Fifty three years as a nation and sometimes it seems we have learnt nothing.
As an expert in social policy, I have observed with some bemusement the recent events surrounding the so-called deportation of destitutes from Lagos to other parts of the country.
The matter has predictably been blown out of proportion. It is disingenuous and mischievous to play on tribal sentiments as the crux of the problem. The truth is that the rehabilitation and repatriation of destitutes is commonplace in many parts of the world.
The problem stems from the term ‘deportation’ which the media have needlessly latched unto. The word connotes an irreversible or forced banishment from a place. The reality is that the relocation of destitutes was likely not a forced one and certainly not a permanent one either.
In a federation, such as Nigeria, that has no interstate borders it is an exercise in futility to attempt a permanent expulsion from any one state.
According to reports, the destitutes in Lagos had been interviewed at great length and had expressed their severe hardships and desire to be with their families again. Attempts were made to reach out to the respective welfare and liaison offices of their states of origin before they were eventually transferred back to their home states.
In the case of Anambra state I understand there was a series of exchanges between their liaison office and the Lagos state office of Youth and Social Development. Anambra had apparently been invited to come and interview the destitutes so as to carry out their own assessment. They never did and ultimately they were relocated to Anambra to re-unite with their families in line with their wishes.
If anybody did any wrong here it is the Government of Anambra, who let down these people at the time of their need. In fact Lagos state government deserves commendation and not commendation for rehabilitation and resettlement of destitutes
In the recent past, Akwa Ibom, for example, has also relocated Lagos indigenes which it had assessed were not playing a contributory role in the welfare of that state.
Lagos state has responded as any government should for its own people. This did not gain widespread publicity because Lagos state has never rejected them nor threatened legal action.
This is a continuous exercise. In the last year alone, thousands of beggars and destitutes have been successfully rescued and moved to a Rehabilitation and Training Centre in Owutu, Ikorodu. Once they are there, most of them undergo intensive rehabilitation programs which allow them to be upstanding members of the community.
I am very familiar with the Owutu centre and it is important to note that is not a detention camp. Lagos state could not even hold the desitutues against their will even if they wanted without possession of a valid Court Order.
There are provisions and facilities at the Centre that enable people to help them turn their lives around. However resources are limited and the truth is that not everyone is able to be helped. This is why all residents must first undergo thorough physical and psychological investigations.
Those that would benefit the most from being reunited with their families and communities are then relocated at Lagos state’s expense.
Lagos is a centre of excellence but it is not a utopia. No city in the world is. Whatever part of the world you hail from, if you choose to move somewhere else then you must be prepared to work and abide by their laws. Lagos is no different. I moved here from my home state of Edo twenty years ago and have been gainfully employed ever since then.
Speaking as a non-Lagos indigene, I have always found Lagos welcoming to those who are willing and able to contribute and respect the way of life. I don’t believe there is anything that has changed that.
Francis Oriunebho is an expert in social policy and has published several papers on urban rehabilitation.