By Gbenro Adeoye
In this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE, lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, says the Anambra State Government and its indigenes involved in the alleged deportation saga should sue the Lagos State Government for “heavy damages”.
The Lagos State Government has come out to say that it did not deport some indigenes of Anambra, but only rehabilitated and resettled them. What do you make out of this?
As far as I’m concerned, there is no way anyone can sensibly defend what Lagos State government and its officials did by forcefully taking some citizens of Nigeria out of Lagos and dumping them in Onitsha.
That action is unacceptable, it’s a clear violation of the constitution of Nigeria that the government of Lagos and all our public officials swore to uphold and defend at all times. Section 41 of the constitution is very clear, it says, “A citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit there from.” In other words, you can move freely from one part of Nigeria to another, regardless of where you come from, ethnic origin, status, employment status or your means. I read one of them saying that the people are not in control of their faculties, if somebody was not in charge of his faculty, how then did they decide where they came from? Why not take them to Akure or Ibadan?
But is their (Lagos) claim legal within the ambit of the law?
The constitution is in very plain language, not in esoteric language. To take those people away, for me, is immoral, indefensible, and I’m surprised that some people can actually defend what the Lagos State Government did.
I can understand that you have taken a decision out of frustration with your planning efforts and then you made a mistake. Then say, ‘No, gentlemen, we can’t defend this,’ and you keep your mouth shut. I’m not saying that people should be ethnic conscious in all they do, because you should always criticise what is wrong, but for me, to come from the East and to defend the position of Lagos as some persons have done, I’m really shocked that this is happening in our country. We have thrown honour to the winds, we no longer have values. Why do we call black, white and white, black in Nigeria all the time?
But what is really wrong with what they have done considering the population explosion in Lagos?
What Lagos State Government and its officials admitted they did, taking people out without their consent from Lagos State is indefensible.
I think we must make it plain that what they have done is also discriminatory. Section 2 of the constitution says, “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person- a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject of.”
In other words, it’s discriminatory and a violation of the freedom of movement of those people, and above all, in my view, it is an immoral and a wicked action targeted only at the poor, it’s because of their status and the ethnic group that they were subjected to this indefensible, atrocious, illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional executive action of the Lagos State Government.
If they say there was a law those people breached, were they the only ones who broke the law? What about people from other states?
There is no way I’m going to support anybody in defending this nonsense because it is discriminatory. If you look at the trend, it appears Lagos State in particular has been targeting the poor.
Are you also saying that Lagos State Government is anti-poor and that probably informed the move?
In fact, I like the way they are trying to turn around the secondary schools but that doesn’t mean I will support them blindly in all things. I don’t want to live in a country where I will support people blindly. So, it’s not because we hate them. There are many areas of the state government’s activities that I also endorse but because I support that doesn’t mean I must support them blindly in all things.
Those who are shooting their mouths should give Nigerians some respect; they should know that what the Lagos State government has done is unpardonable.
I expect the state government to apologise to Nigerians, apologise to those people and make restitution and never do this kind of thing again. What they have done is a violation of the law until the constitution is amended.
For as long as they continue to see the punishment of the poor as the only way they can make Lagos a better city, as being tantamount to creating a peaceful and prosperous Lagos State, we will continue to challenge them.
Look at the trend; it is either they are wiping out okada, wiping out keke Marwa or demolishing what they consider to be shanties, how can this government be only interested in fighting the poor or waging a war against the poor? You cannot build a mega city on the graves of the poor because the poor will never vanish from our country until you begin to do the right thing to ensure equity and justice. The poor are not poor because they wish to be poor; their condition is a consequence of the maladministration, corruption, culture of waste and rapacity of the ruling elite all over Nigeria.
Are you faulting the Mega City plan of the Lagos State Government?
We have a ruling elite that is extremely corrupt all over Nigeria, one that is only concerned about artificialities of governance. Maybe they travel to Dubai, London or other cities and then see beautiful places, they don’t know that beautiful places don’t emerge from the blues; it takes the toil and sweat of the people as a whole and governments that are not corrupt but committed to building societies. You don’t just say that because you have seen a decent street in Oklahoma and then come back and want to replicate that and then say all the people living on a particular street should leave and you demolish their houses.
So what do you think that the Lagos State Government should do about its population congestion?
The way to do it is to ensure that you make laws, you take care of people and whatever you do must be in accordance with the law. If people sleep under the bridge, that is not a crime, and nobody wants to sleep under the bridge by the way. You then create houses for everybody, get the Federal Government to work, you stop all those frivolous jamborees that you do. We have enough money to take care of everybody. They have no right to write a letter to anybody that they want to expel any Nigerian or take them to anywhere. This is targeted against the poor.
Lagos State was developed by the collective efforts of Nigerians, our forefathers. If we concentrated efforts in Warri or any other place, it would overtake Lagos. We can’t say we don’t know the history of how Lagos became what it is today.
The Lagos State Government said it sent letters to the Anambra State Government to inform them about the purported resettlement. Does that serve as a defence for their action?
Why would you write a letter that you want to commit illegality? Why would you write a letter that you want to violate Section 41 of the constitution? If that letter was ever written, it’s an illegal letter, an unconstitutional letter. Why would you write a letter that you want to violate the rights of the citizens of Nigeria? If I was the governor of Anambra, I would not dignify that letter with any reply.
Some lawyers have argued that the Lagos State Government has a Lunacy and Environmental Law that gives them the power to get the destitute off the streets. Does that defend their action?
Any law, whether lunacy or environmental, that says that the government of a state can expel, deport or take a man or a woman away against his or her consent is unconstitutional. Because section 1 (3) is very clear, it says, “If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution, that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be null and void and the constitution shall prevail.”
The Lagos State Government has said it would no longer tolerate people leaving their states to come and beg in Lagos and sleep under the bridges. Is that not enough reason to take a drastic action?
Is the Lagos State government not begging the World Bank for money? Are they not collecting money from outside?
If that’s the case, all governments in Nigeria are also beggars, because we have resources, and what do we have? The governments go all over the place begging for money in our name. Now, do we expel them from the international community because they are beggars? There is nothing they can do for as long as all the state governments and other governments are begging, because they do that as well, when we have all the resources we need. If you make resources equitable, all these problems would never be there.
But can these people sue the Lagos State Government?
Why not? I think that what the other governor should have done is to bring those people back to Lagos State or try filing an action on their behalf in court and claim heavy damages against the Lagos State government.
What if their case gets thrown out or they don’t get what they consider to be justice from our local courts, can they take it to an international court?
They should take it to the international courts. We have the ECOWAS Court and the AU mechanism; you can even call it a crime against humanity, anything you do to make sure that this thing is not repeated again. I think this is very sad and Nigerians should make this very clear that we will not support this kind of thing no matter who is doing it.
Source: The Punch