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Strong indigene, weak citizen (2)

By Ochereome Nnanna
THIS two-part series is a response to Hon Gozie Agbakoba’s Bill in the House of Reps seeking to convert Nigerian citizens that have dwelt continuously in any part of Nigeria to indigenes with full benefits.

Our argument is that this Bill, even if passed into law, may be as ineffective as our constitution which in Chapters III and IV makes effusive provisions on citizenship and his fundamental human rights. Our contention is that citizenship in Nigeria is weak while indigeneship is strong for a number of reasons which are tied to the manner in which the very foundation of this nation was laid.

In the first part last Monday, we pointed out that as independence drew nearer all the ethnic and regional groupings in Nigeria were seriously concerned about the place of their peoples after the departure of the colonial masters.

This led to the formation of tribal nationality groups, whose main concern was to educate their young men and women so that when the British administrators left the various groups would be ready to replace them with suitably qualified manpower from their tribes and regions.

Between 1940 and 1950, such tribal organisations as the Igbo State Union, Jamiyyar Mutanen Arewa, Egbe Omo Oduduwa, Ibibio Union and so on, were very active and each of them either transformed into political parties or became the nucleus of political parties in the East (NCNC), the North (NPC), the West (AG) and the Eastern Minorities (Sir Udo Udoma’s political outfit that was allied with the AG in Ibibio land).

From day one, Nigeria was not cut out to be a fertile ground for national unity where citizenship would find favourable climate to flourish.

The historic “carpet crossing” incident in Ibadan in the 1950s, whereby Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group (AG), faced with the imminence of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (whose NCNC) won majority of the parliamentary seats in a Western Regional election) emerging as the Premier of Western Nigeria, was able to convince some NCNC MPs to cross the carpet to enable him emerge. Having lost in the West to tribal forces, Azikiwe decided to play the game in order to remain politically relevant.

He went East and displaced Professor Eyo Ita who, as the Head of Government Business in the Eastern Region should have become its first Premier.

It was from this moment that whatever remained of the pretence to genuine nationalism evaporated. The up-and-coming elites in various parts of the country, till date, have continued to apply the Awo formula to create their own sphere of political influence based on tribal sentiments.

The minorities soon rose against their respective majority regional powers. In the East, the Cross River-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) Movement was born with Udoma and Harold Dappa Biriye as major figures to push for a separate state for minorities of the region.

In the West, the Mid-West coalition of non-Yoruba tribes wanted a region of their own (which they got in 1963). And in the North, Dr Joseph Tarka founded his United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) to give the non-Muslim groups a separate platform in the Hausa-Fulani Muslim dominated Northern Region.

When the military struck in 1966, it was a fall out of the contest for power among the three majority ethnic groups. The country was drifting towards disintegration and General Yakubu Gowon who assumed power after the counter-coup in July 1966 decided a year later that the creation of the 12 states was the only way to win the support of the various groups in his effort to tackle the secession attempt by the Igbo.

With the 12  states almost all the majority and minority groups now had their respective patches of Nigeria to control. Agitation for more states and local government continued, and the country was split to 19 states in 1976, 21 states in 1987, 30 states in 1991 and 36 states and 774 local councils and six geopolitical zones in 1995. The agitations have not stopped.

A major incentive for the craze for more states and local governments in Nigeria is the oil money phenomenon, which is centrally collected and shared among these political units. States and local governments have become the prized possession of the local elites through which the proverbial national cake reaches them.

The local political elites do not have to toil to get the funds needed to keep the machinery of governance running. All they have to do is wait till the end of every month and go to Abuja to receive their share of the oil money.

Under this circumstance, any Nigerian whose parents are not indigenous to the local governments in the states, being non-indigenes, are not entitled to the booties reserved for indigenes.

These include employment in government jobs, free education, scholarships, and the right to be voted for. But during censuses, they are counted as part of the population of the state. Local politicians campaign for their votes.

Government revenue officers do not discriminate against them when they come on tax drives. A non-indigene is a stranger in his own country. With this convention in practice, it is difficult to see how mere lawmaking can change anything.
Nigeria was created to be a tribalistic and sectional political entity. Tribalism flows in our blood. We were born and nurtured with it.

The elite thrive on it. In every state and local government there are petty dichotomies. For instance, in Rivers State it is “Upland versus Riverine”.

These tribe-based dichotomies are the instruments through which the indigenes of states and local governments strive to outdo one another not in creation of value but for their share of the state’s bounties.

For citizenship to find a true expression in this country we may have to look for ways of re-laying the foundations of Nigeria.


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