By Professor Obiaraeri, N.O (Agunaechemba, Owelle Okigwe)
It has become imperative to react to the mindless, wicked and capricious treatment meted out to some Nigerian citizens of Igbo extraction who were recently “deported” from Lagos State and dumped at the Onitsha bridge head in Anambra State of Nigeria. It suffices to say that the solitary, lame and puerile reason given by Lagos State Government for this crime against humanity is that these persons were “destitutes” or “social miscreants” who needed to be rejoined with their kith and kin. Opinions or reactions have been many and varied on this unmitigated act of perfidy. Shameless government officials, pseudo-political analysts, ethnic jingoists, aberrant politicians and anarchists veiled as democrats, professional confusionists and busy bodies have been interloping and offering one form of half-hearted politico-legal defence or justification for the strange and bizarre conduct of Lagos State Government officials in illegally and unconstitutionally “deporting” Nigerian citizens in their own country. Fortunately, some well-meaning Nigerians and outspoken Igbo sons like the irrepressible Dr Orji Uzor Kalu (Ozo Igbo Ndu), international human rights bodies, MASSOB led by the one and only living Eze Igbo Gburugburu and Ijele Ndigbo Chief Ralph Uwazuruike and Aka Ikenga organisation led by the ebullient Barrister Goddy Uwazuruike have stridently and openly condemned the dastard act. Curiously, notable senior lawyers and self-professed “defenders of the masses” who operate in the “Lagos axis”of Nigeria have failed, refused or neglected to condemn the despicable act may be because of the ethnic origin of the victims as those involved are Igbos, or political colourations or need to protect one of their own since Governor Fashola of Lagos State is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria as well as a key member of ACN/APC political cliquein Lagos State. None of these reasons, either standing alone or when taken together, is enough to warrant the graveyard silence from these pretenders who claim to be human rights activists and vocal commentators on national issues. The unusual silence of the usually boisterous and publicity conscious analysts based in “Lagos axis” of this country is most unfortunate but nevertheless not unexpected. Those of us who have been long and consistent in the business of intellectual and practical human rights crusading and activism know that late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) remains till date the only consistently consistent human rights activist in that part of our country. Others have been consistently inconsistent because for them there is a different law or consideration for people from different ethnic backgrounds in this country notwithstanding the copious provision in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948 that all peoples shall be equal; they shall enjoy the same respect and shall have the same rights and the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. As Barack Obama once said “there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power. Once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others”. I beg to add that there are some who speak out only according to the political and legal convenience of their last paymaster. This is why I have always insisted that the human rights community in Nigeria should not be turned into a dumping ground for political rejects and frustrated oppressors of yesterday. Human rights activism is a calling with discernible ethos and mores. It is not a meal coupon or attention seeking vocation or flag of convenience. A human rights activist or social crusader must possess the basic attribute of being consistently consistent in order to state and pursue the truth according to law no matter whose ox is gored. Anything short of this is nothing but appetitive advocacy.
It is in the light of the foregoing therefore that I will like to take the liberty of this write up to join men and women with enlightened conscience to posit in clear and unequivocal terms that this action of Lagos Government and her officials is manifestly indefensible either in the arid principles of law or expansive tenets of morality. A trite precept of constitutional law in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and indeed the entire commonwealth is the supremacy of the national constitution. Consequently, it is clearly provided in section 1(1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria that “This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. Furthermore, section 4(5) of self-same 1999 Constitution as amended provides unequivocally that “If any Law enacted by the House of Assembly of a State is inconsistent with any law validly made by the National Assembly, the law made by the National Assembly shall prevail, and that other Law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void”. It is therefore indubitable or conclusive that Lagos State Government cannot under any disguise or façade of state legislation, policy or administrative action infringe on the fundamental rights of Nigerians duly guaranteed and entrenched in the constitution.
The following salient constitutional provisions and international human rights norms are important and can be readily called in aid to justify my position that the action of Lagos State Government and her officials constitute a rape on the Nigerian grundnorm and a crime against humanity. Firstly, it is universally acknowledged that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person whether he is rich, poor, young, old, destitute, infirm or agile. This is the kernel of the right to dignity of the individual fully guaranteed in section 34(1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended. This fundamental right to dignity is for “every individual” in Nigeria whether you are a citizen or non-citizen. This is amplified in the provisions of Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), 1981. Furthermore, Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the fountain head of all human rights norms, provides that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and this is re-echoed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966.
