The recent deportation of Igbo and “destitute” at the thick of the night by overzealous agents of the Lagos State Government presents to the Nigerian State and its citizens another golden opportunity to address core issues which challenge our sensibility as a people, national co-existence, and nationhood. However, as the debate gathers steam, irredeemable tribalists hijacked the essence of the debate and turned it into pedestrian, if not infantile, tattling between the Igbo race and the Yoruba nation.
At the heart of the pedestrianisation of this all-important debate are “respected” and privileged Nigerians whose socio-educational status impelled that they should have known better but unfortunately this class of Nigerians chose to stoke ethnic tension amongst Nigerians who had co-existed as brothers, sisters, in-laws, associates and friends long before European explorers put us on the world map. The debate got so degenerated to the extent we even had to read unguarded utterances of former governors and ministers which only succeeded in widening the fault line in our national life and continued co-existence. However, the utterances and writings of the elites and former government officials on this debate have shown, even to the Pre-Nursery pupil, why Nigeria has engaged the reverse gear since Independence as it also indicates why we remain mis-governed, if not dis-governed and un-governed in reality.
One fact stands unassailable in all these: the deportation of any Nigerian from his or her place of residence by any state government, be it Lagos State, Anambra State or Kaduna State, is unconstitutional, grossly illegal and unquestionably criminal which must be resisted by Nigeria and all Nigerians irrespective of ethnic, socio-economic, political and religious status. This is the reason why all those who had participated in the illicit practice of deportation chose to strike at the thick of the night. Luckily, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is unambiguous on who is a Nigerian citizen together with the quantum of rights and obligations that come with it.
In a way, it is a grave indictment and and irresponsibility for any state government to deport any Nigerian in whatever guise. The attempt to christen the deportation ordeal as “re-integration” cannot eclipse the attendant moral burden which comes with it. This is because it indicates government rascality and inability to take care of the poor and mentally challenged. It challenges our national ethos and psyche as a people who instead of solving their problems develop an attitude of escapism which end up leaving poverty unchallenged as it continues to abuse the greater percentage of our people.
Throughout all ages in human existence, poverty, disease and ignorance remain the ugly triad which harass human dignity. And migration exist as an option of exploring greener pastures. On the other hand, leadership and government were consciously developed by the people as a response and veritable means of combating this triad and restore the dignity of man. Little wonder the Great Confucius, using the powers of government declared, “in a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” The great philosopher followed up the declaration by making a decree against poverty and worked earnestly in eradicating poverty in ancient Lu State of China.
At the dawn of Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, over 84 per cent of our citizens were living comfortably above poverty line; public utilities were functional and we had almost the best social and health services in Africa. Our future looked brighter with the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity in Oloibiri even as our agricultural sector boomed.
By 1980, poverty level had climbed to alarming 28.1 per cent prompting a re-think in the way we were governed. However, at the eve of the return of democracy in 1999, poverty stood at earth quaking 87 per cent; in other words, 93 million of the then 120 million citizens of Nigeria did not earn up to USD1 per day. As if these figures are not indicative of a failed leadership, after 13 years of civil rule with its attendant international goodwill, grants and boom in crude oil prices, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) jolted Nigerians the most when it declared that 112 million of Nigeria’s 167 million people are poor in February 2012; this is to say that 67.1 percent of Nigerians live below USD 1 per day. This development calls for serious concern owing to the fact that the same NBS had stated that only 51.6 percent of our people live below poverty line by the close of business in 2004. These figures simply indicates that poverty has reached an all-time peak in Nigeria where the rural poor have no other choice than to migrate to major cities, and towns in search of better standard of living.
Indeed, it must be noted from the onset that migration must have its basis in strategic planning and careful study of economics and personal skills so that it would not pose security and socio-economic risk to the people and government alike, the factual truism remains that a hungry man must move and provide bread for his nuclear community. This is pertinent owing to the fact that our society has not attained the status of Europe and other advanced countries where governments provide social benefit and security for the citizens in order to keep migration, poverty and violent crime at its lowest ebb.
If we advance the logic that migration must be rooted in economics, capital and personal skills, which unarguably forms the foundation of modern-day migration pattern internationally, we must also note that human capital development can only be attained through qualitative education which is absent at affordable rate in our clime today; more so, electing to benchmark migration on human capital development further indicts government at all levels as serial “abusers” of our human dignity over the years.
There is certainly no two ways about it: government must be alive and responsible in the development of human capital of our people if we must hear the last of this trending deportation of Nigerians in Nigeria. Our government and leaders must also learn to stop instigating our people against our people in attempt to cover its failure while the elite must be made to understand that it is in our best interest that all ethno-religious tensions in Nigeria are eradicated . On this score, it is very disheartening to note that a Governor deliberately introduced politics in an already charged and contentious ethnic debate when reasons and constitutional provisions failed to justify the crass Lagos state deportation; one begins to wonder if we were expected to keep mute as the Lagos State government continues to abuse our citizens and rape our constitution.
