. That truth is as follows.

The Yoruba, more than any other nationality in this country in the last 100 years, have been far too accommodating and tolerant when it comes to their relationship with other nationalities in this country and this is often done to their own detriment.

That is why some of our Igbo brothers can make some of the sort of asinine remarks and contributions that a few of them have been making in this debate both in the print media and in numerous social media portals and networks ever since Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola ”deported” 19 Igbo destitute to Anambra State a while ago. In the last 80 years, the Igbo have been shown more generosity, accommodation, warmth and kindness and given more opportunities and leverage by the Yoruba than they have been offered by ANY other ethnic group in Nigeria. This is a historical fact.

The Yoruba do not have any resentment for the Igbo and we have allowed them to do in our land and our territory what they have never allowed us to do in theirs. This has been so for 80 long years and it is something that we are very proud of. As I said elsewhere recently, to be accommodating and generous is a mark of civilisation and it comes easily to people like the Yoruba who once ruled empires.

It does not come so easily to those who never had any history at all and who never even had monarchs or structured, properly-organised hierachial societies that placed value on tradition and culture. The reason why many of our people take strong exception to the apparent outrage of the Igbo over this ”deportation” issue and the provocative comments of my friend and brother Chief Orji Uzor Kalu when he described Lagos as being a ”no man’s land” is because the Igbo have not only taken us for granted but they have also taken liberty for licence.

We cannot be expected to tolerate or accept that sort of irreverant and unintelligent rubbish simply because we still happen to believe in ”one Nigeria” and we will not sacrifice our rights or prostitute our principles on the altar of that ”one Nigeria”. Whether Nigeria is one or not, what is ours is ours and no-one should test our resolve or make any mistake about that.

-Femi Fani-Kayode

“THE EMPTINESS OF NIGERIA AS A NATION”
lagos-expressway21Expressway, Lagos.Photo Jeremy Weate.

 

Fani-Kayode’s fusillades in favor of ethnic cleansing for Lagos brought the ethno-tribal issue to the fore. In the Premium Times, Okey Ndibe suggested that the idea of Nigeria as a single nation was still a fantasy.

A policy that forcibly removes “undesirable” citizens from their state of residency to their state of origin does grave violence to the concept of national unity, to say nothing of the grave violation of the affected citizens’ right of movement. In that light, one is appalled by the deportations. And it doesn’t matter if only one person was shucked off, as opposed to, say, 100.

Having made that point of principle, it is meet to offer a corrective to the ethnic reading of the Lagos policy. It has since emerged that Lagos State had sent other ostensible undesirables “home,” to a number of northern as well as southwest states. If the “deportation” policy is at odds with the idea of one Nigeria – and I suggest it is – then Lagos State would be an equal-opportunity abuser of the rights of Nigerians, not just those from Anambra or Igboland.

If the particular removal of Igbo has generated the kind of heat not witnessed in the past, it is, in part, because Igbo – by their pattern of dispersal within Nigeria – most deeply embody the national spirit.

Besides, they have shed more blood than any other ethnic group in the name of maintaining the unrealized, farfetched dream of a Nigerian nation. Therefore, any time it appears that the Igbo are being handed a red card in any part of Nigeria, the act of rejection reverberates, reminding us all that we occupy a space that falsely accuses itself of being a coherent, cohesive community.

It all brings me round to a point that begs to be made with regard to Lagos State’s shocking policy. That point is this: that we are shouting ourselves hoarse at an action that is a mere symptom, even as we fail to address the core of the problem.

That problem is an identity crisis, the emptiness of Nigeria as a nation – and, especially, with regard to the question of what it means to call oneself a Nigerian citizen. We have spent more than fifty years at the game of pretending to belong within the same nation. In fact, our ethnic identities remain dominant. Our ethnic ties easily trump any consideration of a national identity.[…]

If Nigeria is to be achieved as a nation, then the likes of Fasholas ought to respect the right of Nigerians to reside wherever they wish. Even so, some of Mr. Fashola’s critics must also decide whether they wish to commit themselves to build Nigeria into the semblance of a real community – or merely postpone the day when we would all need visas to visit each other’s ethnic enclave.

– Okey Ndibe

“43 YEARS LATER, THE SHADOW OF THE BIAFRA WAR “
biafran-folk-art21Biafran folk-art painting of Nigerian troops raiding Biafran village – 1970. Photo Subversity.

 

In Ghana’s Spy, Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu brings up Nigeria’s founding catastrophe, the Biafra war, in which the Igbo had attempted to secede and form an ethnic republic separate from Yoruba Lagos and the Hausa north. The savage irony, he says, is that Igbo are now being deported from a ‘One Nigeria’ they wanted no part of.

The injustice and genocide of Biafra is an open sore which should continue to haunt people like Fani Kayode because his kith and kin participated in the mass slaughter to usurp the inalienable rights of a people to self determination (he himself has severally advocated a sovereign national conference) recognised under international law in the United Nations charter which could have been determined through democratic means by holding a plebiscite or referendum.

One wonders where Kayode finds the moral right to talk of the Biafran war when 43 years after the conflict people like him are supporting the deportation of Nigerians in their own supposed country? How does he find the moral right to talk of Biafra when his father who was the deputy premier to Ladoke Akintola was part of the group that fought/conspired against chief Obafemi Awolowo and pioneered election rigging in Nigeria through the massive rigging fiesta in the Western region in 1964 that unleashed the violence (wetie) that eventually led to the January 1966 coup and consequently the war?

If not for corrupt acts of people like Fani Kayode’s father in rigging elections and orchestrating violence in the West, there would have been no coup and thus no war. It is easy for hypocrites like Kayode to conveniently bypass the facts when he talks of Biafra and the crisis that led to it but historical facts are on record and his father played some of the critical corrupt roles that truncated the nation’s democracy and led to the war.

- Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu