11 November 2012

Nigeria: Away With 'Indigene' Clause


The spectre of "indigeneship" (a word not known to the English language) haunted the judiciary last week when the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukhtar, refused to swear in Ifeoma Jumbo-Ofo as a justice of the Court of Appeal because she is originally from Anambra State but was taking the slot meant for Abia, her husband's home state.

The Nigerian Senate has ordered that she be sworn in, but the psychological wound inflicted on married women has not healed. Other authorities believe, however, that the CJN merely used the state-of-origin matter to hide an entirely different shortcoming observed at the eleventh hour. For, inside the same Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, at section 42, there is a proclamation of the "Right to freedom from discrimination" .

The ongoing constitution amendment is timely. It's time to throw overboard the "indigene" clause. As the United States Institute for Peace attested to recently, the indigene-settler syndrome is a major cause of conflicts in Nigeria. In a report it released recently, Aaron Sayne identified the source of deadly communal violence notably in Jos and Kaduna as well as in Warri (Delta State), Wukari (Taraba), and parts of Benue State.

The report, based on a thorough analysis, essentially traced violence to constitutional provisions (indigene clause) and identity politics that enable indigene-settler clashes.

There is no doubt that the spate of violence pervading the nation now is petrifying. To restore peace to the land, we should take a closer look at the indigene clause. Reformist bills like the one proposed by Senator Abu Ibrahim (CPC, Katsina), deputy Senate minority whip, should be encouraged.

It is a bill that seeks to address the ongoing crises in various parts of the country, including the perverted ethnic, tribal and religious sentiments that have resulted in loss of lives.

Exactly three years ago, we were excited when "a bill for an act to integrate non-indigenes into states other than their states of origin" was brought before the House of Representatives. That bill was never passed into law. The bill sponsored by Gozie Agbakoba should be re-introduced and given speedy passage.

A Nigerian who has lived the better part of his life in a state other than his, contributing to the socio-economic development of that state, should no longer be denied certain privileges on account of being a "non-indigene". Under many cultures, a woman legally married automatically becomes an indigene of her husband's town, local government area or state.

Abolition of discriminations will speed up the socio-economic development of the country. It is strange that many Nigerians are British and American citizens simply because they were born on English or American soil, yet Nigerians who were born and have lived all their life in Nigeria are discriminated against.

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