The question about true citizenship status in Nigeria has continued to occupy public discourse. Just recently, the matter came up and became an academic discourse in Abuja. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes on the lecture that attracted the academic community and beyond.
For some time now, the issue of citizenship and indigene-ship status of Nigerians has been on the front burner because of the various crisis of mistrust resulting from religious and political biases among the people.
The contention, according to Blueprint investigation, is as old as Nigeria especially after independence. The fear of one ethnic group dominating the other, fear of one religion dominating the other, fear of intra-religious groups dominance and the fear of imbalance in federal appointments fuelled this mistrust greatly such that everyone became suspicious of the other despite the aphorism of ‘In unity we stand’.
Presently in Nigeria, there are 36 states with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). With the exception of the FCT, everyone comes from each of these states; however according to the 1979 Constitution, the FCT belongs to all Nigerians, therefore can claim indigene-ship status of the territory. It is also obvious that due to migration, many Nigerians have taken residence in states other than their places of birth for years and in such places have raised families. It is however not clear whether the constitution clearly spelt out whether by the right of residence, one can claim citizenship of any part of the country.
Writing on this topic, Adesoji and Akin say, “Defining who an indigene of a particular area is, could be a difficult task particularly in the light of the mass movement of peoples over time and across cultures and space. Yet, the relative association of peoples with different areas; a product of their settlement and the seeming dominance of their cultures or perhaps the outcome of their ability to conquer and occupy a relatively virgin area, has resulted in situations whereby some came to identify themselves as the indigenes of a particular place.”Writing further, they asked: “Who is a Nigerian? What are the qualifications for Nigerian citizenship? Does one qualify as a citizen in any part of Nigeria irrespective of his location, ethnicity and religious affiliation? Should such factors such as indigeneity, migration or any other extraneous factor determine/deny/limit what a citizen can enjoy or the level he/she can aspire to. This is with a view to seeking to break the myths, addressing the realities and attempting a redefinition of the principle of federalism in the light of the problems associated with citizenship in modern Nigeria.”
No citizenship status in Nigeria
This matter came to a fore recently at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) headquarter in Abuja during the 15th inaugural lecture of the institution on the topic, ‘Who is a Nigerian Citizen’ given by Professor Kamaludeen Ahmadu Bello as it became a matter of academic discourse. The guest lecturer stated that in Nigeria, there is nothing like citizenship status but ‘indigene-ship’ or place of residence.
According to him, “To me, there are no citizens of Nigeria, but indigenes of various communities or ethnic groups in Nigeria. I subscribe to this notion because any country with citizens had to, in practical terms, have a lingua franca or an official language. Nigeria has no lingua franca, therefore, she can never produce a Nigerian citizen. Added to this is the fact that Nigeria has an official language which is English, but cannot be spoken fluently by a reasonable number of its citizens.”
He noted that citizenship by birth as provided for in the Nigerian constitution is based on the place of birth of one’s father or grandfather, stressing that someone can be born outside Nigeria but with no knowledge of the community he wants to be an indigene of, but as far as his/her father or grandfather, as the case may be, was born in that community, that child, he noted, is automatically a bonafide citizen of that place in line with the 1999 constitution.
“It should be noted that ideologically speaking, nobody ought to claim indigene-ship in Nigeria, if not the whole world. This is because every community has a history of a founder with none germinating from the ground or dropped from heaven to found the community but migrated from one community to the present location, therefore he could be regarded as a settler just like others that came after him.”
Prof Bello based part of his argument from the Biblical perspective of Adam and Eve whom he noted were the first creation of the Almighty God. He said, “In addition, the two main religions in Nigeria: Christianity and Islam both subscribe to the belief of a single origin of a human parentage of Adam and Eve in their indigenous homes of the Biblical Garden of Eden.”
He said further that, “From the garden, humanity originates, but due to the sin of Adam and Eve, mankind was denied the privilege of remaining in their ancestral homes. They were then relocated and settled outside their original home and subsequently, all their places inhabited by man in earth were outside his original home,” he argued.
He said historically, human beings graduated from being a gatherer and wanderer to a domesticated being such that certain things be owned including land which gave rise to indigene-ship.
“To stress the point further, we might all be settlers in the world, but the fact remains that earlier settlers are regarded as indigenes because they have control over every aspect of the community life including language, culture and even land resources while subsequent comers are settlers.”
He stated emphatically that there is no Nigerian with Nigerian mentality, but Nigerians with Hausa, Fulani, Igala, Igbo, Yoruba, Tiv, Ebira, Nupe and Efik mentalities because, according to him, there are no Nigerian citizens but Nigerian indigenes of different ethnic nationalities.
He said Nigerians should erase from their minds the belief that Nigerian citizenship could replace the current Nigerian indigene-ship by fiat or enactment, saying that even constitutional amendment alone cannot produce a deepening and sustainable Nigerian citizenship in place of indigene-ship because the practice has been in existence since the creation of Nigeria in 1914.
The only way out, he said, is if the country can legalise a lingua franca or place a strong emphasis on an official language for the country.
He said, “In the interim, every Nigerian should have at the back of their minds that Nigerian constitution and indeed Nigerians do not recognise Nigerian citizens, but Nigerian indigenes of the various indigenous communities. Therefore, one should try to be assimilated into the ways of life of a particular place he wants to claim its indigene-ship and not agitate for the indigene-ship of a place that he cannot be assimilated into its culture or annoyed when denied an indigene-ship of a place.”Topic is argumentative
In the opinion of the vice chancellor of NOUN, Prof Abdallah Uba, the topic is controversial and argumentative but noted that by the nature of inaugural lectures, no one has the right to question the veracity of any claim by the guest lecturer, the reason for which he advised everyone to imbibe the lecture hook line and sinker while the argument about the subject matter, he noted, can be reserved for another day.