Nigerians Seek Refuge in Ethnicity Over Residency

04 Jan 2013

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National Assembly Complex

Constitution Review..

Onwuka Nzeshi

The move by the National Assembly to substitute state of origin clause with that of state of residence in the ongoing amendment to the 1999 Constitution is likely to meet stiff opposition in different parts of the country, thus projecting Nigerians as people steeped in ethnic sentiment.

The Ad Hoc Committees on the Constitution Review in both the Senate and House of Representatives took the issue to their constituents in their separate public hearings last November.

Although the report of decisions reached at the public hearings has not been made public, the Senate ad hoc committee is currently running an opinion poll on the internet on the residency clause.
The survey has however thrown up a number of issues: The residency clause will ostensibly upset the political apple cart and call to question some cardinal planks of the Nigerian federation such as the principle of federal character, quota system, land tenure system as well as the preservation of indigenous cultures across Nigeria.

Section 14(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides that: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.”

Some legislators, who spoke to THISDAY on the issue on thursday were unanimous on the desirability of introducing the residency clause into the constitution, but they expressed serious reservation over its enforcement in practical terms.

There were also other respondents who did not see the desirability of the residency clause and warned against the perceived consequences of the proposed amendment.

Chairman, House Committee on Public Service Matters, Hon. Andrew Uchendu (PDP/Rivers), said while the residency clause could be a possible antidote to the lingering conflicts between indigenes and settlers in many states of the federation, the proposed new order might trigger new controversies and more conflicts.

Uchendu said that a fresh wave of conflict might arise from sensitive issues such as land ownership and kingship in the various communities where former settlers would want to claim equal rights.

“It is an ideal thing. It is desirable but enforcement will be a major hurdle. The residency clause was roundly rejected in my constituency during the recent people's public sessions which held in all the 360 federal constituencies of the country.

“The rejection was quite understandable. The average Ikwerre man does not play with the issue of land because it is a very important resource and means of livelihood. Every piece of land is owned by someone.

“Individuals, families and communities inherited these parcels of land from their ancestors and it will be practically impossible to have some new comers laying equal claim to land because they happen to reside in the same community as the original inhabitants,” he said.

Uchendu observed that the issue of traditional leadership in the communities could also pose a threat to the application of the residency clause. According to him, it will be unthinkable for people other than the indigenes of a particular community to rule over them in terms of traditional kingship.

Chairman, House Committee on Works, Hon. Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi (PDP/Enugu), also described the planned replacement of the indigene clause with the residency clause as ideal in a modern democracy.

Ozomgbachi said that in advanced democracies such as the United States of America, citizens are not confined to particular locations or restricted to their states of origin.

According to Ozomgbachi, the situation where some Nigerians have lived in particular places for over 30 years and have contributed to the social and economic development of such places but are still regarded as strangers, does not augur well for peaceful coexistence, national integration, cohesion and unity among the various groups in the country.
In applying the residency model in Nigeria, Ozomgbachi, however, warned that the National Assembly must put in place some safeguards to avoid abuse of the new order.

Nonetheless, the feeling was different in Plateau State, North-central Nigeria, where indigenous tribes have been engaged in a running battle with the Hausa/Fulani immigrants over arable and grazing lands for several years.

Former Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Climate Change, Hon. Bitrus Kaze (PDP/Plateau), told THISDAY that the move to substitute state of origin with state of residence in the constitution will only lead to further emasculation of minority ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Kaze, who represents Jos South-Jos East Federal Constituency, said the concept of indigeneship was enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution from independence and has been the primary basis for citizenship in Nigeria.

He explained that the emphasis on indigeneship was inevitable because of the need to ensure that the rights of the indigenous peoples, particularly the minority tribes that make up Nigeria, are protected under the federal constitution.

“The concept of the 'indigene' first gained constitutional prominence at independence in 1960. The aim primarily, and very rightly so, was and is to protect the ethnic minorities from being suppressed by the larger ethnic groups, so as to preserve their socio-cultural identity, ancestral land ownership as well as their traditional institutions, all of which are to them non-negotiable.

“All subsequent Nigerian constitutions have predicated the definition of the Nigerian citizen on indigeneship. Section 25(1)(a) of Chapter 3 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that the following persons are citizens of Nigeria by birth: ‘Every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria.’

“The predominantly Christian Plateau State where I come from is renowned for its pre and post-independence history of bitter struggle against the domineering Jihadists of the far Northern oligarchy. The average Plateau native perceives any attempt to remove the indigene clause from our constitution as an attempt to subjugate our socio-cultural identity, ancestral land ownership as well as their traditional institutions, which have remained non-negotiable to us from time immemorial.

“If domineering tendencies have not been adequately checkmated by the existing constitutional provisions, then the removal of the indigeneship clause will spell doom not only for the Plateau peoples but for all the Nigerian ethnic minorities.

“This will severely injure the ability of the emerging constitution to promote our national unity and to command national loyalty,” the lawmaker stated.

Kaze said the Plateau people would be left with no option than to reconsider if they actually want to remain “part of the contraption called Nigeria”  if their rights to their ancestral lands and the protection of their language, culture and traditions are expose to further threats or completely eroded by a new clause  that places emphasis on residency rather than ancestral roots.

Tags: News, Nigeria, Featured, Nigerians, REFUGE, Ethnicity

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