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Lagos Deportation: On the side of common sense

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In the days that has ensued since the 'deportation' of 14 Anambrarians, the debate has snowballed into a convoluted tribal argy-bargy, presenting an opportunity for ethnic jingoist and bigots to jump on the band wagon. It was incongruous for some to even think that Igbo businesses and people were being unfairly targeted in what could be the threshold of a pogrom. However, the wave of internal deportations that the incident sparked is despicable and must be condemned in strongest terms. But then, it was needless to politicise and sensationalise the reintegration - as Fashola puts it - in the manner Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, did. Advertently, he stirred up the hornet's nest, triggering a debate that will linger with us for a long time to come. Emotions ran high as sentiments were weeped up.

The conflicting figures Lagos and Anambra bandied about does not justify the callous and insensitive action of the Lagos state government. It didn't matter if they were 72, 70, 14 or just one person.

Any form of governance without a human face is undemocratic and tyrannical. The destitutes were brought to that level of privation by the gargantuan sleaze in the system and unmitigable frittering of our commonwealth for almost half a century. Democracy dividend has continued to elude the Nigerian people in spite of how resilient the masses have been, often times shoved to the precipice, the already pauperized citizens have had to always bear the brunt of hash government policies at all levels. However, the debate of Fashola's deportation should have been one of ethics and morality rather than legality or constitutionality.

Newspaper report had it that twice in 2011, Governor Peter Obi, same governor playing the ethnic card to weep up tribal sentiments, deported destitutes to some states notably Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi, see link here: http://premiumtimesng.com/news/142192-throwback-anambra-govt-arrests-repatriates-beggars-to-akwa-ibom-ebonyi.html. Peter Obi or anyone from his government, have not debunked the report. But one wondered why so much was not heard about Obi's deportation. This only gives credence to musings that the hullabaloo about the deportation was politically motivated to turn the minds of voters against the APC in the run up to the Anambra gubernatorial elections. Governor Theodore Orji of Abia state retrenched non-Abians from its civil service, same cold response from Ndigbos. If the affected states protested and riled like they've done in the past weeks, probably, we wouldn't be talking about a Lagos deportation today. Obi's action smacks of political desperation, Machiavellianism and hypocrisy. But then, if deportations had been done by previous governments and no one talked about it, it doesn't make it in anyway, right. If the intentions of Lagos State were good, on this occasion, the implementation of the exercise fell short of expectations.

It was on record that three states were involved, 90 days was given, according to Lagos state government's side of the story. The other states, notably, Katsina complied with the directive to evacuate their destitute. Anambra State never replied Lagos either in writing or by practically effecting the repatriation of their indigenes. Lagos state was left with no option than to send them back to their kith and kin for the purpose of reintegration, continuous social support and care.

The earlier the Igbos jettisoned this "victim mentality" the better because they are a strong people with astute enterpreneural skills. Like the enlightened people that they really are, they should see issues from a detribalise and dispassionate view point. If Fashola equally deported Nigerians to Rivers, Oyo and other yoruba speaking states it calls to question why the Anambra destitutes should generate so much furore.

But then, we must look at the bigger picture. It calls for concern if a citizen should be deported if he has not been accused of any crime or constituted a threat to the safety of others. If their crime (of which its not!) is being poor, destitute or mentally deranged, to a large extent, its no fault of theirs. Government is morally bound to cater for them since they found themselves in these states. Isn't it the hash economic climate that led to their deprivations? Or since when did it become a crime to be destitute? Every society has its own fair share of vulnerable people. The Lagos deportees are compatriots who need care and support. It is ethically indefensible that the less privileged ones have become unwanted elements held in detention centres and packed, like sardines, in a bus heading for some dump sites. Is it not the responsibility of the society to provide for the weak and vulnerable amongst us? Such indigene/settler policy most times is targeted at the poor and homeless. In as much as attempts at urban renewal and modernisation are commendable, it must make room for destitutes.

As a proponent for the abolition of state of origin from the constitution as obtainable in the western world, issues like this exposes the soft underbelly of the unitary state that Nigeria is supposed to be while it affirms the dominance of ethnicity over nationality. Wherever one finds life should be home.

Governor Fashola can learn a thing or two about deportations and rehabilitation using the FCT model former minister, Mallam Nasir El-rufai, employed during his days at the FCT, as revealed explicitly in his book, The Accidental Public Servant. Excerpt…

We studied several reports of previous 'beggar deportations' and rehabilitation. We made public our intentions, and then designed a destitution management programme with three components – rehabilitation, empowerment and enforcement. We gave all beggars the opportunity to attend the vocational training in Bwari free of charge, with free feeding and lodging for the duration of the training, and paid them a monthly stipend. On completion of training in various trades, the FCTA gave the graduates tools and equipment, and some seed capital to start their small businesses. The programme trained hundreds this way. Those that rejected our offer were arrested and fined until they stopped showing up to beg. The others were repatriated to their states of choice if neither option was acceptable to them.

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We might as well pander to a school of thought that there are many destitutes today in various states who really have no business there but would have faired better if they lived among their kinsmen. In some states, Akwa Ibom for instance, education is free to secondary school level. Rather than roaming the streets in Lagos or elsewhere, isn't it better for an indigene to enjoy free education enroute to becoming a more responsible member of the society thereafter?

As guber election beckons in Anambra, it is not difficult to see why an exercise, even by Anambra's fulsome stand is not a novelty, should raise so much dust. It was aimed at subtly denigrading and mudslinging the opposition before the elections. Now, more than ever, it is easy to weep up sentiments and mislead the unsuspecting Nigerian public, preponderantly unenlightened. Same reason elections have gone the way they've gone since 1999.

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Articles by Theophilus Ilevbare