The challenge of citizenship – Thisday

By The Citizen

The quickest way to resolve the issue is to create economic opportunities in rural areas

Over the past few weeks, several column inches have been dedicated to reporting and analysing the most recent ‘deportation’ of  a number people from Lagos State to Anambra State; Rivers State to Lagos State; and Akwa Ibom State to Lagos State. Expectedly, not a few Nigerians have interpreted these actions as being politically motivated with predictions about the possible consequences for our national unity. Against the background that some ethnic champions have seized upon the matter to launch campaigns of hate and division, there is an urgent need to address what has become a serious threat to Nigerian citizenship.

For the record, there  is no section of our constitution that justifies the ‘deportation’ of a Nigerian citizen or citizens from one state of the federation to another. There is also no evidence that ‘deportation’ of Nigerian citizens from the state in which they are residents, or happen to be dwelling at a particular time, is enshrined in the individual laws of any of the 36 Nigerian states. In fact, non-Nigerians, once they have crossed our national borders, are free to remain in any state of the federation they choose to stay, for as long as their entry documents are valid, and they have broken no laws.

Obviously the people who have in recent weeks been socially uprooted from one state to another have not broken any laws. If crimes had been committed, the perpetrators would have been arrested and subsequently prosecuted, as demanded by law. Therefore, two main reasons given for these unfortunate actions are decongestion and rehabilitation. We concede that major cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt are indeed overpopulated, but this can also be said of many urban areas across the globe.

Given that allocation to states from the Federation Account is based on head count and many of these people who are considered destitute and are being hawked around the countries were counted in these very states that are sending them packing, there are also moral issues here. The simple argument is that a state that collected revenues on behalf of these vulnerable persons in our society, cannot turn round to deny them the much-needed care in their time of need. But beyond this, there is also the need for the authorities to design policies that will stop urban drift which is at the heart of this problem. The fact that everybody is moving to the cities is because opportunities to make a living are fast disappearing from our rural areas as they have been practically neglected.

In police states, draconian, inhuman measures can and are often taken to deal with the problem. But that should not be the case here. In democratic states, humane solutions are sought for such social problems and Nigeria is supposed to be democratically ruled. We know that there are few facilities in place in the country to take in and indeed bring these unfortunate people back into the mainstream of society. Even if the essence is to take such people back to their families, there should be proper dialogue between state officials. Perhaps if elected representatives were more alive to their responsibilities, these matters would be resolved with less rancour, and the people involved rehabilitated in a manner that preserves their dignity.

It is indeed noteworthy that all the affected persons are poor. Poverty, whilst unfortunate and incapacitating both mentally and physically, is not a crime. Every citizen regardless of their social or economic status has the right to be treated with dignity. That is the responsibility of government in a democracy. Our state governors should spend more time talking to one another about how to solve a common problem, as dictated by the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, and the various Human Rights Charters we have signed up to. Using the plight of the less fortunate ones to score political point is cheap and condemnable.