By Femi Falana
On January 26, 2018 the Federal government deported 47 Cameroonian refugees and asylum seekers from Nigeria in utter breach of the obligation of the federal government under international law. As a sequel to the instructions of the deportees, our law firm challenged their deportation from Nigeria at the Abuja judicial division of the Federal High Court.
In a judgment delivered a fortnight ago, the trial judge, Justice Anwuli Chikere declared the deportation illegal, awarded damages in favour of the deportees and ordered the Federal government to bring them back from Cameroon. While trying to contact a colleague in Cameroon to break the news to our clients who are held in a military camp in Yaoundé my attention was drawn to the empty threat of some Yoruba irredentists to expel the Igbo community from Lagos over political differences. I was, however, delighted that the threat was dismissed by the Igbo community on the grounds that “Lagos belongs to all Nigerians.”
The needless controversy reminded me of the politicisation of the 2013 expulsion of beggars and destitute from Lagos by the Babatunde Fashola administration. At the material time, the regime had decided to carry out an urban renewal programme of the Lagos state. It was a project whose execution culminated in the removal and expulsion of beggars and destitute from all streets in the state.
Incidentally, the first group of victims of the deportation are indigenes of Oyo state. They were removed from Lagos vi et armis by the Lagos State Task Force and dumped at Molete in Ibadan. Hundreds of beggars and destitute from other western and northern states were subjected to degrading ejection from state. In criticising the urban renewal policy.
I accused the Lagos state government of violating the Welfare Law which required the local governments to rehabilitate beggars and destitute in the state instead of relocating them by force to their states of origin. As I did predict at the material time the number of beggars and destitute in Lagos state has continued to increase phenomenally due to ignorance and poverty in the country.
However, the anti- poor policy acquired an ethnic coloration when 47 beggars and destitute of Anambra state origin were expelled from Lagos. The Igbo and Yoruba Internet warriors embarked on a reckless campaign of calumny. On behalf of the Igbo nation the then governor of Anambra state, Mr. Peter Obi reported his Lagos state counterpart, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, to former President Goodluck Jonathan for executing an “anti- Igbo agenda”. Even though I had condemned the Lagos state government for violating the constitutional right of the beggars and destitute to live peacefully in Lagos state and not to be subjected to discriminatory treatment I could not fathom the hypocrisy of Governor Obi. Hence, I was compelled to point out that Governor Fashola was following the bad example of Governor Obi who had expelled beggars and destitute of Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi origin from the streets of Awka, Anambra state in 2009.
Apart from expelling beggars and destitute from urban centres in Nigeria the authorities of the federal capital territory and the 36 states of the federation have continued to demolish the so-called illegal structures inhabited by the poor. On a few occasions state governments have extended the discriminatory treatment meted out to poor people to civil servants. In 2014, the administration of former Governor Theodore Orji of Abia removed all non- indigenes from the civil service of the state. Even though the victims are all of origin the Abia state government vigorously defended the “To Thy Tent, O Israel” policy. However, to prevent other state governments from adopting the dangerous policy the Nigeria Labour Congress had already briefed my law firm to sue the Abia state government at the National Industrial Court. But the planned legal action was shelved when the policy was reversed by the Abia state government due to pressure from men and women of goodwill.
Regrettably, the criminal action of some thugs in Lagos was once again politicised during the just concluded presidential and national elections. According to reports, a gang of armed thugs who invaded some voting centres at Okota, in Lagos state snatched ballot boxes and destroyed ballot papers. A member of the criminal gang who was reported to have been apprehended was beaten up and in a brutal manner by the angry voters. Other members of the gang were promptly arrested by the police. Instead of demanding that justice be done in the circumstance, a section of the Igbo elite decided to hold all Yoruba people vicariously liable for the action of the few thugs. Unfortunately, instead of distancing the Yoruba people from the shameful attack on the voters at Okota not a few irredentists of southwest origin have insisted that Lagos state belongs exclusively to the Yoruba people.
