By Tonnie Iredia
I admire Governor Fashola of Lagos State a lot and would have volunteered to be part of his campaign team if he were to contest the 2015 Presidential elections. Recently however, one of his policies greatly upset me.
Now that Fashola has concluded the burial of his father, this is perhaps the appropriate time to tell him that he would lose admirers like me if he does not trace and rehabilitate, the fellow Nigerians he deported from Lagos last month to a location somewhere around the Onitsha Bridge.
The deportees who have been described as ‘destitutes’ are like other citizens entitled to one vote each and their votes may probably have been instrumental to the success of Fashola in the last governorship election in Lagos State.
Even if they voted against him, they are, as Nigerian citizens, entitled to be cared for by the government of the day. Accordingly, the Lagos State Government has an obligation to care for the sick, the poor, the rich and indeed all inhabitants of the state irrespective of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.
Those who support the removal of destitutes from core cities as part of the modernization and beautification of such cities need to know that the most developed places in the world have their own slums and the underprivileged. If so, which foreign tourists is Lagos seeking to please by such anti-poor disposition?
We therefore agree with Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, that it was patently wrong for the Lagos State Government to have deported some of its inhabitants to Anambra State simply because the deportees are supposedly of Anambra origin.
Although the Lagos State Government has clearly established that it interacted with the Anambra State Government before it concluded action on the deportees, our premise is that it is wrong to deport certain Nigerians from any part of their country to another.
Thus, those who choose to live in Lagos must be allowed to do so and should be cared for by the state. Even those who are not law-abiding cannot be deported; they can only be made to face legal sanctions for their offences. In other words, Fashola had and still has a duty to be the brother’s keeper of those he has deported.
Are we therefore suggesting that Peter Obi is a better brother’s keeper than Fashola? That is a difficult suggestion to make because neither Peter Obi nor any other state governor in Nigeria gets near the broadmindedness of Fashola in accepting every tribe into his cabinet, government departments; judiciary etc.
Indeed, the only thing in which other Nigerian leaders are better than Fashola is pretence. Otherwise, why is everyone angry with the Lagos State Governor for doing what we all do? A few examples from even the South East, the zone that is the victim in the matter at hand will do.
In October, 2011, one thousand eight hundred (1800) Nigerian citizens in the Abia State Public Service were “back-loaded” to the same Anambra State because Abia State claimed that it was no longer in a position to continue to cater for ‘foreigners’ in its state.
Bishop Lucius Ugorji of the Catholic Diocese of Umuahia, the Aba branch of the Nigerian Bar Association and other well meaning Nigerians pleaded in vain with Abia State to rescind the decision. Mrs Victoria Aguyi- Ironsi wife of Nigeria’s first military head of state, having been persuaded that the policy was pro-Abia counselled those affected to accept it in good faith.
Now, if Anambra could not stop another fellow Igbo state from expelling Anambra citizens in its state, why is it surprised over the action of Lagos State or could it be that Anambra State loves destitutes more than civil servants? If to back-load means to return, while to deport means to send back, would Anambra have been less angry if Lagos had back-loaded instead of deporting the destitutes?
Meanwhile, Abia State saw nothing wrong with the policy. Rather, a spokesman of the government merely reminded critics that Imo State another Igbo State had dismissed all Abia indigenes in its public service as far back as 2002 while in 2010, remitted to Abia State, the files of all pensioners of Abia origin so that their State could take over their burden. Although this is a negative and condemnable practice, it is a convention for Nigerians to ethnicise their country’s political and socio-economic development.
For example, Nigerian citizens are subjected to differential treatment like non-indigene students paying fees different from those paid by the sons of the soil in the same public school. The reality therefore is that Nigerians love their tribes or ethnic categories more than their nation but everyone mouths the expedience of patriotism in our heterogeneous nation
What is amusing about Nigerian elites who claim to hate tribalism is that they often forget that ours is a nation where every tribe or ethnic category has a selfish agenda. Today in Nigeria, the Ijaws are poised not just to support but to fight for President Jonathan to remain in office.
At the same time, Northern opposition to Jonathan is no longer just an Arewa affair. We now have a platform of all Northern groups called the Joint Action Committee of Northern Group (JACONG) to fight the interest of the North ahead of the 2015 general elections. Those involved in the fight for and against the President know what they are doing.
As children some of them probably faced the dilemma of the Nigerian child who is refused admission into a school but his friend with a lower score is admitted because of his state of origin. Some of them may have also witnessed the cut throat competitive ethnicity in Nigeria in which a citizen who works in the nation’s public service suddenly finds his subordinate staff promoted above him because of his state of origin.
Divisive issues like these can be mitigated if in Nigeria, we can evolve a scheme whereby citizens are identified by their places of residence and not places of origin. Such a scheme would have prevented the Lagos deportation and others like it.