17 January 2013

Nigeria: Indigene/Settler Dichotomy and Constitution Review


The issue of indigene/settler dichotomy has been with us for a long time, periodically generating conflicts and violence in different parts of the country. Often the trigger to the conflicts is a contest over access and exclusion to critical resources and the entitlement that being an indigene confers in this binary.

Contrary to the impression in some quarters, the indigene-settler problem is found across the length and breadth of the country, even in my village in Anambra State. It is however more politicised in some parts of the country because of the confluence of this dichotomy with other markers of identity such as ethnicity and religion.

In 2010 the House of Representatives sought to deal with the problem 'once and for all' when Hon. Sama'ila Mohammed (ANPP, Plateau State) sponsored a Bill for an Act, which would give Nigerians the right to be indigenes of any local government area in Nigeria if that person or the person's parents migrated to that Local Government area before October 1 1960. The Bill also sought to restrict the authority for the issuance of 'indigeneship' certificates to the Ministry of Internal Affairs instead of the current practice where it can only be issued by States and Local Government Councils.

The above was a radical Bill as are some of the current proposals which are being submitted to the National Assembly ahead of the planned review of the 1999 Constitution. One of the 'bold' proposals currently making the waves is for any Nigerian, who has lived in an area for ten years, to claim to be an indigene of that place.

In a country like ours, where the nation- building process has stalled, if not in crisis, and where distrust is embedded in people's bone marrows, what is bold or good may not always be what is appropriate. This seems to be the case with the indigene/settler issue. This means that if we copy and paste practices from other environments, especially from countries where there is already a consensus on the parameters of their nationhood, we will only exacerbate the problem.

It is important to highlight the distinction between 'citizenship' rights and 'indigeneship' rights - as these tend quite often to be mixed up. For the former, there are already certain constitutional guarantees for all citizens in the country.

For instance chapter Four of the 1999 Constitution outlines the Fundamental Rights of all Nigerians, including the right to be free from discrimination while Section 41(1) gives every citizen the right to "move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof." Section 43 guarantees every citizen "the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria." There are no constitutional provisions that make these rights dependent on indigene status.

Indigeneship rights on the other hand are largely cultural, ancestral and genealogical. In very traditional cultural settings, the indigenes are the ones who would know which gods to appease if the unexpected happens in the community.

Contrary to what some people believe, a variant of the indigene-settler dichotomy also exists subtly in the West. For instance an African or even American who naturalised in the UK would have a British passport but would never call himself or herself English or Scottish or Irish. Many naturalised Africans would often tell you they are Nigerians or Ghanaians but have British or American passports. Racism and xenophobia are often rooted in the binary of settler versus indigene.

My personal opinion is that to impose indigeneship on any community on account of how long a group has lived there is simplistic. People everywhere are protective of their culture and their ways of life and would often feel - rightly or wrongly - that 'foreigners' are harbingers of destructive values. Often some settlers will assimilate very well into the culture of the host community - speaking their language, inter-marrying with them and worshipping alongside them.

Usually the offspring of people who assimilated well into the cultures of their host communities do not experience very much the negative politics around the indigene/settler dichotomy. A crucial question here is whether a settler living apart from his host community and preserving the ways of his forefathers which he came to settle with in the community, should really claim to be an indigene of the host community - in the cultural sense in which that terminology is often used.

This is another way of saying that both the settlers and the indigenes need to be broad- minded. Settlers who want to aspire to the rights of indigeneship should make efforts to integrate into the cultures of the host community while the host community should be willing to embrace those who are willing to be assimilated. It is contradictory in terms for a settler to want to embrace multiculturalism (i.e. a 'separate but equal' cultural policy) and at the same time clamour for the gains of assimilation (indigeneship).

Among settlers in many communities, you will always find some who have assimilated so well into the culture of their host community that the indigenes accept them as part of them. The problem often is where there is a large settler community that has not assimilated but have lived in the area for a very long time. In such a situation, what will be required is a political solution to any challenges that may arise in the interaction between the communities. Legislating indigeneship is unlikely to solve such problems.

One of the likely unintended consequences of any effort to use the law to impose indigeneship on any community is that it could create a sense of siege, namely that the more diasporic parts of the country are being favoured to 'colonize' others. This will unwittingly create bottled up feelings and mark out members of such 'favoured' ethnic groups as targets of misplaced aggression. If such happens, it will be a sad reminder of the late general Aguiyi Ironsi's Decree No.34, which was borne out of fervent patriotism but which in its author's naivety failed to take sufficient cognizance of the prevailing environment of the time.

Re: N60 mobile palaver for farmers

Here are some of the reactions to my last week's column on the above topic.

'The Minister of Agriculture's obfuscation cannot hide the fact that plans are afoot to provide ten million Nigerian farmers - five million of whom will be women - with mobile phone handsets. These days any crazy idea or project floated by government officials begins with the signing of an MOU, the assertion that the idea/project is both suitable for PPP and is gender sensitive.

Against this background, loony ideas are adopted by the government with the arrogant declaration that "there is no going back". Nigerian agriculture lacks any sophistication is not mechanised and farmers cannot obtain basic inputs without difficulty... It is a costly gimmick, if not plain fraud to believe that Nigerian farmers need telephones to aid either production or distribution of [their] produce. The National Assembly should step in to stop this ridiculous project'. -MT Usman, text message, 08033067825'

'Sir, Adesina has just confirmed the belief in certain circles that he is brilliant in coercing the mass media to sell dummies. Who is going re-charge the phones?

The answer to our agricultural problem lies in 1) Ban importation of any crop that we can grow locally from 2015. 2) Any bank operating in Nigeria must make provision for 10 percent loanable fund for agriculture. 3) Government must make provision to purchase products from farmers at agreed prices. 4) [Government must establish] input centres in all the local governments...The wastage on AMCON and subsidy could have been better channelled to agriculture."

'Cardinal Wole Arogundade

'Dear Jideofor ... Mobile phone for farmers is a good development but such a huge amount could have been best used to provide agricultural extension services to the farmers while equally providing jobs for the numerous trained Extension agents out there. God bless you'. -

'Thanks for your discourse on the above subject. The Minister of Agriculture should please let us be. This guy is a product of the international pool of so called high flyers [but he] cannot transform Nigerian agriculture. To distribute phones to farmers and expect that to boost agriculture is very ignorant.

First the institutional arrangements for agricultural extension are such that agricultural extension service to farmers are the responsibility of state and local governments. Secondly where the extension messages are generated is in the research institutes, not the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. So Minister, please carry your staff along because they know better than you - not withstanding your borrowed foreign accent.

Muhammad Yahuza

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