This piece serves two purposes; in the first part, it is a response to Femi Falana’s position on the “deportation” controversy currently making the rounds in Nigeria. On the second part, it seeks to rephrase the “deportation” debate for clear understanding and resolution.
In seeking to put the issue of the “deportation” of some Nigerians by some state governments to rest, Mr. Falana characterizes the incarceration of certain Nigerians as acts of “deportation” by the governments of the day.
I. Banishment or Deportation
First, Mr. Falana goes far back in history to cite King Jaja of Opobo’s removal from Opobo, then a British territory, to British West Indies. The validity of King Jaja’s trial in Accra apart, his removal was to serve a term of imprisonment for challenging the taxing authority of the British sovereign in Opobo. Hence, he was “banished” to British West Indies.
King Jaja was banished; not deported. In fact, he was “exiled” but not “deported”. Simply speaking, “to banish” (to exile) isn’t the same as “to deport”.
While the former means the removal of a person to another part of a country by authoritative decree, the latter refers to lawful expulsion of an unwanted alien to another country. The colonialists banished (exiled) King Jaja to British West Indies on the reasoning that both Opobo and West Indies were part of British territories.
In 1885, King Jaja and other residents of Opobo were subjects of Britain and that country was thought to extend geographically to all its territories. As a result, the removal of a person from one part of the country to another, by authoritative decree, amounted to the banishment or exile of that person. Exile, of course, may be self or authority- imposed.
We must remember that Oba Ovonrawmen Nogbaisi was exiled (banished) to Calabar by the British in 1897. Curiously, Mr. Falana did not cite this example as an act of “deportation”.
In recent history, Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki of Sokoto was deposed and banished from Sokoto to another part of Nigeria on April 20, 1996. Even Sir Olateru Olagbegi, one time Olowo of Owo, was deposed and banished to another part of Nigeria. These were not acts of “deportation”; King Jaja’s experience shouldn’t be termed differently.
Second, Mr. Falana considers the Nigerian military’s incarceration of himself, Gani Fawehinmi, MKO Abiola, General Obasanjo and a host of others on multiple occasions as acts of “deportation” akin to the recent unfortunate incidents that begot this debate!
Without doubt, the imprisonment – its legality though contested – of those citizens in penitentiaries located in parts of Nigeria other than their states of origin does not amount to an act of “deportation.”
Where there were trials – kangaroo or otherwise – the confinement of those prominent Nigerians in prison situated in parts of the country other than their states of origin can never be termed acts of “deportation”. In Mr. Falana’s case (imprisonment without trial), he was simply illegally incarcerated. Of a fact, many Nigerians are presently illegally incarcerated, either awaiting trial or simply put away in the interest of powerful Nigerians, in prisons outside their states of origin. Any reference to this fact as “deportation” borders on credulity.
By citing these instances, Mr. Falana seems to suggest that the removal to or imprisonment of citizens in other parts of the country amounts to “deportation” of the type Lagos, Rivers and some states have been accused of.
Such suggestion, if intended, reflects a lack of understanding of the import of the acts. Though both highly intrusive and rights-curtailing, they are quite different in meaning and conjure separate legal ramifications.
At the heart of this debate is the wrong use of “deportation” to explain Lagos and Rivers state actions. Even more so is the need to distinguish citizenship from Indigeneship.
II. Internal Deportation or Internal Displacement
The misapplication of “deportation” to the instances analyzed above led Mr. Falana to mischaracterize the Lagos and Rivers states incidents as “internal deportation”. Though not defined by Mr. Falana, the phrase suggests that “deportation” can be internal or external.
But if “deportation” is the removal of an unwanted alien to another country, in what situation can it be internal?
Though not challenged by the perpetuators of the acts, the terming of the removal of those unfortunate Nigerians from Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to their states of origin is not “deportation”.
Since “deportation” means the removal of unwanted aliens to another country, the removal of those Nigerian citizens from their habitual residences in Lagos, Uyo and Abuja to their states of origin amounts to some other unlawful action.
I posit that what Mr. Falana and other commentators classify variously as “deportation” or “internal deportation” is in actuality an “internal displacement” of citizens. Internal displacement is the forceful removal of persons who have not crossed internationally recognized State border from their homes or places of habitual residence by reason of conflicts, disaster, violations of human rights etc.
For if by the removal of those Nigerian citizens from their states, we accept that the Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom governments “deported” those individuals, the result is that we have recognized these three states as sovereign states within Nigeria!
Invariably, we are recognizing that these states have the authority to confer citizenship on anyone of their choosing and revoke that of anyone they abhor.
