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Six months an indigene?(2)

By Ochereome Nnanna
In this second part, I will endeavour to discuss how we can make the “indigenisation” legislation work. But let us start by observing that six months is too short for a total stranger to stand for election in his new community, even though he can vote if his voter registration detail permits.

Experience has shown that laws alone cannot get you what you want when dealing with sociological matters. You cannot make a law to force members of a community to see a settler as an indigene of their community. The Jos riots and orgy of killings are nothing but the outcome of stranger elements forcing themselves on an indigenous community and that community actively resisting. The creation of Jos North Local Government Area by General Ibrahim Babangida in 1991 was meant to use the law abusively to give stranger elements their own political territory in a community where their indigeneship issues had not yet been settled.

Some communities, especially rapidly urbanising ones such as those whose hometowns suddenly became state capitals, can be extremely touchy about settlers coming in to take away the political turf from the local elite. It tends to create hostilities between the local people and the settlers. A good example, before the Nigerian civil war, was between the indigenous people of Port Harcourt (Ikwerre) and settlers, particularly other Igbos and Ijaws.

Because of their majority status and the fact that they controlled the National Council for Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, which was in power in the defunct Eastern Region, the Igbos were lords of Port Harcourt, and the Ikwerre elite openly complained of being asphyxiated in their own homeland by settlers. When the federal troops took the city from Biafran forces in 1967, the Ikwerres (though they are also of Igbo stock) saw it as “liberation”. Curiously they were shortly after handed over to Ijaw domination. It was not until the creation of Bayelsa State in 1996 that the Ikwerres came into their own in today’s Rivers State.

People who found themselves in a similar situation as the Ikwerres (the Wawas of Enugu State, for instance) swore never to give the slightest chance to settlers, even if they were people of the same ethnic nationality. Unless the forth-coming “indigenisation” clause takes care to address the fears of the locals of communities which tend to attract settlers in large numbers, we might end up creating more Jos scenarios than national integration, which is the primary intendment of it.

One word underpins the success of any “indigenisation” process: acceptance. The person seeking to become an indigene of a new community must strive to be accepted by those who are already indigenes.

The first task before the “applicant” for indigeneship is to demonstrate his love for the progress and advancement of his new community. He must start by learning their language and speaking it. He must be willing to marry from among them or give out his daughter into marriage to a suitor from the locality. He must be tolerant of their main religion(s) and festivals, even if he does not initiate himself into them. He must be a willing champion of developmental efforts, giving freely of his time, resources and efforts. He must maintain an enthusiastic presence in the royal or traditional circles and be ready to place his capacities at the pleasure of the king’s court.

I will give a good historical example of a man who excelled with these above-listed qualities. King Jaja of Opobo was an Igbo slave boy purchased by a noble of Bonny (Ubani, as Igbo people would put it). The Bonny (Igbani) Ijaws had a tradition that enabled capable slaves to buy their freedom and integrate with the rest of the free society. Jaja grew in great strides as a warrior and merchant, earned his freedom and led the boating expedition that discovered the island of Opobo, whose king he was later crowned.

You cannot be disdainful of the way of life of your host community or openly critical of, or unfriendly towards, it and expect to be accepted as an indigene.

You cannot bring your alien culture and try to force it on them and expect to belong. You cannot steal or grab their land or foul their women and trample on their ordinary folks and expect to become an indigene simply because the law (constitution) empowered you. You do not become an indigene simply because your family line has lived in a place for centuries. You cannot take it by force or get it by striking the posture of a conqueror or colonialist. You will only place your family line at perpetual risk. The failure of the Jos indigenisation experiment is a result of the negative attitude of the settlers, which was returned in kind by the indigenes.

An example of how a settler met with great success in Igboland in those days easily brings to mind the story of Malam Umaru Altine, the first Mayor of Enugu. Altine was a trader from Sokoto who settled in Enugu in the 1940s. He became a member of the Zikist Movement, the radical wing of the NCNC which was pushing for the early exit of the British colonialists. He was among those jailed along with the likes of Mokwugwo Okoye and Mbazulike Amechi for their unbending commitment to the cause.

Consequently, an NCNC electoral college of elected councillors found him fit and proper to be elected as the first Lord Mayor of Enugu in 1952, a post he held until 1958 when he was succeeded by Mr LBC Ezechi who hailed from Udi, near Enugu.

The government of the Northern Region under Sardauna Ahmadu Bello was so impressed by the high station Altine was allowed to achieve in Igboland that they reciprocated by appointing a Kano-based Igbo community leader as a member of the Northern Region House of Chiefs.

Even in more advanced climes like the US you must demonstrate your commitment to local causes to get people to vote for you. That was how Barrister Barack Obama moved from Hawaii to Chicago in Illinois and worked his way from the grassroots promoting local causes till he stood for local elections and later the senate and presidency.

If you open your heart to your local community it is likely to open its arms to you.



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