The incident of translocation of some 14 Anambrarians from Lagos State to Anambra State by the Foshala Government has drawn such ire. It has even been wrongly termed ‘Deportation’ regardless of the connotative meaning of deportations as taking place only between countries. The amok run by adrenalin all the while has been that feverish and distorting the true meaning of the event.
It is only now that the real issues are being addressed by the one or two groups that have dragged both Anambra and Lagos State Governments to court on behalf of the victims, demanding payments in Billions of Naira for damages for the forced relocation and the dehumanizing experience. Perhaps this will help establish the acts of omission and commission committed by both Governments, who treated the victims like mere statistics rather than fellow Nigerians who may be in dire need. Unless we treat others like humans too we shall likewise perish.
To the Lagos State government, it was a humanitarian gesture of “Re: Reintegration of Beggars/Destitutes with their families”, as their letter to the Anambra State Government dated April 9th , 2013, seeking its cooperation to carry out the exercise, was titled. Anambra State’s response to that crucial correspondence, dated April 15th, rather than raise objection, curiously only demanded the identities of those to be moved.
The Compliance of Lagos with the Anambra request promptly came on the 29th of the same month, and in the letter, Lagos State Government attached a list of 14 persons who were claiming to hail from Anambra State. To avoid what eventually happened when non-indigenes were found among those dropped off at Onitsha and reintegration appearing deportation, Lagos had to request in that letter: "Be that as it may, your presence at the Rehabilitation and Training Center, Owutu in Ikorodu might be necessary to conduct a physical identification through interaction with these persons". Yet, there is no record of Anambra taking advantage of this friendly gesture.
Between that April when Lagos wrote the first letter and August when the people were moved was about an intervening 4 months, within which both Governments would have reached an understanding or amicable settlement that would have spared the victims the dehumanizing and depersonalizing experience being alleged and challenged by the law suits, but no. Politics was more expedient than the humanitarian crisis being precipitated. The one way to measure a thriving civilization is how such a society treats its weak and the disabled.
When the 14 people were eventually taken to Anambra State, the impression everybody got was that the Fashola Government woke up one morning from the wrong side of the bed and decided to dump some Igbos and non-Igbos alike in Onitsha Bridgehead. This claim incensed so much passion that overnight, Fashola became an Igbo hater, the same first Lagos State Governor to appoint an Igbo man Commissioner and some others into Executive positions and who just immortalized the ace football commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, by naming a monument in Lagos after him. If people knew that Anambra State Government was in the know all along and never raised any objection, this dangerous perception against Fashola and his administration wouldn’t have been formed. Now changing it has become such a herculean task.
What also made people think that Fashola was only being belligerent was that even the Secretary to the Government of Anambra State said that Anambra State was never informed by Lagos State but this was not entirely true, as the several correspondences between both Governments later proved. Such position doesn’t show also that intergovernmental Departments' communication, which should have kept Anambra State Government agencies coordinate and its relations with other State Governments also working, has some problems or somebody was goading them to some nefarious goal.
From available records too, the translocation of destitues, beggars and lunatics from Lagos affected about 12 States, including also nearly all the States in the South West and even some Northern states. These other States never raised hell until it happened to Anambra State. Whereas records also that most of the States travelled to Lagos to collect their people and even Lagos also travelled to Akwa Ibom to collect their people who suffered a similar fate, Lagos State insist Anambra reneged on the arrangement after asking them to bring the people over to Onitsha.
Instructively, this obnoxious practice has been going on for long between State Governments in Nigeria as there are several State Governments that have translocated destitues, lunatics and beggars from other States to their States of origin. Anambra State for example was said to have translocated people from Ebonyi State in 2011 and also people from Akwa Ibom State. For Anambra State that has also been very active in the illicit business of ‘deportation’ of people (to use the wrong word it popularized) to raise so much dust when her own citizens were similarly treated by the Lagos State Government, can only be explained in other lights namely politics, which many say was calculated to injure Fashola's party, the All Progressives Congress and weaken its chances in November 16 Anambra Gubernatorial Election.
The fact that States in Nigeria translocate destitues, lunatics and beggars does not make it right or proper. The translocation of people may be good at policy level if indeed it is meant to reintegrate such highly vulnerable people who are challenged mentally and socially with their families. It can be viewed as an extension of the African Extended Family System. But in the case of the exchange between Anambra and Lagos, the implementation was certainly badly done. No wonder Senator Chris Ngige had to say to journalists: "If I were the Governor of Lagos State, I will punish those who dumped the people at Upper Iweka for doing a shabby Job, while as Gov of Anambra, I will punish my officers through whom the letters passed for inaction".
Dropping off people at Onitsha Bridgehead can hardly be justified, especially those who are not from Anambra State. But Lagos insist that implementation of a policy that was otherwise noble, was marred when Lagos State operatives could not find their counterparts at the Bridgehead as agreed and decided to drop them at a Revenue Office at the Onitsha Bridgehead rather than transport them back to Lagos. If indeed Anambra agreed that those be brought back to Onitsha and ducked from receiving them as expected, then, they cannot feign ignorance or be free from the act of omission that made the people more vulnerable than they were when they were uprooted from Lagos, and it is for such vicarious responsibility that the lawyers dragged Anambra State to court as well and demanding award of damages on behalf of victims.
Some of us were among the early criers and decriers of the inhuman treatment before the new fact then confronted us. Aka Ikenga, a foremost Igbo socio-cultural organization in Lagos was also among the organizations that were very pro-active and infuriated as well, and enlisted the services of Senator Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, to visit Fashola and extract what exactly happened. It was the visit of Senator Chris Ngige to Governor Fashola that disclosed the letters exchanged between the two Governments in the intervening four months, clearly pointing to the fact that Anambra State was not at all ignorant of the plan to bring some people back to Anambra State.
Rather than objecting to the request as contained in the letters it replied to severally, Anambra State Government acquiesced to the arrangement by asking for the identities of the people to be ascertained before the exercise can take place. If that was their only condition, then, why the hullaballoo when they were eventually brought home? Having accepted that the people could be brought home the only ground for disagreement would have been the process and may be where people who were not truly from Anambra state are bunched together with Anambra people, not the exercise itself since it never objected to it.
Many still would not want to examine some of these grave issues and damning evidence that both Governments actively collaborated on the exercise. But the fact is: the Lagos State government wrote and Anambra State Government rather than object acquiesced and once you condone an offence you lose the power to punish it. And come to think of it, out of about 5 million Igbos living in Lagos, how many of them like Alaba traders, bankers, Lawyers and so forth have been deported? None.
Constitutionally, Nigerians have the right to live anywhere in Nigeria but certainly not under the bridges or on the streets. Such citizens who have such social welfare challenges as homelessness, destitution and psychiatric cases roaming the streets and some living under the bridges, should be rehabilitated , treated and reintegrated with their families by their host State Governments, in the host States if they have relations or with their families in their States of origin. To argue that such people should be kept indefinitely is the Rehabs is impractical as there is no such facility anywhere in the world, even in advanced countries, and to leave them under the bridges or roaming the streets is even more inhuman than reintegrating even forcefully with their kith and kin.
These law suits will therefore serve as a deterrent to other Governors and Government officials, who have no clue as to the functions of government while seeing things only from the prism of politics. Let the sins of commission and omission by these Governments be established and punished by the Courts. That is the only way the obnoxious practice will stop or be given a human face because we too are humans, not through these emotional outbursts running riots.
• Law Mefor, Author and Forensic Psychologist, is National Coordinator, Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM) Abuja, email:firstname.lastname@example.org; 234-803-787-2893.