One of the lingering contradictions of the Nigerian state is the phenomenon of indigenes and non-indigenes or natives and settlers among the same people who lay equal claim to Nigerian citizenship, and who have been engaged in cultural, religious, economic and political exchanges for over 100 years.
Whereas the so-called settlers or non-indigenes, are part of the society in every respect, worshipping with, socializing with, trading with, paying taxes with, and marrying the so-called indigenes, but when it comes to sharing of resources, including ownership of land, scholarships, placement of children in colleges and universities,
employment in the civil service, and political appointments, including appointment as VCs and Rectors of academic institutions (that are supposed to be purely on merit), the indigene/setter syndrome is thrown up and the so-called settler often suffers the grave injustice of discrimination and persecution. There is the ridiculous practice of requesting for what is called “citizenship certificate” from the local government chairman of one’s ancestral village to determine which part of Nigeria one belongs to. Let us take this simple scenario to illustrate this major contradiction in our screwed up understanding of citizenship in Nigeria:
A young man whose great grandfather migrated from Okehi to Lagos in 1920, whose father was born in Lagos, and who himself was born and raised in Lagos applies for admission into Lagos State Polytechnic or is seeking appointment with the Lagos State Civil Service. He is often required to show a citizenship certificate. It is not enough that he can demonstrate that he lives besides the palace of, or is even a member of the household of the Oba of Lagos. No. He is required to look for where Okehi appears in the map of Nigeria, and make a pilgrimage to the homeland of his forebears and return to Lagos with a document identifying him as a citizen of Okehi Local Government Area of Kogi State!
Meanwhile the young man may never have been there before. His mother might even be a Yoruba woman. He may speak only English and Yoruba, and not a word of the language of his ancestors. Yes, as long as he can identify the village where his great-grandfather migrated from nearly a hundred years ago, he would return with the citizenship certificate. By this retrogressive practice, the Nigerian who can migrate to the U.S. or to Canada and become a full citizen after 10 years or so, with all the rights, obligations and privileges of every other citizen of that country, the same Nigerian can live for a hundred years in a part of Nigeria, do business there, pay taxes, build houses and marry a wife or husband there, and yet even his or her grandchildren will not be recognized as citizens of that part of the country.
Many of us remember the injustices, the pains and the dislocations that attended the creation of states and local government areas in this country, where many people have had to move, not because they wanted to, but because they were told they had no place in the new state, since they now had their own state. The most ruthless examples of social dislocation as a result of state creation include the Anambra-Enugu saga after the creation of Enugu State, the Enugu-Ebonyi saga after the creation of Ebonyi state, the Oyo-Osun saga after the creation of Osun State and the Ondo-Ekiti saga after the creation of Ekiti State. On these occasions, so-called non-indigenes were treated so shabbily that you would think they were illegal aliens!
In recent time however the indigene/settler syndrome has been brought to public focus after the violent riots that occurred last year in Plateau and Kano States where thousands of lives were lost. In both Plateau and Kano, so-called non-indigenes suffered heavy casualties and lost billions of naira worth of property at the hands of their neighbours who consider themselves as indigenes. Subsequently, Governor Turaki of Jigawa flew the kite about who was really an indigene, and who as a settler. He drew sensational headlines when he alleged that many of our past heads of state and other political leaders were settlers in the states which they now claim – from Yakubu Gowon to Ibarahim Babangida, and on to Lateef Jakande. We were told that they are all settlers in the present states which they claim. Thus in recent times Nigerians have been forced to discuss this vexing matter in the open, but I have not seen the relevant organs of government the matter with the seriousness it deserves in order to bring about the necessary constitutional amendments.
The question is: What does it mean to be a Nigerian citizen? Can one be a citizen of Nigeria and not be a citizen of his or her place of domicile? What rights and privileges (and of course obligations) does a long-time resident of a state or local government have? After how long in a state does one acquire the right of an indigene? What obligations does the so-called settler owe the so-called indigene of a place before he or she is fully assimilated? I consider this vexing issue a major part of the contradictions of the Nigerian state that should be blamed for a lot of the violence we witness today among the Urhobo and Ishekiri (of Delta State), among the Tiv and Jukun (of Taraba State), among the Ebira and Bassa (of Nasarawa State), among the Hausa and Kaje (of Kaduna State), and the Hausa and Biron or Angas (of Plateau State), and among the Hausa and Igbo (of Kano State). How can this issue be resolved constitutionally and permanently? What legal instruments can we put in place to ensure that Nigerians who are resident in any part of the country are treated equally?
The ongoing National Political Reform Conference would not have much to show for the time and money expended on the enterprise if it fails to come out with concrete proposals for the constitutional resolution of this problem. The issue of resource control that seems to have torn the conference apart is a very important one, yet if they do not debate and resolve the question of citizenship, I truly wonder on what basis they would want to discuss the sharing of resources.