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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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-The Contradiction That is Nigeria -




J. O. S. Ayomike


culled from VANGUARD, Friday 13, 2004


RECENTLY, an important but most sensitive issue was played up in some of our news media. Then, our Vice- President, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku weighed in, when a group of  Lagos lgbos visited him, by saying that the question of who is an indigene was dangerous at this time in our nation’s history. In his contention, which is debatable, indigeneship is not recognised in our Constitution; our basic law recognises Nigerian Citizenship. Then on July 3, 2004, the Weekend Vanguard brought in our number one citizen. President Olusegun Obasanjo was reported to have admonished, when a delegation of Plateau Stakeholders Forum paid him a visit, that the idea of settlers and native(s) is unhealthy (because) if you go back enough, all of us could be settlers”. That’s right, philosophically, to a point.

In my judgement, this issue is so vital to our survival as a nation that it is dangerous for our leaders to merely glibly address it superficially as is done now. For instance, at about the time our leaders were making those comments, an important traditional ruler in this country, the Gbong Gwon Jos, as reported in Tell Magazine of 31 May, 2004, was saying inter alia as follows: “The people mix up citizenship and indigeneship. Citizenship is a constitutional issue. Anybody in Nigeria is a citizen of the country. Even foreigners can come in and naturalise and become citizens. But indigeneship is a different game ... (indigeneship) is that you have a virgin area, an area that is God-given and you have been there from day one.”

Apparently defending his turf as a traditional ruler, he added: “There are people who are always saying they should be given districts, and I’ve always been asking: Districts on whose land?” To me, he is very right, because the Irish or the Welsh, even if numerous in Scotland or England, would not call for districts or councils to be carved for them. Given today’s Nigerian structure, which is an arbitrary 1914 imperialist contrivance, comprising the pre-colonial ethnic homelands, all minority ethnicities in the country would applaud the Plateau ruler’s contention. He is right. There are indigenes and there are citizens in Nigeria.

The traditional ruler of Jos had a strong backer in Lagos. Early last year, I was engaged, during one of my visits to Lagos, in discussing this issue with an important Yoruba chief and politician who had lived there for well over fifty years. He was firm and clear. He asked whether the Hausas in Shagamu (quite in large numbers for over 200 years) were not settlers? He added that Yorubas in Onitsha knew they were settlers and their hosts took them as such, even though their forebears had gone there for trade over a century ago. Then he dead-panned on himself as a settler in Lagos — his heavy property notwithstanding. He called himself an ljebu indigene.

The British colonial policy flowing, as it were, from their monarchical system, retained and fostered traditional rulership in their West African territories under their indirect system of governance, at least in Nigeria. So it has continued to be, and though these territories have become independent, relative stability has characterised the existence of the component kingdoms/homelands within Nigeria. Hence, in Nigeria, whether it is military or civilian administration, traditional rulers are the first to be called, and depended upon to assist government in ensuring peace and stability. In contradistinction to the British, the French policy, reflecting their republican administration, sought to unify all ethnicities by abolishing traditional rulership. To a great extent, the French policy (Assimilation) has failed, given the serious ethnic problems still in Togo, Ivory Coast, Chad, and other French areas.

Far from attempting to defend traditional rulership per se, I submit that any consideration to solve the indigene/settler  question in the Nigerian situation, which is complex, complicated and intimidating, that does not take into account its multi-faceted dimensions, could destroy the country. I will refer to some of these obstacles here.

The Contradiction of the Constitution
While it is true that the Constitution grants equal political rights to all Nigerians in all parts of the country, the same document does not extinguish the rights of ethnicities (indigenes) to their homelands as the only means by which, via wards and constituencies, they can elect or be elected to councils and parliaments. Also in Nigeria, indigenes as ethnicities, tied to lands under their various traditional rulers, have historically, from time out of memory, depended on, and derived their livelihood:

fishing, farming, poultry, grazing and logging, etc from their local lands. To them in their various and different locations, land has socio-economic, political, religious/fetish, historical and geographic implications, and hence, at least in Southern Nigeria, neighbouring ethnicities fight over lands and, in most cases, go to the courts for adjudication. That is the measure of attachment to land by ethnic nationalities.

Ipso facto, the Constitution recognises ethnic nationalities, small or large, as components of Nigeria. Section 14 (3) says:
The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs, shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.

Section 3 above refers specifically to ethnic groups (ethnicities). They do not all cluster together in one location in Nigeria. The over  350 ethnicities in Nigeria are spread out in their different locations and tied to their lands. Even Lagos - our melting pot - does not hold more than four per cent of all Nigeria’s peoples.  When our top leaders say there are no settlers in Nigeria are we to infer that the Constitution has conferred two indigeneships plus a citizenship on mobile Nigerians as against one each on those who do not move but remain in their historical homes tied to their lands?

Liberal Democracy
This concept means more than voting. It is a political system marked, not only by free and fair elections (which we don’t have yet), but also by the rule of law, separation of powers, the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, property and minority rights. The late Sir Arthur Lewis in his assessment of ethnic problems in the West African Region said:  “Any idea that one can make different peoples into a nation by suppressing the religious or tribal or regional or other affiliations to which they themselves attach the highest political significance, is simply a non-starter “. — (Nigerian Tribune 19/7/88).

Nigeria was not a nation (even today she is not yet) before she had her political independence on a platter of gold. Nigerians are still tied to land, still tied to their local traditions and are excessively proud of, and loyal to, their local structures of governance. Most of them take chieftaincy titles. Even formal governmental arrangements such as wards, constituencies and representations are based on ethnic nationalities. Such manifestations in the system do encourage, especially, the minorities, to struggle for advantage or survival.

