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Internal Deportation Of Igbo-Nigerians: Fashola’s Apology Ill-Conceived & Politically Motivated-Says Southeast Group 8 Rights Coalition

By Mazi Odera

(Joint Public Statement, Onitsha Nigeria, 29th of September, 2013)-The Southeast Group 8 Rights Coalition, made up of the leaderships of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, Anambra State Branch of the Civil Liberties Organization, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Center for Human Rights & Peace Advocacy, Human Rights Club of LRRDC, Anambra State Branch, Humane Justice International, Society Watch (a membership project of Intersociety) and Global Rights & Development International, Owerri, Southeast Nigeria, wishes to reject in its entirety the September 26, 2013, “apology” tendered by the Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, Southwest Nigeria over his abominable deportation of 72 Igbo-Lagosians from Lagos to the Upper Iweka area of Onitsha, Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria. The punishable act took place on July 24, 2013 at about 3: am or the hours of the blue law (a period prohibited by nature for conduct of official government affairs or transaction of its official business).

It is recalled that seventy-two (72) Nigerians of Southeast Igbo extraction resident in various parts of Lagos State were rounded up between December 2012 and January 2013 at Lagos roads' bus stops and its streets by the operatives of Kick Against Indiscipline working for Governor Fashola's administration and detained illegally and solitarily without trial for over six months on the orders of the Governor, who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (a supposedly law lord). They were held in an illegal detention premises located close to a border between Lagos and Ogun States.

In the evening of July 23, 2013, they were told to prepare to be taken back home in their Lagos residences and asked to put their names in a sheet of rough paper. Suddenly, four commuter buses with two truckload of anti riot police personnel stormed their illegal detention premises. The two trucks were marked “Rescue Operation” of the NPF, donated by LASG (Lagos State Government). They were commanded to enter the buses, after which, they found themselves under the Upper Iweka Flyover Bridge in Onitsha at about 3: am. By day break, 54 of them with undisclosed social identities had escaped, leaving behind 18, who looked hungry, tired, medically and psychologically challenged.

In the Nigerian legal system applicable to Lagos State, anti wandering, begging and public nuisance offences are usually treated as statutory and strict liability offences (usually no mens rea and witnesses are required during summary court prosecution). In other words, such offences usually receive summary court trials and lighter punishments like fines, rehabilitation and jail sentences for days, weeks and months. They share common boundaries with sanitary and traffic offences. The major safeguards for these categories of offences are the Fundamental Human Rights provisions in the Chapter Four of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended in 2011. This is to curb the excesses and harshness of the government in the use and prosecution of such offences. No Nigerian law permits any tier of government or State governor to detain citizens without proper court trial and conviction for months as Governor Fashola has magisterially and arbitrarily acted.

The illegal and unconstitutional internal deportation was greeted by a tray-pan of denials, falsehoods and blackmails by the Government of Lagos State, its ruling party-APC and hired agents including newspaper editors and columnists as well as sectional rights activists, online and audio-visual media. When the denials and falsehoods refused to swallow the abominable action, the Government of Lagos State came up with “14 re-unionized”, “not 72 deportees” theory and blackmailed the Government and People of Anambra State as a party to “re-unionization resettlement of 14 citizens in Onitsha”. The LASG went deeper in its falsehood by manufacturing and releasing names, towns and LGAs unknown to the Government of Anambra State, its traditional naming, LGA and community systems with a view to linking them to its manufactured 14 fictitious names. In the defense of the despicable action, the likes of Mr. Joe Igbokwe, further described Igbo-Lagosians as “419ers”, “kidnappers”, ”fraudsters” and “armed robbers”. The likes of Dr. Chris Ngige also defended the internal deportation by reportedly describing those deportees as “mad people”, “criminals” and “beggars”.

Following from these in addition to the November 16, 2013 crucial governorship poll in Anambra State as well as threats the despicable action constitute to the State's economic strength, Governor Babatunde Fashola influenced the Silver Jubilee anniversary of one “Aka Ikenga” Igbo socio-cultural group, which is clearly sympathetic to APC and its Anambra Governorship candidate for the November 16, 2013 governorship poll, Dr. Chris Ngige. The anniversary took place on Thursday, September 26, 2013, at the National Institute for International Affair, Victoria, Island, Lagos State.

The “Aka Ikenga”, which initially condemned the callous act later developed cold feet, possibly for political reasons, and published Dr. Chris Ngige's version of the abominable act to the effect that “Lagos State Government dropped the citizens (deportees) at a government building at the Niger Bridgehead, Onitsha when the Government of Anambra State, which agreed with its Lagos State counterpart to receive the citizens at the border between Anambra and Delta States, was nowhere to be seen”. It is important to state that neither did any government building exist at Upper Iweka nor did Anambra State enter into an agreement with the Government of Lagos State to deport any Nigerian citizens. The deportees were dumped at Onitsha Upper Iweka, not Onitsha Niger Bridgehead.

It is our collective observation that the “Aka Ikenga Silver Jubilee Anniversary”, was deliberately put in place by the APC and its government in Lagos State to offer an ill-conceived and politically motivated apology over the abominable, criminal and unconstitutional deportation of innocent and harmless citizens of Nigerians. The apology is ill-conceived because it lacks rudiments of true apology. Any apology grounded on technicalities is not a genuine apology. True apology frowns at the use of words like “if” and “misunderstood”. Genuine apology must be total, remorseful, remedial and unreserved.

