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31st May 2024 | by: admin

Nigeria’s many nationalities

Between Residence and Origin – the National Question in Nigeria

By Femi Olugbile

One of the measures of the unique strength and virtually limitless possibilities of the Nigerian nation is the footloose tendency of its various peoples, and their relentless propensity to co-mingle.
This constant movement and intermingling started long before Nigeria’s Independence. Some historians would aver that the movement even preceded the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates, and the creation of the Lugardian contraption that would be known as Nigeria.
It is necessary that this interchange be not romanticised or distorted from a historical perspective. The mingling was not always peaceful, or invariably done with the best of intentions. The standard assumption in human migration is that it is driven by adventure, a need to escape from danger, or a search for a better life. In choosing a destination to move to, it is expected that there would be some affinity with the host community and their ways, and even a sense that one will grow to be like them. However, some of the internal migration and intermingling within the Nigerian space has been overtly antagonistic, or predatory. There have been several wars, with forced relocations. There were the Yoruba Civil Wars of 1789-1893 which marked the disintegration of the old Oyo Empire after the death of Alaafin Abiodun. Key events included the loss of Ilorin, the betrayal and killing of the renegade Afonja, the Are Ona Kakanfo, and the sixteen-year long Kiriji War. The most significant event in these forced relocations was the Jihad of Usman dan Fodio which affected much of the north of the future Nigeria and was only halted by Ibadan warriors in 1840 in Oshogbo.
The pace of internal movement has increased massively since Independence. Major cities, especially in the Southwest, have been greatly affected. Lagos, especially, has borne much of the brunt of this internal migration, with estimates that up to one thousand new arrivals enter the city every day, while the reverse movement is miniscule.
Nigerian communities generally have a welcoming attitude to strangers. But there are different cultural attitudes that guide interaction. In parts of Northern Nigeria, the ‘Sabon Gari’ is a section of the city where non-indigenes are allowed to carry out their everyday lives. Although Ibadan, a city in Oyo State has a location called Sabo, which has a high population of Northern Nigerians, it is not in the culture of many of the peoples of Southern Nigeria to segregate indigenes from non-indigenes.
Other local differences exist from place to place. In the Southwest, anyone who can afford the cost can buy land and build a house virtually anywhere. Anyone can start a business, without needing a local ‘front’. In some other parts of the country, it is almost impossible to buy land, or build a house, in your own name. It is a touchy subject, and officials and indigenes alike are often defensive, speaking from both sides of the mouth. But the reality is that even indigenes of neighbouring states who share the same ethnic stock may face the same restrictions.
Another issue is that some people migrate in numbers to other communities. Instead of mingling with the locals, they form a separate and distinct community, on the basis not just of ethnic stock but sometimes even religion. Effectively they become a ‘Bantustan’, separate and distinct from the local community, and making a show of having a different world view. In the Middle Belt such communities may appropriate the identity and ownership of a whole local government, and show overt political hostility to its local community. The natural cry of the host that his traditional land has been ‘taken over’ by strangers has been one of the major causes of seemingly endless conflict in that geographical area.
There is still another element of behaviour that has evolved to sour the story of internal migration in Nigeria. People originally from the same town who settle in alien parts often seek their fellows out and form associations, which are really social clubs. This is perfectly in order, and is a universal observation in ‘expatriate’ communities. However, with the uniquely Nigerian penchant for high-sounding appellation, the leaders of such groups have developed the habit of giving themselves grand titles such as ‘Oba of the Yoruba in Awka’, ‘Serikin Fulani Lagos’, or ‘Eze Ndigbo of Ajao Estate’. There is nothing ‘traditional’ about these essentially bogus titles, but their usage has been allowed to insinuate itself into public visibility, opening loopholes for political cleavages and often causing intergroup disharmony as it creates the impression of rivalry with the local traditional institution.
The existing Constitution gives every citizen the right to live and work anywhere in the country; but it side-steps the need for a realistic demarcation between ‘Resident’ and ‘Indigene’. It is silent on the rights and responsibilities of the two groups, and does not say what any citizen would need to do transform from one status to the other, or at least to earn the same rights and privileges. President Shehu Shagari, once while campaigning in Lagos, spoke harshly against ‘tribalists’ who were claiming that ‘indigenes’ of the place were entitled to some ‘special’ rights. Paradoxically, could not extrapolate the same logic of ‘total equality’ to non-indigenous residents of his own home state of Sokoto.
Every government since Babangida has been aware of the need to discuss and agree on ‘The National Question’.
How can Nigeria standardise its citizenship rights and responsibilities, for harmonious living?
Should people have non-reciprocal ‘rights’ somewhere, rights which other people cannot have in their own homelands?
Should people be entitled to form enclaves and hold themselves apart from, perhaps even superior to, their host community?
What are the responsibilities of host communities?
What are the responsibilities of ‘guests’? Do these include civility and respect?
Can people have two States – a State of Residence, and a State of Domicile, in perpetuity? Or would a defined period of long stay entitle them to give up one for the other, if they chose formally to do so?
Should the same land and property rights operate by enforceable law across the nation, or should people continue to speak mischievously from both sides of the mouth?
Perhaps the much-derided 10th National Assembly would see a need to take on the National Question, finally, stepping where eagles have feared to thread.
Or perhaps Nigeria will ‘play safe’ yet again and continue with hypocrisy and doublespeak, while its citizenship remains a paranoid predatory jostle for advantage over others, mixed with periodic emotional outpourings of grievance psychology.

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