by Senator Ihenyen
If there is any single issue that has raised a lot of controversy in the country recently apart from #ChildNotBride, it is the case of the “deportation” by the Lagos government of some Igbos resident in the state to Onitsha, Anambra state. But this is hardly the real issue. And neither is the real issue about this condemnable act not being the first time.
Yes, we are now all aware that sometime in September 2012, over a 100 citizens, comprising children, women, and the aged including physically-challenged persons were “deported” from the South-Western state to Onitsha. The questionable action of the Lagos state government has not also been limited to only the Igbos. Sometime in April 2009, the state government deported 129 persons of Oyo state origin. Believed to be beggars, they were dumped at Molete in Ibadan. A number of Nigerians from the northern part of the country have not been left out of the “deportation” or more suitably put, the forceful ejection; since strictly, a citizen cannot be “deported” from one part of Nigeria to another. Again, this is not the real issue.
Forget about Femi Fani-Kayode’s rather unguarded “bitter truths”. Those are mere distractions from the real issue. Quite typical of people with antecedents such as his. Most of the missiles from the Igbos too, also largely ensured that Nigerians missed the point.
What then is the issue?
The real issue is Chapter II of the Constitution and how we must begin to advocate for its enforceability in our courts more than ever before. And now is the right time! It contains the various economic, social and cultural rights of citizens which if justiciable, Nigerians would be able to enforce these rights in the court of law. This is the real issue. Not about being Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or Esan!
Firstly, on the fundamental obligations of the government, section 14(1) of the Constitution states that the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a state based on the principles of democracy and social justice. In subsection (2)(b) of the same section, it is provided that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.
Our governments have largely failed to fully realise its primary purpose as identified above. In the continual pursuit of ill-wealth through corrupt practices and hunger and greed for political power through a most familiar “divide and rule” ethno-religious politics, the cosmetic attempt at national integration as provided under section 15 of the Constitution has largely remained mere provisions.
Contrary to the encroaching actions of both the federal and state governments across the country such as the forcible removal of persons in question, section 15(3) provides that it shall be the duty of the State to –
(a) provide adequate facilities for and encourage free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the Federation
(b) secure full residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the Federation.
Although there have been serious controversies following the “deportation” of some Igbos by the Lagos state government particularly, these controversies perhaps only erupt as signs and symptoms of how badly Nigerian leaders and its people have failed to see each other first and foremost as Nigerians. There is no such troubled wave of controversy in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In the same section 15, subsection (4) provides that:
The State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various peoples of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.
Secondly, as part of the economic objectives of the government, section 16(1)(b) provides that the government is to control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity.
Having failed to perform their own governmental obligations, what is the moral justification for visiting their frustrations and failures on the poor, needy, homeless and helpless Nigerians struggling to live another day?
Should the government then not be genuinely concerned with the above constitutional provisions, if only to ensure our collective safety? The government cannot continue to neglect, fail or refuse to observe and apply constitutional provisions of economic objectives such as the self-explanatory section 16(2)(c) and (d).
In a country where state capitals and highbrow areas must become mega cities and elites wish away the poor with the boots of governments without any conscience, is there any sustainable development in such actions? At best, they remain largely cosmetic. In the worse situation, they become targets of criminal activities, fresh recruits from the rising number of the “deported”, the displaced and the dislodged. And this time, it should not be difficult to guess who would be doing the begging.
Lastly, the State social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equity and Justice: section 17(1) of the Constitution. However, very recently, Nigeria has been experiencing an unprecedented breakdown of social order. The alarming spate of armed robbery, kidnapping and terrorism has made the average Nigerian completely insecure. Section 17(2)(c) provides that in the furtherance of social order, governmental actions must be humane. Again, subsection (3)(f) and (h) also state that the policy of the State shall be directed towards ensuring that children; young persons and the aged are protected against any exploitation whatsoever, and against moral and material neglect; and that provision is made for public assistance in deserving cases or other conditions of need. This is the real issue!
To be sure, the action of the Lagos state government, including other state governments, who have also been perpetuating similar acts across the country is illegal, unconstitutional, completely unacceptable and highly condemnable. No federal, state or local government has the authority to forcefully remove or eject any Nigerian citizen from any place in the country to his or her state of origin or any place at that. Such actions constitute serious violations of the fundamental rights of the children, men and women, young and old, poor and homeless, who were “deported” as Nigerians to another part of their own country.
According to section 34(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended):
Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly –
(a) no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.
Also guaranteed by the Constitution is the fundamental right of the “deported persons” to personal liberty as provided in section 35. And what about the entitlement of every Nigerian citizen to the freedom of movement throughout the country and to “reside in any part thereof as provided for in section 41 of the Constitution? There is no such law, including the various state Laws on the restriction of street begging, can serve as a legal justification for the violation and encroachment of these fundamental rights.
What is more. Section 42(1)(2) of the Constitution states that a Nigerian citizen of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not for who he is be discriminated against. Such discrimination must not have resulted from the express provision of any law or in the practical application of such law on persons. The right to freedom from discrimination can also be violated as a result of any executive or administrative action of the government. This is because beggars and destitute were the main targets, as they were in this case “deported” to their “state of origin”.
It is saddening that it is the above fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that have been violated with such reckless abandon in the name of urban renewal, not only in Lagos State, but also many other states in the country.
Owing to the poor precedents in Nigeria, in terms of the political will of the Federal government to embrace the much-advocated justiciability of the provisions of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Chapter II of the Constitution, one would have expected that at least the provisions of Chapter IV should be strictly observed by the governments. It is sad that since democratic rule began in 1999, there has not been a significant change in the orientation of the governments. Against the background of a relatively lack of judicial activisim in Nigeria which could have made the executive bend towards the justiciability of the economic, social and cultural rights in Chapter II, we indeed have a long way to go.
Except our governments genuinely recommit themselves to the primary purpose of government, very little would change. Particularly for the more than 70 per cent of Nigerians who continue to live below the poverty line, life would become increasingly ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.