WITH an avalanche of public outcry, there is need for a deep reflection over the recent expulsion of over 70 beggars and destitute by the Lagos State Government to the Upper Iweka Bridge, Onitsha, Anambra State.
A series of contradictions on the exact reasons for the repatriation could suggest that the misdemeanor was a plot hinged on social discrimination.
The state government said the ejection was for rehabilitation, that is, it was meant to bring those affected – majority of who were destitute persons – closer to their family members even though many of them were said not to be from Anambra.
If the Lagos government did not approve or embarked on the deportations, then who did? The contending issue however is whether the decision has not infringed on the constitutional right of Nigerian citizens to live or settle in any part of the country freely and any without hindrance or molestation.
While it is easy to discountenance the lame excuse that the beggars were taken to reunite with their families, the question to ask then is what could be their offence that could warrant the inimicalness meted-out to them?
These hapless fellows were allegedly subjected to inhuman treatments in detention while some were even said to have died on the way when “they were bundled out of Lagos by officials of the state government” (The Peoples Daily, 02/08/2013).
Ordinarily, when we hear or read about deportation, it has to do with the compulsory repatriation of a foreigner from another country other than his/her, usually based on immigration issues. But in this case, the victims were ‘deported’ in their dear country at 2.30 am in the dead of night for that matter!
Before now and in the course of rehabilitating infrastructure and districts in Lagos State, media reports had it that between 2007 and 2011, the state had dispatched 3,029 persons, excluding 15 foreign beggars.
A few years back, about 160 destitute northerners were reportedly dumped on the outskirts of the Kaduna metropolis, including women, men, children, mostly crippled, the lepers, deaf and others with varying degrees of physical disabilities.
In mid 2011, 196 beggars were allegedly repatriated to Sokoto State; 83 to Oyo State; 75 to Kano State; 67 to Osun State; 21 to Ekiti State; and seven to Ondo State while others were taken to Chad, Niger Republic, and Cote d’Ivore.
On September 18 last year, the authorities of the state reportedly dumped about 100 destitute Igbo mostly made up of children, women, the aged and the physically challenged under the Upper Iweka flyover bridge in Onitsha at an ungodly hour of 4am.
The Osun State Government too disclosed that it recently received 26 of its homeless indigenes residing in Lagos State, comprising 19 males, five females and two children.
“At other times in the past, destitute persons from Oyo and some Northern states in the country had been sent back to their home states in a supposed bid to rid Lagos of street beggars” (The Sun News, 07/08/2013).
No doubt, the determination of the Lagos State to become a mega city is desirable and is in tandem with modern day trend, it should, however, be pursed with a human face. That is, anything that is designed for the good of the society at the peril of the human component is certainly a failure.
With all sincerity of purpose, what any responsible government should strive for is to bring development to the people; both the rich and the poor, within the available resources by making them feel the impact of governance. In view of the present circumstance, I think we should ask the question; how did the non-natives get to reside in Lagos in the first place?
Apart from those who were born there, a simple answer could be the strive for a better life, especially in a cosmopolitan city – the centre of excellence – where life is believed to be bed of roses. Up till now, several people who reside in Lagos, just like other rural-urban migrants, live a very miserable life that their family members in the village can never imagine.
Whatever anybody may say to justify the action, we must realise that they are still Nigerians and their neglect is nothing but a reflection of the failure of our governments to take care of its citizens, as required by the constitution.
As citizens with special needs, the World Health Organisation had observed in its ‘Report on Mental Health System in Nigeria’ that there is considerable neglect of mental health issues in the country for a number of reasons and noted that there is the growing incidence and influx of beggars in major cities, resulting into human carriage, kidnapping, indecent assault and a host of antisocial behaviour.
Irrespective of anyone’s challenge or social condition, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”.
Similarly, Section 41(1) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution provides that “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom”.
It would have been proper for the Lagos State Government to rehabilitate these hapless fellows in line with social welfare resposibilty, which is a hallmark of most democracies instead of subjecting them to the illegal and inhuman treatment. So, the issue isn’t about tribalism per se but social discrimination and bad governance.
As a buoyant state in the country, what stops the Lagos State government from providing succour for the victims, who are in need in its Rehabilitation Centre in Majidun, where they were said to have initially been kept before being flushed out?
Hence, to have arrested, detained and deported the destitute in the mode and manner that the Lagos State Government allegedly did is a purely flagrant breach of their constitutional right to freedom of movement as citizens of Nigeria.