By Ochereome Nnanna
THE Council of State last week met, and top of the decisions it took was to see to the abolition of the concept of indigenes in our nation. It set up a committee of governors drawn from the six geopolitical zones to identify discriminatory practices in all parts of the country with a view to eliminating them either through the laws of the National Assembly or federal policies.
Our citizenship rights – the factors that bind us together as members of one nation bound in freedom, peace, unity and common destiny – have taken series of crippling hits since independence. From a country where Nigerians and Africans once lived without let or hindrance in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s when we collectively struggled for independence from European colonial powers, we have sunk to an entity where Nigerians are being deported from their places of residence to their supposed states of origin, or being prepared for registration in a manner suggestive of sectional, ethnic or religious profiling.
Nigerians who have lived peacefully and lawfully for decades in a place, paid their taxes, voted, been registered in censuses as part of the community, contributed to the growth of the community by investing their hard earned wealth in the economy of the locality and often giving employment or services to uplift the community, are suddenly conspired against by a myriad of alienating factors.
The idle or miscreant youth among the so-called indigenes harass and extort them. They are barred from enjoying the right to employment in the governmental services of the state and precluded from contributing politically except being exploited as mere electors.
In some instances, people who used to belong to a state are suddenly bundled out of the civil services because they are now non-indigenes due their belonging to newly created neighbouring states. Some who have spent all their active working lives in such localities are denied their pensions and told to go to their new states, where nobody knows them.
There is no end to the wickedness that Nigerians have invented against their fellow countrymen and women who settled among them. Some artist will draw a cartoon considered offensive somewhere in Denmark and Nigerians will go into the streets and start murdering fellow Nigerians, settlers who do not belong to their religious and ethnic stock; people who have no knowledge of the whole affair meet their untimely death, and their property are vandalised or looted.
And when you look around, you observe that this trend happens only in Nigeria, especially Muslim Northern Nigeria, whereas other countries in Africa with large Muslim populations never do the same to their non-Muslim compatriots living among them. Nigeria must rank number one in the world in the frequency and scope of unprovoked sectionally, ethnically and religion-related attacks meted out to compatriots simply because they are considered as “non-indigenes”.
The Council of State obviously seeks to halt the trend, as Nigeria is now poised on knife edge, on the brink of violent disintegration. Nigeria’s disintegration has been on hold only because the South, which has borne the brunt of decades-old religion-inspired savage attacks in northern Nigeria, has continued to absorb the provocation with patriotic calm.
Much as I commend the concern of the Council of State to work towards the abolition of the “indigene” factor in our national life, I am afraid that the lazy and cosmetic way they have gone about it will not address the problem. Rather, it might exacerbate it, as you cannot legislate ingrained social traits with the wave of a legislative wand.
To solve this problem, we must first of all examine critically, the socio-cultural, geopolitical, economic, political and other factors that fuel the divisions or dichotomies between Nigerians of a locality and other Nigerians who have come to live among them. Even if you abolish the “indigene” factor, it will not amount to removing the difference between the hosts/settlers in any given community. Some of the factors that reinforce the alienation are obvious.
Number one among them is that tribalism and sectionalism have become deeply ingrained in our psyches and mentalities. Nigerians, especially those from the South loudly profess that they are members of their tribes first before being Nigerians on the one hand.
On the other hand, Nigerians from Arewa North believe that they are Northerners first and foremost, and their only reason for being in Nigeria is to exploit it for the benefit of the North. They see the North as their real country while Nigeria is a colony tied to the North.
Some also make religion their basis for identifying those who are their “brothers” and the rest who are their “enemies” that must be destroyed. It requires serious reorientation to change this destructive mentality, which is peculiar only to Nigerians; a mentality that stands between us and the sublime words in our old anthem that says: “though tribes and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”.
Another factor that must be dealt with, which fuels the difference between hosts (indigenes) and settlers (non-indigenes) is the oil factor. Oil as a lucrative single national resource has seriously undermined our nationhood. It has made a section of the country to insist on dominating the rest of the country, while the people of the land from which the resources are derived have embraced militant demand for resource control.
The oil factor was mainly responsible for the military to inequitably split Nigeria into states and local government areas, using them as the units to share the oil resources of the nation exploited in the Niger Delta.
Every month, our leaders gather in Abuja to share the money and go home to spend as they wish. It is easy money, and the share of the national cake by the states and local councils. Settlers are therefore seen as outsiders seeking to benefit from the national cake portioned out to the locality.
It is a major paradox of our country that the national cake, mined in Niger Delta and shared among all Nigerians (which ought to have encouraged us to be more accommodating of one another) became a factor we have been using against non-indigenes. Is it when we restore resource control, where non-indigenes would be seen as people who have come to “eat” from the resources of the federating units other than their own, will be more accommodated? Facts of our history do no support this. Before independence, the agricultural resources of the Northern Region made it relatively prosperous.
The Northernisation policy that was enacted by the leaders of the Region was aimed at checkmating the more educated settlers from the South from taking up plum positions in the Northern civil service. The North thus became the first section of the country to, by policy, place restrictions to the employment of non-indigenes, a trend that has now spread to all parts of the country, even now that every part of the country depends solely on the oil resources of the Niger Delta.
It shows that the problems confronting our citizenship rights and militating against non-indigenes are too deeply rooted for mere legislative fiats alone. On Thursday, we will conclude this article with a few insights as to what must be done to reclaim Nigeria for all Nigerians.