Once again, the Lagos state government deported Nigerians from a Nigerian state; an action that is as lawless as it is vexatious. Newspaper reports last week indicated that the Lagos authorities out of possibly excessive enthusiasm, and certainly out of pitiable ignorance and overreach, rounded up all manners of the city poor from the streets, sixty-seven of them, put them in a vehicle, and transported them across the bridge to Onitsha, Anambra state.
The Lagos state government crossed two state lines to dump its human cargo. The question of course is, why Onitsha? It is provocative, both as a question and as an action. It underlines that the Lagos state government is in the care of those who think the immigrant poor should not be seen, and who promote an active policy of xenophobia. These deportations have become a ridiculous challenge by the government of Lagos on the validity of the federation as shared national space; the powers of the federal government, and the rights conferred on the Nigerian citizen by the constitution of the federation of Nigeria.
It challenges the core principle of nation and national-belonging. Never mind that the constitution that the Lagos state government flouts so cavalierly is the very same document or authority from which the entity of Lagos also derives its own legitimacy. The Fashola administration, in embarking on these illegalities; in threading this route in solving a clearly sensitive social problem, subverts a key or cardinal provision of the constitution of this republic that guarantees every citizen of Nigeria protection and equal residency in any part of the federation.
The forced deportation of Nigerians from any part of Nigeria denies Nigerian citizens their right of domicile, and threatens or questions the very existence of Nigeria as a commonwealth. By its action, the government of Lagos ethnicizes the residency rights of Nigerians, and makes those who choose to pursue their constitutional rights to live in any part of the federation insecure and potential targets of xenophobic violence and official discrimination.
It also usurps the power of the federal government and disregards the constitution of the Federal Republic in a willful and egregious manner. It is as though Raji Fashola’s administration is challenging the Federal government under whose protective power lives every Nigerian citizen, by saying, “what can the federal government do? Lagos state can act above the laws of the republic and nothing can happen!” Something ought to happen, and very quickly to forestall this extremely discriminatory and narrow-minded action against Nigerian citizens by its constituent part.
The federal government must restore the rights of these Nigerians deported from Lagos, and enjoin these rights, even if it takes the deployment of federal troops to enforce their recall and rehabilitation. It has happened in a different clime: when the state of Mississippi, in disdain of the laws of the United States sought to maintain discriminatory laws, it took the Kennedy administration to enforce the rights of American citizens by deploying th
e National Guard. It might have to come to that in Lagos.
This is the second time that the administration in Lagos is conducting this ritual of mass deportation of Nigerian citizens from Lagos, on the rather scandalous claim that people migrate from other states to Lagos. Duh! Migration is the oldest human pastime: people seek new pastures; new dwellings; new economic and social life. Intra-national migration is the reality of shared nationhood, and the constitution of the Federal Republic guarantees that Nigerians shall have the right to live anywhere it so pleases them in this republic.
There is no abridgement to that right in the letters of the law. For the avoidance of doubt, let me cite the very words of the Nigerian constitution to which the Lagos state government pays very scant regard: “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby, or exit therefrom.”
There is no part of the laws of Nigeria that empowers a state – its governor, or its state Assembly, or any of their agents – to forcefully remove any Nigerian, against their will, to another state. Chapter 2 of the Nigerian constitution that spells out the fundamental objectives and principles of state policy holds that “…national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association shall be prohibited.” 3(a) in fact notes unambiguously that the state is obliged to “provide adequate facilities for, and encourage free mobility of people, goods, and services throughout the federation.”
The Lagos governor, who apparently ordered such a deportation has therefore acted with utter malice and in utter disdain of the laws of the federation. We are told, that he is to boot, a senior advocate of Nigeria even though he is busy advocating and applying a Third Reich solution to urban poverty. The Lagos state government is indeed creating a very dangerous precedent that not only questions the sovereign basis of the Federal Republic, but threatens its very meaning.
The solution to urban poverty in Lagos is not to haul the poor to other states, but to design and create effective social programs, that require deeper thinking, rather than abrasive, knee-jerk policies that tend to perpetuate class and ethnic ostracism and divisions. To put this very mildly: Lagos was built by Nigerians with massive Nigerian resources, and it is a migrants’ city. Fashola’s administration cannot hide its dirt-poor under the carpet and by forced deportations.