Home Discussion Papers Rights in Focus Nigeria’s internal deportations: The untold story
Nigeria’s internal deportations: The untold story
Written by Dennis M. Ndambo (1) Monday, 23 December 2013 14:17

In July 2013, the governor of Lagos State in Nigeria allegedly ordered the deportation (2) of 76 destitute members of the Igbo community to Anambra State.(3) This was despite the fact that some of the people deported were not indigenes of Anambra State. This course of action not only violated the human rights of those evicted people, but also risked long-term consequences such as civil unrest and ethnic violence.

This paper discusses the circumstances surrounding this deportation in order to discover whether the government violated the national Constitution by forcibly relocating its citizens. In addition, it discusses the deportation in the wider context of internal displacement and the inadequacy of social security in Nigeria.

Nigeria: Africa’s melting pot

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with the population estimated at over 140 million.(4) The Federal Republic of Nigeria is divided into 36 states and one territory, although these are sometimes grouped into six geopolitical zones.(5) Nigeria is also an interesting mix of ethno-linguistic groups and religious beliefs. There are over 250 ethnic groups and over 500 spoken languages, although three ethno-linguistic groups (Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo) are the most prominent.(6) Islam and Christianity are the major religions, accounting for 50% and 40% of the population respectively.(7) Partly due to this heterogeneity and the persistent competition for resources, the country has often witnessed inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts. Since 1969, there have been several successive military coups, and the country only returned to democratic rule in 1999.(8) These conflicts have inevitably led to major displacements of people and the impoverishment of large sections of the population.

Internal displacement: The hidden problem

Internal displacement is a contested phenomenon, and the Nigerian Government does not have an official policy on internally displaced persons (IDPs).(9) One of the reasons for this is that IDPs are usually absorbed by their kin and are rarely found in IDP camps. They are therefore not as ‘visible’ as refugees from neighbouring countries. In addition, the definition of IDPs is flawed. Due to conflicting ideology within its membership, the United Nations (UN) defines IDPs with reference to relocation of people within a state’s borders as a result of violence or disasters.(10) This definition ignores the fact that one of the major causes of relocation is extreme poverty.(11) Researchers Chris Opukri and Ibaba Ibaba state that the emphasis on relocation fails to recognise that “displacement could also be defined as the inability of a social group or community to achieve its interests, particularly, basic and recurrent needs in relation to other groups.”(12) Another researcher, Okechukwu Ibeanu, adds that “other manifestations of displacement include starvation, mass suicide, identity crisis and vagrancy.”(13)

In addition to displacement caused by conflict and disasters, state governments often carry out deportations of destitute people in the name of urban renewal or large-scale development projects. Due to poor urban planning and governance, as well as rapid urban development and population explosion, there has been increasing pressure on the infrastructure and environment of cities.(14) This pressure has resulted in numerous informal settlements, congestion, poor drainage, and disruption in the supply of basic amenities. To rectify this situation, state governments have embarked upon urban renewal projects. Every year since 1999, several hundred thousand Nigerians living in informal settlements have been evicted by state governments and had their homes demolished in the interest of creating beautiful cities.(15) These urban renewal projects are usually carried out without any resettlement plan to take care of the evictees.(16)

Put this way, the role of the state in population displacement becomes evident. Usually, it is the state that is supposed to provide social security (security from poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance, arbitrary power, fear, and want).(17) In fact, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”(18) The state is obliged to direct its policies toward ensuring “that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.”(19) When the state neglects this responsibility, competition for scarce resources leads to conflicts which often result in displacement. However, in the case of Nigeria, not only has the federal state neglected to ensure equitable distribution of resources, but the various state governments forcefully relocate indigenous Nigerians back to their states of origin without providing alternative accommodation or means of livelihood. These people are thus left destitute and struggling to survive.

There appears to be an unofficial state policy of deporting destitute Nigerians back to their states of origin. It recently emerged that state governments routinely enter into agreements on these deportations.(20) The deportation of Igbos from Lagos State to Anambra State in July 2013 is only one of many such deportations carried out every year. In April 2009 and August 2013, Lagos State deported homeless people who had originated from Oyo and Osun States.(21) The Federal Capital Territory authorities deported hundreds of homeless people in June 2011 and May 2013,(22) as did Rivers State in August 2013.(23)

It is only after the governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, publicly denounced (24) the July 2013 Igbos deportation that the issue gained prominence. Some have speculated that Obi’s public condemnation of the deportation is politically motivated, as he made his comments just as the governorship elections were scheduled to be held on 16 November 2013.(25) In fact, in December 2011, during Obi’s tenure as governor, Anambra State deported several indigenes to Akwa-Ibom and Ebonyi States.(26) Evidently, this internal deportation has been going on for several years, in the name of urban renewal and beautification. However, there is no express law that authorises federal states to carry out deportations. Although states such as Edo, Imo, Lagos and Rivers have passed laws banning begging and street-trading, these laws prescribe only fines and prison terms for offenders.

