Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Is the South finally set to colonize the North? By Aliyu U. Tilde

Published:

Aliyu Tilde

I received a text message yesterday that read, “Senate Committee on constitutional Review is collating people’s vote via text on replacing state of origin with state of residence. Text ‘Yes’ or ‘No to 20052″.”

Then an advice followed in the text:

“Let me advise pls, txt ‘NO”. Ur vote is important to rescue the North. Circulate this msg to all Northerners. Be warned, a grand agenda is to colonised North. How many northerners reside outside d North compared with them. Your vote will be processed accordingly. For more visit:www.constitutionreview.org.”

I clicked at www.constitutionreview.org naturally as I know you would do now too. This is what came up:

“Welcome! This domain was recently registered at namecheap.com. The domain owner may currently be creating a great site for this domain. Please check back later!”

Naturally, one will be inclined to discard the message and move on with life. But in a country where government has turned into a cult, with policies formulated by groups behind doors in order to gain advantage over others, only a fool would shrug the message off his shoulders. The safest thing, I said to myself, is to hold the content of the message as true and send my vote to the provided number. Of course you know what that vote is: a big NO. The message was replied instantly, saying:

“Senate Committee on Constitution Review appreciates your input. Your vote will be processed accordingly. For more visit: www.constitutionreview.org.”

In this discourse, I intend to discuss the reasons behind my NO vote. They are very clear and in the best interest of the nation.

Ordinarily, I would have jumped at the idea because it would allow my nomadic ethnic group the right of belonging to any place in the country including the Niger Delta where it reached during the last two decades. I am not alone though. It would also favour the other highly mobile ethnic groups – Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba – as they disperse away from their homelands due to desert encroachment, limitation in space or in search of business opportunities. That would not be fair. We belong to a nation of many tribes and so many of them are not spatially mobile. They would be put at a disadvantage or wiped out altogether from our demographic map. The issue is in fact more complex than that.

The whole indigene problem has been brought into sharp focus recently by the ethno-religious crises in Plateau where the native population – mostly those present at the time of colonization in early 20th Century – attempt to exclude other Northerners in the state from claiming ‘indigeneship’ of the state and enjoying the rights and privileges due to that status. At a point in the beginning of the crises, former Governor Dariye bluntly said that the Hausas would be expelled from Plateau unless they drop their claim to its indigeneship.

The settler indigene issue thus became the bone of contention in the crises and in all proceedings of panels of inquiry set up in their aftermath. Thousands of people have died or injured on this matter, thousands have been displaced and dozens of settlements have been wiped out from the map completely. Yet, we are not any inch closer to resolving it and, true, the country cannot continue to bleed from its wound.

The pain of that recurrent crisis has tempted many to think of removing the concept of indigene completely from our constitution and official matters and replacing it with something more liberal like citizenship or residency. Many would quickly buy the idea thinking that it will solve the problem. It would not. It will only aggravate it by nationalizing it. In the end, every state would turn into a Plateau or worse.

I am of the strong opinion that despite the problem on the Plateau, the status quo should be maintained while we collectively try to help Plateau solve its problems. The indigene concept as we know it is a culmination of a long journey of affirmative policies in various parts of the federation. It started in the former Western Region when it wanted to exclude the Igbo from its civil service and politics. Later, Sardauna would apply it in the defunct northern region as a shield from southerner domination.

Generally, the Igbo have been the foremost proponents of a unitary Nigeria. This flows from their initial numeric advantage in the federal civil service and, perhaps, eagerness to settle in other regions without suffering any political hindrance given their high population density, very limited home space, and aggressive trading culture. The concept of a unitary Nigeria is the single most important goal of the Ironsi administration.

Aguyi Ironsi, it is said, was so ultra-nationalist in his approach to governance that in an attempt to dissolve the bad blood created among Nigerians as a result of regional differences during the First Republic, he even wanted to carry it to where chiefs would be transferred between regions, like where the Sultan of Sokoto would be transferred to Onitsha or Calabar, for example, and the Obi of Onitsha or Oba of Benin brought to Borno or Kano. Others saw things differently. Northerners in particular saw his moves as an attempt to pave the way for Igbo colonization of the North. Whether it was true or not, that fear contributed to the July 1966 coup just as did the brutal killing of top northern politicians and military officers six month earlier.

Ironsi was killed in that coup and he left the North intact, with its vast land accounting for three quarters of the Nigerian map. But traces of his dream would be pursued in another form this time in combination with that of others. The south has always complained of the unequal size of the three regions that formed Nigeria, saying that the arrangement gave the North a clear advantage in political and administrative matters.

So, one thing was settled for, in collaboration with northern minority groups that have been in opposition to the ruling Northern Peoples Congress during the First Republic. If the ‘big’ North cannot be colonized as per Ironsi’s dream, it should be broken into pieces called states. The agenda of state creation has been a long dream of the two groups and the ascension of the pacifist Gowon as the Head of State and the prominent role of clever Awolowo as his chief planning officer offered a golden opportunity for the realization of that dream. How Nigeria now became 36 states does not need any review here. It took only the first step of creating twelve and the strong thirst for each group to have its own state, no matter how unviable it would be, has never been quenched.

The states created carried as their takeoff baggage the virus of indigenisation. Whenever one is partitioned into two or more, assets of the old state are shared among the new ones and its civil servants are redeployed each to his own state of origin. States have undoubtedly brought government closer to the people. Along with federal statutory allocations they have also brought about a more even distribution of physical development in the country.

However, it is very doubtful, even by the mere reading of “them” in the above text message, whether states creation has brought Nigerians closer to one another. The old North/South divide remains and northerners are often reminded of their common name regardless of the state they originate from in the North or the religion they profess. They are made to equitably share the fate that befalls them especially in times of crisis when the axes of OPC and MASSOB are let lose on the streets of Lagos or Aba respectively.

