In writing this article, my mood is somewhat subdued and sober. I have difficulty dealing with the issue because of the man at the centre of the morass.
My constraint arises from the respect I have for the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola.
Since he came into office some six years ago, those of us who value quality in governance have been holding Fashola out as a model. His utterances are usually measured and well thought-out. He is hardly given to frivolities. He is just one of the few public office holders that I consider clear-headed. When therefore news filtered out that the Lagos State government bundled some 72 people and dumped them in Onitsha at night, I passed out momentarily. I tried glossing over the matter, but it would not go away. Then commentators went to town with analyses and commentaries. In all of this, there appears to be unanimity of opinion, to wit, that what Fashola has done is very unusual and unbecoming.
But my initial refusal to join the fray disappeared when I read Governor Peter Obi’s formal complaint to President Jonathan. Obi’s interjection was well delivered. His maturity was telling and the points he raised cannot be ignored. I was still reflecting on Obi’s letter when Fashola came with his own response. He said Obi’s approach was political and that he would lay the facts bare at the appropriate time. This is actually where my interest in the matter begins.
The issue before us is the deportation of people from Lagos to Anambra. It has been stated time and time again by commentators that such an action is alien to the constitution and the laws of the land. Concerned Nigerians have had to express worry over such a dangerous precedent. Obi, for instance, is disturbed that Fashola’s action could trigger reprisal actions. He is even more worried that his fellow Governor did not contact him before embarking on such an action.
Fashola may have put up a defence. But whatever case he has was weakened by the Commissioner of Police in the state, Umaru Manko, who said that the Lagos State government merely rehabilitated and resettled the people concerned. This declaration by Manko opened the Lagos State government up for more questioning. Have the 72 people involved been resettled? Certainly not. Nobody even seems to know who they are or where they come from. The Lagos state government acted as if all the people concerned are from Anambra state. That was why it dumped them on Anambra soil. That is part of Obi’s worry. Is every Igbo man from Anambra state? Is it proper to assume that you have taken an Igbo man home once you take him to Onitsha? Again, since Manko said that the 72 people were deported because they constituted a nuisance to Lagos state, is it then proper to transfer that nuisance to Obi’s Anambra when in fact some of them are not from Anambra state?
But then, when we reflect on the nuisance claim, we cannot but wonder why all the people that the Lagos state government considered a nuisance are all from Igbo land. Are there no people from other parts of Nigeria that fit into such categorization? What has become of them? The Lagos state government will need to provide answers to these nagging questions.
I am also somewhat worried by the fact that Fashola is holding back information relating to this issue. He has said that he would open up when he receives a formal complaint from Awka or from Abuja. But I do not think that Fashola needs to wait for that. The issue at stake is very sensitive. Fashola needs to say all that he knows in defence of his action. Obi has spoken out without let or hindrance. Fashola should do the same thing. Nigerians are interested in all the fine points of his action. Holding them back will not serve the interest of the state government at all.
The point to note again is that this matter, strictly speaking, is not between Obi and Fashola. It is actually between Lagos and the rest of the country. For instance, other governors from South East Nigeria are as affected as Obi. The only difference is that Anambra soil is used as a dump site. One cannot but therefore wonder why governors Chime, Elechi, Okorocha and Orji appear not to be interested in the matter. Are there no Abia, Imo, Ebonyi or Enugu indigenes involved in the deportation? Are the governors of the affected states comfortable with the development? If they are not, what is their position on the matter? People are elected into public offices to serve the people. When the people are endangered, their governments should take interest in the matter. Regrettably, the affected South East States, except Anambra, are behaving as if it is an Obi affair. Their silence is not only insensitive, it is cowardly.
However, whatever the South East governors of Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states have refused to say, the undeniable fact is that the Lagos action has opened another contentious chapter in our quest for statehood. Discrimination on the basis of tribe is being elevated to a new height. With the action, Nigerians will become more conscious of where they come from. Those who live outside their ethnic origins are bound to feel more afraid and insecure than they used to. Such feelings are capable of alienating them from the foreign environments in which they have found themselves. A situation such as this cannot therefore serve the interest of national unity and cohesion. I do not know whether Fashola took this into consideration before embarking on the action.
However, since Fashola is given to sound thinking and mature action, I will suggest that he does something to arrest the slide which this action could trigger. The way to go is for him to explain the action. He does not need to justify it. Justification can only breed deeper resentment. Having explained the action, he can go ahead to tell us how his government would dead with the issue of destitute henceforth. Deportation is not an option. It should therefore be jettisoned. Fashola can then close the chapter by assuring non-Yorubas living in Lagos that their rights as citizens of Nigeria will, henceforth, be protected by the authorities of the state government. Fashola has handled crisis situations before.
I have watched him talk to traders of Ladipo Market when the place was closed down by the state government. He spoke to their representatives with a deep sense of respect. He had no gubernatorial airs around him. He was at home with them. Fashola can use this latest incident to display his sense of maturity and respect for other people. I take it that as a human being, Fashola is bound to err sometimes. But what matters is to realise where one has gone wrong. I believe that Fashola will be large-hearted enough to own up to his mistakes. This will not hurt him. Rather, it will elevate him to a higher height.
And finally to Governor Fashola, I extend my heart-felt sympathies over the death of his father, Alhaji Ademola Fashola. Let the governor and his family take consolation in the fact that Pa Fashola died at a very ripe age of 80. May his soul rest in peace.