Citizen And The Indigene
culled from THISDAY,
May 18, 2005
In recent years, the seeming
contradiction between the "indigene" and the "settler" has played itself out in
the episodic eruptions of inter-ethnic conflicts in parts of the country.
The enormity of this problem can no more be down-played. It is a huge challenge
of nation-building. Thousands of lives have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of
more lives have been dislocated, Properties worth millions of naira have been
destroyed in the bloody approach to resolve this contradiction. Yet this is a
contradiction that must be resolved if we are to make progress in the crucial
enterprise of national integration. But the pertinent question is how to do so
without a river of blood flowing.
Ordinarily, it should be expected that this is one issue that should be tackled
by the national conference sitting in Abuja or the PRONACO version being
proposed for sometime later in the year. Some analysts of Nigerian federalism
would insist that the solution to this problem is ultimately constitutional. It
is yet to be seen how constitution-making could solve the problem
But it is remarkable that while the efforts at re-working the constitution is
underway, a very progressive bill is being processed at the National Assembly
on the residency rights of citizens. The bill is being sponsored by Senator
Jonathan Silas Zwingina (Adamawa Central). If it becomes law, it will grant all
residency rights to a citizen who has lived in a place for at least five
years. The exceptions will be in respect of rights to chieftaincy titles and
other culturally specific matters.
In formalistic terms, it may be convenient to argue that such legal provisions
for residency rights are superfluous. After all, the 1999 Constitution, as
problematic as it is, has ample provisions for citizenship rights. One does not
need to be a constitutional lawyer to know that the right of a Nigerian citizen
is guaranteed by the constitution to live in any part of the country he chooses
and pursue his legitimate business. All these sound fanciful in legalistic
terms. But does the political reality on the ground make the matter so simple
and straightforward? This appears to be the essence of the residency bill
before the National Assembly.
Despite the seemingly liberal provisions of the constitution, blood-letting
continues on the ground between those who always insist they are "indigenes" in
their internecine wars against those they regard as "settlers" or sometimes in
a milder tone, "non-indigenes". For many Nigerians, the situation they
confront in their day -to -day socio-political lives sometimes belie the
obviously generous provisions of the constitution.
For instance, in a study carried out in 2000 by the Sweden-based International
Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) on "Democracy in
Nigeria", the challenge of ethnicity to the deepening of democracy was explored.
It was observed in IDEA's report as follows : " Ethnicity is a social product.
It has to be understood within its historical context how individuals are
called on to accept ethnic identity as an explanation of who they are, what
exists, what the world is, what nature is, and what men and women are like. In
this way, the subject integrates his or her consciousness into conceptions of
self, identity and world view. Ethnicity constitutes a way in which people
think of themselves and others, and make sense of the world around them. It
refers to the call addressed to ethnic subjects in their mobilization and to the
outlook and practices of members of ethnic groups-their social identity".
This, of course, is a benign view of ethnicity. It does not explain why some
citizens take up the cudgels to deprive fellow citizens of their
socio-political rights on the grounds that the latter are not ethnically
indigenous to a particular place regardless of how long they or their parents
and grandparents have been resident in the place.
The study cited above also quoted a 2000 survey carried out by RMS in
collaboration with Management Systems International on "Self-defined Social
Identity". The question was simply put like this : "Beside being Nigerian, which
specific group do you feel you belong to first and foremost ?". In response,
49% expressed the feelings of ethnic identity; the other social identities
expressed were religion (21%), occupation (18%), class (10%) and individual
It serves the cause of national integration to have pieces of legislation that
would ensure that citizenship is based more on residency than indigeneity. The
bill referred to earlier is commendably in that spirit. As the RMS survey
illustrates the problem is more acute at the subjective level. A commentator,
Joseph Rinyom, arguing with the passion of an ethnic minority, has countered
the down-playing of the indigeneship factor as part of the intellectual
manipulation by the majority ethnic groups. His argument is so intriguing and
sophisticated that it cannot be easily dismissed by any one thinking seriously
about this political debacle.
For instance, how can those who say that indigeneship is no issue respond to
this compatriot when he puts the matter sharply like this ? : " The
too-often-heard cry of marginalization in Nigeria is nothing but a pointer to
the issue of indigeneship, a reference to the fact (or fiction) that “indigenes”
of certain parts of Nigeria have been sidelined and are not being adequately
"The irony of it all is that the word takes meaning only if it is voiced by one
of the so-called majority tribes (sic). If the Hausa man cries of
marginalization in appointments, he means that there are no enough Hausas from
Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara etc in a particular government. Ditto for the Yoruba or
Igbo. No other people have the right to the use of this word outside this
linguistic trinity. In such very remote cases where the minority tribes (sic)
squeal from the burden of genuine marginalization and subjugation, as is the
case in Plateau State now, recourse is immediately made to the concept of
"Take for instance, the question of 2007 presidency. Would the north accept an
Mbanefo from Jos (The Mbanefo family in Church Street has been in Jos since
1907) for a president if it be zoned to the northern region on the basis that
they are northerners? Or would the Igbo accept a Yoruba man whose family has
lived in Aba for the past 70 years to be president if it be zoned to the
South-East? If so, why are the North and South-east at each other's throat
over the zoning of the presidency? Why won’t an Igbo man from Kano be endorsed
by both regions as a consensus candidate and kill two birds with one stone-an
Igbo president and a northerner all rolled into one? For other people outside
the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba groups, indigeneship does not exist. Only citizenship
suffices. What hypocrisy!"
The way to respond to this sort of political apprehension is not to deny
reality. The appropriate response should be to strengthen the integrative
forces by all contructive means possible. We should not forget that in the
making of a nation the subjective factor is the most crucial. That is the
consciousness on the part of an individual or a people of belonging to a nation
and accepting others as such. That is why efforts should be made to continuously
put in place those structures that would make a citizen develop the
self-identity that goes beyond the parochial as he relates to fellow citizens.
The residency bill, for instance, would enhance citizenship for all Nigerians
regardless of ethnic origins or residence. This would be an improvement on what
is constitutionally provided now.
In such matters, we should go beyond symbolism. In this regard, it has been
plausibly suggested that requirements for entrance examination, scholarships,
procurement of passports etc. should weigh more on residence rather on
indigeneity. The constitution allows any one resident in an area for a
period of time to contest elections. But how many persons in the National
Assembly are representing constituencies other than their places of origin?
If the emphasis is to be on the citizen with ample rights rather than the
indigene, the state and its institutions have to be less hypocritical about
national integration. The Nigerian consciousness has to be deliberately
developed to eclipse other ethnic consciousness.
The corollary to that, of course is that the character of politics has to
change from the present in which ethnic identity is a veritable instrument of
political manipulation. One way of bringing about this change is to develop a
polity in which class consciousness would supercede ethnic consciousness. In
such a dispensation, politics will be more ideological. A politician will be
identified by the sort of issues he is consistently identified with rather than
the place to which he claims to be indigenous even when he has not been
resident there for years. The politician will be better known as a
conservative, liberal or radical rather than Hausa, Ijaw or Birom.
Meanwhile, any step, legislative or otherwise, that would make a Nigerian have a
full sense of citizenship any where he resides in the country should be hailed
as part of the integrative agenda.