‘Deportation’ Trend in Nigeria: The More You Look, the Less You See

When it comes to legal discourse, Nigeria never seems to lack a topic for discussion. Few weeks ago, the discourse was on child marriage and constitutional review. More recently, it has become the issue of “deportation” of Nigerians within Nigeria- Lagos State Government being at the heart of the controversial “deportations”. Although it is commendable that we talk about raging issues, a common trend seems to be that most of us easily get carried away and digress, or focus on issues that are either irrelevant or unwarranted.

For example, the campaign against child marriage targeting section 29(4)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution (CFRN), which is a provision that deals specifically with renunciation of citizenship; the issue on the “promotion” of the previous President of the Court of Appeal, which turned into a façade and the end result was like “film trick”; the focus on legislators contributing to infrastructural development in their constituencies/senatorial districts as proof of “performance” whereas they were elected to LEGISLATE and have nothing tangible to show as their contribution to Nigeria’s LEGISLATION, etc.

More recently, focus appears to have shifted on the issue of “deportation” of ‘destitute’ Nigerians from Lagos State to Anambra State by the Lagos State Government (LASG). This discourse has turned into a political issue, accusations of tribalism have been introduced, threats of retaliation have been made, Governors are acting like children on a playground saying “you are the one that needs to apologise”, associations/groups have insulted different factions, etc.

Almost no focus is on the rights of the ‘destitute’ affected, or the issue of state responsibility, or even the potential creation of a situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria. Therefore, this piece hopes to draw everyone’s attention back to the real issues to be focused on- not political or tribal banter nor playground nuances; these are distractions.

What the fuss is all about

The LASG “deported” destitute persons perceived to be of Anambra State origin from Lagos, back to their “home”. However, these persons were apparently dropped off and abandoned at Onitsha at an ungodly hour. According to the LASG, the “deportation” was in line with the state’s “Revamp” policy, and apparently, these persons requested that they be returned home, having been successfully rehabilitated by the LASG.

Further, LASG claims that it had notified the Anambra State Government (ANSG) of the impending “deportation” of its indigenes that had become destitute in Lagos State, so preparations should be made for the receipt of these people upon their ‘delivery’ in Anambra. However, the ANSG, who had apparently responded initially to LASG’s correspondences, ignored the final letter informing of the date of ‘delivery’.

Why do I use the word ‘delivery’? It is simply because these ‘destitute’ were transported from Lagos to Onitsha in a vehicle used for transporting goods/cargo, and they were abandoned in harsh conditions at Onitsha like unwanted goods.

What should focus be on?

First and foremost, the idea of “deportation” must be tabled. The Nigerian media is an expert when it comes to sensational journalism. The reports keep using the term “deportation” to refer to what was done to the destitute and this is wrong. “Deportation” refers to the “forced removal of people from one country to another” and that is not what LASG did. Rather, what LASG did is akin to forced population transfer, which is defined as the “compulsory movement of people from one area to another within the same State.” Both deportation and forced population transfer are crimes against humanity. However, in light of LASG’s claim that the destitute requested that they be taken back “home” (a fact yet to be confirmed as true or false from those affected by the transfer), it cannot categorically be said that the destitute were forcibly transferred. Therefore, care must be taken not to use words which have legal effects that are not intended or anticipated. Here on out, I would use the word ‘return’, which adequately conveys the message.

Second, LASG claims that the persons were ‘repatriated’, i.e. they were returned to their places of origin. The return of the Anambra citizens is not the only one that Lagos State has embarked on. On 8 August 2013, Vanguard reported that 46 persons apparently of Osun State origin were also returned by the LASG to Osun State. However, there have been reports that some of the citizens returned to Anambra are neither of Anambra State origin, nor of Igbo origin, while of the 46 persons returned to Osun State, only 26 are from Osun State. This therefore calls into question, how LASG vetted and verified the state of origin of these individuals before delivering them. Before ‘repatriating’ a person, the State actor has a duty to verify that the returnee is being returned to his/her home, and nowhere else. This is beside the issue of whether or not the individuals actually voluntarily requested repatriation. 

Third, the issue of the constitutionality of LASG’s actions. Section 41(1) CFRN guarantees every Nigerian’s right to free movement and residence anywhere in Nigeria and this right may only be restricted by law pursuant to s.45 CFRN, in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons. Law in this context refers to a subsisting rule that came into being through a democratic legislative process; i.e. a bill passed by Parliament into law in accordance with the Constitution, so as to safeguard the right to be restricted, and “ensure that the inviolable attributes of the individual could not be impaired by discretionary acts of the State… “[1] Further, according to the American Court of Human Rights:[2]:

Such a procedure not only clothes these acts with the assent of the people through its representatives, but also allows minority groups to express their disagreement, propose different initiatives, participate in the shaping of the political will, or influence public opinion so as to prevent the majority from acting arbitrarily.”

Did the Lagos State House of Assembly pass any law in force in support of the policy? If yes, what constitutional justification was given for the restriction of this fundamental human right to freedom of residence anywhere in Nigeria? If there was a constitutional justification, did the destitute deserve to be treated in an inhumane and cruel manner by both LASG and ANSG?

