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Sordid tales of their ‘deportation’ from Lagos to Onitsha

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Since the unfortunate incident of deportation
of some Igbos from Lagos to Onitsha, old
wounds were re-opned over similar incidents
that happened in the past. The same residents of the commercial city of
Onitsha woke up early on Wednesday, July 24,
this year, and discovered to their chagrin that
67 persons, majority of whom were of Igbo
extraction were deported all the way from
Lagos and dumped at almost the same spot at the popular Upper Iweka area of the
commercial city. On enquiry, the deportees told the residents
that they were arrested by the officials of
Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) from
various parts of Lagos, detained in different
prison custody for a period ranging from six
months to two years and finally deported to Onitsha where they were dumped at about 3.20
a.m. As early as 6 a.m., officials of the Nigerian Red
Cross Society (NRCS), led by its South East
zonal chairman, Dr. Peter Emeka Katcy arrived
the scene and interviewed the deportees one
after the other.
According to the deportees, the KAI officials were instructed to flush out hawkers and
beggars out of the state and as such, the KAI
officials embarked on indiscriminate arrests
and detention of non indigenes of the state,
without asking questions.

Deportees 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 center at Mile 2, Lagos and I lived with my sister but in January, this year, the KAI
officials arrested me and my friend while we
were standing and discussing”. On how she was arrested, Rosemary stated
that she was just standing somewhere
discussing with one of her friends and all of a
sudden, the KAI officials, accompanied by
some policemen double-crossed and dragged
them into their waiting vehicle and then off- loaded them at a prison in Alausa area of Lagos She noted that it was when they were forced
into the vehicle that they saw others who were
already inside the vehicle, adding that as they
moved about, more persons were arrested and
dragged into the vehicle until the vehicle was
filled to the brim. She said that up till now, her sister had never
known her whereabout since then because the
KAI officials did not even ask them where they
lived or where they worked or who are their
relations, adding that if she is able to get a
transport fare, she would like to go back to her sister in Lagos. Another deportee who identified himself as
Osondu Mbuto from Ohaozara in Ebonyi State
and who claimed to be a petty trader in Lagos,
said he was arrested by the same KAI officials
who were in the company of some policemen,
while going to his shop on December 18, last year. Mbuto who noted that he was picked up
forcefully by government officials with armed
policemen while trying to go to his shop one
morning. added that he had been in the Ikorodu
unofficial detention camp without having
contact with his family and friends for over eight months before they were bundled to
Onitsha that day. According to Mbuto, “I am a Lagos-based petty
trader but on that December 18 fateful day, I
packed my load somewhere and decided to go
and buy something and exercise myself and as
I was walking on the road, I saw three persons
who came and approached me. Initially, I thought they were all these people who snatch
peoples’ bags and I thought I could scare them
away by giving them a little change from my
pocket. “All of a sudden, “he continued, “I saw an
armed policeman in uniform who pointed his
gun at me as he ordered me to follow the KAI
officials and 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 with a specific amount of fee for bail. But
this time around, they took me to another
place called Ikorodu which is different from Ikeja local government. That place is very close
to Ijebu Ode”. He said after taking his statement, they put
him into their cell, adding that it was two days
before their deportation to Onitsha that one of
their elders came and asked that those who
would want to go home should write down their
name, which he did. He said those of them who wrote their names
and indicated their interest to go home were
later separated from others and were later
pushed into a vehicle down to Onitsha where
they were dumped at the Upper Iweka Flyover
at about 3.20 a.m. As at 12 noon, that same Wednesday, the news
of their arrival to Onitsha had spread like a wild
fire, to the extent that the relations of some of
the deportees surged to Onitsha, identified
and took up to 41 of them home, while the Red
Cross team later took the remaining 18 of them to Onitsha South Local government
township Stadium where they were given blood
tonic, lucozade boost, biscuits, food and
bottled water and counseled. At the stadium, more relations of some of the
deportees arrived on daily basis, identified
their own relations and took them home,
including one Mrs. Okoli from Uzoakwa, Ihiala,
Anambra State, just as some of them who were
able to identify their own homes and were healthy enough to go home by themselves,
were given transport fare through combined
efforts of the NRCS and chairman of the