How did “deportation” enter into this debate? Do we actually mean that whereas Mr. Ben Akabueze, a Nigerian of Igbo extraction, is a commissioner in Lagos state, his fellow Igbos and Nigerians are deported to their states of origin! Does this make sense?!
Mr. Falana wrote that there is no enabling law that allows a state government to deport Nigerian citizens. If there was one, would it have legitimatized the acts in the eye of Mr. Falana?
As an aside, if such law exists, it should be struck down by a competent court of law; but knowing the caliber of lawyers that sit on the bench in the Nigerian judiciary, my guess is as good as yours!
Can a state government “deport” a Nigerian citizen, whether by law or force?
The point is: when characterizing certain actions, care must be taken not to use the wrong term. Muddling up two terms has the potential to give certain actions different legal meaning, thereby (de)legitimizing the actions.
III. Citizenship versus Indigeneship
I condemn in unmistaken terms the actions of the Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom state governments in removing Nigerian citizens to their states of origin. It amounts to a violation of their citizenship right to freely inhere in the geopolitical space called Nigeria, to the exclusion of private residences.
A citizen’s right to move freely in any part of Nigeria is only lawfully curtailed by a declaration of state of emergency, lawful imprisonment or curfew. By this unlawful action of the Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom state governments, the governors brought into reality one’s fear: those local states are already acting as sovereigns within a sovereign state!
One concept that drives this internal displacement of Nigerian citizens by state governments is “indigeneship”.
Since independence, many Nigerians have been denied their citizenship rights on the ground that they are not “indigenes” of the states from which they seek employment, residence, education, social assistance or other lawful pursuit of man. Various state governments confer “indigeneship” on Nigerians of their choosing.
My personal experiences would suffice here:
I was born in Bariga, Lagos state to parents whose state of origin is Edo (formerly Bendel). I was raised and completed the first twelve years of the 126.96.36.199 educational program in Lagos state, and as a result fluent in both spoken and written Yoruba language as well as my Owan West mother tongue.
I played football on the streets of Lagos, represented my primary and secondary schools in school competition winning laurels for Lagos state schools. My parents paid tenement rates, development levy, income taxes to and helped develop Lagos state. But in the law school, I could not receive the Lagos state bursary because I was said not to be a Lagos “indigene”!
Suddenly in my adulthood, Lagos state officials pointed me southward to a state that I never lived in for no more than a sprinkling of visits! If I had attended Lagos state university, I would have been made to pay differential school fees as a “non-indigene”.
Lagos state officials couldn’t care less: I am a Nigerian citizen but not a Lagos indigene!
What is it about “indigeneship” that qualifies Mr. Akabueze to be a commissioner in Lagos state whereas I could not obtain student bursary from the state in which I was born?! Why was Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, present Osun state governor, appointed a commissioner in Lagos and a Kwara state born Nigerian became the chairman of Somolu local government but I couldn’t?
Whatever it means to the powers-that-be, state “indigeneship” is prioritized over Nigerian citizenship.
It is for the same reason that the Abia state government recently retrenched from its civil service Nigerians of Anambra extraction! Some years before the Abia saga, the Ekiti state government sacked so-called “indigenes” of Ondo state from the old Ondo state university (OSUA) whose campus was then in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti state capital. Meanwhile, those termed “indigenes” of Ondo state were, just a few years back, “indigenes” of the same state as the Ekiti people who fired them!
In removing from their states the weak people that the Nigerian constitution is meant to protect, the state governments found them unworthy of their states’ “indigeneship”! Those poor souls were thus left to embrace their Nigerian citizenship which does not, unfortunately, confer anything on hapless Nigerians!
They became internally displaced by states governments who violated their citizenship right to inhere in any parts of Nigeria - including under the Oshodi Bridge, in motor parks and at the gate of Alausa - only to the exclusion of private residences.
If the unsightly scenes of homeless Nigerians inhibiting bridges, motor parks and refuse dumps worry Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, their best response should be to remind themselves of their social responsibility to their residents and rehabilitate the poor, the homeless, the weak, and the sick.
Now that those poor fellows have been sent back to their states of origin, are the social problems of Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states thereby solved? Will these states proceed to build borders around their states and create controlled points of entry so that the same destitute will not return?
Let’s face it: federal, state and local government officials’ ostentatious lifestyles have rendered many Nigerians destitute of livelihood. Homeless is only one of the many results of misappropriation of public funds and corruption.
This internal displacement is an unlawful act for which significant damages could be awarded if redress is sought in the court of law.
This public discourse challenges us to decide which matters more to us as Nigerians: citizenship or indigeneship.
If you choose to be silent in the face of this impunity, you may well the next victim should you venture outside your state of origin. By the way, how many Nigerians live in their states of origin?
Idowu Ohioze, a lawyer, lives in Canada.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters