Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Recent Lagos deportation and the Law-Femi Falana

Femi Falana
Deportation of dissidents :  In 1885 the British colonial regime deported King Jaja of Opobo to a remote island in West Indies where he died in 1889. His offence was that he had challenged the imperialist control of the coastal trade. In 1941, Comrade Michael Imoudu, President of the Nigerian Union of Railwaymen, was deported from Lagos  and banished to his hometown, Auchi in the Benin Province as he was considered “a potential threat to public safety” . He only returned to Lagos in 1945 following the revocation of Sections 57-63 of the General Defence Regulation, 1941 under which he had been detained. There were other nationalist agitators and labour leaders who were deported and banished to prevent them from taking part in the struggle against colonialism. The barbaric practice of deporting Nigerians was resuscitated by the defunct military dictatorship. In particular, the reactionary regimes of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha resorted to the crude harassment of political opponents by deportation.

In 1992, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN, Dr. Beko Ransome -Kuti and I were deported from Lagos and detained at Kuje Prisons for challenging the unending military rule of the Babangida junta. The retired Gen.  Zamani Lekwot was deported from Kaduna and detained with us in the prison. The following year, we were also repatriated from Lagos and banished to the same prison for leading peaceful rallies in Lagos against the criminal annulment of the June 12 presidential election. In June 1994, the winner of the presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola was deported from Lagos and detained in military custody in Kano, Borno and Abuja.
In 1995, the chairman of the Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, alerted the world that the secret trial of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and others by a Special Military Tribunal had been concluded and that the convicts were being prepared for execution. For leaking such information to the media the human rights leader was tried in Lagos, jailed for life  and deported to Katsina Prison. The CD vice-chairman, Shehu Sani, was arrested in Kaduna, jailed for life in Lagos and banished to Kirikiri Maximum Prison in Apapa.  Four journalists viz: Chris Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, Charles Mbah and Charles Obi, who were convicted for being accessories after the fact of treason i.e. the 1995 phantom coup, were deported from Lagos and kept in separate prisons in the northern states.
In 1996, Fawehinmi was once again deported from Lagos and detained at the Bauchi prison while Femi Aborishade and I were deported from Lagos and held at the Gumel and Mawadashi prisons (in Jigawa State) respectively. Comrade Frank Kokori who was arrested in Lagos was banished to Bama prisons in Borno State for four years.  General Obasanjo who was convicted in Lagos was deported to Yola prison. His ex-deputy, General Shehu Yar’Adua was deported from Kaduna, convicted in Lagos and held at various times in Kirikiri, Port Harcourt and Abakaliki prisons.
Like King Jaja both Abiola and Yar’Adua died in suspicious circumstances while they were in custody. But as deportation of colonial subjects could not be justified even under colonial rule it was carried out pursuant to special regulations. In the same vein, the military dictators engaged in deportation of citizens under the preventive detention decrees and the Prison Act.
It is common knowledge that the beautification project of the Babatunde Fashola administration has led to the deportation of hundreds of the flotsam and jetsam from Lagos State to their states of origin. The elite and the media have been celebrating the ban on “Okada” from the major roads and the removal of traders and area boys from the streets. For understandable reasons, most of the hundreds of thousands of poor people who have been displaced and dislodged in the operation “Keep Lagos clean” are of the Yoruba extraction.
In fact, on April 9, 2009, when the Lagos State Government deported 129 beggars of Oyo State origin and dumped them at Molete in Ibadan, the Governor Adebayo Alao Akala administration alleged that the action was aimed at sabotaging his government. Just last week, some beggars of Osun State origin were also deported by the Lagos State Government and dumped at Osogbo.
It is sad to note that most Nigerians never took cognisance of the war being waged by state government against the poor and disadvantaged citizens in the urban renewal policy until the much-publicised case of the 14 “beggars” of Anambra State origin who were deported in Lagos and dumped in Onitsha about three weeks ago. In fact, it was the condemnation of the deportation by the Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, that drew the attention of the elite to the unfortunate development. However, in defence of its action, the Lagos State Government stated that it entered into an agreement with the Anambra State Government through its liaison office in Lagos on the controversial deportation.
Although the Anambra State Government has not denied the allegation that it was privy to the deportation of the beggars, it is on record that in December 2011, the Obi administration had deported 29 beggars to their states of origin i.e. Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi states. Apart from such official hypocrisy, the Obi administration did not deem it fit to protest when the Abia State Government purged its civil service of “non-indigenes” in 2012. Many of the victims of the unjust policy who hail from Anambra were left in the lurch.
In June 2011, the Federal Capital Territory administration deported 129 beggars to their respective states of origin. In May 2013, hundreds of beggars were also removed from the streets and expelled from Abuja. Of course, it is common knowledge that the FCT authorities have continued to demolish residential houses without following due process in order to “restore the Abuja Masterplan” which was distorted through corruption and abuse of office. The majority of the victims of such illegal demolitions who are poor have been dislocated and forced out of the FCT.
Last week, the Rivers State Government removed 113 Nigerians from the streets of Port Harcourt and deported them to their states of origin. The Akwa Ibom State Government has just contacted its Lagos counterpart of the planned deportation of two “mad” Lagosians roaming the streets of Uyo. Many other state governments are busy deporting beggars, mad men and other destitute persons in the on-going beautification of state capitals. Those who are defending the Igbo beggars out of sheer ethnic irredentism should be advised to examine the socio-economic implications of the anti-people’s urbanisation policy being implemented by the federal and state  governments in the overall interests of the masses.
 Since deportation has been resuscitated under the current political dispensation it has become pertinent to examine the legal implications of the forceful deportation of a group of citizens on account of their impecunious status. Although street trading and begging have been banned in some states it is submitted, without any fear of contradiction, that there is no existing law in Nigeria which has empowered the federal and state governments to deport any group of Nigerian citizens to their states of origin.
To be concluded tomorrow.
•Falana, SAN, is a Lagos-based human rights lawyer

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