The Nigerian legislature is planning to do a review of the 1999 constitution that was basically a conglomeration of past decrees and constitutions from republics past with a pinch of salt from the military leaders and some “politicians” at the time. So in fact, it did not truly encapsulate the views, preferences, consensus, scruples and prejudices of the Nigerian people. So indeed I applaud the attempt by the Senate and House of Reps to review the 1999 constitution. I further applaud the use of people’s forums where each representative goes to his/her people and hear their views and opinions about the upcoming constitutional review. Now if and only if each representative and senator votes for propositions and suggests them for the review according to the views of the people that he/she represents then ladies and gentlemen we might be in the throes of true democracy in Nigeria. That being said I would have preferred a general referendum in which there is first a collation of issues to be considered for the constitution review and then it is put back to the people to vote. Call me an idealist or perfectionist but wouldn’t that have been grand to have the views of every Nigerian reflected in the constitution? Ingest the idea, let it digest and excrete it in the appropriate area while I go to the topic of the day.
When two Nigerians meet anywhere in the world, after establishing that the other person is Nigerian, they ask a follow up question, “where are you from?” This question many a times made me cringe but I dutifully and smugly answered, “I am Nigerian.” And walk away.
In Nigeria there is a policy, doctrine. Principle that has for a while given reason to shake my head vigorously. As the heading says, it is the issue of indigeneship. Why did I preface this with talk of the constitutional review because one of the issues under consideration is what makes a person an indigene of a state or area in the country. What?!! You are surprised? Galled? Amazed that a person who is already a Nigerian has to further certify that he is an indigene of a certain area? Me too! Not that I did not know that this was the case but I do absolutely think it is quite the retrogressive idea and policy. In Nigeria, the concept of indigene colloquially means that a person can live for years in a certain area and never be an indigene of the said place, you can be born in a place and not be an indigene. You are an indigene of where your grandfather and perhaps 3 or 4 generations before you settled down, you are an indigene of the area where your ethnic group is predominant and last of all you can be an indigene of a place that you have never lived in for a full year in your life except for Christmas holidays when you go for a visit.
The issue of the indigeneship is an interwoven nest of tribalism, regionalism and a general moratorium on the concept of a united and one Nigeria. Indigeneship is the reason why people who are of the same ethnic group can connive to cheat another person of a different ethnic group because they believe the person is not their “brother” even though one of the conspirators has never lived in the prescribed state of origin and speaks “his language” with a funny Lagos accent. The concept of the indigene also comes in play in certain universities where a cachment area is applied. For those not in the know, a cachment area is group of states surrounding the said universities where indigenes of the said states are given preference over those from other states in terms of admission. Indigeneship comes into play when government is trying to apply federal character where people from all regions are represented. Indigeneship is also the reason a person who has never lived in a certain state can become governor of the said state to the detriment of the “settler” who has lived there for perhaps 30 years. And we wonder why our states don’t progress, men and women who spent their whole lives in Lagos and Abuja wake up one day and run for the executive position of a state they don’t know about and we wonder why they can loot without a conscience.
Part of the reason for the Plateau crisis that started in the early 2000s was that the Hausa/Fulani who were perceived as “settlers” were trying to “dominate” the political arena of the state to the detriment of the “indigenes”. The same thing can be said for many ethnic/religious clashes in places such as Kaduna where the indigenes or settlers happen to be predominantly of one religion while the other side is of the other so when a clash occurs it is put in terms of religion because no one wants to admit it is basically a political tussle between a typically disgruntled indigene population and rising settler population. The ethnic cleansing that followed the coups of 1966 that eventually led to the Nigerian civil war was clearly a case of the indigenes of the north being goaded by their leaders and sentiment to see the Igbo settlers not as partners in progress but as foreigners who have come to dominate them.
The serious problem I see with the whole concept is that every Nigerian who is living in an area outside his “ancestral” homeland is very reluctant to put down deep roots in the said area. Most people are waiting for the other shoe to drop so they can run back “home”. This leads to the strong sense of suspicion amongst people of different group. There is a sense of we against them because we do not truly see every Nigerian as belonging to every part of the country.
Personally, I was born in Lagos and for the most part grew up in Abuja. However I am an Indigene of the great state of Adamawa. I am proud of my ancestral lineage and for half my life I have visited my state once or twice a year. I happen to not speak my language but can speak Hausa the lingua franca of northern Nigeria. I would like to think of myself as very much a Lagos and Abuja citizen as one of Adamawa. Anyone who has met me knows that my thinking has been greatly shaped by my upbringing in Lagos and Abuja. It is my humble opinion that every Nigerian should be able to be a citizen of every part of the country. The new constitution should factor in places of birth, places where people live in order to set down the framework of a future united Nigeria. I am not under the illusion that changing the constitution to give me the right to be an indigene of wherever I live will make everyone in the said area accept me but I do believe it will help in future generation to foment a sense of oneness so that our children and grandchildren can grow up in a truly united Nigeria and not be foreigners in their own country.
So folk, what do you makes a person qualified to be an indigene of a certain area? Is it right to give preference to indigenes of a certain area if we are all Nigerians? Are there mental borders erected in the country preventing free movement of people? Are we truly in a free country if a person cannot choose to live anywhere in the country and enjoy the same privileges as other citizens? Isn’t this some type of ethnic apartheid? I would love to hear your views ladies and gentlemen, use the comment box wisely…