It was on Sunday penultimate week that the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola chose to tender an ‘unreserved apology’ to the entire Igbo clan during Aka Ikenga, a gathering of who is who in Igboland.
In that gathering were the likes of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Anyim, Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America, Professor George Obiozor, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, General Ike Nwachukwu, Professor Pat Utomi, Chief Chris Asoluka, former Finance Minister, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr. Ben Akabueze, traditional rulers and lawmakers from states and national assemblies and prominent Igbo men and women from all walks of life.
It was an apology that could not have come at a better time with less than 60 days to the governorship election in Anambra State. Former Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige is standing as governorship candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the election coming up November 16, 2013.
The Lagos State Government had on July 24 sent 67 non-indigenes to their state of origin in Anambra, a gesture which has variously been described as deportation and reunion. As expected the development drew a lot of criticism both from within and outside.
Reacting to the development, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana averred that forceful removal of beggars from their chosen abode and repatriation to their states of origin is illegal and unconstitutional, adding that it violates the fundamental rights of such citizens enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.
“In particular, deportation is an affront to the human rights of the beggars to dignity of their persons (Section 34), personal liberty (Section 35), freedom of movement (Section 41), and right of residence in any part of Nigeria (Section 43). Furthermore, the deportation of beggars and other poor people by the Federal and State Governments is a repudiation of section 15 of the Constitution which has imposed a duty on the State to promote national integration. Since the political objective of the State imposes a duty on the governments to “secure full residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the Federation; it is illegal to remove poor people from the streets of state capitals without providing them with alternative accommodation. By targeting beggars and the destitute and deporting them to their states of origin the state governments involved are violating Section 42 of the Constitution which has outlawed discrimination on the basis of place of birth or state of origin”, the lawyer then explained.
But Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) in the state lamented the incidence, stressing that it attested to the allegation that Fashola is a fascist and has illegal detention camps all over the state.
“He has indeed showed his real self. We demand a public apology from Governor Fashola and a stop to the recurrent harassment to the economic, social and human rights of non indigenes in the state,” Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Taofik Tijani said in a statement.
The barrage of criticism forced the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria to rise in defence of the Governor’s action.
“We expect that the opposition in Lagos and its array of frustrated politicians will certainly seek to play politics with the decision of the Lagos State government to move some people that have no tangible business staying in Lagos to their home states. It is a shame to the opposition that it is seeking cheap political capital from the plight of the hapless victims of its free loading approach to governance and has drawn the support of ethnic irredentists whose failure on governance left the Igbo people so poor that they have become homeless refugees in Lagos and other parts of the country”, Publicity Secretary of the now defunct Action Congress (ACN), Mr. Joe Igbokwe said in his reply to critics.
At a courtesy call by representatives of Aka Ikenga to his office in Ikeja, Fashola explained that government officials actually exchanged correspondence with liaison office of the Anambra State Government before the incident, adding that for the Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi to go public with the incident is either mischievous or the governor was not properly briefed by officers that received all the correspondents between Lagos State and the Anambra State Government. Obviously frustrated by the turn of events, Fashola who alluded indirectly to coming elections in Anambra and Imo State could not understand why politicians have often politicised developments each time that elections are around the corner in the South East.
Just as the governor had publicly acknowledged, the political pendulum seemed to have shifted in favour of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), despite the intimidating profile of Ngige, candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC). Analysts and politicians alike perceived the development as a great minus for Ngige and the re-election bid of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State with many actually hoping that the lingering crisis would drag on into the Anambra election and later on into that of Imo State.
Reacting to comments attributed to Governor Rochas Okorocha that he planned to relocate to Anambra State in order to shore up support for Ngige ahead of the November 16th date, the Willie Obiano Campaign Forum described Okorocha’s utterance as laughable. According to coordinator of the group, Owelle Onyeka Mbaso, Anambra State is too enlightened to be led by the noose by anybody.
“Governor Okorocha is well known for his unguarded statements that almost got him into trouble when he once addressed former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as though they were mates. Besides, we cannot support a party that encourages the deportation of Ndigbo from Lagos. APGA is a political party that has the best manifesto for good governance,” he declared.
It is perhaps to calm these frayed nerves that Fashola last Sunday opted to render what he described as unreserved apology to Ndigbo. It was an occasion to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Igbo socio-cultural group, Aka Ikenga at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos.
“There are people who clearly do not understand me and they have misunderstood words said or misrepresented actions taken in the way that it has pleased them to do so. To those people, I owe an explanation in defense of what has happened and that is partly why I am here as well. The Igbo and the Yoruba have built a relationship based on tolerance, based on mutual respect, based on trust and love. That relationship was started by our ancestors. It was handed over to us and we have nourished it with a lot of trust and a lot of understanding and a lot of fidelity. Those who misunderstand that relationship, who think that there is no value in that relationship; I have come here to correct that. I put a lot of value in that relationship. And so if those people have misunderstood me or they have misunderstood actions taken by our Government, here, now, today I offer an unqualified and unreserved apology”, he said.
The Governor, however, said even the apology does not take away the real issue that provoked the misunderstanding, pointing out that the real issue lay in the reason or reason why some sections feel compelled to migrate from one part of the country to the other and called on Ndigbo to rise up to the challenge of underdevelopment in the Southeast.
“There are questions that caused the misunderstanding and it is those questions the Aka Ikenga must address if it must continue to fulfil its purpose”, he said. The governor, however, reiterated his call on the need to shun politics of divisiveness and ethnicity for selfish ends adding that as the political storm gathers, the American President Bill Clinton cautioned that politics is like pro-football, is a contact sport and if you don’t like to be hit you stay on the sideline.
“I agree; but even contact sport has rules, you can’t tackle from behind and you can’t hit from behind. And to that extent, therefore, those who are victims of our own inadequacies and shortcomings as professionals in and out of government should not be pawns on the political chess table”, Fashola advised. Only time will tell whether or not Fashola’s apology will alter the political calculation for Chris Ngige in the November 16 governorship race in Anambra and subsequently for Rochas Okorocha in 2015.