Residents of Onitsha, Anambra State, were greeted with the sight of 67 persons later discovered to have been deported from Lagos, Wednesday, July 24.
The deportees, majority of whom were of Igbo extraction were dumped like helpless refugees at the popular Upper Iweka area of the commercial city.
On enquiry, they disclosed that they were arrested by officials of Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline,KAI from various parts of Lagos. They further stated that they were detained in different prison custody for a period of six months to two years before they were brought into Onitcha at about 3.20am.
From their looks, it was discovered that majority of them were not beggars after all.Some of them were discovered to be hawkers whose goods were reportedly seized by KIA officials.But owing to the trauma, they looked pale, malnurished and sick.
When news of the deportation spread across the state, officials of the Nigerian Red Cross Society led by its South East zonal chairman, Dr. Peter Emeka Katcy, arrived the scene at about 6am,where they began a section of interview with the deportees apparently to ascertain their claims.
By noon, relatives of the some of the deportees surged Onitsha, where a total of 41 of them were taken to their different family houses while the Red Cross team whisked the remaining 18 to Onitsha South Local government township Stadium, where they were given first aid treatment and food.
At the stadium, more relatives of the remaining deportees arrived on daily basis, from outside the state, identified their own and took them home. Some of them who were certified medically fit and could find their ways home, were given transport fare .
We were treated like criminals in our own country—deportees
Speaking with Crime Guard, the deportees expressed regrets that a thing like this was happening in a country they were citizens. They accused KIA officials of carrying out indiscriminate arrests of non-indigenes of Lagos, adding that majority of those detained in various local government cells in Lagos State were Igbos.
According to one of the deportees who gave her name as Rosemary Nathaniel, a native of Ubakala in Umuahia, Abia State, “I was neither a beggar nor a hawker for the past five years I lived in Lagos. I was working at a T-shirt weaving centre at Mile 2, Lagos and I lived with my sister. But in January this year, KAI officials and some policemen arrested me and my friend while we were standing and discussing on the road. We were dragged into their waiting vehicle and taken to a prison at Alausa area of Lagos.
We saw other people who were also arrested . They took us round the area, made other arrests before taking us all to the prison.
The painful aspect of it was that they never bothered to ask any of us where we lived or what were doing for a living. As I speak, my sister whom I live with does not know anything about my whereabouts. It is so sad that this is happening in one’s own country.
Another deportee who identified himself as Osondu Mbuto, a trader from Ohaozara in Ebonyi State said he was arrested by KAI officials while on his way to his shop on December 18, 2012.
He lamented that since his arrest, he was left incommunicado for eight months in a cell around Ikorodu area of Lagos before he was brought to Onitsha.
“I am a Lagos-based petty trader. I packed my goods somewhere and went to eat. As I was going, three persons approached me . Thinking they were miscreants on a mission to dispossess me of my goods, I decided to give them some money. Then, all of a sudden, I saw an armed policeman pointing his gun at me. he ordered me to follow the KAI officials. Out of fear, I joined them as they marched me into a waiting vehicle and drove away”.
“My initial suspicion was that they were taking us to Alausa police station, where they used to detain people unlawfully only to release them later after parting with some money. But no! they took me to another place in Ikorodu,close to Ijebu-Ode. After taking my statement, they pushed me inside the cell where I was, for eight months.
Two days before we were deported, a man whom they called boss came with a paper and a biro and said those of us interested in going to our home town should put down our names. Some did while others did not for fear that they were going to be killed. That was how we were sandwiched inside a truck and brought here at the wee hours”
One dead, others unconscious
As at Monday, this week, only five of them were left in the one-room apartment at the stadium. Their identities were given as:Friday Ndukwe from Ohafia in Abia State; Grace Igbochi who claimed to be a Lagosian, Ugulari Tutua from Warri, Delta State; Chinyere Nocholas from Awomamma,Imo State and Rosemary Nathaniel from Ubakala Umuahia,Abia State.
A member of the NRCS and Education Officer attached to the Onitsha South Local Government Education Authority,Mrs. Nneoma Judith Nwora, disclosed that one of the deportees died Friday from a protracted illness, adding that the five remaining deportees comprised two males and three females.
Three of them according to her, were unconscious at the moment, adding that some Rev. Sisters from nearby Madonna Mercy Convent had indicated interest to come and pick them for feeding and medical treatment until they recovered and were fit to go home.
Reactions trail deportation
Reacting to the development, the South East Zonal Red Cross boss, Katchy, described the action of the Lagos State Government as condemnable, adding, “it is very despicable and disheartening that a state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria will bundle people who are in that state, who are not indigenes of Anambra State, and dumped them under the fly-over bridge at Upper Iweka in Onitsha and left them to their fate.
Most of the people interviewed are not even indigenes of Anambra State. Some of them are from Ebonyi, Imo and other states.
This is an insult to Anambra State. We shall draw the attention of His Excellency, the Governor of Anambra State, Mr.Peter Obi to it, and ask why such invasion in his territory and we will find out why Lagos State should invade Anambra State territory by dumping people here helplessly.
Also, in a communique issued at the end of the general meeting of the Onitsha branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the association insisted that those deported be recalled by the Lagos State Government,threatening to take legal actions against Lagos State government if such exercise was carried out again.
The association also appealed to the Anambra State government to come to the assistance of those affected by providing means of transportation to them to enable them go back to their various states of origin,even as it called on the Federal Government to call the Lagos State government to order.
The Lagos State government has however debunked allegation that it deported indigenes of Anambra State, clarifying that it only carried out a rehabilitation and resettlement of citizens from other states.