30 January 2013

Nigeria: Group Wants Stronger Value for Citizen Rights in Nigerian Constitution

The National Human Right Commission, NHRC, leads the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, OSIWA, and PREMIUM TIMES to debate the status of residency rights in Nigeria

The National Human Right Commission (NHRC), along with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa [OSIWA], and PREMIUM TIMES are pushing for a national consensus to trash the constitutional provision and political practices that define Nigerians first by states of origin than as citizens.

The group now plans to back their concerns with a national dialogue on citizenship and inclusion, arguing that to treat individuals primarily by their religion, state, or ethnic identity rather than their citizenship is "socially retrogressive".

Towards this end, a six-man panel of constitutional experts drawn from the academia, civil society, faith and gender communities, and the legal industry are to lead the national dialogue in February, at the agency's auditorium in Abuja.

Professor Chidi Odinkalu, the Board Chairman of the Human Rights Commission and a leading African authority in the field of citizenship and migrants rights, speaking for the group, said they hope to realize five objectives from the dialogue, which include: the provision of a "credible platform for robust national discussions on the proposed amendment to substitute state of origin in the constitution with state residence; and the attempt to identify the concerns that sections of the society have regarding proposed citizenship provisions in an amended but improved Nigerian constitution."

Other objectives in the mind of the group are an attempt to explore the "dynamics of the indigeneship practice around the country...the need to explore a platform and common agenda for advocacy on citizenship rights and reform in Nigeria...as well as provide recommendations and suggestions on the nature of an effective constitutional architecture that address concerns and ensure progressive enjoyment of citizenship in Nigeria," the group argued in a planning paper.

The group said it is doing this because of a concern that participatory democracy cannot endure in an environment where the constitution fails to recognize the reality of ethnicity.

About 28 key political and civic constituencies in the country have been invited to send delegates to the dialogue, according to Udo Jude Ilo, a constitutional expert at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, one of the partners to the event.

PREMIUM TIMES will provide media messaging support at the event, which will parade many of the nationality groups in the country, some states with difficult experience of ethno-national relationships, traditional institutions, employment regulating agencies, the Federal Ministry of Justice, and security agencies.

The group insists there is need to urgently address the content of citizenship in Nigeria because, it contends, current statute suffer from two major flaws: "the inability of the constitution to define exactly what rights and privileges citizenship confers and the eagerness of states and local governments to qualify and define these rights in the narrowest of terms."

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