Secondly, every person is guaranteed the right to personal liberty under section 35 of the 1999 Constitution as amended and no person shall be deprived of his liberty except in accordance with a procedure permitted by law. Every person including the destitute in Nigeria has the right to personal liberty although this may be subject to clawback or lawful derogation. Specifically, section 35(1)(e) of the 1999 Constitution as amended enacts how and the purpose for which the liberty of destitutes or persons of unsound mind can be lawfully derogated. Thus, “in the case of persons suffering from infectious or contagious disease, persons of unsound mind, persons addicted to drugs or alcohol or vagrants, for the purpose of their care or treatment or the protection of the community”. Both article 6 of the ACHPR, 1981 article 3 of the UDHR and article 9 of ICCPR are emphatic that all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. It is significant to note that the right to personal liberty is guaranteed “every person” in Nigeria whether a Nigerian citizen or non-citizen. Therefore, to deport these persons who were confirmed on record to be Nigerian citizens of Igbo extraction from Lagos and release them in the wild at Onitsha bridge head is contrary to the letter and spirit of the provisions of section 35 of the Constitution and the International Bill on Human Rights. For purposes of argument and elucidation of the point under interrogation, were these destitutes citizens of any other part of the world other than Nigeria, the Lagos State Government would still not be justified in their action because the right to liberty of persons of unsound mind can only be derogated only for the purpose of their care or treatment or the protection of the community. An “insane person” or “destitute” that was whisked away from Lagos and dumped at Onitsha bridge head without more cannot be said to have been reunited with his family. This is xenophobic, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of the worst order. Besides, it is an act capable of endangering the lives and property of people who reside in the area where the destitutes were mindlessly dumped. Lagos State Government headed by a notable lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria does not need to be reminded that a fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy is that security and welfare of the citizens is the primary purpose of government whether at federal, state or local government level.
Thirdly, section 41(1) of the 1999 Constitution is explicit that“Every 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 thereby or exit therefrom”. This right of ingress and egress of a Nigerian citizen in and out of Nigeria is sacrosanct and inviolable as judicially adumbrated by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the old and classical case of Alhaji Shugaba Darman V Minister of Internal Affairs. It is therefore constitutionally aberratious to deport any Nigerian citizen or refuse him the right to move freely in any part of his own country under the guise that he is a destitute. Lagos State Government is more than anything else under a legal duty to treat the destitute or insane citizen of this great country with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. An insane person or destitute can only be released to a responsible guardian and not on the streets without care and attention. To do otherwise is illegal as well as immoral.
In the light of the foregoing, I call on all Nigerians irrespective of political affiliation or religious persuasion to unequivocally condemn the violent rape of the Nigerian constitution and denial of the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens by the Governor Fashola led Lagos State Government. The act of deporting people from Lagos in the guise that they are mentally challenged is nothing short of man’s inhumanity to man as it attacks our common humanity and dignity of the human person. I further call on Governor Fashola of Lagos State to pay prompt and adequate compensation to the victims of the capricious act and render unqualified public apology to the victims and to all Nigerians. That reckless act of Lagos State Government officials is manifestly indefensible and capable of endangering the continuance of a Federal Government in Nigeria should Anambra and or other states embark on the frenzy of reprisal action. Section 5(3)(c) of the 1999 Constitution as amended is very succinct in providing that “The executive powers vested in a State under subsection (2) of this section shall be so exercised as not to endanger the continuance of a Federal Government in Nigeria”.
Nigeria is one and will continue to be one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state as it is constitutionally guaranteed in section 2(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended irrespective of the grand conspiracy by some highly placed but disgruntled political actors and“evil geniuses” to make the government of the day ungovernable.Governor Fashola of Lagos State must for once rise above rabid ethnicity and clannishness and refuse to prosecute the divisive agenda of ethnic jingoists and political torn coats masquerading as leaders in his political fraternity. In conclusion, let me remind Governor Fashola who is a practising Muslim and all concerned that Article 1(b) of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, 1990 succinctly states that “All human beings are God’s subjects, and the most loved by him are those who are most useful to the rest of His subjects, and no one has superiority over another except on the basis of piety and good deeds”. For Christians in the pack of oppressors of the poor, be reminded that the Holy Bible enjoins in Proverb 14:21 (GNT) that “If you want to be happy, be kind to the poor; it is a sin to despise anyone”.Therefore based on legal or moral grounds, the recent deportation of Igbos from Lagos state is a rape on the Nigerian constitution and a crime against humanity.