By Emmanuel Edukugho
For many Nigerians who came to Lagos with the dream of making it in life and achieving economic success at the end, this may not happen.
Hopes could be dashed, a lot of people are embittered by frustration and disappointment. The journey back home empty-handed can be difficult and unimaginable. Emeka, 17, was one of those youths not in the mould of trying to acquire even basic education but to trade and do business. Lagos therefore, seemed the ideal city to stay. He came, thinking that all that glitters is gold. But Emeka misjudged the situation.
His story is typical. He moved to Lagos in 2010 in search of greener pasture. After taking odd jobs all to no avail, he started hawking snacks and later soft drinks; dashing in between commercial buses during traffic along highways.
He lost everything at the end with nowhere to go. Emeka, from one of the Igbo-speaking South-East states, was caught wandering with some other young persons, arrested by officials of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI). They were taken to rehabilitation centres established by the Lagos State government with facilities to learn some skills and vocational trades.
Suddenly, in the early morning of Wednesday, 24, July, 2013, many of these young people of various ages already detained for nearly six months in Ikorodu, for alleged wandering and other minor offences by KAI officials were taken into buses escorted by anti-riot policemen and driven down to Onitsha. They were allegedly dumped at Upper Iweka bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State.
This action enraged many people and caused national uproar. This was not the first time that suspected miscreants, beggars, destitute, mentally-retarded have been rounded up and sent to their states of origin, sometimes, after due consultations with affected state governments.The rationale for such actions seemed to be the determination of the Lagos State government to clean up the city in the bid of creating a mega city in the likes of Rio de Janeiro, New York, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Beijing, etc.
Explaining the action taken, the Special Adviser to Governor Babatunde Fashola on Youths and Social Development, Dr. Enitan Badru was reported saying the action stemmed out of the effort to re-unite the affected persons with their families. Since January, 2013, about 1,708 beggars and destitutes had been expelled to their various states and countries in a bid to rid Lagos streets of beggars and the mentally-challenged.
According to Badru, “the end result is to re-unite them with their families. We are not repatriating them out of Lagos, we are re-uniting them with their families because once we rescue them, we cannot as a government hold a child under age of 18 years in custody without parental or guardian’s consent.”
In the last one year, 3,114 beggars, destitutes and mentally challenged have been rescued in day and night operations, while about 2,695 were taken to Rehabilitation and Training Centre, Owutu, Ikorodu, where the government has provided them with skills to live a better life.
However, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, did not see it this way. He petitioned President Goodluck Jonathan, describing the action as the latest callous act in which Lagos State did not even bother to consult with Anambra State authorities before deporting 72 persons considered to be of Igbo extraction to Anambra, saying it is illegal, unconstitutional, and a blatant violation of human rights of these individuals and of the Nigerian constitution.
But responding, Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola described the controversy trailing the decision to send some people back to their towns and cities as political.
His words: “It is unfortunate that my colleague governor has made this a media issue. As I speak, I haven’t received any telephone call or letter from him to complain. I don’t think that is the way government works. On less important matters, he had called me before.”
He added: “This is a political season and Anambra will be up for contest. And in a political season, unusual things happen. It is really important to say that our hospitality in Lagos State is legendary.”
Fashola acknowledged that there is a large Igbo community in the state and they are doing their businesses peacefully. “There is too much at stake for anyone to begin to incite the Igbo community against their host state”.
He said that the relationship between the Igbo and the Lagos State government would not break because of the issue, as the government and the residents had a strong bond. The Lagos State governor said he hoped that commonsense will prevail here.
Our investigation showed that Lagos had been a “safe haven” for the Igbos in the country. They constitute the largest population apart from the Yoruba in the state with plenty of business interest and property. Most of them had been voting for the popular candidate chosen by the people of Lagos State in all the governorship elections since the advent of democracy in 1999.
Even the Igbo had been enjoying the goodwill and patronage of Lagos State government with many of them employed in teaching and other government jobs. There is an Igbo in the State Executive Council presently while a new housing project built by the government was named after Emeka Anyaoku, the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.
However, this crisis of sending the Igbo to re-unite with their families, whether done in good faith or not, has raised fundamental constitutional issues as regards to indigene and settler relationship which had caused dispute in several states of the federation. For instance, the Fulani herdsmen and natives in Plateau State had led to persistent ethnic clashes and wanton killings and massive destruction of properties.
There were also the Ife/Modakeke clashes in Osun State and the Itsekiri/Urhobo and Ijaw ethnic disturbances in the recent past. All these crises had tended to disrupt the peace and unity of the country, threatening the corporate existence of our nation.