Human rights implications of internal deportations

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria contains several provisions that touch on the legality of deportations. Section 41(1) states that “every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof…”(27) The only instance in which this freedom can be restricted is when a person has committed a criminal offence. Also, section 42 prohibits discrimination on the basis of one’s place of origin.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria has previously ruled on the paramount right of Nigerians to move freely and reside anywhere they wish.(28) Even if the state governments were to argue that they are relocating destitute persons in order to rehabilitate them, they should only do so after guaranteeing those people’s welfare. However, historically, deportations have not been accompanied by rehabilitation programmes. In addition, section 15 of the Constitution places a duty on the state to “provide adequate facilities for and encourage free mobility of people” and to “secure full residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the Federation”(29) in order to promote national integration. Ideally, there should be no arbitrary restrictions on residing or working in any part of the country. In addition, there should be shelters and/or funding that is accessible to homeless people from any part of the country.

Apart from being contrary to the Constitution, the continued policy of deporting Nigerians from one part of the country to their places of origin is inimical to fostering national integration, as it creates ethnically homogenous regions and enhances the hostility that indigenes may have towards settlers. Also, because the deportations are done in the absence of a national policy on social security, there is no guarantee that the deportees will receive government support.

Unintended consequences of deportations

As a direct consequence of the deportations, an increasing number of Nigerians are left destitute. These people end up settling in already over-populated regions of the country, resulting in land degradation in the rural areas and increased pressure on social amenities in urban areas. This has a cyclical effect in that the deportees are likely to once again relocate in order to look for better prospects, increasing their chances of being deported again.

Even worse is that these deportations could lead to more ethno-religious conflicts and to disenfranchisement with the state. Studies have shown that some state policies (such as relocating communities from oil-rich areas) lead to an extremely high demand for land that is not adequately met.(30) The different communities that are squeezed into small areas of land end up fighting over old disagreements. Often these conflicts are inter-communal, but there are also instances where the conflicts are intra-communal. Conflicts between groups of the same ethnicity can be just as violent as inter-ethnic conflicts, and lead to displacement as well.(31) These conflicts can progress into national insecurity when fundamentalist and secessionist movements emerge in the name of addressing these grievances. Ibeanu gives an example of the Maitatsine group, a radical Muslim sect, which has previously targeted Christians and other Muslim sects in northern Nigeria.(32)

Concluding remarks

The recent Lagos deportees have gone to court to challenge the actions of Lagos State.(33) They are seeking a declaration that their arrest, detention, and forcible transfer from Lagos State was unconstitutional. The case, which is scheduled to be heard in January 2014, will give the courts the opportunity to adjudicate on the legality of these deportations and provide direction on the proper manner of dealing with the destitute in society. The court’s decision may not only provide short-term relief for the litigants in terms of compensation, but may also have far-reaching implications. This case could provide the impetus for the federal and state governments to devise a uniform policy on the rehabilitation of economically marginalised people. Such policies could include state-funded technical or entrepreneurship training for the unemployed, so that they could start their own businesses or find employment and contribute to the country’s economy.

In addition to a rehabilitation policy, the Nigerian Government should move its focus from modern social security to more traditional forms of social security, as the modern forms cater mostly to the formal economy, in which only a minority of Nigerians are involved. Traditional forms of social security (i.e. kinship-based support systems) should be supported through increased budgetary allocation to the social sectors, specifically to poverty alleviation programmes.

The Nigerian Government has made some efforts in trying to deal with the issue of IDPs.(34) Nigeria has ratified the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons of 2009, also known as the Kampala Convention. The treaty is meant to establish a legal framework for preventing internal displacement and assisting IDPs.(35) In addition, the federal government set up a committee in 2003 to draft a policy on IDPs. The committee drew from the Kampala Convention and the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in creating a draft national policy, which they submitted to the government in 2011. However, the government has not yet adopted it,(36) and in the past, responses to internal displacement have often been haphazard and short-term.(37)

Ultimately, the federal government must deal with the issue of social inequality. According to researcher Abdul Raufu Mustapha, Nigeria suffers from “systematic and overlapping patterns of inequalities” that are exacerbated by the ethnic character of the society.(38) There are structurally embedded educational, social, economic, and political inequalities that Mustapha attributes to “history, geography, cultural orientation, religious affiliation, natural resource endowments, current government policies, and past colonial policies.”(39) These inequalities are the source of the myriad of conflicts in Nigeria which result in the persistent incidences of internal displacement.(40) The major effort undertaken by the government thus far has been the creation of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), the introduction of a quota system, and the constitutional entrenchment of affirmative action.(41) The FCC monitors and enforces the federal character of Nigeria in government bureaucracy, social services, and the private sector.(42) While this system is aimed at reducing representational inequality, it does not go nearly far enough in addressing the systemic inequalities throughout Nigeria.


