It’s a good idea for Nigerians to have a sense of belonging, but the government has to do its home work
In a move aimed at reducing, if not eliminating, the settler/indigene dichotomy in the country, the Federal Government is said to be seriously considering sending a bill to the National Assembly on the issue. The intention of the said bill, according to Ahmed Ali Gulak, Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, is to give every Nigerian a sense of belonging anywhere he or she may be domiciled.
On its face value, the idea sounds very laudable and worthy of consideration. However, against the background that an “indigene” is defined as a “person who belongs, either through birth or ancestry, to a particular community that is geographically determined,” and a settler as “someone who leaves his original place of normal residence or habitation to settle in a new location,” there are issues to ponder upon. The major test in any serious attempt to abolish this dichotomy would certainly hinge on the fact of definition or redefinition of “citizenship”.
Although we know who a Nigerian citizen is, it is something else when that same Nigerian citizen finds himself or herself in a different location other than his/her “place of birth” or “state of origin”. Even when such a Nigerian may have no problem “settling” and doing business anywhere within the country, being accepted as a bona fide resident in the adopted state or community is another matter altogether. While this was not the situation in the past, the recent triumph of ethnic (and sometimes clannish) politics and religious bigotry is denying Nigerians the benefits of reaping from their contributions outside their “state of origin”.
While the application of the sentiment may be more pronounced in some states than others, the fact remains that almost every Nigerian is today a “settler” outside his or her state of origin. In many states, even children are denied things as basic as admission to academic institutions based on “state of origin” notwithstanding the fact that their parents may not have defaulted in payment of their taxes and in meeting other obligations. This sort of discrimination was indeed taken to another level last year when the Abia State Government expelled from its civil service people from other (Igbo speaking) South East states.
From the foregoing, while it may be easy to enact a law that anyone who had been domiciled in a place for between 10 and 20 years would automatically become a citizen of the state, giving practical effect to such enactment is where the real challenge lies. Therefore, in lending our support to whatever measure government considers necessary to help confront the monster of indigene/settler dichotomy while promoting national integration and common citizenship, we must caution on the impracticability of resolving it by fiat.Because to attempt it that way would be an open invitation to failure.
For the propositionto work, there has to be a change in mindset and a total reorientation of the people. For instance, how would anyone convince extremists of different hues that abound all over the country that the persons they are “expelling” from their states have indeed become“citizens” and no longer “settlers” by virtue of their years of residency? While we endorse all ideas to give Nigerians a sense of belonging wherever they may be domiciled within the territory of the country, we urge the Federal Government to explore all the possible impediments and come up with practical solutions to them before sending a bill to the National Assembly. But we align ourselves with the principle: in an era where Nigerians, Jamaicans and people of other nationalities are getting elected Mayors and parliamentarians in United Kingdom and other countries, no Nigerian should face discrimination anywhere in the only nation he/she knows as home.