Can a Nigerian Be Deported From His Country?

Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola

Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola

I’m a failed lawyer and I’m not ashamed to say so. I tried to be one but failed. I recall with nostalgia my numerous battles to be a learned person but woefully failed.

This is my story: In 1982 I sat for Joint Admission Matriculation Examination (JAMB) to study law but failed. My score of 272 could not guarantee me a place in the Faculty of Law, University of Calabar. Then I heard of a course called “Sociology” and it’s fascination with society. I heard again that the American civil rights leader and apostle of non-violence, Martin Luther King Jnr, studied Sociology which armed him with the power to confront the evils in his society. And I too wanted to fight the evils in my society. Because of a concatenation of these factors I fell head over heels in love with it.

I wanted to know much about society, its structure, substructures and superstructures. I wanted to know about its complexities and the strains within it. I wanted to know the causes and effects of crime, why some people would choose to be deviants and others law-abiding. I wanted to know the forces, whether rooted or otherwise, that impel people to behave the way they do.

Thus, the following year I sat for another JAMB, applying for Sociology as my first choice course at the same university. Fortunately, I got the admission. But upon the fact that I was already reading Sociology, my interest in Law was still burning brighter than Dante’s Inferno. So in my second year at the University of Calabar I sat for another JAMB and was offered Law at the University of Ife.

I didn’t want to let go of Sociology. I loved the course and I didn’t want to let go of the opportunity to study Law, I admired it. Then some sort of moral conflict ensued in me. It was like a battle, a moral battle, what philosophers and psychologists call a “struggle of opposites”. In the midst of that conflict I decided to work for the two degrees simultaneously, one in Calabar and another in Ife, some 900 kilometres apart! Thus, I would spend two weeks attending classes at UNICAL and another two weeks at UNI-IFE. I was so defiant and determined to get the two degrees that I could not heed my sponsor’s advice to ditch one. I continued with the two courses until my second semester when the exam of both universities fell in the same week. This was the cul-de-sac. I had reached the end of my pernicious desire and could go no further. After a serious meditation and soul-searching, I said goodbye to Law after almost one year of strenuous study and continued with Sociology. That is how I missed being a lawyer. That is how Ebonyi State has not been able to produce a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN till date.

But this piece is not about me and my failed ambition. It is not about the legality or otherwise of our individual choices. It is about Fashola, about the actions and inactions of our politicians. In short, it is about the future of this country Nigeria. It is about how people we entrust with the responsibility to lead us are dividing and deporting us and telling us we no longer have the right to choose where we live in our own fatherland.

At the heat of Governor Fashola’s rash and ill-conceived decision to deport 78 or so Igbos from Lagos last month—an action that was without doubt borne of hate and xenophobia—I sought to know what deportation entirely means. I deferred to my Free Online Dictionary for an explanation and it had this sad thing to say: “the lawful expulsion of an undesired alien or other person from a country; the act of expelling a person from their native land.”  I said ‘sad thing’ because, from this interpretation I could not correlate Fashola’s action with civilized conduct. I marked three vital expressions from this explanation: ‘lawful expulsion’, ‘undesired alien’, and ‘expulsion from a country’, not a state.

With these, the lawyer in me started asking some questions. “Can one be expelled or deported from his country? Were those expelled ‘aliens’ or true blooded Nigerians? Was Fashola’s action lawful? What does Fashola’s action portend for Nigeria?” In fact, questions and questions and questions!

For an answer I asked my learned friend—a respected lawyer—if a Nigerian citizen living in a state outside his own can be deported. He said no, citing the 1999 Federal Constitution which guarantees every Nigerian the right to live wherever he or she decides. I asked my learned professor the same question but he went down memory lane and told me that deportation has been a present continuous thing in Nigeria, citing the 1966 massacre of the Igbos in the North which forced them to leave the zone in droves. Our constitution gives every Nigerian the inalienable right to reside wherever he or she chooses within the borders of our nation, it is a fundamental human right for which every Nigerian falls heir. It guarantees our freedom to associate with one another without let or hindrance. It is therefore an unconscionable act for any person whether a governor or anything to deny us this right. His excuse that he wanted to rid the streets of Lagos of undesirable elements is neither here nor there. It is red herring. Most of those people he deported and dumped at the Niger bridge head are honest Igbos who came to Lagos  hale and hearty in quest of greener pastures but who had their lives turned upside down as a result of harsh government policies. They may have been paying their taxes when they were normal and contributed to the development of the state, but now that the tide turned against them, Fashola should have been humane enough to demonstrate the Nigerian spirit of brotherhood by taking them to the appropriate quarters for treatment.

