Between The Citizen And The Indigene


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Between The Citizen And The Indigene




Kayode Komolafe




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 identity (2%).
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 represented.
"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 citizenship.

"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.



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