by Rotimi Fawole
“Gentrification” – the transformation of a run-down neighbourhood into a more prosperous one – is a word that one comes across much more frequently these days, in discussions about the government of Lagos State. While the state government, under the leadership of Governor Fashola, regularly receives plaudits for its approach to infrastructural development and the restoration of law and order, it seems that the side-effect is that Lagos is no country for broke(n) men.
In addition to banning commercial motorcycles (“okada”), rickshaws (“Keke Marwa”) and destitute persons from many parts of Lagos, the government has gone further on least 2 occasions to barrack some of these people into buses and forcibly transport them to other parts of the country. The most recent deportation/repatriation took place on the 24th of July 2013, with the “dumping” of 72 persons forcibly transported from Lagos at the Iweka Bridge, Onitsha. Naturally, the reactions have been of deep concern and outrage.
Governor Fashola’s Special Adviser on Youth & Social Development, Dr. Enitan Dolapo Badru, has gone on record in defence of the administration to claim, amongst other things, that the operation was not a repatriation, but the facilitation of a reunion between the destitute persons and their families. Apart from the confirmation that “at least 1,708 beggars and destitute have been expelled from Lagos to their various States and countries since January 2013, in government’s bid to rid the streets of beggars and the mentally challenged”, Dr Badru stated further that “the international standard requires the State to reunite them with their families…The end result is to reunite them back with their families. We are not repatriating them out of Lagos, we are reuniting them with their families because once we rescue them, we cannot as a government, hold a child under the age of 18 in custody without parental or guardian’s consent. We found out that a lot of children on the streets of Lagos come from outside the state thinking that Lagos is an Eldorado. It is unfortunate that many of them are underage and very vulnerable because they can be introduced to so many vices.”
“When we rescue them, we try as much as possible to carry out social investigation to know where they actually come from and why they absconded in the first place. And this takes time, because most of them don’t usually tell the truth since they don’t want to go back home. Once we have them in our custody, we must take a Court Order to keep them since the law provides for that and we cannot keep them indefinitely, so we still need to send them back to their parents. And our practice is to get in touch with the social welfare services of their respective states, which would in turn get in touch with the families.
“In the last one year, a total number of 3,114 beggars, destitute and mentally-challenged have been rescued in day and night operations and 2,695 were taken to the Rehabilitation and Training Centre, Owutu, Ikorodu, where the state government has made provisions for facilities to help in turning their lives around, while the mentally-unstable are given medical attention.”
It is necessary to quote him as extensively as done here because of the implications and ramifications of what the government of Lagos State is doing here.
The SA appears to be implying that only those under the age of 18 are carted away on these family reunion projects, the reason being that Lagos State cannot indefinitely hold minors in its custody without parental consent. His statement implies further that the mentally infirm are not repatriated but looked after in state-run facilities. If this is the case, the constitution would appear to justify the government of Lagos State.
Section 35(1) of the 1999 constitution provides that “[E]very person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law: …(d) in the case of a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years, for the purpose of his education or welfare; (e) in the case of a person suffering from infections or contagious disease, persons of unsound mind, persons addicted to drugs or alcohol or vagrants, for the purpose of their care or treatment or the protection of the community…”
What this means is that while everyone is entitled to personal liberty, government is allowed to deprive under-18s and the mentally challenged of this liberty, for the stated purposes.
However, it is doubtful that only under-18s are deported, given the statements that have been made by some of the Iweka 72 and the fact that none of the political leaders of that geopolitical zone has commented on the deportees being children. And, in any event, that section of the constitution does not justify forcible removal from Lagos.
Furthermore, there is the question of the basis on which the government determines that these minors have parents and whether it repatriates such people regardless of whether or not they are orphans. What measures does it take to ensure that minors are actually reunited with their parents rather than merely exchanging Carter Bridge for Upper Iweka Bridge? If indeed, the government of Lagos State merely dumped 72 minors at Iweka Bridge, has it not breached its obligation of security and social welfare to these minors, as guaranteed by Section 14(2)(b) of the constitution?
Furthermore, if the government of Lagos State is sifting through destitute persons within its territory, on the basis of states of origin, to determine who would be entitled to social welfare, there is a clear question of whether or not such a process is discriminatory. I would in fact argue that it is discriminatory, given that it is highly unlikely that these repatriated/deported persons were actually reunited with any family as the government would have us believe.
Section 42(1) of the constitution says “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person – (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex religions or political opinions are not made subject;…”
Section 41(1) of the constitution states that “[E]very 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 thereto or exit therefrom.
Taking these two sections of the constitution together, a citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely within Nigeria and live in any location of his choice and has the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of his place of origin.
Indeed, there would be implications for the “indivisibility” of Nigeria (Section 2(1) of the constitution) if every state began deciding who would be entitled to its services on the basis of their places of origin.
I would suggest that the government of Lagos State reevaluate its strategy for the gentrification of the mega city. The mega city, no matter how mega or giga or even tetra it may become, will only be a city within a state, within a federation. Unless, of course, the deportations are a declaration of secession…and we have been down that road before, have we not?
– Follow this writer on Twitter: @texthelaw