The governor’s action smacks of nonchalance and disrespect to our constitution. It tantamounts to rubbishing the vision of our founding fathers regarding the oneness, indissolubility and indivisibility of Nigeria. Could Abubakar Tafawa Balewa have thought of sending Igbos packing in his Northern enclave? Could a person like Nnamdi Azikiwe—the champion of unity—have sent his Yoruba brethren residing in the East packing? It is only Awolowo who believed that Nigeria was a mere “geographical expression” that could do that. How would Herbert Macaulay, Ernest Sesesei Ikoli,  Ahmadu  Bello, Margaret Ekpo, Akanu Ibiam, Michael Okpara, Aguiyi Ironsi, Chukwuma Nzeogwu and many other illustrious sons and daughters of Nigeria feel in their graves about this travesty? They all shared one vision: to found a country where tribes and tongues may differ but in brotherhood we stand. They crafted a National Anthem and anchored its planks on that. They came up with a constitution and said any part of Nigeria was home to anyone who may choose to reside therein. That was their vision; that is our vision.

But Fashola came and put a knife to yank us apart. By sending this set of Igbos to Anambra and dumping them at the Niger Bridge it did not occur to him that he was going against the moorings of our constitution. It did not occur to him either that his action was capable of stoking tribal hatred and sentiments.

To say the truth, Governor Fashola’s action was ill-timed, ill-conceived and without thought for the future. I don’t know if he has advisers and whether he listens to them. What he did is like sowing the wind, he should be ready to reap whirlwinds of revolt in return. Already, his action has sparked reactions from Akwa Ibom and Rivers State which have reciprocated by deporting some unspecified number of Nigerians from their states. It is unfortunate that Fashola could not read the signs of the time and did what he did at a time the All Progressives Congress was just being registered. Is the governor therefore telling us that deportation is one of the manifestoes of the new party? How will Igbos feel about this party where one of its founders is deporting their kith and kin? What Fashola did by this was to give enemies of the party in Igboland a tool for campaign. The coming election in Anambra state will be a litmus test.

The deportation saga has equally sparked off serious debate in the social media about who owns Lagos, spearheaded by an equally failed lawyer, Femi Fani-Kayode, pitting the Yorubas against the Igbos who, in their entrepreneurial nature are fleshing out Zik’s dictum that every place is home. However, it is not the intention of this piece to join the debate because as far as I am concerned it is a useless debate full of meaningless verbiage and signifying nothing. But we have to note, however, that the era we are in is an era without boundaries; it is an era where advancement in Science and Technology have shattered all forms of primordial sentiments such as “I am from here or from there”. Any place is home because the world is now a global village. America through its Diversity Visa Lottery is bringing people from all over the world into the country because it is projecting for the future. Jamaica is an example of a country made up of people from every nationality. Indians, Chinese, Nigerians, Japanese, South Africans, Europeans, Americans and a hue of other people from different national backgrounds were welded together to bring forth a country called Jamaica. Their motto is: “Out of many people, One People”. And a Jamaican will proudly tell you, “Here in Jamaica we are not Chinese, we are not Japanese, we are not Indians, we are not Negroes, and we are not Europeans. But we are all one big family of Jamaicans”. That is great, one country forged on the anvil of many ethnic and national colourations but now welded together into “One big family of Jamaicans”. At times I ask myself when we can begin to think as Nigerians and not as Igbo or Yoruba or Efik or Hausa or Ijaws. When shall we begin to think as Nigerians? The actions and inactions of our politicians such as Fashola make us not to think as “one big family of Nigerians”. It makes us not to love our country. We still see Nigeria as a mere “geographical expression”, not as a country worth dying for.

It is this sort of perception, this sort of retrogressive and regressive action that leads us to see ourselves first as belonging to this or that tribe instead of as Nigerians. Politicians should not divide us. We should find home wherever we live. Whether in Jalingo or Ijebugbo, nobody should be deported again; whether we are normal, sickly or abnormal, we should cherish one another and be our brothers’ keeper, which is the Nigerian Spirit. We should be able to say like the Jamaicans: ” we are one big family of Nigerians—out of many tribes, one Nation”.

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