by Oraye St. Franklin
Not many are comfortable with discussing indigeneship as against citizenship and the effect of their dichotomy on society. But it remains a discussion we must have if we are intent on evolving to a society of sound values and unrestricted development.
A lot has been said for and against either of the side of the coin; and I must say that every argument made in that regard is valuable in some measure.
However, time will not be spent on analysing the conflict between the Berom and Fulani people over the ownership and control of Plateau State, the age-long debate between the Ikwerres and Okrikans over the ownership of Port Harcourt or the criticism of the appointments of citizens into positions of authority in states where they are ‘non-indigenes’. These are reflections of the debate, which often times have led to implosions of gobsmacking ramifications. This piece seeks to extract and amplify the value from all sides of the debate as vital elements for societal development rather than pitch tent with either of the sides.
So the questions are: What are the values that can be extracted from the debate? What should be the focus of society? What are the fears of both parties? How can such fears be allayed? If we honestly seek to answer these questions either at the individual level or the collective space, we shall undoubtedly create the structures to uphold society than obliterate the substance that’s left of it.
I strongly believe indigenes have a right to claim to ownership of their society being the aborigines from whom the society originated. In this wise, any arrangement that places less importance to this reality or threatens its sustenance is aimed at creating unnecessary and avoidable conflict.
It is a given that there cannot be any society without a population with homogeneous identities and values which are mostly cultural and religious in nature; and we cannot but expect that those from whom a society evolved have a right to lay claim to it since the society itself is a reflection of who they are.
I also strongly believe that any one citizen of a state has a legal entitlement to the rights that the state confers on its citizens as enshrined in its body of laws. He has a right to enjoy the rights regardless of his indigeneship status. That, I believe, is the bone of contention in the raging conflict of superiorities that pitches indigenes against citizens in Nigeria to the exclusion of the provisions of extant laws.
I hope I have not confused you? My take is simply that all people in all societies have a right to have their rights protected. However, such rights can only be those that are clearly defined and documented in laws, which are in concomitance with Universal Human Rights. This then presupposes that what really counts in the debate is the place of the law. So what then does the law say?
“42.-(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person-
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.
(2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.
(3) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes restrictions with respect to the appointment of any person under the State or as a member of the armed forces of the Federation or a member of the Nigeria Police Force or to an office in the service of a body corporate established directly by any law in force in Nigeria.”
-Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999
It is also important to see S. 17(1)(2)(a)(3)(a) and (e) of the same constitution:
(17)(1) The State social order is founded on the ideal of Freedom, Equality and Justice.
(2) In furtherance of the social order-
(a) every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law;
(3) The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that-
(a) all citizens without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment;
(e) there is equal pay for equal work without discrimination on account of sex, or on any other ground whatsoever.
These provisions as we see are for the benefit of, and to be enjoyed by citizens of Nigeria regardless of their ethnic background or any other sectional consideration. For a clear definition of who qualifies as a Nigerian Citizen, reference must again be made to the body of the constitution.
According to the constitution, there are only 3 ways to become a Nigeria citizen and they are either by birth, registration or naturalisation and the dossier is encapsulated in S. (25)-(27).
It is important to note that the constitution did not specially provide for indigenes as different from citizens as such dichotomy is alien to the Nigerian Constitution by which not just the federating states are governed but the entirety of their population as well. In the eye of the law, any person from any part of Nigeria can only be described as a citizen of Nigeria not an indigene of any of the microcosm that make up the Nigerian macrocosm.
So does it mean that the identities of the minute societies that make up the Nigerian state amount to nothing and of no effect? Definitely not! Those are the very things than enrich our identity as a multi-cultural and multi-religious Nation but cannot be the basis for administering the Nigerian state except the law states so explicitly and unambiguously and that’s not the case presently.
The recourse to administering any state in Nigeria on the basis other than the ideals that the social order of the Nigerian state stipulates which are Freedom, Equality and Justice is an invitation for crisis especially because it is against the spirit and letters of the constitution.
The constitution envisages that there would most probably be crises of superiorities among societies within the State if clear definitions were not made about which is really what and how, which was the reason it narrowed formal recognition of the Nigerian person to the basis of citizenship.
It is appalling that bad politics resulting in poor governance has eroded the noble objectives of the constitution, the law that governs us, and put in its place all sorts of imaginary illegalities that are competing in semblance to law. This is the reason people of Okrika, an ijaw clan of Rivers State would further divide itself across sub-ethnic lines they call Koniju and Tubonuju travesty. One would have thought that being ijaw was divisional enough but even among clans that make up the ijaw ethnic nationality as with other ethnic groups, the craze for superior identity and control knows no bounds and never will until we realise what really matters, what is actually superior among the competing issues and when we draw the right lines.
The economic harm to the Nigeria state in drawing the wrong lines, those other than which the grund norm by itself as documented in itself in its wisdom provides based on the principles of equity, equality and justice to all cannot be over-emphasised. The practice of according special if not exclusive privileges to Nigerians on the basis of their ethnic background is restrictive in nature and will not promote rapid development of the State because the focus of such a system is on creating opportunities for a set of people other than giving all people the opportunities to create value for society.
It amazes me when people criticise the appointment of Nigerians into public office in states other than their states of origin on the basis that such appointments transfers the opportunities accruing from such an appointment to the state of origin of the appointee. What a pedestrian argument! Most people do not yet realise that often times, the appointment of most of those non-indigenous persons is done on the basis of merit and the capacity of the individuals to deploy superior service. Yes, service is the key word not politics and they are often times foreclosed from being involved in partisan politics due to legal constraints or simply choice.
So, it’s important we realise that opportunities for service can be and in fact should be deployed by the best minds available not necessarily the best an ethnic group can provide since such may not be good enough to fill up the need that should translate to more opportunities for all. Come to think of it, if I may re-echo the poser of Ade Adeogun the Sanitation Czar of Rivers State, “how many people are particular about the ethnic group of their domestic servants?”. Since the focus is usually on capacity to deliver, shouldn’t that be the same basis for evaluating non-indigenous government appointees?
At the heart of the consciousness that fires sectionalism be it ethnic, political or religious, is a deprived mentality that seeks to withhold rather than create value. No nation can survive under such a system. All over the world, nations that seem to be flourishing in economic prosperity and technological advancements are those that first place a premium on their laws, celebrate their citizenship and share knowledge to all alike which goes on to drive innovation and create more opportunities and prosperity. America, China, Singapore, United Kingdom, Ghana et al are great examples of countries that have been built based on this system. Nigeria will therefore have to toe this line of thought and match it with bold actions if she is to evolve to real greatness.
The indigeneship and citizenship dichotomy is counter-productive for the Nigerian nation. Fortunately, the law has provided sufficient address on the subject and established a superior identity for all parties as a unifying rallying point for all indigenous persons regardless of whether they are in majority or minority in the polity; and that is the Nigerian Identity which should be proudly flaunted by all Nigerian citizens both at home and wherever we find ourselves in the world.
We must celebrate our identity and citizenship as established by the supreme law of the land. Most importantly we must create opportunities for all persons and reward excellence if we seek to achieve more excellence.