Onitsha South Local Government Transition
Committee, Barrister Ugochukwu Ezeani. As at Monday, this week, only five of them
were left at the one-room office apartment
where they were kept at the stadium. Mrs. Nneoma Judith Nwora, a member of the
NRCS and education officer attached to the
Onitsha South Local Government Education
Authority (LGEA), told newsmen that one of the
deportees had died on Friday as a result of
protracted illness, adding that the five remaining deportees comprised two males and
three females. Nwora who gave the names of the remaining
five deportees as Friday Ndukwe from Ohafia
in Abia State, Grace Igbochi who claimed to be a
Lagosian, Ugulari Tutua from Warri in Delta,
Chinyere Nicholas from Awo Omamma, near
Owerri, Imo State and Rosemary Nathaniel from Ubakala Umuahia in Abia State, said some
of them admitted being beggars in Lagos, while
others denied being beggars. She said that three of the deportees were
unconscious at the moment, adding that some
Rev. Sisters from the nearby Madonna Mercy
Convent have indicated interest to come and
pick them for feeding and medical treatment
until they recover and go home. It was at this point that reactions flowed from
many quarters, following the remembrance of
the first 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
very disheartening that a state in Federal
Republic of Nigeria will bundle people who are in that state, who are not even indigenes of
Anambra State, bring them back to Anambra
State, dump them under the fly-over bridge at
Upper Iweka in Onitsha and leave”. According to Katchy, “most of the people, we
have interviewed are not even indigenes of
Anambra State. Some of them are from Ebonyi,
some are from Imo State and other states but
it is very pathetic that a state government will
give an order for people to be brought to another state within the Federal Republic of
Nigeria and dumped. “It is an insult to Anambra State. We shall draw
the attention of His Excellency, the Governor
of Anambra State, Mr.Peter Obi to ask why
such invasion in his territory and we will find
out why Lagos State should invade Anambra
State territory; and why Lagos State should come and dump people here helplessly”, he
lamented. Prominent personalities across the country
have continued to air their views about the
deportation of these persons from Lagos to
the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra state,
for the second time penultimate Wednesday,
July 24, this year.

NNENNA OGBONNA AND ESAU IGBANI Among those who have so far spoken on the
matter included a prominent Igbo leader and
Ogirishi Igbo, Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka;
Chairman, Board of Trustees, Nigerian
Importers Association, Chief Gilbert Bravo Obi;
Barrister Obiora Muojeke, legal practitioner in Onitsha and eldest son of a first republic
parliamentarian, Hon. R. N. Muojeke and
Barrister Chris Ajugwe, another legal
practitioner in Onitsha. Aside these personalities, there were other
groups like the Nigerian Bar Association NBA,
Onitsha branch; the Campaign for Democracy
(CD); the Onitsha South Local Government
Authority; the Nigerian Red Cross Society
(NRCS); the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB); the
International Society for Human Rights and the
Rule of Law (INTERSOCIETY); the Civil Liberties
Organization (CLO), among others. Although Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola
admitted that only 14 destitutes were affected
in the action which he described as mere
rehabilitation, a cursory look at the scenario
showed that the development has continued to
attract condemnation from far and wide. The incident is attracting this much comments
because it is the second time Lagos state
government evacuated people to Onitsha,
under the same circumstance. The first one
was on September 18, 2012 when they
evacuated over 100 persons in nine loaded buses and dumped them in Onitsha. The September 18 deportation caused
pandamonium quite alright but it did not go to
the extent of Governor Peter Obi reporting his
Lagos colleague to President Goodluck
Jonathan, as he did this time around. Sources said that Lagos government has
become too tired of harbouring those they
identified as destitutes in the state that they
decided to evacuate all the perceived
destitutes at intervals, apparently for them to
locate their respective families in any part of the South-East geo-political zone. The initial deportation, which had larger
number, sparked off fear among the residents
of the commercial city of Onitsha who were
afraid that the people may not be destitutes
after all but members of the dreaded Boko
Haram sect, given the present security situation in the country then and still now. The development equally sent the security
apparatus in Onitsha into frenzy as they
mobilized their men to take position at the
strategic locations in Bridge-head and Upper
Iweka areas.

OSONDU MBUTO ANSWERING QUESTION The Commander of the 302 Artillery Regiment,
Onitsha, Col. Taritimiye Gagariga told newsmen
on phone then that they were observing the
situation, but assured that there was no cause
for alarm. The police Area Commander for Onitsha, Mr.