Beyond their inability to dissolve past differences, states have also multiplied corruption and spread unrest to hitherto peaceful areas. The case of Plateau is a good example to cite. All was well during the former Benue-Plateau and Plateau States. Hausas in Jos North then, for example, were enjoying scholarships and other privileges. But as soon as Nasarawa State was created, a new power equation emerged to the disadvantage of the Hausas. Those favoured by that equation decided that it is now time to get rid of “the settlers” from our land.

The issue of indigeneship is therefore entrenched in our psyche and it will be difficult to remove or replace it with the more liberal identity of residency. That idea will definitely not be accepted in any of the Northern states, if I must put it bluntly. We are okay with the status quo. If I will move to Umuahia to stay for any reason, for example, I will be proud to answer my Bauchi origin and under no circumstance would I claim to be an indigene of Abia. I should be contented with my constitutional rights as a citizen. And those rights, mind you, are many.

I have the right to live in anywhere in the country, to run any business, to associate with anyone, to practice any religion, to hold any belief, all without hindrance, says the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As a tax payer and a statistic in the demography of the state, I am also entitled to any welfare benefit that might accrue to any of its residents, like electricity, water, healthcare, roads and basic education for my children. I do not think there is much contention on these things.

However, if I need any extra-privilege for myself or for my children, I should seek same from my state of origin, which I should be proud to identify with anyway. Come to think of it: What pride is there in a child that would not answer his father’s name? I do not think that would hinder my development in any way. In my view, this is the most equitable arrangement that we can arrive at given our antecedents and existing realities. Since the shift of power to the south, there have been so many genuine complaints of marginalization of the docile North in appointments and general affairs of government. State indigeneship is the only remaining domain for the common man to claim a right that is beyond the reach of anyone that would be tempted to use his economic and political power to dominate him. It is also the only way an equitable representation in the management of affairs of this nation could be achieved as envisaged by the provision of the Federal Character in our constitution.

The desire of the south to ‘colonize’ the North cannot be dismissed just as the fear of that colonization has refused to leave the minds of Northerners. The desire of the south could be innocent and natural, arising form the pressure of limited space and the hope to share in present and future prospects that the region could offer. The North, on its part, is aware of its vulnerability that arises from its heterogeneous composition and of its backwardness in literally every human development index. It has not also lost sight of the fact that the south, though very much smaller in number and landmass, is generations ahead of it in education and economy. It is therefore natural for it to avoid the residency pill. I doubt if for the sake of the Plateau crisis the rest of the north would buy in to this trick.

Therefore, the question of Plateau would still remain. In my previous writings I have clearly stated how it could be resolved amicably. After a long analysis in my series called The Plateau Crucible (available on my blog) where I drew lessons from indigene policy and practices in other northern states, I reasoned that not all Hausa or Fulani living in the state now can claim to be its indigenes just as I dismissed the attempt to disenfranchise all of them of that status by the recent administrations in the state. If I were a party to the conflict, I would have advocated for a Plateau indigeneship based on the following criteria as found in other northern states:

1) All natives inhabiting the area covered by the state now at the onset of colonial rule
2) All northerners – and their progeny down the ladder – who were living in the state, if they choose to remain its indigenes and can prove such residence through documents like tax receipts and land or property ownership, that were resident in the state as at the date when the defunct northern region was disbanded, i.e. 1967
3) Any Nigerian certified in the past as indigene of any local government in the state after following its due process of verification or awarded that status on sympathetic grounds by a local government of the state.

By the above criteria, anyone who migrated to Plateau state after 1967 cannot claim its indigeneship, just as it obtains in other northern states.. However, it takes care of those who were part of the building of modern Plateau, including those who were forcefully transferred there to work in the mines during the colonial era and who cannot even trace back their origins. A situation where every Hausa or Fulani resident in Plateau is considered an indigene is not tenable, as it also does not apply in other northern states.

Today, we have many indigenes of defunct provinces of Kwara, Kabba, Benue, Plateau, etc, who are indigenes of Bauchi, Adamawa, Sokoto, Kano and many northern states. Some are my personal friends since childhood; others we have once served in the same cabinet. Plateau should embrace the same formula for the sake of peace.

However, I cannot claim to be an indigene of Sokoto when I was a lecturer there some two decades ago, even if I had wished, I should not expect more from Plateau were I to stay there any day. An indigene of Wase Local Government in Plateau State who migrated here four years ago yesterday came requesting me to sign an attestation that his children are indigenes of Toro Local Government Area of Bauchi State. I refused and politely advised him to allow his children retain their original identity for a number of reasons. I was glad he left convinced that it was the right thing to do.

What I abhor in the Plateau crisis is the use of violence by the indigenes as a tool of dialogue. Expelling Nigerians of any origin from a state for any reason is not constitutional. It is rather a recipe for unending violence in various ways. Now even the indigenes are feeling the brunt of the violence. Consumed in the prevailing vicious circle of violence nobody is even thinking that an amicable solution is possible.

So the Plateau claims and counterclaims of indigeneship that seem intractable could be resolved amicably without dragging the whole country into the mud. So ‘No” to residency and ‘Yes’ to indigeneship. That is the best choice of Nigerians in the long run. Whether it is an agenda to colonize the North or not, I have sent my vote.

Let me – the North – be left alone. With my illiteracy, poverty, almajiri, ethnic conflicts, etc. Oho dai! Samu ya fi iyawa. I welcome all Nigerians to my vast land and together, under the present arrangement, we will live in peace, free from fear of domination by any.

Long Live Nigeria.

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