Section 17(2)(b) CFRN provides that Nigeria’s social order is founded on ideals of freedom, equality and justice and as such, the sanctity of the human person shall be recognised and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced. Further, s.17(2)(c) states that governmental actions shall be humane. The return of people classified as ‘destitute’ in harsh conditions (not to mention the conditions they allegedly endured before their removal from the state- detention) and ANSG’s response to this situation is not just inhumane, but also amounts to cruelty.

 Fourth, the issue of state responsibility. In this context, I do not refer to state responsibility in the more popular Public International Law sense; rather, it is used in the domestic sense, but with the same principles applicable in International Law. The returnees have suffered flagrant abuses of their fundamental human rights guaranteed by the CFRN e.g., right to dignity of person including the right not to be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment (s.34 CFRN), right to personal liberty (s.35 CFRN), right to private and family life (s.37 CFRN) and right to free movement (s.41 CFRN). Most importantly, it has been reported that one of the returnees died few days after arrival at Onitsha and the death is attributable to the harsh conditions; thus, his right to life (s.33) has been violated. In the event that the LASG is legally justified in restricting the rights protected by sections 37 and 41 CFRN, the other rights protected by sections 33, 34 and 35 CFRN are absolute and can neither be restricted nor derogated from, unless in respect of criminal responsibility. 

Which State should therefore be responsible for these human rights violations? LASG or ANSG? As a general principle of state responsibility, responsibility falls on the state within whose territory the individual is physically present or the state who has immediate control over the person. As such, LASG should bear responsibility for the harsh treatments the returnees faced in detention and during transportation, while ANSG should be responsible for not taking care of the persons delivered on its territory, as it had apparently been informed about their delivery. 

Instead of both States squabbling and arguing about whether or not it was 14, 70 or 72 persons that were returned or whether the persons were of Anambra State origin, they should take responsibility for their actions and learn from their ‘mistakes’. It does not matter whether it was only 14 people as opposed to ANSG’s accusation that it was 70/72 people that were returned; even if it was only ONE Nigerian that was returned, it would not change the fact that the State Governments have erred grievously.

ANSG could easily have taken these returnees to a shelter to cater for their immediate basic needs, while vetting their state of origin in the process; when Yorubas were returned to Osun, the State Government took responsibility immediately and sheltered the returnees, while vetting their states of origin in the process. If some returnees were found not to be indigenes, they could have been returned to LASG in a humane manner. Rather, ANSG has written to the Presidency threatening retaliation if the Presidency does not intervene. Who would benefit from that? If all States start retaliating instead of taking responsibility, we would gradually find ourselves as a country with a growing IDP problem, then what’s next? United Nations intervention? International humanitarian assistance? Invocation of Nigeria’s obligations/responsibilities under the 2009 African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa? All because an ‘apology’ was not made.

Should LASG or ANSG be apologising to each other? Those that deserve apology and compensation are the returnees. If the Governments apologise to each other, what then happens? It would be “bygones”. 

If we do not start focusing on the real issues, the returnees, who are the victims of flagrant human rights violations would be forgotten and disregarded. With the new focus on apologies/tribalism/politics, we could find ourselves in a situation of “the more you look, the less you see.”


[1] Chaloka Beyani, Human Rights Standards and the Movement of People Within States (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) 9.

[2] ‘Laws’ in Article 30 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Advisory Opinion OC-6/86 of 9 May 1986 at 12.

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11 comments

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  7. Chinny Madu

    I don’t know much about the legal implications of repatriating the destitute people but what seems more pressing to be is the fact that Anambra State (including the other states involved) fail to realize that the migration of these people to Lagos in the first place, is as a result of the harsh realities of life they face in their respective states prompted by the lack of responsibility in government to provide basic infrastructure that promote social and economic development. Therefore, their quest to find a better means of livelihood. I don’t blame the Lagos State government for their action rather the manner in which the repatriation was conducted (i.e leaving the returnees by the Niger bridge). Lagos is congested and over-populated for goodness sake and for the sake of public health, some people really need to go. lol

    Note: sticking to the word “repatriate” as I do not know what other term befits its replacement

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  8. Although I’ve not read this article from beginning to the end , I will like to make the following Comment based on my Observation. I’m of the opinion that Lagos State Government should not be blamed for “Deportation of Destitute” Exercise. Firstly I will like to define the word “Destitute” from my own point of view in the way the Lagos State Government saw these People before they were “deported”. “Destitute” in this Context means a Person or group of People who have stayed more than 30 yrs in Lagos, the Period of which they were given opportunity to improve their Standard of Living and be an asset (not Liability) to the State Government and have failed to do so. Observation shows that it was not only the “Ibo” that were deported alone. Some Hausas who were mostly Beggars were also deported including some Yorubas too. they were taken to their state of Origin and Deportation came after most of them have spent more than 3 yrs in the Lagos State Rehabilitation centre and there was no improvement.

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  9. Geoffrey Care

    This is, simply put, another way of creating Internally Displaced Persons.It is of course indefensible but I would draw readers attention to my chapte, 12, on IDPs in The Ashgate Research Companion to Migration Law,Theory and Policy 2012 ‘Disowned in their Own Land: The Courts and Protection of the internally Displac ed Person’.
    The guardians of peoples rights under the Constitution in a country are ultimately the responsibility of the Bech and the Bar. A responsibility which the Bar frequently fail to support thus denying the Courts the opportunity to set things right.

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