It is unfortunate that the reactionary forces that usually whip up ethnic sentiments among the Yoruba and Igbo people have failed to realise that the descendants of the original settlers in Lagos, otherwise known as “Lagos indigenes” do not share the view that Lagos state is part of Yoruba land or the south west region. Hence, Yoruba people from other southwest states are constantly reminded by Lagos indigenes that “gedegbe l’Eko wa” (Lagos is independent)! In distorting the history of Lagos state it is often forgotten that Epe, Ikorodu, Badagry, Ikeja, Apapa, Mushin, Agege, Surulere, Ajegunle etc. were part of the old western region up to 1967 when the Yakubu Gowon regime created the Lagos State. This was why the Lagos government did not join the Oodua investment until a couple of years ago.
As far as Lagos indigenes are concerned, other Yoruba people living in Lagos are “awon atounrinwa” (aliens) or “ara ilu oke” (people from the hinterland). In the politics of exclusion played conveniently by the elite, the aliens from the other states in the southwest are no longer qualified to hold political posts in Lagos state.
It was account of such exclusionary policy that Lagos indigenes strenuously opposed the decision of Governor Akin Ambode to appoint Professor Wole Soyinka as the chairman of the Lagos at 50th Anniversary celebration planning committee three years ago. The fact that the Nobel Laureate grew up in his family house at Ebute Meta in Lagos was of no moment to the Lagos indigenes. Before then, Lagos indigenes had kicked against the appointment of Mr. Segun Aganga as a Minister representing Lagos state in the Jonathan administration despite the fact that his grand-parents hailed Edo state which was part of the old western region.
In his intervention in the on-going debate on the status of Lagos State, the respected 84- year old nationalist, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, a former federal commissioner, has recalled that the Aworis were the original inhabitants in Lagos Island. Others who later joined them and became indigenes of Lagos came from Tapa land in Niger state and Benin in Edo state. Others were freed slaves from Sierra Leone and Brazil. While the contention of Alhaji Okunnu is correct that Lagos was never a no man’s land at any point in time it has to be realised that Lagos has since become a home for other people from other states in Nigeria. The dynamics of the development of the state in the context of the evolution of the Nigerian nation makes this trend an inexorable march of integration.
As a cosmopolitan state, Lagos cannot afford to subject any Nigerian citizen to discriminatory treatment.
From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that Lagos indigenes do not believe that Lagos State belongs to the Yoruba people. To that extent, Nigerians from other states including southwest states are subjected to equal discriminatory treatment by Lagos indigenes.
This is not unusual as the politics of exclusion is played by the elite of all ethnic groups in the country.
The reactionary and opportunistic political class in the country is to blame for the dangerous trend; they invoke ethnic, religious and other primordial sentiments to divide the people of Nigeria. Since the dominant politics is devoid of ideology or principle, the members of the elite usually resort to the campaign of hate and prejudice to perpetuate their political and economic power. It is an old game of manipulation, which has impaired national integration a great deal.
Instead of politics of exclusion, progressive politicians should defend abandoned welfare programmes and policies that could benefit the people; they should embrace the politics of inclusion in the interest of national integration and unity. It is time that genuine progressive politicians stepped forward to organise and unite the masses of our people to defend their interests.
In the second republic the Lateef Kayode Jakande administration implemented the popular programmes of the former Unity Party of Nigeria such as mass housing, free and compulsory education, free health care, mass transit (including water transportation and metro line project which was illegally cancelled in 1984 by the Buhari/Idiagbon military junta).
However, to some elements of the APC the execution of welfare programmes has become political anathema while the neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation and multiple taxation have alienated the masses of our people drawn from all ethnic groups in Nigeria from the government of the Lagos state. To worsen matters, the unemployed young people are subjected to daily harassment by the Lagos State Task Force aided by the Nigeria Police Force.
The cosmopolitan character of Lagos makes it wise and mandatory for any government in the state to play the politics of inclusion in a very sophisticated way by implementing policies that would improve the quality of the lives of the people regardless of their ethnicity or religion.