Benjamin Wordu, an Assistant Commissioner of
Police, also told newsmen then in a telephone
chat that it was not yet certain whether the
people were prison inmates, lunatics or
destitutes, adding that he had directed the police authorities at Fegge Police Division to
look into the matter properly and find out who
actually the evacuees were. The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) at Fegge,
CSP Rowland Omatoje, who had confirmed the
incident, said that the people are destitutes
from Lagos State, who have been evacuated to
their various states. He said they were being handed over to the
Onitsha South Local Government Authorities at
Fegge, which in turn will help them locate their
families. In his reaction, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra
State, ordered the security agencies in the
state to impound the buses and arrest the
people to determine where they were coming
from and where they were going. Obi, suspecting that the evacuees could be
insurgents, assured the people of Anambra
State of his personal commitment to the
security of lives and property in the state,
adding that they should be alert and vigilant at
all times. The Governor thanked public spirited
Anambrarians for bringing the information to
him as soon as the buses stopped at Upper
Iweka to off load their human cargo, calling for
increased vigilance in all the communities in
the State, as well as charging them to always report unusual movements and even
suspicious faces to law enforcement agencies.

UGACARI TUTUA FROM WARRI ,DELTA On the fate of the then deportees, the
Governor said he had directed law
enforcements agencies to impound the trailer
as well as keep custody of those people
pending investigations on who they are ,where
they are going and whence. The Governor took the opportunity to reiterate
his personal commitment to security in
Anambra State, insisting that he would remain
awake in order to sustain the gains recorded in
recent times against crime and criminality in
the State. With such alertness from Obi, residents of
Onitsha business community and indeed the
entire Anambra were urged to put the issue of
the first deportation behind them to forge
ahead. Meanwhile, reactions have continued to trail
the development. Among those who have so
far reacted to it was the Nigerian Bar
Association (NBA), Onitsha branch. In a communique issued at the end of their
general meeting and statement signed by the
Chairman and Secretary of the Association,
Barrister D. C. Maduechesi and Steve Onyechi
Ononye, NBA insisted that the Lagos state
government should recall these Nigerians to their various homes in Lagos and pay adequate
compensation for the breach of their
fundamental rights.
NBA also threatened to take legal action
against Lagos state government if it carries out
such an exercise in future, adding that the federal government should call the Lagos state
officials to order. The association also pleaded with Anambra
State government to come to the assistance of
these innocent Nigerians by providing means
of transportation to them to enable them go
back to their various states of origin. Also, the Campaign for Democracy (CD), South
East Zone condemned in its totality the
inhuman manner with which some Nigerians
were being deported and dumped in Onitsha,
on regular intervals. In their statement signed by its Zonal
Chairman, Dede Uzor A. Uzor, CD called for an
unreserved apology from the Lagos State
Government to the people of Anambra state,
especially the residents of Onitsha who are
always treated with this eye-sore. CD also urged President Goodluck Jonathan to
call Gov. Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State to
order since this is the second time of taking
this sort of unconstitutional and inhuman
deportation against Nigerians from the South-
East extraction. The statement warned that if such
constitutional breach is committed again, CD
would not hesitate to take legal action against
Lagos State Government on behalf of all the
deportees.
Meanwhile, the remaining five deportees are still hanging around in Onitsha waiting for their
fate. The Chairman of Onitsha South Local
Government Transition Committee, Barrister
Ugochukwu Ezeani said Governor Obi and
himself had to take it upon themselves to cater
for all the 67 deportees, before they started locating their various home and leaving in
droves. Ezeani noted that having fed, clothed and
transported most of them home, after medical
care, the local government would continue to
take care of the remaining five until they find
their way. Mrs. Nwora also told newsmen that she had
spent at least N100,000 of her personal money
in feeding the deportees, apart from the
amount spent by the local government
authority, under the approval of the council
boss. In his reaction, the Ogirishi Igbo, Ezeonwuka
told newsmen in a telephone chat that the
manner with which Fashola treated these
destitutes was not normal because if they had
lived in Lagos since they were born and had
contributed their quota towards the development of Lagos state, government does
not need to kick them out now that they are
getting weak.
Ezeonwuka noted that rather than kick them
out, government should take it as its
responsibility to rehabilitate them by sending them to a rehabilitation center where they
would be adequately taken care of, adding that
the role of Ndigbo, as major industrialists in
Nigeria deserved to earn them that respect.
The BOT Chairman for Importers Association,
Bravo Obi, in his own statement on phone, said that whatever is the case, government should
have considered the fact that the deportees
are humans who do not deserve to be treated
in such an inhuman manner, adding that both
governments should have discussed the
matter and reached an understanding first before the deportation exercise. Barrister Muojeke, quoted Fashola as having
expressed disappointment that Governor Peter
Obi did not call him in such an important matter
before taking it to Jonathan, but he (Fashola)
usually calls Obi even in a little thing.
According to Muojeke, “let us forget about whipping up sentiments and face the reality on
ground because these are humans and we are
one, whether they are from the East, West or
South, adding, the deportees should not be
used to play politics”. Barrister Ajugwe, in a written statement,
declared: “The deportation of ethnic Igbo
people from Lagos State across the River Niger
to Onitsha marks a new phase of ethnic
cleansing of Igbos by the Yoruba tormentors
and haters”. Ajugwe further added: “Education, civiliation. or
even religion and the technology have done
little or nothing to moderate the evil hatred of
Ndigbo. This episode of deportation of fellow
Nigerians , some of whom were born and lived
in Lagos State for ever 40 years to their ethnic
zones, exposes the tribal underbelly of the
Nigerian society.
”Let’s call a spade by its true name. When the hero of sainthood Chinua Achebe wrote his
Biafran story in “There Was A Country”, the
mass media outfit was used to shout and shot
it down even before they have read a word of
the book”. He said the solution is that the South East zone
which has been neglected and marginalized
with no federal presence over the years by the
successive federal government leaders,
including that of the incumbent President
Jonathan, needs a marshal plan with such scheme attracting public and private sectors
investments in infrastructure, industries and
federal institutions, so as to enable the Igbos
return home and have no more need to be in
Lagos or in the Northern Nigeria for that
matter.” In their joint statement issued in Onitsha,
entitled: “Internal Deportation Of Igbo-
Lagosians: A Joint Call For Decentralization Of
The Age-long Concentration Of Socio-
economic Activities In Lagos”, the Movement
for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), International Society for
Human Rights and the Rule of Law
(Intersociety) and Anambra State chapter of
Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) warned
against negative consequences this
deportation exercise might generate in due course. A public statement jointly signed by MASSOB’s
Uchenna Madu, Intersociety’s Emeka
Umeagbalasi and CLO’s Aloysius Attah, stated
that following the controversies and unceasing
condemnations trailing the internal deportation
of Nigerian citizens of Igbo-Lagos extraction by the Government of Lagos State and its ruling
party, All Progressives Congress (APC) , there is
need for immediate decentralization of the
age-long concentration of socio-economic
activities in Lagos State and de-monopolization
of same as “the economic capital of Nigeria. Our joint call is made after critical assessment
of circumstances on the ground including
defenses put forward by the Government of
Lagos State and its APC in which it among other
things, blamed the Nigerian citizens of Igbo
extraction for flocking, flooding and stressing Lagos State and its population. The State and its APC party also submitted
controversially that Igbo-Lagosians are
responsible for 100% of violent and syndicate
crimes committed in the State. It said that
Igbo-Lagosians are involved in advance fee
fraud (419), kidnapping, armed robbery, assassination, etc. “It is in view of this that this joint hallowed and
informed call is made. The conclusion drawn by
the spokesmen of the Government of Lagos
State and its APC also raises serious fear over
the possibility of inclusion of violent criminals
among the citizens dumped in Onitsha . “However, our joint call is in no way extricating
the Government of Lagos State and its APC
from its malicious, atrocious and grossly
unconstitutional act. The hallmark of a modern government, as
espoused by Thomas Hobbes, is not measured
by a number of high rising buildings or tarred
roads with flowering roadsides or number of
exotic cars driven by its infinitesimal rich/
privileged class. Rather, it is measured by how the welfare of
the downtrodden including citizens with
disabilities . It is in no way measured by
government inhumane social programs and
actions such as internal deportation of citizens
from one federating unit to another. “A country without the downtrodden is not a
country. This is because, it is the welfare of the
downtrodden that originally brought
government into existence.” ” Another name for government is Destitute
Social Welfare,” says Emeka Umeagbalasi . ” Evicting hawkers, petty traders, beggars and
the physically and mentally challenged from
the streets and roads in order to beautify them
is like deforestation that destroys the only
source of oxygen meant for human survival.