Majority/minority  problems in Nigeria
Today, in most instances, Nigeria approximates to the tripod of Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and lbo. Centrally, they dominate everything to the total exclusion of the other ethnic nationalities. At state level, for example - Delta State - the Urhobo out of the five distinct ethnicities ‘own’ and control the state. In Edo State, of course, much better, the Bini and the Ishan dominate, while the Ora, lgara, ltsako, etc are peripheral entities. Democracy in terms of tyranny of numbers has no place in today’s modern societies of human rights and dignity.

To Plato and most thinkers who followed him well into the Period of Enlightenment, the trial and condemnation of Socrates by 281 in a jury of 501 did not vindicate the wisdom of majority opinion. Rather, it left a blot on Athenian democracy and cast democracy as a fool’s paradise. The bottom-line for equality and justice in Nigeria is a fair and just society based on the maxim articulated by the third American President, Thomas Jefferson in his Inaugural Address in 1801 thus: “All too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect and to violate which would be oppression.”

The excessive greed and the plundering winner-takes-it-all attitude of the big Nigerian nationalities do not encourage the smaller groups to feel at ease and wish to part with their lands which they are tied to over the ages.

The Supreme Court judgement
On the indigenes/settlers question, the Supreme Court of Nigeria sitting Justices in Abioye vs Yakubu (1991) 5NWLR 130 SC unanimously confirmed a lower court decision by holding that the Land Use Act, (section 315 (5) (d) of the Constitution of 1999) has not abolished the rights of customary landlords over customary tenants (settlers). It decided that the vesting of the radical title to land in the state governor for the use and benefit of all Nigerians, does not abolish the relationships between customary landlords and customary tenants. The court pronounced that the law was never intended “to rob Peter to pay Paul” that is, taking land from the owners and giving it to non-owners.

This judgement has further strengthened the claim of indigenes over settler-citizens. And both the President and his vice, if in a true Federation, have breached the Supreme Court decision. That cannot happen in the U.S, our role model.

Traditional rulership
President  Obasanjo is a high chief of Egbaland. In that status, Chief Obasanjo, Nigeria’s first citizen and one who presides over, and symbolises our national sovereignty, is subject to his traditional ruler in Egbaland and sits in the council presided over by him. In the days of the late Governor Ambrose Alli of Bendel State, he would kneel publicly to salute the Oba of Benin.

Thus, within our system and by our tradition, in most cases, the homeland or traditional authority does gain edge over the national sovereignty. Mr. Obi Nwakanma writing recently in the Sunday Vanguard on this subject, correctly stated that the question - who is a Nigerian and what are the rights pertaining to Nigerian citizenship - has consistently defined our various ethnic relationships. He added, “Nigeria struggles with a crisis of identity... we have yet to build a nation out of these disparate interests. To do that, a massive force must be prepared to rise, disarm and destroy all the contending claimants to the sovereign and subdue all the questions of indigeneship in a country in which most of the people still hold firmly to primordial ties”.

The British failed - apparently because they were not long enough here - to do that job of using massive force to build us into a nation. For me, force is no longer necessary. If our leaders since independence had by good example, shunned corruption, showed selflessness, and transformed our lives developmentally, general progressive followership from the North, South, West and East of the country would have long ago broken the divisive barriers we still have today. But we can still dialogue, and in the end, find good leadership.

As long as Nigeria has not dismantled her primordial structures, especially those erected by the larger ethnic nationalities such as Arewa, Afenifere, Ohaneze and others, to foster and sustain their sectional interests, real security and tenure are not guaranteed to all other ethnic nationalities (especially the minorities), neither are there in place powerful humanising cultures to promote common interest and identity, liberty and freedom, equity and justice for all citizens individually and in groups. Then under such situations the tendencies, borne out of fear and insecurity, tend to grow stronger to move us further apart. This is the problem today in Nigeria. lndigeneship seems to be the last security bulwark or fall-back position to protect the helpless minorities from the invading larger groups.

Like U.K. and Russia, but unlike the U.S., Nigeria has homelands for all ethnicities: Hausa, lbo, Yoruba, ljaw, Urhobo, Jukun, Igbirra, Ibibio, Tiv, Edo ltsekiri and others. Nigeria is synonymous with homelands. Not long before Independence, Alhaji Umoru Altine, an Hausa/Fulani, was mayor of Enugu; an Ibo, Obidike won elections into the Western House in lbadan from Ajegunle, Lagos; Ekuyasi, an lbo from lbusa won elections to Ibadan from Benin. Ernest lkoli, from Rivers State was dominant in Lagos politics. These happened in those good old days of nationalist movement. Since homeland/ethnic local government arrangements were reinforced by Law in Western Nigeria in 1952, and elsewhere later, and by further creation of states in subsequent years, majority-minority problems have become more complicated and have loomed larger. Where do we go from here? Today, it is unfair to say there is no indigeneship in Nigeria as distinct from citizenship, given the hurdles adumbrated above.

In conclusion, I would note that making mere political statements raising red card on the question of indigeneship and citizenship, will not solve the problem. It does not even amount to scratching it on the surface. Nigeria continues to remain, as it was arbitrarily created by Lord Lugard in 1914 without any consultations, whatsoever, with the peoples of the Southern Protectorate. Nigeria is not a modern state by whatever description. To make it into a modern state, in order to join the world (which we have not done), various levels of the polity will encounter pains. Total re-structuring will have to be undertaken at a (sovereign) national conference, and then a new Constitution. We do not have to adopt a uniform system in all states and regions.

Local idiosyncracies and histories may affect the restructuring. Force will not be used. Negotiations and dialogue will take place. New alignments can be encouraged and effected. Majority and minority nationalities shall be structured to exist side by side to respect one another. Otherwise Nigeria will remain, as it has been since Lord Lugard, a laughable contradiction.



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