As a point of fact, the political class manipulate the impressionable nature of Nigerians to instigate maximum controversy and poverty in our polity. Ordinarily, mama Bola who shares a stall with mama Okafor and mama Effiong at the Free zone section of Ariaria International market Aba, Abia state has no issues with the tongue and creed of her neighbours; all that matters to them is bountiful sales so that they can be able to provide for their families. Similarly, papa Kayode and papa Tamuno who live in papa Adamu’s house in Sabon Gari, Kano State are appreciative of the warm hospitality they gyrate in Kano and hope that their children would take after them in deepening inter-ethnic brotherliness in Nigeria for peace and economic well-being of all Nigerians. What is obtainable among the fathers of Adamu, Kayode and Tamuno in Kano is indeed nurtured and adavanced jealously by Yakubu, Edet, Ola and Ifechukwu who live in a 4 bedroom flat at Badagry, Lagos State. For Osas, Itoro, Aisha and Chimdi, who live in the same room and eat from the same pot at the hostel of University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, they firmly believe in a stable and peaceful Nigeria so that they can also contribute their quota in advancing Nigeria once their academic pursuit is done but upon the entrance of the political class, they are reminded of their differences in state of origin and tribe.
Through commerce, arts, tourism, technology, religion, marriage, and migration, Nigerians have, over the years, striven consciously to collapse their ethnic differences for greater national cohesion and advancement but the fact that Isah who must fill Kano State as his place of origin whenever he deals with government even when he was born and has lived all his life in Umuahia, Abia State makes a mess of our march to nationhood and a sad reminder that more destitutes shall be deported in the future in Nigeria. This is compounded by the Nigerian constitution which upholds quota, and federal character ingrained in state of origin as a measure of who get what, how and when in the country.
The essence of federal character principle in our constitution is beautifully desirable, if not perfect but the observance of the principle based on state of origin impels a feeling of “tribalism” in us all. Therefore, it is high-time we need to face the journey of nationhood completely serious and diligently collapse our differences as the Great Nnamdi Azikiwe urged us in the build up to Independence. We can do this by electing all that promotes our unity and shared future while replacing state of origin in our statute book with state of residence so that Nigeria can work for all Nigerians bearing in mind that the ceaseless troubles in Jos, Plateau State revolves around indigeneship against constitutionally guaranteed citizenship.
In a nutshell, the debate on the unending deportation of Nigerians in Nigeria by various state governments ably led by the Lagos State government presents us a veritable opportunity to address the question of poverty, human capital development, citizenship Vs indigeneship and strict observance of the provisions of the constitution. And we must not fail to stand up and find solution(s) to these challenges no matter how hard unrepentant tribalists, crass bigots, ethnic jingoists and uncaring elite try to attack, confuse and distract us; this is fitting because Nigeria is ours to build and posterity shall have no kind words for us should we fail in this onerous task of chiselling Nigeria for peaceful co-existence, nationhood and sustainable development. As such, we shall strive to evolve practical strategies of combating poverty in Nigeria. Poverty is indeed a serious issue which made it numero uno of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals; thus, our generation have no choice than to combat it decisively. We must support all (government and corporate) strategies aimed at poverty eradication.
The fight against poverty cannot be complete without coordinated human capital development; hence, government at all levels must renew and rededicate their effort in the provision of qualitative and affordable education to all Nigerians while programmes for skills acquisition should be floated for out-of-School Nigerians to prepare them adequately to fit in the competitiveness of our globalising world. As citizens, we have a greater role to play by renewing our commitment to the education and discipline of our young ones. We must also make out time to monitor the educational progress of children as leaving this great duty to teachers and government is utterly inexplicable, if not unforgivable and irresponsible.
We shall elect to make laws which fit our peculiarity as a nation. We also have a need to show willingness and commitment to this through constitutional amendment which shall acknowledge our Nigerianship based on residence status; thus settling the indigeneship versus citizenship question once and for all for the good of the nation.
We must also hold our government responsible and end the violation of our constitution by those in authority as displayed by the Lagos deportation ordeal. Government at all levels in Nigeria should be encouraged to uphold all articles of the constitution in practice however inconvenient they may be because the constitution exist to protect us all. Let us also advance the teaching and learning of “Citizenship Education” formally and informally in our national life, this is because Citizenship education elevates all that makes Nigeria great.
Finally, we owe ourselves and posterity through this Lagos state ill-conceived deportation policy, the duty to learn and develop into a great nation. And the time to debate and build a greater Nigeria founded on common ethos, peace, equity, progress, unity and love is now. Can our generation stand up to this national task?
Okafor C. Udoka writes from Aba, Abia State