Their presence in well-secured public places is the real beauty of a country and the traditional
monument of the origin of government. “Social living condition is propelled not by man,
but by nature. A less privileged citizen today
can become a privileged citizen tomorrow and a
privileged citizen today can be less privileged
citizen tomorrow. The issue of being a
destitute or less privileged also has individual and corporate connotations. ” In other words, there also exists corporate
destitute and corporate privileged. For
instance, China is a corporate destitute of
yesterday and a corporate privileged country of
today. Nigeria was a corporate privileged State
in the 1970s, today, it is a corporate destitute. “Punishing a citizen because he or she is a
destitute is a crime against humanity and
amounts to playing God. In the major streets of
the USA, for instance, destitute including
lepers, the mentally challenged and beggars
still abound. In all her airports, the physically challenged are treated as primus inter pares or
first among equal. They are placed in the category of vulnerable
class, cared and catered for at all times. During
sightseeing visits organized for international
visitors in the USA, “destitute in the streets”
including drug addicts, lepers, beggars and
mentally challenged are shown and introduced as part of the great US society and foundation
upon which the US Government exists. Their resettlement and rehabilitation centers
are also included as part of American great
monuments for sightseeing visitors. “The great civil rights struggles of 1960s in the
USA were also propelled by people hitherto
called “American Destitute Class”, from which
the present US President emerged. The
Catholic Destitute Rehabilitation Center in
Huntsville, Alabama, the Destitute Food Center in Seattle, the Washington State and the Girls
Incorporation in Huntsville, Alabama, to
mention but a few, are all part of the US great
monuments and epitome of her greatness. “The white section of the South African
society, which leads the African Continent in
terms of socioeconomic governance
transformation, was founded by the European
destitute and prisoners. Sadly, the Lagos State
version of destitute welfare, which has spread to River State, is the Onitsha Upper Iweka
Flyover, which was randomly and militarily
created at 3: am, at the hours of blue law”. ” In view of the foregoing, therefore, it is about
time Lagos State’s age-long monopoly of
Nigeria’s socioeconomic hegemony got broken
and decentralized. To this extent, it is our demand that the
Southeast Governors Forum and other core
stakeholders should hold talks with the Federal
Government of Nigeria so as to get the foreign
missions in the country particularly those of
Europe, North American, India, China and other Southeast Asia and the Gulf Cooperation
Council to open their consulate offices in
Enugu for visa procession and obtainment and
related issues. A situation whereby the South-east and the
South-south Nigerian citizens have to travel to
Lagos to obtain visas for international travels is
not only condemned but also amounts to
diplomatic enslavement. Also traveling to overseas through Lagos is not
only death-prone, but also harsh and wicked
policy that must be reversed. The upgrading of
the Akanu Ibiam International Airport is a
welcome development, but it is not enough.
Efforts must be made to equip it and make it to wear the outlook of a modern international
airport so as to meet international aviation
qualities to be able to attract not cabin coffins
but internationally certified healthy aircrafts.
” Having an international airport is not enough
if access routes to it are not provided and maintained at all times. To this extent, it is our
joint call that the Onitsha-Enugu and the
Enugu-Port Harcourt Dual Carriage
Ways, which are now death-traps, should be
reconstructed as a matter of uttermost
immediacy. For immediate and effective utilization of the
international airport, the five States of the
Southeast should jointly fund the
reconstruction of the two important roads and
seek for refund from the Federal Government
of Nigeria later. There is also need to decongest and
decentralize Lagos wharfs. In view of this,
cargoieing container goods to Port Harcourt
wharfs, which are more friendly and convenient
for traders of the Southeast and the South-
south zones, should be encouraged and intensified. There should also be proper dredging of the
River Nigeria and construction of medium size
wharf in Onitsha as part of the decongestion
and decentralization of the Lagos economic
capital monopoly. For easy conveyance of
goods and services to Onitsha, Nnewi and Enugu, a connecting bridge should be built
between the Ogwuikpere- Ogbaru part of
Anambra State and the Ndoni part of River
State, which, when built, will shorten the
distance between Port Harcourt, River State
and Onitsha, Anambra State to about one and a half hours as against seven hours drive from
Lagos to Onitsha, Anambra State.

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