Thursday, April 17, 2014

Concerning Indigeneship: A response to Aliyu Tilde, By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu


Chidi Odinkalu

My friend and brother, Dr. Aliyu Tilde, regularly performs unrivalled feats of public service and enlightenment through his blog for which he should receive more credit in a country that values ideas. On reflection, he may consider that his latest posting “Is the South Finally Set to Colonize the North”, is a long way off his usually exceptional standards. In this article, Dr. Tilde examines the issue of indigeneship in Nigeria’s political economy and concludes, rather magisterially “We are okay with the status quo.”

I should clarify that, like Dr. Tilde, I  received the message “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″. The obvious difficulties in our current constitutional text and practice concerning citizenship and indigeneship do not yield easily to such over-simplifications. Residency is a much more fleeting concept than “domicile” and it would have been useful to reflect also the relevance of domicile as a measure of belonging and metric of integration.

This said, Dr. Tilde’s article is severely troubling for several reasons. I limit myself here to four: It is based on verifiable historical inaccuracy; it is conceptually inarticulate; it is impermissibly deterministic; and it asserts a magisterial air that no citizen of a Republic should claim on behalf of any other besides himself of herself. These four points are inter-related.

I’ll begin with the first. Dr. Tilde claims that “The whole indigene problem has been brought into sharp focus recently by the ethno-religious crises in Plateau” and that 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.” This is verifiably false. In northern Nigeria, at least, the entire colonial project was built on the locational, tribal and racial segregation. On page 66 of his 2010 book, Clash of Identities: State, Society and Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Northern Nigeria, Dr. Hussaini Abdu points out that “All together, six different urban residential settlements emerged, consisting of: (a) European Reservation Areas (ERA or GRA); (b) Bariki, Lebanese/Syrian areas (found in Kano and Zaria); (c) Walled City, housing the indigenous population; (d) Tudun Wada, established by the British for northerners who were not indigenous to the town; (e) Sabon Gari, for those the colonial administrators called ‘native foreigners’ who were largely Christians from southern Nigeria; and (f) satellite village settlements.” Outside northern Nigeria, the age-long conflicts in places like Ife-Modakeke (south-west); Aguleri-Umuleri or Ezza-Ezeillo (south-east) or Ikot-Offiong/Odukpani and Urhobo-Itshekiri (south-south), are all textured on competing indigene-settler claims and memories.

Related to this basic historical inaccuracy, Dr. Tilde confuses citizenship/indigeneship with unitarism with the claim that “the Igbo have been the foremost proponents of a unitary Nigeria.” I confess that I found it quite difficult after many readings of his article to find the evidence for this or understand how it fitted in the logic of his narrative. More significantly, it is difficult to understand what unitarism has to do with indigeneship and citizenship. A coherent civic identity cannot in any way pre-determine constitutional architecture or geometries of power. The ANC negotiated a unitary South African Constitution built on radical recognition of both robust citizenship and robust diversity. The United States is a robust, sometimes even dysfunctional, federalism with very strong civic protections. Fundamentally, unitarism is a matter of architecture; citizenship and any of its corollaries and antinomies are matters of entitlement and identity.

The third problem with Dr. Tilde’s ideas flows from this conceptual confusion. The audacity of his determinism is only excelled by its breath-taking persecution complex. As an illustration, in Dr. Tilde’s version of Nigeria’s history, the creation of States by General’s Gowon, Murtala, Babangida, and Abacha, is the product of the conspiracy of a nebulous “South….in collaboration with northern minority groups that have been in opposition to the ruling Northern Peoples’ Congress…” This does not even struggle to be taken seriously!

Cross-ethnic settlement patterns have some antiquity among Nigeria’s communities. Again in his book, Dr. Abdu reports that “by July 1914, the emir of Zazzau (Zaria) had removed the Yoruba traders who had lived in Zaria since the 18th Century to the newly created Sabon Gari.” Coincidentally, Sheikh Othman Dan Fodiyo also established the Emirate structures that Lord Lugard would later fall in love with a century later about the same time that Yoruba communities were emerging in Zaria. But Dr. Tilde wouldn’t think much of such histories.

Somehow, the Nigeria of Dr. Tilde’s article is the product of a time warp. Time, however, has moved on, and, as much as it may appear otherwise, so has the country. At Independence, the party that led government at the Centre did not bother to field any candidates outside its region. Today, no one who dares seriously to rule Nigeria can do so without winning significant votes outside their comfort or identity zones. This is progress. Nigeria is not the product genotype or filial propinquity nor is it a village association. Dr. Tilde’s prescription would reduce the country to an ill-disguised collection of Bantustans in the name the non-existent regional purity. The idea, for instance, that David Mark’s Ohimini Village supposedly in the north, somehow has closer affinity with Maiduguri more than 900km away (and also in Dr. Tilde’s north), than it does with Obollo-Afor, less than 30km away (but in the South) is worse than convenient invention.

But let us assume it is not, that would lead to the fourth problem I’d address in Dr. Tilde’s article. It arises from his sentence: “Let me – the North – be left alone.” I’ll be direct here: my brother, you are not the north. You are just one highly educated citizen who traces his ancestry to a community in a state in northern Nigeria. You may claim to be from Tilde Village in Bauchi State and I from Umuhu-Okabia Village in Imo State but the fact is you and I have much more in common than you with the Almajiri from Borno or I with the MASSOB activist from Ebonyi. We have both gone to good schools, acquired rarefied graduate degrees, have acquired voice as well, and, ultimately, will always – because of these – get a better deal out of Nigeria than these people you and I claim to speak for. Why would you or I appropriate their voices? Are you afraid that if we enable these people to have access to the kinds of awareness you and I have, they could make choices different from the ones you wish to impose on them?

In ending, Dr. Tilde asks the question: “What pride is there in a child that would not answer his father’s name?” I will respond: so what does pride in answering your father’s name have to do with where you are? In any case, paternity is an opinion and many children answer the names of men who are not in fact their biological fathers. This is the problem with making a fetish of locational determinism: quite often its foundations are non-existent and its logic is a faith system. Those are no bases for building a country.

ODINKALU, a lawyer, writes in his personal capacity from Abuja.






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