Also, Governor Fashola's apology so called, is politically motivated because it is borne of desperation by his APC and its candidate to win by hook or crook the November 16, 2013 governorship poll in Anambra State of Nigeria. On the other hand, it is possible that Governor Fashola and his other APC bigwigs has a strong feeling that they have been declared “persona non grata”, by highly irritated mass brigades in the Southeast zone, which, if true, will threaten their participation in their party's governorship campaign rallies fixed for their governorship candidate for the November 16 governorship poll. In other words, the sudden, infantile, politically motivated and ill-conceived apology is to clear a way for their participation and safety during the rallies.

Another reason for the so called apology may not be unconnected with the recent mass calls by some leading good governance and rights advocacy groups in the Southeast zone for Igbo-Nigerians including Igbo-Lagosians to decongest Lagos socioeconomic dominance in Nigeria, particularly as it concerns transnational movement of persons, goods and services using airports and seaports considered friendly, cheaper, convenient and less risky to them in Nigeria. The torrential heeding of such calls is steadily being observed from left, right and center especially in the South-south, Southeast and North-central parts of Nigeria. As a result of these, the newly commissioned Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu, Southeast Nigeria, now hosts up to three major transport aircrafts in a week. This has drastically reduced the age-long passengers and goods and services' patronage enjoyed by the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos State, Southwest Nigeria.

For instance, while it takes N17, 000 to clear a cargoed bag from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMA) in Lagos and transport it to the Southeast Nigeria, it costs a total of N7, 000 to clear it from the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu and transport it to Onitsha-the commercial hub of the Southeast Nigeria. It takes up to six hours excluding excruciating Lagos traffic jams to get to Lagos and extra hotel bills to incur before travelling internationally through MMA, whereas in less than two hours without hotel bills, an international traveler is on board an international aircraft at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu. We are also glad to observe that many business merchants from the Southeast Nigeria with their shipping companies are now diverting their goods and services to Port Harcourt wharfs instead of Lagos wharfs.

We commend Igbo-Nigerian business persons and international travelers for heeding these clarion calls by our sister bodies. We urge other major airline operators in the country and beyond her borders especially those flying Southeast Asia, Fareast, Gulf, Middle East and Europe to make maximum use of this wonderful business environment and relocate to the airport with potential milk and honey (Akanu Ibiam International Airport). There is need to teach the likes of Governor Babatunde Fashola and his political party the lesson of his life to serve as deterrents to others of his likes.

We consider it as further insult on the collective psyche of the Igbo-Nigerians including Igbo-Lagosians the disclosure by Governor Fashola that “Igbo-Nigerians donated the highest number of cows during his father's recent funeral”.Apart from the Governor engaging in reckless abuse of animal rights by admitting to have accepted “high number of cows”, which must have turned the Alausa Government House in Ikeja into “a cow slaughter house”; it is very insulting to draw a conclusion to that effect that “highest number of cows” given and received from his few Igbo contractor-friends means that “Igbo-Nigerians are reckless cow givers and slaughters”. Igbo-Nigerians attach serious values to animal lives, rights and management. The late legal icon and rights sage, Chief Gani Fawehnmi, SAN, during his lifetime, turned down at several intervals the donation of animals, whether domestic or wild, to him during ceremonies.

While rejecting in its entirety the infantile, ill-conceived and politically motivated apology under reference, it is our collective insistence that a sincere apology and sorry must have attributes of long term remedy, clarity, precision, sincerity, genuineness and capability of the wrong or criminal policy not being repeated. The only substance in Governor Fashola's so called apology is not the apology itself, but the fact that Governor Fashola, his party and cronies have revealed the truth and exposed themselves as liars of unimaginable proportions.

On the other hand, truth has prevailed over falsehood and we are totally vindicated! The so called apology also left unanswered the question of imposition of “Babaloja” on Igbo-Lagosians' controlled Ladipo Market, the incessant burning of Igbo markets at night and their reclaiming by government in the daytime, various hash policies including excess taxes imposed on Igbo businesses, designed to cripple Igbo-Lagosians' businesses, the management of “internal census figures” that gave Igbo-Lagosians 42%, which reportedly infuriated the Yorubas of Lagos State, and reportedly is the center of the ongoing “internal deportation policies”, etc.

Like our sister bodies have demanded, the Southeast Governors' Forum and other key public office holders from the zone must not rest on their oars as it concerns revolutionary development of the zone. The zone needs direly a second Niger Bridge, reconstructed Onitsha-Enugu and Enugu-Port Harcourt Dual Carriage Ways, a standard sea port, a revamped modern railway system, a connecting bridge between Ndoni in Rivers State and Ogwu-ikpere in Ogbaru, Anambra State and adornment of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport with all modern international airport equipment and standards.

Signed On Behalf Of Southeast G8 Rights Coalition:
1. Emeka Umeagbalasi-08033601078, 08180103912

For: International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law

2. Comrade Aloysius Attah-08035090548
For: Civil Liberties Organization, Anambra State Branch

3. Comrade Samuel Njoku-08039444628
For: Human Rights Club of LRRDC, Anambra State Branch

4. Comrade Justus Uche Ijeoma-08037114869
For: Society Watch (a membership project of Intersociety, Nigeria)

5. Dr. Rufus Duru-08037513519
For: Global Rights & Development International
6. Comrade Emma Onwubiko-08033327672
For: Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria
7. Comrade Peter Onyegiri-07036892777
For: Center for Human Rights & Peace Advocacy
8. Comrade Ifeanyi Onuchukwu-08096940019
For: Humane Justice International




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