The recent deportation of Igbo indigenes by the Lagos State government to Onitsha in Anambra State has generated some ripples, as the deportees narrated their ordeal in the hands of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) officials, who tagged them ‘destitute’ as they maintained that they were doing genuine businesses in Lagos before their arrest and subsequent deportation. ONYEWUCHI OJINNAKA and GOODLUCK ANOSIKE report.
The recent deportation of some Igbo indigenes by the Lagos State government has evoked diverse comments from across the country, particularly the Igbo and Yoruba tribes. While some reports stated that not less than 67 Igbo were deported from Lagos to Onitsha by the Lagos State government for hawking and begging on the streets of the state, other reports had a figure lower than the aforementioned figure.
According to some reports, the deportees were said to have been accompanied by a group of policemen from Lagos and dumped at the Upper Iweka Flyover of Onitsha at about 3.20 a.m, leaving the deportees stranded at such a dangerous hour.
As the news began to spread on the same day, sympathizers including officials of the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS), South East zone and some relations of the deportees rushed to the spot to have a glimpse at the deportees, and possibly identify them for the purpose of rendering some help. The NRCS intervened positively for the well-being, health and safety of the deportees.
It was reported that later in the day, some relations of the deportees trooped in batches to identify and take home their deported relations, while others who could not be immediately be identified, were taken to Onitsha South Local government township stadium, where food and drugs were administered to them as well as counselling by the NRCS. BusinessWorld however gathered that some of the deportees who were fit enough to locate their homes, were given transport money to go home, while the families of some others still trooped to their camp on daily basis to take away their relations.
Narrating their ordeal, some deportees lamented that they were neither beggars nor hawkers as speculated before the arrest. They stressed that what led to their arrest was that, the Lagos State Government instructed the state environmental law enforcement operatives, known as ‘ Kick Against Indiscipline’(KAI) to arrest beggars and hawkers found on the streets, pointing out that the KAI officials did not investigate nor ask questions before the indiscriminate arrest of even the legitimate traders.
One of the deportees who gave her name as Rosemary Nathaniel from Ubakala in Umuahia, Abia State, said: “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 centre 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”.
She added that they were forced into a waiting vehicle which had some people already inside. According to her, the KAI officials made their indiscriminate arrest and more people were thrown into the vehicle until it was filled up. They were then taken to the Alausa prison in Lagos where they were remanded.
Another deportee, one Osondu Mbuto, a Lagos based trader who hails from Ohaozara in Ebonyi State, explained that he was on his way to his shop on December 18, 2012, when he got arrested by the KAI officials, narrating that when they got to the KAI cell, he was asked to put down his statement, which he did. Thereafter, he was thrown into jail and remained there for two days before their deportation to Onitsha. He disclosed that before they were deported, someone came to them (deportees), announcing that those who would want to go home should write down their names, which he did and so they were separated from those who did not show any interest. Thereafter, he found himself in Onitsha.
“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. 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, 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’’Mbuto explained.
It was gathered that the deportees of Igbo extraction were arrested by KAI officials and incarcerated for about six months at different prisons in Lagos before the deportation, which the Lagos State government sanctioned on grounds that they (deportees), were found roaming the streets of Lagos begging for alms and hawking as a result of destitution. It was further gathered that they were arrested and deported so that they can reunite with their families and be rehabilitated.
BusinessWorld further gathered that during the period of incarceration, the deportees were remanded in a hostile environment and poorly fed, which led to the death of some of them while others who narrowly escaped death, looked dejected and shabby at the time they arrived Onitsha.
BusinessWorld recalled that the recent deportation of ‘Ndigbo’ is the second time in less than one year. In the first episode which was on September 18, 2012, over 100 people including men, women and children of both the physically and non-physically challenged group, were deported from Lagos and dumped under the Upper Iweka Flyover Bridge , Onitsha at about 4.00 a.m.
This action of Lagos State government has generated heated reactions from various groups and individuals, even between the governors of Lagos and Anambra States.
Ohaneze-Ndigbo, a pan-igbo cultural organization, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State, Pat Utomi a public affairs analyst and former presidential candidate of one of the registered parties, reacted on the unfortunate development and explanations put forward by the Lagos State government.
In his reaction, Elder Chris Eluemuno, chairman Ohaneze-Ndigbo, Anambra State chapter said the explanation of the Lagos government that the deportation was meant to reunite the deportees with their families, was a lame reason and unacceptable to him.
He wondered how innocent people from a particular race residing in Lagos could be picked, packed them into a truck and dumped under the Onitsha Bridge at midnight. Is that the best way to reunite the deportees with their families? He asked.
Eluemuno posited that the action of Lagos State government is inhuman and a gross violation of peoples’ right to live in any part of the country, as guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
In his comment, Pat Utomi cautioned the supporters of Lagos State government and their Anambra State counterparts to trade softly on the issue and not to overheat the polity.
In a press statement made by Orji Uzor Kalu on the issue, he said: “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby, or exit there from.
“It is appalling to learn that the deported Igbo were even detained in Ikorodu for about six months before their illegal deportation. The reaction of the state government that the Igbo were deported to reunite them with their families was the worst insult to any race”.
A Lagos-based lawyer, who spoke to BusinessWorld on the issue expressed that the action of the Lagos State government, was totally discrimination between the destitute and the rich, that it is wicked and unlawful for even evicting hawkers, beggars and physically challenged individuals from the state to another state for whatsoever reason.
However, whether the deportation was right or wrong, the bottom-line is that we should respect every citizen’s right to live in any part of this country without molestation or hindrance, unless those that contravenes the law.
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