About a fortnight ago, South African novelist and Nobel Laureate, Nadine Gordimer passed away at the ripe old age of 90. While I am yet to read any of her books, the story of how she used her works of fiction to add her voice to the fight against apartheid is well-known. I was reading a tribute to her when something caught my attention: Nadine’s dad was a Lithuanian who had moved to South Africa before she was born in 1923. Yet, all through her life, she was a South African until she died.
This got me thinking: what does it take to be a citizen of a country?
Different countries have different requirements. To be an American citizen, one has to be either born in the United States or any of its territories, be born of an American parent, a permanent resident of five years, or married to an American.
For one to be qualified to be a Nigerian citizenship, one can take either of these routes: by birth, registration or naturalization, as explained in Sections 25 – 28 of the Nigerian Constitution. One of the requirements for one to be given the passport which is the proof of citizenship is that one’s parents must belong or have belonged to an indigenous community in Nigeria.
The proof of indigeneship is given by the local government chairman after it has been proven that indeed, you come from a community within the local government, usually by a village or ward head. In other words, your being a Nigerian citizen rests upon your ancestry being traced in a community or village. If for instance, you have lived your entire life in Lagos but your grandparents had actually moved from Ogoja, Cross River State, it is Ogoja that you are an indigene of, and so it will continue down your lineage.
But obtaining a passport is not the only benefits of being an indigeneship somewhere. After all, millions of Nigerians do not have passports and most obtain one only when they have to travel beyond our borders.
Virtually every benefit of being a citizen is dependent on your indigeneship – getting school admissions, securing a job with our civil services, running for elections and so forth. As long as it is a benefit that is from government, one’s indigeneship is a crucial factor in your getting it.
This is not to mention the behind-the-scenes parameters that are factored into the sharing of resources – religion, ethnicity and geographical origins. It is not enough that you are an indigene of somewhere, but what religious faith you profess and what ethnic group you are from are also important. You might be qualified for a job but if it is perceived that your ethnic group has dominated appointments from that state, it might go to a less qualified person; or you might get the appointment because of the dominance of your ethnic group.
The effect of this has become that we rarely see those who get appointments in government services or admissions into schools as deserving when they are not “one of us”. Depending on the context of the state, there is always a form of “we vs. them” – either on ethnic, religious or geographical basis or even a mix of two or all of them.
For example, last September, a message was spreading on social mediums by some persons who were protesting that the intake of cadets from the North for that year for the regular course of the Nigerian Defence Academy was overwhelmingly dominated by Christians. They saw that as a disenfranchisement of Muslims from these states. To these people, they did not stop to consider whether those who made into the Academy had gotten it through merit, and not through any favoritism. After all, the message did not provide any proof that the cadets picked had lower entry scores than the applicants who did not make it.
The major reason for this is that Nigeria as a country is not structured at the moment for wealth creation, but rather for wealth sharing. This necessitated the concept of indigeneship in order to make sure the resources are shared equitably e.g. Section 147(3) of the Constitution stipulating that at least one minister per state be appointed, who shall be an indigene of that state.
However, the effect of this is that it has made us myopic and ingrained in us a scarcity mindset – that the resources are few and finite, and as such, we must all struggle for as big a slice of the national cake as possible. Rather than collaborate and create more wealth, we are more concerned with squabbles over who the size of the wealth that is coming to us.
It is because of this reason that whenever someone gets, say an appointment or even a contract in a state other than his, there is always concerted opposition to it. Take, for instance, when the Minister for Trade and Industry, Segun Aganga was first appointed a minister in 2010 to represent Lagos State. There was a lot of opposition from many people in Lagos who insisted that Aganga, whose roots were traced to Edo State should not deprive their own people from what rightly belongs to them. This is despite the fact that his family has been in Lagos for at least two generations.
Space would not permit me to explore all the numerous ways in which indigeneship affects us negatively as a country, limits our economic growth and has truncated our fusing into one nation.
We have unwittingly ended up elevating indigeneship above citizenship in Nigeria. After all, the full benefits of being a Nigerian citizen can only come into effect when we are recognized as indigenes of an area, and the definition of who is an indigene of such an area is so narrow and limiting.
Fewer things are as saddening in Nigeria as this. This is something that needs urgent fixing.
To paraphrase the words of Italian statesman, Massimo d’Azeglio, “We have made Nigeria, now we must make Nigerians.”