Nigeria is beset with many developmental problems. Nurturing a renascent democracy, we have to contend with bad government and forces determined to subvert the democratic regime. The politicians and the Nigerian people are more concerned about the next election than governance. That is why the conflict in Rivers state has dominated the media than about any new programs on education reform, laws against corruption, etc. This emphasises the need for Nigerians to be alert to misrule. Why are we not talking about political wrangling while the Senate has passed a bill granting lifetime pension to the Senate president? Why are we arguing about the ethnicity of the future president rather than discussing how to stop the inexorable decline of public education?
The distraction that these arguments provide gives bad performing government officials an easy escape. The governor of Abia state, who has been clueless right from the beginning of his tenure, decided to sack nonindigenes from the state civil service. There was hue and cry but little else. Nobody was made to resign or prosecuted for what was obviously an illegal action and nobody was made to resign. The discerning among us predicted that this action, if not punished, would precipitate similar actions elsewhere in the country. Their fears have been proven prescient in what has recently happened in Lagos state where 70 Nigerians where bundled in a truck and moved over to Onitsha in Anambra state.
It has been over 40 years since the end of Nigeria’s Civil War. The events leading to the Civil War saw Nigeria’s largest movement of a mass of people fleeing for their safety in the face of vengeful and genocidal attacks. Now, in peace time (in relative terms), we have seen something very different. People from the former breakaway republic of Biafra have made Nigeria their home. Lagos – being the economic capital of the country – has seen a particularly large influx of people from the Eastern region and other parts of the country. The poverty in much of the country and the uneven distribution of wealth has contributed to the large migration into Lagos. Also, the porous borders of the country means that refugees from poorer countries and war-torn regions easily get into the country contributing immensely to the social pressures and crime rate in Lagos.
In several fora – in online forums, in personal conversations, and even in some newspaper articles – some people who identify themselves as more Lagosian than others have toyed with the idea of sending nonindigenes “back to where they come from”. Many of these people actually have their roots in other South West states, not Lagos. They complain particularly about Lagos immigrants from South Eastern Nigeria, in many cases confusing people from the Niger Delta for them. These characters complain that “give them an inch they would go a mile”, “rent your house to them, they would soon own your house”, “they are too ambitious”, “they are taking over Lagos”, “they are all over Lagos and our markets, how many of us are in their markets”, “why can’t they stay in their South East”, “they are overpopulating Lagos”, etc. For a country that many fawn over patriotism, there is a lot of us versus them in our conversations about each other. Such people seem to have their kindred spirits somewhere in the Lagos state government. Lagos has made at least two of such abductions and transportation of Nigerian citizens from the State to Onitsha. Probably, some Lagos state officials thought that since Anambra is an emerging economic hub, let the state share the burden of mass immigration.
The government of Lagos state has denied any involvement in the criminal act. The Commissioner of Information of Lagos state, Mr Lateef Ibirogba, while denying the act, included a loaded statement that smacks of prevarication: “but we have been emphasising that people must live within the law”. Many of those arrested were so treated for wandering; some were arrested while returning to their way homes or going to their businesses. As before, laws against vagrancy and wandering have been used to harass innocent individuals. But this is a new twist where Lagos acts like a nation state deporting foreigners. But this is not the first time that such actions have been traced to the state. Some beggars were reportedly deported to the Oyo state secretariat.
This development speaks to the weakness of the system of identification that emphasises “state of origin”. The Constitution and the contradictions therein does a very bad job of trying to develop a national spirit among Nigerians. Till today, there are some people who identify as indigenous Lagosians who complain that others have taken over the state. They say that people from other South West state and even neighbouring countries use the identical culture to confuse the original people of Lagos and get all the government positions along with the benefits of political power. This is a very dangerous spirit of Nazism that Nigerians ignore at their peril. It is dangerous to assume that since Lagos tends to be more liberal about these kinds of issues, such voices can be ignored. We all owe our future generation the responsibility to speak up against such demagoguery when we hear it.
