?Do we need a destitute exchange commission?

By Cliff Okowa

Over time our country men and women have formed a habit of discussing occurrences with emotions at the spur of the moment and dumping them thereafter, only to be unlocked from the chest of drawers when a similar event re-occurs.
For instance when there is a terror blast up north and scores are killed, we raise hell with our mouth, only our mouths. We spit fire as the press would write, because we many time we fail to keep the tone of the discussion good and trend productive ? we end up locking up the issue in our drawers until another occurs.

Such is the exchange now going on between the Lagos State government officials on one side and the Anambra State government counterpart led by the governor, Mr Peter Obi and the Secretary to the state government Mr Oseloka Obaze on another.

Of course, as it is usual sentiments would be evoked to steer the main issue from what it is not, while leaving the core issue unaddressed.

This little piece seeks to achieve the opposite-position all the issues on the front burner without sentiments and drive fast towards a solution so that after this event there would be no occurrence elsewhere without a ready solution guided by precedence.

So what are the facts?

A few days back Onitsha, the boisterous, congested and disorganised commercial centre in Anambra State woke up to the ?visit? of 72 stranded passengers ?deposited? in the early hours of the morning by trucks guarded by security men from deposition of strange visitors, who Lagos claims to be from Anambra State.

To the ordinary eyes who saw the faces on television and to those of us who were not comfortable with the mention of trucks to convey human beings from Lagos to Onitsha, the first impulse was to declare Lagos guilty of lacking in humanity.

However, later on, facts started to trickle in, which prompted me to undertake my own limited investigation. But limited though they may be because there are those charged with investigation and of course my resources, time and access to the two governments are limited, they form the basis for the public to understand what happened and to draw their own conclusion.

Lagos State government in March this year during the Environment Sanitation Day (Last Saturday the month, dated ) apprehended a total of 72 destitute who either had no homes and ha to squat in bus stops ,under the bridges ,or in the lawns and took them into the state rehabilitation home in Ikorodu, as part of their Social Welfare Policy.

On April 9, 2013, the Babatunde Fashola-led state government contacted Anambra State Government through its Liason Office in Lagos, informing them that 14 out of this number had identified themselves as Anambra State citizens. The government of Anambra State was therefore invited to identify and verify the 14 persons.

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The letter reference number OYSD/596/VI/762 titled RE: INTERGRATION OF BEGGARS/DESTITUES WITH THEIR FAMILIES signed by one OT Ajao, for the Special Adviser in the Office of Youth and Social Development read: ??I am directed to remind you about the Lagos Social Welfare Policy in respect of the above matter and to inform you that the rescue of beggars and destitute from the streets of Lagos is a continuous issue.

??In view of the above, subject matter and to inform you that 14 persons who claim to be from Anambra State are currently in your centre awaiting your response for identification towards evacuation and integration towards with their families in Anambra State??.

Six days after, Anambra State government replied acknowledging the letter of and requested that the particulars of the 14 persons claiming to be Anambra citizens should be provided. The letter reference number ANSLO/ADM/15/110 was signed by Mrs Ucheoma N Chukwudum, Special Assistant to the governor, Lagos Liason Office.

Ajao acknowledged the receipt of the Anambra State Government reply on April 29, 2013 with reference number OYSD/596/773 furnishing the list of 14 persons who identified themselves to be of Anambra State origin as:
Nnokonu Ani, Onyekua Okuwa, Jude Olunma, Emmanuel Okoh,Ndubisi Kalu, John Okoro,and Andy Ochonogor and Sunday Nwagwu.

Others were Joseph Eto, Christian Out, Ijeoma Chukwuemeka, Juliet Ikemere.Grace Udoh and Victoria Agboola.

In addition Ajao wrote: ?Be that as it may your (physical) presence in our Rehabilitation and Training Centre might e necessary to conduct a physical identification through your interaction with these persons??.

peter obi

My investigation did not immediately stumble on what happened to this request and what the response of Anambra State was after this letter.

But Lagos State officials insist that they notified Anambra State government, who agreed to enlist the assistance of the Lagos State government to Onitsha where they would be received by designated officials of the Anambra State Government. However, they failed to show up; leaving the crew that brought the 14 persons with ?no option but to leave them in the nearest government office.

But Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State in his letter to President Goodluck Jonathan on the incident,
Secretary to the State government, Mr Oseloka Obaze feigns ignorance of any such interaction between both governments
??The latest callous act, in which Lagos State did not even bother to consult with Anambra State Authorities before deporting 72 persons conspired to be of Igbo extraction to Anambra State is illegal unconstitutional and a blatant violation of the human rights of these individuals and the Nigerian Constitution?? Obi wrote, asking that the event should be investigated and the Lagos State government should be censured.

The secretary to Anambra the state government, in an article ?Whither Lagos State?s Hubris, Brigandage and Scofflaw methods?? surprisingly failed to state any facts or add any new perspectives to the information in the public domain, prior and in the build-up to the incident to contradict the position of the Lagos State government.

Obaze simply claimed that the Lagos State Government was targeting Anambra State and did not contact the Anambra Government or its liaison office.

??The most vexatious aspect of this act is that the Lagos State authorities did not consult with its Anambra State counterpart ,or with its Liaison Office in Lagos, assuming that its intentions were authentic?? Obaze claimed, adding: ?? But there were other violations that made such an act utterly illegal, even if they were presumably in Lagos State?s enlightened self interest.

From all indications, there is an information which must be filled for the public to understand and discuss the issues outside sentiments. There is also no doubt that there is an action gap because a situation like this cropped up in September last year, when the public did not have the opportunity to have as much details.

Many would argue with merit that had the issues of September last year been taken to a logical end, a better appreciation of the second event would have existed.

But the outstanding issues for probe are: Can Anambra State government successfully deny being contacted by the Lagos State Government based on the foregoing, or are the key officials of the former government telling lies to the public?

Did the Lagos State Government exhaust all that they could do before the current action of ?dumping? human beings in a place to yet their home? Are the persons involved really destitute , and if so did they receive the rehabilitation at the Lagos Rehabilitation Centre ?Was there an agreement between Lagos State ad Anambra State Governments that the former should convey the destitute to Onitsha where the latter government would be waiting to receive them? If there was why did the Anambra State government renege? Why was it difficult for the Lagos State Government to have made a public declaration before and after the fact of transporting these destitute to Anambra State? Why Anambra State not go to court to press did charged against Lagos State when an event like this happened in September Last year? Why should 72 destitute be dumped in Anambra State if only 14 are from Anambra? Do we now need a national standard for handling issues of this nature since they connect constitutional rights to free movements of persons and free residence? Do we need a Destitute Exchange Commission?

I hope the probe can continue along issue lines, until we have established what to do, or to expect when issues of this nature crop up. That way the passion would be less and the real care to the lowly in society could increase.

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