Indigeneship By Birth And Election


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Indigeneship By Birth And Election


Olufemi Oluwole



culled from PUNCH,  October 11, 2005

The controversy over the indigeneship of a particular locality may be over if the bill said to have been sponsored by a senator from Kaduna State titled "Act to make provisions for the right of person to be an indigene of a locality in Nigeria and for purpose connected therewith" is positively considered. The bill, which I learnt had already gone through the first reading in the Senate defined an indigene of a locality as anyone whose parents belong to a tribe or clan indigenous to the locality in which they permanently reside or he or any of his parents is a migrant from another locality in Nigeria and has permanently settled in the new locality on or before October 1, 1960 and continue to settle there. Other definitions refer to a person or any of his parents being among first settlers in the locality and he permanently resides there; or a person born in that locality and continues to reside there; or being a spouse of a person who is an indigene. The bill does not, however,
 prevent any Nigerian from adopting another state as his state of origin different from that of his parents.

I believe the issue of indigeneship is topical this moment mainly because of election and electioneering processes in the country. I am particularly happy with this proposal because the tone of the bill has made it clear that there is nothing like a true or total indigene of a place but first settlers (or what I will call earlier settlers).

In a place like Lagos where almost everybody has a stake, one can easily be denied of his right to aspire for elective positions based on the issue of indigeneship. For example, I would be denied the chance of contesting an election in Lagos if the issue is not well addressed. I regard myself as a bonafide indigene of Lagos State. Some people may not agree but I know no other place. My grandparents, as I was told, were originally from a Yoruba-speaking part of Edo State while my parents were born in Lagos. I was also born in Lagos.

I attended my primary and secondary schools in Alimoso Local Government of the state. I hold a genuine certificate of state of origin of this local government. Now, how can people say I am not an indigene or that I am a settler when my father has a house which I lived for 28 years in Iyana-Ipaja, a town in Alimoso? How can I be considered as a settler in Lagos when, may be by a stroke of luck, my maternal grandparents sold half of the land in Oki town, a central location within Iyana-Ipaja to the present occupants and landowners?

This is not about me. It is about people who fall into the same category as I do. Those who think they are the real owners of Lagos are trying to alienate people like us from the governance and administration of the state. These people are not even the owners of Lagos (going by the proposed bill) but only earlier settlers. They cannot claim to be the creator or the inherent natural owners of the territory.

The constitution even made provisions for people like us to aspire to any post in a state like Lagos, provided we have a genuine contribution to make. Chapter II under the 'Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy - Duties of Citizen', Section 24(d) clearly states that, "It shall be the duty of every citizen to make positive and useful contribution to the advancement, progress and well-being of the community where he resides." This means that even without being an indigene of a place like Lagos, but provided that I have fulfilled some certain conditions - such as residing in a particular community over a period - I can offer myself to serve in any elective position. Under international law, the status of being an indigene (a first settler to be precise) in a place is recognised as a means of ensuring justice and equality for all citizens in a country and not as tool for imposing a superior status and superior rights to elective posts in that place over others.

It is rather sad that in Nigeria today, politicians and their cohorts have decided to intensify and consolidate their hold to power or aspirations to grabbing power by inciting the public and manipulating issues, of which indigeneship has become a reference. The politics of claiming exclusive ownership of any locality is baseless and shortsighted. It will only deny people with genuine interests to give back to the society that made them and at the same time 'make positive and useful contribution to the community where he resides."

Therefore, the earlier we understand that we are all settlers - earlier and later settlers - the sooner we shall be able to face-up to the challenges of forging a national cohesion and sense of purpose necessary for survival and progress as we approach the 2007 general elections. Those who think that they are not settlers in a place like Lagos because of their illusion that they inherently own and naturally possess the piece of land they now live on are only fooling themselves.

Oluwole is a former editor, Treasure Weekly magazine.


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