The front pages of Nigerian newspapers yesterday were deservedly dominated by the deportation by immigration authorities of 57 irregular immigrants from the Republic of Niger, according to Rasheed Odupeyin, comptroller of Immigration in Lagos, from among 92 suspects arrested during a raid by the police and the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental Offences. Similar action could not immediately be taken on the 18 Malians among them “because of the ongoing war in that country”.
It’s all a throw-back to the days when Nigeria and Ghana engaged in the pastime of holding each other’s hapless nationals in both countries responsible for their respective economic woes. Koffi Busia started it all in 1969. Shagari hit back during 1979-1983. Buhari also joined in the fray during 1983-1985.
But for the too much blood stain on his style, Jerry Rawlings is widely credited with the progress that Ghana has made from its economic downturn. But he didn’t have to visit Ghana’s frustrations on poor economic refugees from neighbouring West African countries.
Both the picture of the arrested persons and the action taken against them give the impression that they are already guilty as alleged. There was also the use of the word “alien” to describe the group. With no weapons found on any of the deportees, making it difficult to associate them with terrorism, the question is: On what basis are the arrested nationals of ECOWAS countries being referred to by immigration authorities as “suspects”?
Yet, there is a document called “Supplementary Protocol A/Sp.2/5/90 on the Implementation of the Third Phase (Right of Establishment) of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Establishment”. The protocol was established by ECOWAS member states, “CONVINCED of the imperative need to proceed to the third phase (Right of Establishment) of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Establishment, in-as-much-as the uniform implementation of the provisions of ECOWAS texts on free movement of persons, goods, services and capital by all Member States is a fundamental basis of Community building and a pre-requisite for the harmonious development of the economic, social and cultural activities of the States of the region which will ensure the welfare of their peoples.”
Taking effect from June 19, 1990, two items under its Article 4 need to be highlighted:
a. In matters of establishment and services, each Member State shall undertake to accord non-discriminatory treatment to nationals and companies of other Member States.
b. If, however, for a specific activity, a Member State is unable to accord such treatment, the Member State must indicate as much, in writing, to the Executive Secretariat. Other Member States shall then not be bound to accord non-discriminatory treatment to nationals and companies of the State concerned.
The question is: Have the Nigerian authorities gone through processes required for its current action of arresting and deporting these nationals of fellow West African countries? Does the National Human Rights Commission approve of the way these poor folks have been handled?
In its report of the current deportations, The Sun, all too quick to brand the deportees, many of who might actually have fled their countries to seek economic fortunes in a more ecologically-friendly Nigeria, as members of one of the much-dreaded terrorist groups, quoted one of them from Niger Republic as vowing, ominously, to return to Nigeria soon. “I came in through Kebbi State. I came on my own. I always pass through there because no one will stop you. I do not have the passport. I will still find my way back when they throw me out.”
This is no idle boast, it must be remarked!