by Udoh Ekerete
Nation building is not a trivial issue. It is an enterprise that demands serious efforts borne out of deep reflection and reasoned approach by those entrusted with the onerous task of fashioning and designing a working and fully functional polity. Most of the mature democracies whose societies and political systems we attempt to copy brought out the best among them to structure a polity and governance mechanics that has stood the test of time.
In order for those countries to build great societies that we have all come to admire today, enormous compromises were made, horse-trading were made and those who led the negotiations were motivated and acutely aware of the need to bequeath to their generations a society they would all be proud of. They consequently structured the institutions in such a manner that they will be able to manage and regulate internal fissures that may arise as the society evolves.
Take the United States for instance. During the lead up to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, there were two diametrically opposed versions as to what kind of a society the nascent republic should have. The Articles of Confederation which was the governing instrument at independence had invested enormous powers on the states, thus stifling the capacity of the national government to function or even collect taxes, had proved unworkable. States considered themselves as independent entities and severely limited the power and capacity of the federal government in many significant areas. At the conference, two distinctly different plans were put forward: The New Jersey Plan which sought to give the states equal representation at Congress no matter the population and size of such states. The motivating impulse on the part of the promoters of this plan was to ensure that the big coastal states such as New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut among others will not swallow up the smaller ones and render them electorally and politically insignificant.
The Virginia Plan advanced by James Madison wanted Congressional representation to be based on population and size of the states. There was a deadlock and eventually, cooler heads prevailed when a compromise known historically as The Connecticut Compromise was struck where the larger states were allowed to have Congressional representation based on population and size while the Senate, the older and more genteel and collegial body would have equal representation no matter the size and population of the state. Today, as a result of that compromise, smaller states like South Dakota with population of less than one million has the same two senators representing her, as big states like California with population of close to 40 million people. The House of Representatives however, is based on population, hence California which has the largest Congressional representation of all the states in the union and corresponding number of Electoral College votes. The small states, however, remain critical in nation-building as the Senate whose term lasts six years as opposed to the House of Representatives which has two years, must ratify decisions taken at the House level. This was the beauty of the compromise in 1787.
I have gone to give the above background because of an issue that caught my attention earlier this week on Channels’ Television morning programme which had featured Senator Ita Enang (PDP – Akwa Ibom). The issue centred on the settler, indigene status of Nigerians who are resident in other states of the country outside of those of their birth. The issue is being deliberated at the on-going constitutional amendment deliberations at the National Assembly. Senator Ita Enang in the programme was canvassing a position that would eliminate the settler-indigene issue and insert a state of residence as the proper place for Nigerians to advance their political and economic interests.
I think it is a national shame that we should be talking about settler and indigene status of Nigerians at this level of our evolution as a nation. The state of one’s birth should have no direct bearing on one’s political advancement. If we are to have a nation where all have a sense of belonging and emotional attachment and where the blood of patriotism flows ceaselessly, we must do away with this archaic and unhelpful divisive tool of labeling one a settler and the other an indigene.
Take the United States again for example. One’s state of birth has no direct bearing to the individual’s political advancement, and I will go ahead to list a few of the past presidents and governors who were born in other states but rose to become governors and presidents representing states of their residence. Abraham Lincoln-arguably the most consequential president in America’s history was born in 1809 in Kentucky. The family later moved to Springfield, Illinois and it was from there that he ran for political office as a Congressman and later as the President of the United States which he won at the third attempt. Imagine where the history of America would have been, if the original indigenes of Springfield, the Illinois capital had labeled him a carpet barger and denied him the right to aspire to political office. Just imagine what the American political trajectory would have been – the issue of slavery, which he tackled with messianic zeal leading to the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in 1863.
Ronald Regan, another consequential American president was born in Tampico, Illinois, and the patents later moved to California. After a career as a Hollywood actor, Regan ran and was elected Governor of California twice in the 60s. It was through that platform that he became a disciple of the denizen of conservatism the late Barry Goldwater, whose ideological stripes he embraced and eventually won the presidency in 1981. George H. Bush, Reagan’s Vice President came from the storied political family of Bushes from Connecticut, Both his grandfather and father were distinguished Senators that had represented the state of Connecticut in the U. S. Senate.
In the 60’s George H. Bush left the family in Connecticut and moved to Midland, Texas in search of wealth and success in the city’s booming oil and gas industry. It was from there he ran for Congress and later held numerous high profile appointments such as the U.S. Representative at the U.N. CIA Director, U.S. Ambassador to China, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee from where he ran against Regan and was later tapped to become the Vice President. His son ’George W. Bush’ was also had roots in Connecticut, but became both the Governor of Texas and the President of the United States respectively. His brother-Jeb, also originally from Connecticut became the Governor of Florida and is considered a strong possible candidate in the 2016 Republican presidential candidate. Barack Hussein Obama the current President of the United States was born in the sunshine state of Hawaii, but after living in Indonesia, moved to Chicago, Illinois from where he became an effective community organizer leading him to run as a senator representing the state of Illinois, which he won- a platform that made it possible for him to run for the seat in the U. S Senate in 2004. A speech at the Boston Democratic Convention in 2004 which was heard around the world changed or confirmed his destiny forever. Today, he is the President of the United States, not as a native Hawaiian, but as a Chicagoan.
What is so difficult with us, Nigerians celebrating our diversity like other nations have done by embracing one another irrespective of where the person came from originally? When you go to Udi Street in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State or Bogobiri in Calabar, Cross River State, you see thousands of Hausas who have made those states their permanent residence for decades. Most speak and understand the local language. If the Hausas can band together and form a strong political action committee, nothing should stop them from presenting a candidate to run for office in those states because they have contributed, however small it may be, to the economic growth of those states. Same situation plays out all over the nation with Igbos, Yoruba etc. that are scattered all over the nation.
The time has come for leaders- people who genuinely love this country and desire to see it flourish as a diverse entity propelled by one desire – to have a nation where all citizens irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds can have a true sense of belonging – leaders like Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom who has been a major voice on this issue to stand up and be counted. The elected representatives should persuade their constituents to see the need for the indigene-settler issue to be done away with. Other leaders who may not be enamoured of this concept should also be persuaded and compromises reached just as the founding fathers of America did in Philadelphia when faced with critical aspects of nation-building. State of residence and not place of birth should be the right and proper way for Nigerians to aspire to political office.
– This Best Outside Opinion was first published on Thisday