Governments may do well to ensure that the dichotomy is abolished

Rising from their meeting in Kaduna last week, Governors of the 19 Northern states advocated the abolition of the indigenes-settlers dichotomy which they have identified as one of the major causes of communal conflicts in the region. According to the forum chairman and Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, every Nigerian should have a sense of belonging wherever they reside in as much as such citizens abide by the norms and values of their host communities.

We support the resolution of the governors because, as we have always argued, the indigenes-settler dichotomy represents a metaphor for a broken federation and the tragedy of a nation where its leaders accentuate differences and prejudices. In a modern state, people claim the state where they reside and fulfil all legal obligations. But here citizens could have their rights so casually circumscribed on the pretext of being ‘non-indigenes’ in a state some of them had lived and worked for over 25 years.

While we commend the position of the northern governors, we are quick to say that this is a national problem. Besides, many politicians have also over the years spoken about the need to put an end to such dichotomy but there has been no real effort in that direction. Yet it is an important issue to deal with if we must build a nation out of our diversity.

It is a known fact that many Nigerians outside their ‘state of origin’ suffer all forms of discrimination and are denied certain rights and privileges. The unfortunate aspect of this citizenship debate is that the framers of the constitution itself have consistently failed to recognise and address the pertinent issues. We, however, consider it unacceptable a situation whereby someone who had lived in a place for over 20 years, paying taxes and performing his/her civic duties and responsibilities to the “host state”, suddenly finds that his/her children (including those born in the state) cannot gain admission, enjoy a scholarship or even obtain employment in that state.

It is a notorious fact that most of the ethnic conflicts in certain parts of the country can be traced to this dilemma. The Tiv/Junkun crisis in the Plateau; the Zangon-Kataf conflict in Kaduna State; Ife/Modakeke conflict in Osun State; the Aguleri/Umuleri riots in Anambra State, and many others are all offshoots of agitations between “indigenes” and the so-called “settlers”. Yet these discriminatory tendencies will continue until government begins to see the negative consequences of making citizens “foreigners” in their own country. There must indeed be a way to accommodate all Nigerians wherever they may reside and give them a sense of belonging no matter their “state of origin”.

Since Nigeria always aspires to most of the ideals espoused in the United States from where the presidential system of government was copied, there are worthy examples to draw from. For instance, two sons of former President George Bush were elected governors in two different American states. There are also Nigerians serving as mayors and parliamentarians in the United Kingdom. Yet everyone remembers the brouhaha that attended the nomination of a “non Lagosian” as a Federal Minister in 2011!

A critical imperative in these narratives is the need for a constitutional amendment. If the National Assembly will not muster the requisite will to begin a process for such change, it behooves on President Muhammadu Buhari to initiate an executive Citizens Bill of Rights aimed at correcting the anomaly evident in a constitution that blatantly failed to enforce the full rights of citizens in their places of birth and legal residence. Incidentally, it is also part of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) campaign promises. Now is the time to walk the talk!