If initial reports were to be believed, agents of the Lagos State Government headed by Governor Babatunde Fashola, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, had gone on the streets of Lagos, seized 67 persons of Anambra State or Igbo origin on their way to their markets, homes or other legitimate activity, bundled them unto some trucks, driven fast and furiously towards Anambra State and dumped them somewhere at the foot of the Niger Bridge in Onitsha! When I read this report, I was initially shocked, then incredulous…and then I knew there was probably more to the report than it disclosed. Was there anything in Fashola’s record to indicate a disposition to act in such manner? I didn’t think so!
Fashola’s commissioner for budget and planning, Ben Akabueze is from Anambra State; the head of the state’s infrastructure regulatory commission is also from that state; Fashola recently built a housing estate and named it after former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, also from Anambra! Recently when popular actress, Ngozi Nwosu needed help to meet the cost of treatment of a kidney ailment, Fashola it was who came up with N4.5million, three quarters of the funds required. Lagos State employs many non-indigenes in its civil service, and its traffic management agency, LASTMA was headed by Young Arebamen, an indigene of Edo State. Minutes after I read the suspicious report and as I pondered these issues, I saw tweets on Twitter posted by a former local and international office holder of Igbo extraction condemning the actions attributed to Fashola. I cautioned her against jumping to conclusions and made up my mind to seek more information before making further comments. I also had personal reasons for concern on the matter, given the emotions I knew would be generated by the report-my sister-in-law, the wife of my most junior brother of same parents, hailed from Anambra State!
And what did my direct enquiries from very senior officials of the Lagos State Government reveal? I was presented with oral and documentary evidence of the true state of facts-on April 9 2013, an official of the Lagos State Government (LASG) wrote to the Anambra State Government (ANSG) informing it of 14 persons who were in the state’s rehabilitation centre who “claimed to be indigenes of your state” and requested ANSG’s “urgent response to screen them to verify if they are truly from your state”. ANSG through its Lagos Liaison Office replied on April 15 acknowledging receipt of the LASG letter and requested “particulars of the 14 persons” in order to “facilitate their integration with their families if they are from Anambra”. LASG promptly wrote a second letter dated April 29 providing names, towns/villages, LGAs and state of origin of the 14 persons and stressing the need for ANSG’s officials to arrange a physical interaction with these people. We have since discovered that the governments of several other states-Anambra (!), AkwaIbom and Rivers States as well as New York and Hawaii in the USA have implemented a similar policy.
I also understand and agree that there was a political context to the behavior and complaints of the Anambra State Government on this matter – a governor who resorts to ethnic mobilization as the best route to ensure his party wins an imminent election! What surprised me however was why the majority of Igbo people were willing to accept this propaganda given as I mentioned earlier Fashola’s record on the subject? The emotional frenzy that accompanied the matter is also curious given a certain context-many years ago, Enugu State, the erstwhile capital of the old Eastern Region expelled government employees from other Igbo states; more recently Abia State sacked all civil servants from neighbouring states, most of whom were from Imo; as we speak, the government of Ebonyi State refuses to allow an Anambra indigene acquire control of a cement company situated in Ebonyi; and the controversy over the Mbaise people of Imo State’s vehement rejection of a Catholic Bishop from Anambra rages on!!! Clearly there were other factors that accounted for the outrage over the actions of the Lagos State Government, which were not reflected in these other more egregious instances!
I was also surprised that in spite of information that the policy of the Lagos State Government on resettlement of destitute and vagrant persons with their families and communities had been implemented in respect of persons from Oyo, Ogun and Osun, and in several Northern States, the anger in several commentators refused to abate. One caller on a radio phone-in programme in fact argued that Lagos State should have put the people in prison rather than repatriate them towards their communities. And then I realized that the argument was not really about the welfare of the persons concerned! If it was about their welfare, ANSG would have gone to visit and help its indigenes, rather than play politics with their fate! If the focus was their welfare, it would be clear to all that when you rehabilitate homeless, mentally-retarded, drug-addicted, and penniless people, you don’t release them to go back on the streets; you send them to areas where they would have a family or community support system, and in their circumstances, the best places for these destitute persons was back in their villages!
And then I realized that for some, the argument was really a proxy for another argument over the ownership of Lagos-that Lagos was a “no-man’s land” and that Igbos were the greatest contributors to the development of Lagos. That is a debate I’m not prepared to take part in except to caution that the other city in which such an argument is ongoing is Jos!
By: Opeyemi Agbaje