Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Friday received in audience a leading Igbo socio-political group, ‘Aka Ikenga” debunking the suggestions of discrimination, deportation or violation of rights against Anambra citizens as being orchestrated in the media by his Anambra State counterpart.
Governor Fashola, who addressed the group, led by its President, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, said there was no truth in the allegation or suggestion of deportation, discrimination or violation of rights of Anambra indigenes by the Lagos State Government as alleged by the Anambra State Government.
“I want to use this opportunity to say that none of these suggestions of discrimination or violation of rights is true. I don’t know how I could set out to deport Anambrarians and look Ben (Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning) in the eye; because that is his State and he is a member of this Government and there are no decisions that we take in private that are not discussed extensively and if there are very sensitive issues there, his advice has been very useful”, the Governor said.
According to the Governor, “These issues have been raised in a politically coloured atmosphere and in a way that seeks to incite our Igbo brothers against their host communities in the run up to the Anambra Governorship election”. He added, “The impression sought to be created is that Lagos has adopted a discriminatory policy against the Ndigbo generally and against the Anambra people in particular”.
He also debunked the suggestion that there were 72 Anambra persons involved in the alleged deportation pointing out that there were only 14 persons who were taken home to Onitsha at their own request after they were rehabilitated at the State’s rehabilitation Centre at Majidun.
He declared, “I think that there are facts which have been over-exaggerated and distorted and I want to address those facts. The fact was that 14 people, not 70, not 72, not 67, as were being reported, were picked up on our streets as part of a routine exercise and we took them to Majidun Rehabilitation Centre, not a detention camp as has been published and you can go there and see”.
Other facts which, according to the Governor, were also distorted includes the allegation by the Anambra State Government that they were neither informed nor consulted before the alleged deportation took place. He stated, “There was exchange of correspondences. We told them that we had 14 people who claimed to be from Anambra State and all the while, we were telling them of integrating these people back to their home communities. They were replying on their letter heads with “Integration”. So I don’t know how integration has suddenly become deportation”.
“Incidentally we have ourselves just received a similar notice from the Government of Akwa Ibom State of two alleged Lagos indigenes whom they picked up in a lunatic clean up exercise in Uyo and our officials are responding to it”, the Governor said displaying the letter from the Akwa Ibom State Government dated 23rd July 2913 and the response by the Lagos State Government dated 26th July, 2013.
Promising to make the letters available to the group, Governor Fashola said the first letter titled “Reintegration of Beggars/Destitutes” was dated April 9, 2013,and sent to the Anambra State Liaison Office in Lagos adding that a reply titled, “Re-integration of Beggars/Destitutes” and dated 15th April, 2013 was received from the said office demanding the names and identities of the 14 persons. A reply dated 29th of April was also sent to the Liaison Office giving names, town and local government areas of the people as supplied by the people themselves. There was no further response, the Governor said.
The Governor expressed dismay that his Anambra State counterpart, Mr. Peter Obi, decided to take the matter to the press instead of seeking clarification from him, adding, “It is not clear to me why the Governor of Anambra State chose the media as the first place to report his grievance. He has called me severally on less important issues. This time he chose not to call me. He wrote to the President, he did not write to me to complain. I am at a loss why this is the strategy this time”.
“I have read excerpts in the newspapers of a letter purportedly written by him to His Excellency, Mr. President, where he was quoted as saying among other things that; “…Lagos State did not even bother to consult with Anambra State authorities before deporting 72 persons…”, the Governor said adding that if Governopr Obi actually made the allegation, he was either being economical with the truth and deliberately seeking to mislead the nation or unaware of actions taken by his officers.
The Governor said his administration has as a policy embarked on the rehabilitation of the mentally ill people who often roam the streets with not many people taking note of them adding that plans are already on to rehabilitate and upgrade the Maidijun Centre to a State-run mental institution to complement the Federal-owned Psychiatric Hospital in Yaba.
The Governor commended the Aka Ikenga for the “leadership initiative and responsibility” they have taken to seek clarification on the matter wondering why some people should decide to make an issue from what he described as a routine matter of governance.
Recalling that any time elections were coming up in Anambra State as it is coming up now, there seemed a potential intention to incite Igbo communities against their host communities, Governor Fashola, who described the controversy as “a storm in a tea cup” reiterated, “This has nothing to do with either Igbo or any coloration of the Igbo nation or the Igbo people in any sense”, adding, “Unfortunately, it has profited some people to paint it that way”..
“Our ability to live mutually and co-exist peacefully has been critical to the progress we have recorded here and nothing will jeopardize that relationship.This place remains a home and refuge for all those who respect our laws and we intend to keep it that way”, Governor Fashola said.
On the allegation of violation of rights by “some human rights advocates”, the Governor declared, “I wish to say that while we respect the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, none of them is absolute in the way that some of our “experts” want the public to believe”.
Speaking on the agencies of the State, LATSMA and KAI, which the group also touched upon, Governor Fashola explained that the the agencies were necessary in the maintenance of law and order in the State wondering what would happen to the traffic in Lagos if they were disbanded.
The Governor who acknowledged that there would always be bad eggs in any group, however, said it would be more profitable to identify particular offenders within the rank and file of the LATSMA or KAI and report such people for trial and sanction if found guilty of any misdemeanor.
Earlier, in his opening remarks, the President of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, said the group as representatives of the Igbo Community in Lagos came to express their unalloyed support to the Governor and Government of Lagos State with whom, according to him, “we have shared very excellent relationships”.
Describing the on-going controversy as unfortunate, the Aka Ikenga President said the issue had earlier created bad blood among the Igbo community in the State until the former Anambra State Governor, Senator Chris Ngige, came in last Sunday and reassured the people that they were being misinformed.
Reiterating that the issue must have been a result of misinformation in the media, Chief Uwazuruike said their visit was to seek clarification from the Governor in order to be in a better position to clear the growing controversy among the Igbo community adding that the clarification was even more expedient given the coming governorship election in Anambra State.
Expressing the continued unalloyed support of the Ndigbo in Lagos to the Governor and his Government the President Generalof the Igbo socio-cultural group recalled that the publications in the media since then had not helped matters adding that members of the Aka Ikenga were convinced “that somebody somewhere was trying to give this Governor a bad image”.
Also present at the occasion were the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Mr. Ben Akabueze, National Publicity Secretary of ACN, Alhaji. Lai Mohammed, Mr. Joe Igbokwe on the State Government side while on the Aka Ikenga side were its Vice President, Chief Lawrence Amadi, its Secretary General, Mr. Paul Nnaji and Chief Ugo Ofodile, a party Chieftain, among others.