When is a Nigerian really Nigerian? Is it when he or she is born in the country? Is it when born by Nigerian parents outside the country? Is it when he is within the territorial entity called Nigeria? Is it someone who carries the Nigerian passport but resides outside the shores of the country? Is it someone of another nation who naturalises in Nigeria?
These questions have become pertinent because Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ahmed Wase, recently got many people confused when he enacted an unnecessary drama at plenary over a petition sent by Tiv indigenes living in the United States. The Deputy Speaker tried to change the true meaning of ‘Nigerian’ when he rejected a petition by Tiv people in the USA being presented by one of their representatives, Hon. Mark Gbillah, on their behalf.
Gbillah, representing Gwer East-West Federal Constituency of Benue State, had sought to submit a petition Tiv people living in the USA sent to the House through him. He had, on that faithful but sad day, addressed Wase, who was presiding at plenary in the absence of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, thus: “Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from the Mutual Union of Tiv in America against the Federal Government of Nigeria. And the issue has to do with the ancestral land of the Tiv people that seems to have been possessed in recent times through various attacks and the fact that they are languishing in IDPs camps without any intervention. With your kind permission, Mr. Speaker, I want to lay this petition before this honourable House.”
Wase, in his imperial majesty, acted in a way that suggested that Tivs and Nigerians in general living outside the shores of the country were less Nigerian. The Deputy Speaker asked the lawmaker if the group that wrote the petition was registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). He went ahead to indirectly say that Nigerians living outside the country could not petition or talk about what was going on in the country because they could not claim to know the country. Not even the Benue lawmaker’s reference to Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which states in subsection 1 that, “every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom,” could persuade Wase to accept the petition.
The Deputy Speaker, in exercising his power as presiding officer, refused to accept the petition by ruling thus: “Honourable Gbillah, did you say Tivs in America? If they are in America, could they really be an interested party here? Could they really know exactly what is going on? …I’ll refer you to the functions of the committee on diaspora. If you go through that, it is nothing relevant to what you’re now presenting. I’m not convinced that we have to take that petition.” He had his way and the petition was not accepted.
Reflecting on this ludicrous behaviour by Deputy Speaker Wase, I have wondered whether he was acting out of ignorance or simply wanted to ensure that the House of Representatives did not address the issue of intruders from other communities chasing away the true owners of the land, the natives, and taking over what does not belong to them, or both. Leaders are expected to exercise good judgment in whatever situation. As the “acting big man” that day, Wase was expected to exercise some level of discretion in handling the affairs of the House. Rejecting a petition by Nigerians and making them feel as if they are persona non grata, is, to say the least, an act of indiscretion. It is a gratuitous insult on the Tiv people and Nigerians in general.
Nigerians are Nigerians, no matter where they reside. Those living outside the country have equal stake as those within the geographical entity called Nigeria. Even when Nigerians carry other nations’ passports, it does not make them less Nigerian because the Constitution permits dual citizenship. Nigerians in diaspora have a duty to contribute their quota towards the development of the country. The Tiv people in the USA have the right to send a petition to the House of Representatives or their home government. The House of Representatives is duty-bound to address their matter. They may not get what they want when the matter is addressed, but they must be heard.
Wase’s warped behaviour on that day made Tivs in the diaspora and Tivs at home look like non-Nigerians. It was a typical Nigerian officials’ way of treating matters relating to Nigerians abroad. With such a mindset, most Nigerian officials, including those at the consulate, fail in their duty to defend the interests of their fellow countrymen and women. These people are fast in blaming Nigerians living in other countries for wrongdoing. A time was in 2016 when President Muhammadu Buhari went abroad to state that Nigerians were corrupt, in response to the position of former United Kingdom Prime Minister, David Cameron, who said Nigeria was “fantastically corrupt.” Such a verdict, coming from someone who is the symbol of our sovereignty, is too bad.
When some Nigerians are accused of crime or misbehaviour in foreign lands, Nigerian officials join in castigating them, as if all Nigerians in diaspora or at home are bad. Granted that there are some Nigerians whose actions leave much to be desired, but there are many Nigerians in diaspora who are engaged in legitimate endeavours and who are of good behaviour in countries where they reside. Sadly, our officials, most times, do not usually state this fact whenever a Nigerian is guilty of misdemeanour.
What makes a citizen in diaspora proud of his country is how responsive the government and officials of his country are to his plight. If they are abandoned to their fate when they expect their home country or representatives of the country in places they live in the diaspora to protect them, they would feel despondent. There have been instances where Nigerians, no matter what they do, are treated like criminals, when there is no cause for this, and the government does nothing. We treat our fellow countrymen with scorn and disrespect, in our comfort zones.
It is in this country that members of the House of Representatives refused to endorse the evacuation of Nigerians in China at the initial stage of coronavirus. Nigerians in South Africa were victims of xenophobia and needed to return home. The Nigerian government did not act promptly. It took the concern and generosity of the chairman of Air Peace, Chief Allen Onyema, who dispatched his airline’s aircraft, for such Nigerians to be evacuated and saved from the mistreatment of South Africans.
At this rate, will Nigerians be proud to die for their country? Your guess is as good as mine. Citizens of the United States, for instance, are proud to die for their country any time because they know that their country would never forsake them, no matter where they may be or what happens. It was just to rescue one USA citizen kidnapped in Niger Republic and held hostage in Nigeria that the American government dispatched the US SEALs. For striking the World Trade Centre in New York and killing Americans in a terror attack in 2001, the USA government hunted Osama Bin Ladin till he was captured in a covert operation and executed in 2011. There are many instances where the USA has come out in full force to defend its citizens. That is a country!
Inasmuch as I was disappointed that members of the House of Representatives did not support Hon. Gbillah to lay the petition when Wase misused his power, it is cheering that Speaker Gbajabiamila has overruled his deputy on the Tiv petition brouhaha. The Speaker had made it clear that the House would not discriminate against any Nigerian, no matter where they may be. He accepted the petition and promised that it would be given “proper attention.” No tears for Wase on this. He ridiculed himself before the world and made Gbajabiamila the hero.
Gbillah must be commended for not giving up. He was not deterred nor intimidated by the fact that Wase rejected the petition. He argued and insisted. He re-presented the petition before Gbajabiamila and succeeded. That is how representatives of the people should fight.