(1) Dennis M. Ndambo is a Research Associate with CAI and a lecturer of law in Kenya. Contact Dennis through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Rights in Focus Unit ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). Edited by Kate Morgan.
(2) The term ‘deportation’ has two traditional meanings: (1) the expulsion of a foreigner from a country, and (2) the exiling of a native to another country. See http://www.oxforddictionaries.com. In this paper, deportation refers to forcible relocation from one Nigerian state to another.
(3) Ezeamalu, B., ‘Fashola issues “unreserved apology” to Igbos over Lagos deportation row’, Premium Times, 26 September 2013, http://premiumtimesng.com.
(4) The World Fact Book: Nigeria, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov.
(5) Ndujihe, C., ‘Constitution amendment: What the people want’, Vanguard, 4 November 2012, http://www.vanguardngr.com.
(6) The World Fact Book: Nigeria, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov.
(7) Ibid.
(8) There was a brief democratic interlude between 1979 and 1983.
(9) ‘Nigeria: Role and actions of government agencies that assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, particularly women (2009 - March 2011)’, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 21 June 2011, http://www.refworld.org.
(10) Zard, M., ‘The internally displaced in perspective’, Migration Policy Institute, May 2002, http://www.migrationinformation.org.
(11) Ibid.
(12) Opukri, C.O. and Ibaba, S.I., 2008. Oil induced environmental degradation and internal population displacement in the Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, 10(1), pp. 173-193.
(13) Ibeanu, O., 1998. Exiles in their own home: Internal population displacement in Nigeria. African Journal of Political Science, 3(2), pp. 80-97.
(14) Gbadegesin, J.T. and Aluko, B.T., 2010. The programme of urban renewal for sustainable urban development in Nigeria: Issues and challenges. Pakistan Journal of Social Sciences, 7(3), pp. 244-253.
(15) Hamzat, A.O., ‘Nigeria: Internally displaced persons and the society, Daily Trust, 18 May 2013, http://allafrica.com.
(16) ‘Over 200,000 Nigerians at risk of losing their homes’, Amnesty International, 28 October 2010, http://www.amnesty.org.
(17) McGillivray, M., ‘Strengthening social protection for African migrant workers through social security agreements’, International Migration Papers No. 100, 5 April 2010, http://www.ilo.org.
(18) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, section 14(2)(b), http://www.nigeria-law.org.
(19) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, section 16(2)(d) and section 17(3), http://www.nigeria-law.org.
(20) ‘Ngige clears dust on deportation of Igbo from Lagos’, Guardian News, 20 September 2013, http://www.ngrguardiannews.com.
(21) Falana, F., ‘The Lagos deportation and the law’, Sahara Reporters, 11 August 2013, http://saharareporters.com.
(22) Ibid.
(23) Ibid.
(24) Onyebukwa, V., ‘Deportation: Obi draws battleline’, The Sun, 1 August 2013, http://sunnewsonline.com.
(25) Uthman, I., ‘Osun APC decries politicization of deportation of destitutes from Lagos to Anambra’, Osun Defender, 8 August 2013, http://www.osundefender.org.
(26) Falana, F., ‘The Lagos deportation and the law’, Sahara Reporters, 11 August 2013, http://saharareporters.com.
(27) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, http://www.nigeria-law.org.
(28) Director of State Security Service v. Olisa Agbakoba (1999) 3 NWLR (PT 595) 314.
(29) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, http://www.nigeria-law.org.
(30) Ibeanu, O., 1998. ‘Exiles in their own home: Internal population displacement in Nigeria. African Journal of Political Science, 3(2), pp. 80-97.
(31) Ibid.
(32) Ibid.
(33) Adewole, L., ‘Igbo deportees sue Lagos govt for N1bn’, Nigerian Tribune, 17 October 2013, http://tribune.com.ng.
(34) Bamgboye, A., ‘Nigeria has no policy on internally displaced persons - Prof. Ladan’, Daily Trust, 27 August 2013, http://dailytrust.info.
(35) ‘IDPs: African IDP Convention comes into force’, IRIN, 6 December 2012, http://www.irinnews.org.
(36) Bukar, B.A., ‘Nigeria needs to take responsibility for its IDPs’, Forced Migration Review, http://www.fmreview.org.
(37) ‘Internal displacement in Nigeria: A hidden crisis’, Global IDP Project, 1 February 2005, http://www.internal-displacement.org.
(38) Mustapha, A.R., ‘Institutionalising ethnic representation: How effective is the Federal Character Commission in Nigeria?’, Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE), 2007, http://www3.qeh.ox.ac.uk.
(39) Ibid.
(40) ‘Nigeria: Simmering tensions cause new displacement in the “middle belt” - A profile of the internal displacement situation’, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 3 December 2010, http://www.internal-displacement.org.
(41) Mustapha, A.R., ‘Institutionalising ethnic representation: How effective is the Federal Character Commission in Nigeria?’, Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE), 2007, http://www3.qeh.ox.ac.uk.
(42) Ibid.


Facebook Twitter Google+ LinkedIn Plaxo