The Indigene And Settler Problem

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The Indigene And Settler Problem
 

By

 

Babs Fafunwa

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, April 25, 2005

 

The indigene/settler issue first reared its ugly head in 1861 when King Dosunmu of Lagos ceded Lagos to the British Crown, known later as the Colonial Government of Nigeria. The cession of Lagos in 1861 was erroneously conceived as the handing over of Lagos territory, when in fact what was ceded was the political administration of Lagos. This clarification came about later after several court cases between 1900 and 2000 AD. It was finally conceded by several court cum privy council judgements that the Lagos chiefs, known as Idejo Chiefs, were the Lagos land owners, not King Dosunmu or any previous kings before him.

Again in 1914 when the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria took place under Lord Lugard, Lagos became the official capital of Nigeria even though it had been serving as the capital de facto since 1861. Ironically, even in spite of the earlier misinterpretation of the 1861 cession, Governor Carter approached the then Chief Onikoyi of Ikoyi, Lagos to lease a piece of his land to him in order to re-settle his ex-soldiers and officials in 1864. He asked the Chief to throw a stone and wherever the stone landed would be the land to be leased or ceded to the colonial government.

The stone was thrown by the chief at Alexander Avenue in Ikoyi and miraculously landed in Obalende canal! It should be noted that neither airplane nor helicopter had been invented at that time to aid the stone in reaching its destination. A lease agreement was signed for 99 years and the illiterate chief signed with his thumb impression, not knowing what was written in the agreement. He received a bottle of gin, some gun powder and a few cowries for the concession.

As mentioned earlier, in spite of the fact that Governor Carter realised that Lagos land belonged to the Idejo Chiefs as proved by his action, Lagos was still regarded as "no man's land" by officials, non-officials and non-Lagosians since it was the capital of Nigeria which meant that Lagos belonged to everybody, that is every Nigerian. This mischievous interpretation was extended further to mean that there was no such thing as an "indigenous Lagosian"! Within the wider Nigerian context therefore all Nigerians would have places of origin except the Lagosian. It was an eminent Nigerian politician cum legal luminary, late Chief H.O. Davies, who said that when there is a big upheaval in Lagos and many of the people run back to their village, town and state, those who remain, having no other home, are Lagosians. Most Nigerians would not believe that some people had lived in Lagos for over 400 years.

Lagosians lived under this externally imposed discrimination and humiliation by fellow Nigerians for over 50 years in their own home territory. It was not until the creation of Lagos State in 1970 that the mischievous slogan "Lagos is no man's land" was effectively challenged. In spite of this and contrary to what happened in 35 other states, most Lagosians still have to contest their rights in their own territory. Over 30 years ago, I predicted that the "new" state capitals would eventually face the same problem that the Lagos indigenes were experiencing. The only difference now is that the entire Lagos State, not just Lagos division alone will face this problem in due course if we ignore this problem. Already Abuja indigenes as well as those in some other state capitals are facing similar problems.

I have gone into the origins of this problem in order to alert our leaders, politicians and particularly the delegates at the current National Dialogue that the issue of indigenous settlers is a deep-rooted problem that must be addressed and resolved realistically. Passing a legislative bill which declares that every Nigerian is a citizen of our country and has a right to settle anywhere and enjoy the rights of citizenship wherever he or she may reside is a good beginning. But this is not comprehensive enough.

From time immemorial we generally aver that minorities must be protected in our communities and their rights guaranteed. But what do we do when the minorities who hail from other states become the majority over time, while the former indigene majority becomes a minority in their own home? How do we protect the indigenous minority? Their rights must also be protected. The related problem that must be addressed is, how do we prevent dual citizenship within the Nigerian context? That is, how do we ensure that the old minority who are now the new majority do not enjoy double privileges, one from their new state and one from their old state at the same time? They must forgo one and retain the other. There must be a mechanism that will prevent them from voting in two states.

The ceaseless conflicts that have reared their heads since Nigerian independence, particularly since the creation of states and the establishment of state capitals appear to have multiplied the Lagos problem 36 times plus Abuja. The issue should not be swept under the carpet. It must be addressed squarely by the current National Dialogue now holding at Abuja. We can only ignore this issue at our own peril. Some proposed solutions:

The legislative act must prevent double privileges, that is to say, once a citizen leaves his state to settle in another state he/she can only exercise voting privileges and pay taxes in the new state. He/she must also renounce all privileges enjoyed by citizens of the former state. This new dispensation must be observed by all states, unlike the present situation where most Nigerians except Lagosians enjoy double privileges.

 

Professor Fafunwa is a former Minister of Education.

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