This transport of human cargo to Onitsha is the offshoot of the demented ideology that some Lagos residents are more Lagosian than others. And I must not forget to mention that these people were kept in inhuman conditions during their detention. They were fed only once a day; over 29 people died in detention. They were bundled in a truck and dumped like refuse on upper Iweaka Bridge. All this in flagrant disregard of the right to free movement of Nigerians within the country granted by the Constitution. Why complain of foreigners treating Nigerians like trash when we are modelling worse treatment of Nigerians in Nigeria? Even foreign criminals would not be treated like this without provoking a diplomatic row.
This kind of madness is the cause of strife in many parts of Nigeria. The conflict in Jos is the result of fight over resources based on indigene and settler discrimination. Many people have assumed that Lagos is largely shielded from that kind of problem. They point to the appointment of an Anambra indigene in the Fashola’s cabinet. Others argue that appointment was a tokenistic political move to reward the significant Igbo vote in Lagos. I am of the opinion that such appointments should be a norm in all states of Nigeria that are serious about national integration. I am glad that there were similar appointments of nonindigenes in South Eastern states before it happened in Lagos. Such appointments, based more on merit than state of origin, is more to the benefit of the state than the nonindegene appointee as the state makes use of qualified personnel at the expense of the state where the appointee comes from.
If Nigeria hopes to avoid future conflicts that centre on fights over resources, they should make a Constitution that emphasises residency over origin. Besides, the state of origin requirement has always been gamed by Nigerians when needed to get favours like scholarships, bursaries, appointments, etc. It is too easy to falsify evidence of state of origin in Nigeria. State discrimination based on ethnicity has never worked in countries that practice it. In Indonesia, it has kept the bumiputra – who the policy was supposed to favour – at a lower economic and social strata that the Chinese and Indians, who the policy discriminated against. In South Africa, it has kept the Blacks severely affected by unemployment while benefiting a few with access to power. In Nigeria, it has ruined our public education system making good quality expensive for everybody, kept poverty and unemployment high, and spawned a bloody ethnic conflict which has endured.
The Nazis in our government would keep having a free ride if errant actions are not punished. The Lagos state government must be made to pay compensation to the victims of their illegal deportation. The family of those who lost their lives in detention should be identified and adequately compensated. Whoever had the idea of deporting Nigerians to their states of origin or to Onitsha, whether in the Lagos state government or within the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) parastatal should be prosecuted and punished for their evil act. The Abia state governor must be made to pay for his criminal sack of nonindigenes from the state civil service. Other states where similar cases of illegal actions were taken against Nigerians should be adequately dealt with. The Constitutional Amendment should focus more on giving all Nigerians equal rights wherever they choose to reside than on giving the Senate president a life pension. The corruption in our Customs that makes illegal migration into the country too easy must be tackled, along with the corruption in government that makes most projects undoable. All this is necessary if we are to win the fight against Nazism in the country. Peoples and nations throughout history that have fallen to the seduction of nativism have always seen a long-term decline in their fortunes worse than the economic problem that initially feeds nativist ideology – like in Pakistan.
As history has shown us, especially in Europe, the forces of evil and backwardness would always be with us. They become especially active in times of economic hardship to blame others. The British have the British National Party (BNP) which reared its head during the recent financial crisis. They were defeated only because the people spoke up against their racist agenda. Nigerians have consistently failed to speak up against similar discriminatory demagogues in the country. When the Sagari government blamed the Ghanaians for the country’s woes, most Nigerians supported the “Ghana must go” movement. During the pogroms before the Civil War and the mass emigration that ensued, some Nigerians commented “let them go, so that food would be less expensive”. Now Nigerians are speaking up against the killings of NYSC members during elections, against the jailing of innocent Nigerian students in Malaysia and Russia, against the killing of Ibadan traders by Boko Haram. If we truly want justice, peace and fair treatment, hearken the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
By Erwin Ofili
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Naij.com