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Strong indigene, weak citizen

A Bill in the House of Representatives seeking to convert citizens who have lived in a state for 10 years into indigenes is said to be enjoying the cold attention of legislators. Sponsored by Hon Gozie Agbakoba, it says that any Nigerian who has lived peacefully in a state for 10 unbroken years and fulfilling all his civic obligations shall be entitled to privileges of an indigene, including scholarship, appointments to public office and voting and being voted for.

As exciting as the Bill may seem, it is simply unviable. It will not work for several reasons. The first is that indigeneship is not something you can convert anyone into through legislation. Some cultural settler groups are known to live separate from their host communities. Even when they have stayed for 100 years, they do not intermingle sufficiently with their hosts or imbibe local attributes that will configure them properly as people of that locality.

They do not even have respect or regard for the culture of the people they live among. If anything, they strive to impose their alien culture on their hosts. They carry on in ways that only fuel mutual suspicion, fear and hatred. Yet they claim they have stayed long enough to be counted as locals.

The major reason why the indigene factor is stronger than the citizen in Nigeria is traceable to the very founding principles of our polity. Nigerians do not come from a common background as obtains in some countries. For instance, all Americans (except the Indian minorities) are offspring of aliens or immigrants. Iran has been a country for about 2000  years, with slight changes in borders and mainstream culture. China is more than 3000 years old. Integration has taken place in these climes.

But Nigeria was amalgamated by a foreign conquering power for the sole purpose of his own administrative convenience. Since 1914, Nigeria has remained an amalgam; a mere geographical expression as Awo would put it. And therefore, all the lofty ideals listed out in Chapters III and IV of our Constitution about citizenship and the fundamental human rights of citizens are mere constitutional expressions. They do not have any bearing on the reality of relations between the Nigerian citizen and the state or with one another.

The foundations of the polity were not laid out to nurture citizenship. Rather, it was created for the benefit of the indigene. Those who lived in Nigeria before our independence readily bear witness to the fact that Nigerians felt more at home, secured and fulfilled outside their hometowns or areas of origin than they do these days. Igbo politicians once thrived in Western Nigeria, especially Lagos.

A Fulani man, one Alhaji Altine, was once a Mayor of Enugu (I am told). Mrs. Margaret Ekpo, born in Calabar, spent all her active political life in Aba among the Igbos.
Why is it not like that anymore? Today, even though the Lagos State Government free education for primary and secondary students is for all residents, the government does not name streets after non-indigenes anymore.

In Jigawa State, streets are freely named after non-indigenes who have served it meritoriously, but the free education policy of the government there is only for indigenes, maybe because of the state’s peculiar developmental challenges. It is that way in most states in the North.

The making of the weak citizen, strong indigene syndrome, as noted before, has its roots in the ways the political foundation of Nigeria was laid. When the British colonialists were about to go, the sprouting local elite were seriously concerned about the situation their tribal groups would find themselves in an independent Nigeria. Nobody wanted to be placed in a disadvantageous situation.

Ethnic unions were formed to train young people to take up posts the White man was leaving behind. The North, for instance, in 1950 launched the most successful fund drive (the famous talmakon kudin Arewa) and raised over 11,000 Pounds which was used to educate and train the likes of Professor Jibril Aminu, Professor Iya Abubakar, General Ibrahim Babangida, retired late Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Bello and all the who-is-who that have bestridden (and still bestride) the heights of governmental command in Nigeria.

Actually, the fund was originally meant to send a strong Northern delegation to the pre-independence talks but when Northern leaders found out that they did not have to spend it in that direction they invested it in education. Look at the result!

Those were the days when leaders were leaders rather than hungry leeches! But they were sectional leaders all the same, just like their counterparts from the West and East, who were also building up their human capital with a view to maintaining their advantages over others and catching up where they were behind.

The North actually formed a sectional political party known as the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), the only major political party whose name did not even pretend that its primary zone of interest was a section of the country, not the country as a whole. In the West, the Action Group led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, viewed the nation  through a strong regional prism.

And because of the primary regional tendencies of their two counterparts, the National Council for Nigeria and the Camerouns (then) rapidly lost its national appeal and went East.

In the second part of this write-up, we will examine how the minorities reacted to the domination of the regional politics of that era in their own bid to position their peoples so as not to play the servant role in the unfolding independent Nigeria.

We will also look into other critical factors that have fuelled the indigene factor’s appeal over that of citizen, and proffer ways out. See you on Thursday.


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