Nigerian Citizenship Should Be Redefined
Friday, 18 June 2004
It is beyond sublime, that in Nigeria, an Hausa-Fulani person, whose forebears have lived in say, Yelwa or Shendam, from generations to generations, for the last five-hundred years, is not considered a citizen of Nigeria, from Plateau State, but a "settler" or "foreigner" from the moon? What the heck is that?
Nigerian citizenship needs to be redefined, and this is very urgent! The root of most of Nigeria's regional, ethnic, religious and state local crises are in the seeming preference of state of origin to national citizenship, or put differently, the "superiority" of indigenes, to "settler" too many things are hinged on the improper definition of what constitute a Nigerian citizen, whether by birth, residence or naturalization, naturalization is perhaps clear enough, but the indigene and settler definitions are fuzzy at best and utterly ridiculous at worst.
I have in the past advocated a change of nomenclature in this direction, wherefore, residence takes priority or precedence, over place of birth or heritage, this means, that a Nigerian's citizenship within Nigeria, is determined by where she or he lives, born in Kano, lives in Lagos, he is a Nigerian citizen from Lagos! Born in Ibadan, lives in Aba, he is from Abia state, a Nigerian is born in Uromi but lives in Yola, he is from Adamawa or Taraba, born in Oguta live Portharcourt he is from Rivers state etc, an Ijaw-man who lives in Kaduna, is, for all intent, and objective purposes, is a Nigerian from Kaduna state, regardless that his parents and grand parents are from Burutu or Bomadi etc. A woman with Igbo heritage, but who has demonstrated her own intent to adopt Sokoto as her home-state, is henceforth, a Nigerian-lady from Sokoto, QED! The same in rotation or interchangeably, should apply to all Nigerians of the varied ethnic groups, religions and regions!
I for one, used to refer to Dr. Bolaji Aluko as a brother-Nigerian, I have just read, that he has more Nigerian-ness in him, than a lot of us! He enjoys a multiplicity of ethnicities, in his background, he already possess, the Nigerian-ness, that I advocate, that we should all aim for, the blood in his veins and his genetics, straddles many ethnic and state-lines in Nigeria and in my opinion, he all the better for it! He is Itsekiri, Yoruba, Owan, Ijaw, Ishan or Esan? He is truly a multi-cultural-Nigerian and why not?
We must stop being mutually suspicious and disrespectful of other Nigerians, whether they are Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Catholics or they actually kill goats for stones and steels, whether they are descendants of Usman Dan Fodio, Oduduwa or the descents of Eze of all Ezes, when we say we are Nigerians, wherever we are, being Nigerian should explain everything sufficiently and we should be content, just knowing, the other chap is Nigerian, he is one of our own, whether in Shendam, Yelwa, Nsukka, Ogbomosho or Yenagoa or Oturkpo and even New York! It is beyond sublime, that in Nigeria, an Hausa-Fulani person, whose forebears have lived in say, Yelwa or Shendam, from generations to generations, for the last five-hundred years, is not considered a citizen of Nigeria, from Plateau State, but a "settler" or "foreigner" from the moon? What the heck is that?
The trouble is that, this offensive practice is not peculiar to Plateau State, Shendam and Yelwa, it is indeed a pervasive practice in Nigeria! So that a Nigerian citizen of Igbo parents is not from Edo State, he just an Igbo-man in Benin, and an Hausa-man from Kaduna is just an Hausa-man or Mallam in Onitsha, and a Yoruba-man in Maiduguri, is just a Yoruba-man, instead of a citizen of Nigeria from Borno State! When are we going to accept our Nigerian-ness? Why are too many Nigerians so pessimistic about the future of Nigeria? Things are currently bad in Nigeria, no, they are currently terrible, and have been so for a while, but who says it will always be so? And who ever said, the component parts of Nigeria will be better if Nigeria disintegrate? Nigeria will not disintegrate! There is no benefit in disintegration, ask the Yugoslavians and even Iraqis.
Since it is a given, that Nigeria is not going the way of disintegration, perhaps it is time we Nigerians get to work, work on unity and progress, development and advancements? Perhaps it is time we accept that all Nigerians are equal, whether they are Southern, Northern or Eastern, Middle Belt and in-between, I have an expansive attitude about Nigeria, I revel and marvel in our wonderfully diverse country, and our delectable expanse of land and peoples, I only see benefits, benefits and more benefits in our wondrously diverse landscape, our people, our culture and endless possibilities!
In all of the public commentaries that I have read during the past several days, Dr. Yusuf Zoaka's comments on the internecine crises in Plateau State, Kano, Delta State and elsewhere in Nigeria, he had had the best diagnosis, he state advisedly, that, the current upheavals that we have are emanating from two root causes, first is the indigene settler dichotomy or demarcation, and second, is the morose state of the economy, it is the economy stupid! As Mr. Bill Clinton put it in 1992 presidential campaign, that saw him win, as he addressed the concerns of the average Okoro, Bola and Adamu of America, who were out of jobs, just as too many Nigerians have been out of work in Nigeria, and they still are!
According to Dr. Yusuf Zoaka, create employment, and there will be no idle hands, willing to be of service to political hack men and jobbers, redefine Nigerian citizenship, where, your place of residence or place of birth and residence, trumps your cultural heritage, this means that, just because your forebears were Hausa-Fulani, or descendants of Oduduwa, or the red cap Eze of Abagana, does not make you, a citizen of Nigeria, of that pigeon-holed definition, your state of continued residence, in which you pay taxes, vote, participate in census, is your state of origin!
