By Wale Odunsi
On May 14, 2013, when I published an article ‘Fashola: Porting from admirable achievements to peeving policies’, some respondents could have sworn that it was sponsored. Their position was however pardonable because unfortunately, we are in a country where due to the poverty rate, some believe that you can only disagree with an incumbent government after someone somewhere has deposited something in your bank account. Once more, here we are divided over yet another policy that has gone sour.
In late July, the government of Anambra State protested the ‘deportation’ of certain south-east indigenes from Lagos, Nigeria’s former national capital. Governor Peter Obi was said to have forwarded a letter of protest to President Goodluck Jonathan in which he said that “Lagos State did not even bother to consult with Anambra State authorities before deporting 72 persons considered being of Igbo extraction to Anambra State”. He added that the act “is illegal, unconstitutional and a blatant violation of the human rights of these individuals and of the Nigerian Constitution.” Alausa however puts the figure at 14, insisting that it acted within the law. It also maintained that it was not the first time such exercise was carried out – be it in Lagos or other states. Officials further cited ‘deportation’ of Lagos indigenes by Rivers state, Abia’s dismissal of other a number of Igbos working in its civil service, among other instances.
The situation which has since generated heated arguments is a source of worry to every observer. It has pitted different persons, groups/affiliations against each other. Reference: a former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode and Madam Due Process, Oby Ezekwesili, took on each other on social media platform, Twitter; the All Progressives Grand Alliance found a (not-so strange) bedfellow in the People’s Democratic Party in condemning the ever-vigilant Action Congress of Nigeria; the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Aka Ikenga and the like, firing missiles at the Oodua People’s Congress, Oodua Liberation Movement and other organizations promoting the interests of the Yoruba race. Only recently, a Pan-Igbo pressure group, Enugu State Roots Initiative, asked the Lagos government to “publicly apologize for denigrating their (the victims’) personal liberty”, as well as pay N500 billion as compensation or face a lawsuit.
But the ensuing controversy would have been avoided if Lagos had acted more cautiously. Governor Babatunde Fashola himself admitted a lapse when he received Aka Ikenga, an association of Igbo community in Lagos. He explained that there was correspondence between the state and the Anambra liaison office in Lagos on the 9th of April, 2013. The memo was signed by his Special Adviser on Youths and Sports, Enitan Badaru. Awka replied on 15th April, requesting information which Lagos provided in another letter to the liaison office on 29th of April. But Awka did not give further reply, a ground upon which the government acted. Fashola at the meeting admitted that the state could have waited a little longer before taking the now infamous action.
BRF’s cry over spilt milk has, obviously, not calmed the nerves his antagonists. Whereas some have kept the matter plainly moral and constitutional, others have gone political, a trend not abnormal in cases like this. Already, such undertone is being used to whip up sentiments against All Progressives Congress’s campaign for the forthcoming governorship poll in the ‘Light of the Nation’ state. This, of course, is a tip of the iceberg when compared to what to expect in the 2015 general elections.
Although this writer is unhappy about the seeming discord the saga has triggered, it has turned out to be what I call a good goof. Firstly, there is a lesson to be drawn and that is: In leadership, never take your luck too far. That the governor is loved by residents is not in doubt; that he is admired at home and abroad is also not in doubt. In fact, I would not be surprised if more than half of the 20 million Lagos population score him 60 percent and above for achievements and general performance in office. To this end, his handlers, perhaps, have assured him that his huge admiration would always translate to endorsement of whatever policy. As we have seen, not this time.
Secondly, the controversy has cropped up varying questions, beliefs, myths, as well as divergent backgrounds of co-existence, unity and the purported disunity of the Yorubas and Igbos. On this contentious subject, commentators have been revealing deep and shocking tales which have led to additional discourse in homes, offices and beer parlours. Luckily, those of us who did not witness the civil war now know a thing or two about the bottled-up emotions, thoughts and reservations the two ethnic groups have against either side. They should keep it coming as we wait to hear more.
All said, I honestly think it is wrong for anyone to refer to Lagos as a ‘No man’s land’. I am from its closest neighbour, Ogun, and albeit spending most of my lifetime in the Centre of Excellence, I don’t regard it as my origin but a place that has contributed to my development as an individual. On the contrary, Abuja – the country’s first planned city – is the ‘No man’s land’ and that is the actual concept behind its establishment to start with. That a major tribe is now short of laying claim to its Certificate of Occupancy is a topic for another day. The attitude, which is an absolute betrayal of the intention of the conceptualizer, General Murtala Mohammed, is an issue we must not ignore lest tenancy rate is imposed on other tribes living in the Federal Capital Territory.
For Fashola, he should endeavor to make wider consultations before taking critical steps in the future. As a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, his handling of this matter is, sadly, below par. Heaven would remain in its position, if he had accepted that Lagos might have taken a different approach, tender an apology and announce a query of the official directly in charge of the exercise. Simple! But he appears to have joined those leaders renowned for their ego. Agreed that he is keen on evacuating beggars off the streets, he should ensure that the authorities of their states of origin are (i) carried along, and (ii) express readiness both verbally and in letter form to receive such persons. He must not forget that some of those his government has labeled ‘destitutes’ and ‘threat to security’ voted for him to assume power. Twice! You do not bite the fingers that feed you. If you must, bite with care.