Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Opinion: States Of Origin And Deportation Of Citizens

Fashola; Lagos State Governor, Deported "Non Indigenes"

By Ken Henshaw

Nothing makes the headlines in Nigeria more than when a story seems to pitch one ethnic nationality or religion against the other. I saw this trend when that personal memoir by Chinua Achebe, There was a Country was first released. From the privilege of my social media window, I could tell which ethnic grouping a person originated from just by reading what sides their comments tilted towards. I had a laugh at the puerile ethnic bashing; then a cry at the obvious failings of my generation. That ethnic and religious sway was again visible when the Senate sparked off that debate on the age a female needs to attain before she can decide issues of marriage for herself. I was personally ashamed when men of hitherto renowned reasoning on social media ‘typed’ hard to prove that a girl could marry at puberty- which by the way could commence as early as 9 years old.

Similar word juggling and reflex ethnic defense is what I have again seen with the recent report of the deportation of people from Lagos to their ‘states of origin’. The Lagos state government has argued that it was not deportation, but necessary to ‘reunite’ them with their ‘people’; and that this only happened after extensive correspondences with the governments of their various states. Having seen written evidence and no refutation from the state that has cried the most foul- Anambra, I agree that consultation was done.

I think the point from this entire incident is completely lost when we attempt to reduce it –as usual- to that same old banal ethnic space. When we rid this incident of all colorations, of all “Fashola hates Igbos” and all references to sad but old tales of “how the Yoruba betrayed the Igbo”, the true imports and dangers begin to emerge.

Babatunde Fashola is one of the few governors whom people dare describe with the word progressive, especially when he is considered within the backdrop of our peculiar political space where performance is scarce. He is believed to have demonstrated a unique ability to govern, and credited with several major innovations in Lagos. It is right to say that the credible perception of Governor Fashola has ‘rubbed off’ on the new All Progressives Congress where he is a leading light. Imagine the shock therefore, that it is the same Fashola who understands better that has promoted this deportation to  the status of state policy. It becomes nastier still when you recall that Senate President David Mark, considered a ‘non progressive’ of PDP extraction, has taken the exact opposite position; demanding the elimination of State of Origin in preference of State of Residence. Now you will expect Fashola to blaze the trail in such revolutionary thinking!

As expected, there have been a barrage of justifications and defenses since this deportation became news. Some have been utter rubbish, others have been blatantly ignorant. One such justification is that Lagos is a mega city now and has no place for the destitute.  My first response to this is “if the destitute where of Lagos extraction, where will they be sent to?”. How did Lagos become this mega city of 20million humans? Was it as a result of any policy of any governor? Was it the feat of the ‘Eko’ people singularly? Answer these questions honestly and you begin to see Lagos in a new –greater- light.

It has also been argued that Lagos state should not spend the state’s share of revenue on ‘migrants’ from other states. So let’s examine this logic. The revenue sharing formula in Nigeria is based amongst others on population. Lagos is believed to have over 20million people, hence receives a higher allocation from the federation account by virtue of that fact. To achieve that population, the destitute and poor, irrespective of state, ethnic nationality or religion are counted and factored into the revenue equation. What moral justification is there to deport them because they are destitute? Remember also that Nigeria operates a common revenue purse, where resources generated from ‘other states’ are commonly shared to all. Isn’t it a little hypocritical that you will accept revenue generated from other states but not the destitute of other states?

At another level, let us assume that every state in the country adopted this same practice of deportation as standard state policy. Just imagine that the Rivers state government sets up its own committee on destitute and decides to deport people whom- by whatever standards or criteria- it defines as destitute, to their state of origin. Adamawa does the same, Kogi follows, then Kaduna, Oyo, etc. What does that say about the supposed nationhood of Nigeria? What does it do to the quest for national unity?

Finally, at a much broader level, this is a fight against the poor generally. This practice reflects the disdain which the prefects of Nigeria have for the poor, for those citizens who have fallen far below the poverty line, who have no choice other than beg or be annihilated, who have no roof other than God’s own skies, and have no future other than that extended to them by the benevolence of others. In other societies, these most vulnerable amongst us are protected by the government; they are provided benefits and rehabilitated. In Lagos state, we spit in their faces and demand ‘what right do you  have to be poor’? And then we deport them to die because their fathers come from another “state of origin”.

(Follow Ken Henshaw on Twitter: @ken_henshaw) 

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