Your state of origin is the state where you live, your adopted state, so that, if you were born in Shagamu, and your parents are Fululde or Kanuri, you are from Ogun or Osun or Oyo state, never mind that your parents were born in Potiskum! Where you live in Nigeria, is your residence and where you are "Nigeria-from" You cannot not be "Nigeria from Potiskum, when in fact, you live in Shagamu, but you claim Potiskum, just because your grandparents or parents were originally from there; Our constitution should be amended to reflect and include, specifically, a Nigerian is of the state, where she or he has lived continuously for fifty-days, and has during that period, demonstrated clear intent, to continually reside in that state or locality make home and permanence, in his or her adoption of that state or locality, until his her pleasure takes him or her to another state in Nigeria and he she, has demonstrated, a change of residence and adoption of a new hometown and home-state, a Nigerian must be fully and completely and entirely Nigerian, with full faith and credit, accorded all duties, responsibilities of a Nigerian citizen, without let or hindrance, a Nigerian is a Nigerian is a Nigerian, regardless of religion, heritage or language etc, you are Nigerian, you live in X state, continuously for fifty-days, you are now an X-state Nigerian, you are now an X-er, never mind, that you or your forebears, were originally from Y-state or B-state or A-state, you are now, an X-stater, until you relocate, no more refugee status, visitor or settler status, or asylum status for fellow Nigerians in Nigeria, we must revert to being Nigerians only, period!
Why is it, that Nigerians who are tolerant of Americans and Europeans in their midst in Nigeria, actually ironically treat foreigners, better than fellow Nigerians, are the same Nigerians, that have conniption and compunctions, regarding my state of origin? Or that I am not an indigene, but, classified as a settler, some category, lesser than being a Nigerian citizen from the neighborhood, as if, I was some alien object from mars?
A Nigerian lawyer in New York, originally from Irrua in Edo State told me of an interesting encounter, he had on Vienna Austria, prior to coming to live in New York, he met a family, citizens of Austria, who all speak the Igbo language, because the matriarch of the family is married to my brethrens from Nnewi, so, why is it, that Nigerians can marry every American, every European, but are reluctant to marry fellow Nigerians, from across the Niger River? Or across any State, Language and Religious lines? What exactly is the matter with some of us?
A lot of us overseas, marry other nationalities, without batting an eye, but Okoroigbo will not marry
Amina, and Adamu will not marry Chinyere, and Femi would not marry Amina, Chinyere etc or in the reverse and vice versa order? How can a Nigerian from Kano possibly have more in common with an American, or a European lady, than with an Igbo-lady or Yoruba-lady or interchangeably vice versa for the other ethnic groups. How can a Nigerian possibly trust others, than they trust a fellow Nigerian?
I am not suggesting that other nationals or people from other continents are not trustworthy or good, but should we not trust fellow Nigerians intrinsically and extrinsically, more than others, unless the particular Nigerians give reasons to feel and conclude otherwise?
Why then should a Nigerian typify another a settler in Nigeria? Why then do we tend to hire non-Nigerians before we hire one of our own? Is it that we love foreign people and imported things more than ours? Or we are not particularly meticulous about the implications of these age-old attitudes? If a Nigerian cannot have tenure of civil service or academic position in Nigerian institutions, where such Nigerian possess the requisite qualifications and experience, why should a non-Nigerian with same or less qualifications and experience have it? Or worse, why should a non-Nigerian with less qualifications and experience and experience have these jobs with more perks, accommodation, salary and other remunerations, travel and vacation allowances, remittances in foreign exchange etc?
We Nigerians must learn to appreciate and respect one another, each other. When we appreciate and respect each, as such, we will be in a position to appreciate on Nigerian-ness and everything that we have in common, as opposed to the current, "you are an indigene, and I am a settler from mars" attitude.
Nigerians should vote and be voted for, based on their state of residence, and not based on their religion, state of birth or of origin, or based on cultural heritage of any subset of Nigeria, this means, senator Amechi Eze could have been a resident of Kaduna or Ibadan, if he is qualified and competent, let him be elected on his qualification and record of public service and public spiritedness, senator Murtala Mohammed, is elected from Enugu or Lagos, because he is good and patriotic and competently serves and represents the Nigerians in Enugu, his constituency, and senator Oremi Wole, is elected from Bauchi, or Calabar, for same reasons of qualifications, competence like Eze, Mohammed.
We must stop the polarizing fixation on our places or accidents of births, location, location, location. any where a Nigeria is located, is his,her hometown and homestate.
As Nigerians, we must do all we can, to take Nigeria where we ought and must, to the path of development, advancements and progress, so that our country can occupy our rightful place in the world's scheme of things, so that, Nigeria can fulfill national and international purpose, as Nigeria should rightly do. How is it, that we are "carry elephant for head, we dig hole, to look for mere crickets?" It should be obvious, that we have enough meat, in the elephant, i.e, in having the elephant! How is it, that we have the forest, but fight over mere shrubs? How is it that we swim in the shallow murky waters of ethno-religious intolerance, when the wide oceans of national unity and benefits imbued therein, beckons on us? We are all Nigerians, that is, really all, that matters!
The president of Nigeria, the national assembly and all well-meaning Nigerians should advocate for an amendment to the current Nigerian constitution, that will redefine citizenship, to wit, Nigerians are Nigerians citizens, where they live, they have right to expect everything, every benefits, every obligations and corresponding responsibilities of citizenship, wherever such Nigerians are resident in Nigeria, no matter their religion, ethnic heritage or notwithstanding the state and ethnicities of their forebears, Nigerians are Nigerians where they live, or where they are resident, where they are! I am in New York, but I am forever a Nigerian!