Still on Indigene and Federal Character Principles

Professor Oba Abdulraheem of Federal Character

I had a strong feeling of bereavement when the pictures of the Asagba of Asaba, Professor Chike Edozien appeared in some national dailies under obituary. It was after going through the story that I realized it was another professor of science, Chike Obi the renowned mathematician of international repute that died.

My sentiment was borne out of the fact that the Asagba is one of detribalized traditional rulers in Nigeria who does not discriminate amongst the residents in his domain from diverse ethnic and religion backgrounds. I had witnessed, as a corps member in Delta State a decade ago, how the revered traditional ruler provided the needs and protected young corpers from other parts of the country serving in his province. During Islamic festivals for instance, he hosted Muslim corpers from different states, especially from the North to special feast and showered them with gifts. We felt at home-away from-home through close interactions with him and his fatherly roles in our lives. It was not surprising that some of us even went ahead to cart away pretty spouses in marriage while other got automatic employments in the Niger-Delta State. I was lucky too to have worked briefly in Government House Asaba as a civil servant away from my place of birth and origin.

Could we have bothered about indeneship and federal character principles if similar gestures and respects as mentioned above are replicated in our various communities?

The issue of indigene and politics of state of origin which influenced the adoption of federal character principles in our national polity has remained as contentious as ever. Lately eyes brows have been raised on alleged lopsidedness in federal appointments by various groups which pose a serious challenge to the new Chairman of the Federal Character Commission, Professor Oba Abdulraheem Shuaib, who was former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin. He is being described as a detribalized Nigerian who is also married to an Edo woman. Sometimes one wonders if the sectional debate is not being manipulated by the elites to sustain their hegemony and hoodwink ordinary Nigerians from facing the reality.

We have witnessed negative effects of indigeneship/settlership imbroglio that alienate other Nigerians from freedom in their host communities and even ancestral places. The painful irony on this unnecessary dichotomy had resulted to bloody communal conflicts among groups within the same geopolitical environments with attendant lost of lives and properties. It is still fresh in our memory the Jukun-Tiv conflict in the North East, the Zangon Kataf debacle in the North West, Plateau’s Hausa-Burom clash in the North Central, the Ife-Modakeke crisis in the South West, the Umuleri-Aguleri conflict in the South East and Urhobo- Ishekiri rivalry in the South South.

In some states not only were the so-called strangers being denied the right to own businesses, build houses, get employment, obtain scholarship and free medication, they are even taunted like outcasts. And yet the governments of those localities benefit and survive from the free monthly allocation from the federation account that is derivable mostly offshore on criteria that include the population of the people in the states including the so-called non-indigenes. Won’t it be unfair to collect extra revenue on behalf of people on the basis of population and yet deny them equal right?

Since there is neither a historical document to prove that Adam and Eve were created in any part of Nigeria nor is there a record that a human germinated from the soil, the claim of origin of a place is deceptive. We are all naturally settlers by virtue of our forefathers’ emigration to the part of the world we now claim. While there are some advantages over the application of federal character principles due to our peculiarities as a nation of multi ethnic and cultural complexities, the issue of indigenes and settlers should be reexamine and discarded if they are in our laws. Citizenship and residency rights of all Nigerians in wherever they are through economic empowerment and political rights should be encouraged to promote rapid development of the communities they live.

Nigeria could adopt residency rights for its citizens with some refinements by examining the conventional process of acquisition of citizenship of a country through parents, place of birth and naturalization to suit our peculiarities.

The basic requirement for residency rights may include a stipulated years of residence in the host communities, ability to speak the local language, intermarriage consideration, community development, payment of taxes and other civic responsibilities to entitle the person to all the rights and privileges of a place he/she resides. These conditions will further encourage national integration and reduce tension associated with ethnicity.
One of the glaring omissions in the 7 Point Agenda of President Yar’Adua is non-inclusion of programme of action towards national integration and cohesion for the promotion of national unity and social citizenship.

In as much as the Federal Character Commission is charged with the responsibilities of ensuring fair and equitable distribution of posts in the public services throughout the federation, its central concern should not be limited to appointments but also to play statutory roles in fair and just distribution of economic amenities to various communities in the country, even if from the controversial excess crude account. This idea was shared by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua at the inauguration of the body. In his speech read by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, he charged the Commission to ensure equitable distributions of socio-economic amenities because they impact more on the society than that of appointments which only benefit individuals. He also urged the body to ensure effective and fair representation of women and youths, the physically challenged and other disadvantaged groups in the workforce.

Towards this background the government should spread locations of industries, public institutions, security and infrastructure evenly amongst the states, local governments and even wards respectively that could create more job opportunities and development of such areas. Likewise programmes of poverty-reduction and mass literacy should be undertaken in the same patterns.

We can take a cue from developed nations that have progressed rapidly through their culture of assimilation and policy of integration where appointments are based on merit but development efforts are spread evenly. In fact many Nigerians have been appointed, elected into public offices abroad … in fact some of them even serve in the armed forces in other nations. It may sound strange to sectional leaders to realize that one of the great contenders for the presidency of the United States of America in the present dispensation is Senator Barack Obama, a son of an African Muslim. It is not about ethnic representations it is about whom the cap fits to develop a nation.

While some states like Lagos and Kano have shown good example in their deliberate policy of appointing and electing non-indigenes into their respective public offices to give other ethnic groups sense of belonging, lets hope that we would soon witness an Igbo person as an elected senator from Sokoto, an Hausa as democratic governor of Enugu, a Yoruba as a minister representing Borno, Ijawwoman as chairperson of local government in Kwara, Kanuriman as a commissioner in Rivers and Fulani as a Speaker of the State Assembly in Ogun. While the topmost post of the president should go to a stateless Nigerian. Do I hear you say amen or you are still debating my summation?

This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Economic Confidential June, BussinessDay June 10, Vanguard June 12, Daily Champion June 21, Weekend Triumph June 21, Sunday Trust June22 and Leadership June 22, 2008

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Yushau Shuaib

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