I have been wondering what could be possibly fueling ethnic and sectarian violence in Nigeria one night. As the night became increasingly serene and opaque, I began to wonder why many well-meaning Nigerians seem to be indifferent and go about their business during a brief absence of brutality only to be hyperventilated at hearing the news of pockets of violence. Going back to my original reflection, I thought about one critical aspect of democracy that has eluded Nigeria—the residency rights. Thus, I came to a sad realization that Nigeria’s federalism is an inexplicable contradiction with trappings that seemingly obscure the antidotes to ethnic and sectarian violence. Unfortunately, the etymology of ethnic violence in Nigeria is not an esoteric knowledge; it has always been rooted in the hegemony of indigenes.
Nigeria has endured ethnic and sectarian violence since the beginning of the federation with no end in sight. Also, several governments since independence have kept a blind eye on the issue of “indigene-settler” concept in which some fanatics have derived their power for atrocious crimes. The guttural reality is that some of the violent acts the country is experiencing are self-inflicted problems because of the foregoing phenomenon in various states. How can a country perpetuate indigene/settler concept and expect the ethnic and religious violence to abruptly stop? Nigeria must first abolish the concept of “indigene-settler” both in letter and spirit by ensuring equal rights under the law for all citizens. Therefore, Nigeria has to abolish indigene/settler from its vernacular!
I contacted a 29-year old man, who lives in Shendam, Plateau State. He resented the treatment he receives from the indigenes; he feels slighted because he is being treated as a second class citizen in his own country. He was born in Shendam, yet he is treated as a settler without equal rights. Thus, he has no potentials for any political office or any socio-political growth. “First, the indigenes of this state are not Muslims, just that Muslims live among them, we have lived together for long, and I believe that we all still live as one, though you can’t tell the heart of a man,” he began. “Yes, I was born here and have lived most of my life here, Shendam LGA of Plateau State; let me say, for over 28 years. But we are still considered as settlers; we the Igbos here don’t have right to any political position,” he agonized. This is the most odious treatment any ethnic group can receive as citizens of Nigeria. It’s pathetic and it’s not right. This misguided indigene-settler” policy is practiced in every state to some degree. It is a bad policy that militates against national growth in all realms.
Yes, “indigene/settler” phenomenon in Nigeria has undoubtedly emboldened the so-called indigenes to take laws into their hands to perpetuate ethnic violence under the swathe of an archaic and unprogressive practice that the country has allowed to fester for so long. This phenomenon aptly demonstrates that many Nigerians do not live their full potential because of the stifling practice embodied in the “indigene-settler” concept. It’s inconceivable for a citizen of Nigeria to be classified or thought of as an alien or settler. People should have rights to the place they have lived continuously for at least six-twelve months as much as those born there. Where one was born should be the person’s home unless the person moved to a new state to reside.
America is starkly different in this regard and its concept of residency helps drive what is called American “exceptionalism.” Unlike Nigeria, United States of America has a liberal residency rights. One is a resident of a community he/she has lived continuously for at least six-twelve months with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. However, residency qualifications vary from state to state. Generally, continuous residence for certain period of time is a common requirement in all states. For instance, Barack Obama, the 44th and current president of the United States, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but served as a Senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008. Yes, Obama is a testament of what is good about America—American “exceptionalism,” a theory that illuminates America as qualitatively and uniquely different from any other nation. America accords everyone equal citizenship under the law and believes anyone can be successful regardless of one’s background.
Appreciating the uniqueness of America, Obama said in March 2008, “I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather…and a white grandmother… I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” “… It is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one,” Obama said.
Examples of Americans who moved from one state to live in another abound. My daughter was born in Spokane, Washington, but her home now is Denton, Texas. There are many prominent Americans who moved from their state of birth to another state to begin a new life. President George Walker Bush, the 43rd President, born in New Haven, Connecticut, became the 46th Governor of Texas and later the 43rd President of the United States. Similarly, his father, President George Herbert Walker Bush—41st President, born in Milton, Massachusetts, served as in the Congress representing West Texas before becoming Vice President and subsequently, President. Furthermore, Gov. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, the younger brother of President George Walker Bush, was the 43rd Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.
Equally, Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, a native of Illinois, became a United States Senator for New York. Also, while Ron Paul, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, represented Texas’s 14th congressional district, his son, Randal Howard “Rand” Paul, is the junior United States Senator for Kentucky. Admirably, Peter “Pete” Hoekstra, born in Groningen, The Netherlands, is a former Republican U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 2nd congressional district. The narratives above can also happen in Nigeria if the leaders have the will.
Nevertheless, any action short of full residency rights similar to what is obtainable in the United States will be veneer for appeasement. Any use of maintenance of culture or tradition for a limited action on this matter cannot cloak the real reason for ethnic violence—the total subjugation of Ndi-Igbo, as well as Christians. In the absence of full residency rights to its citizens, no matter where they live, ethnic and religious violence will continue to flourish. Also to achieve a true federalism, Nigeria must act now to abolish the “indigene-settler” concept.