Human rights chief, others advocate citizenship instead of indigeneship in Nigeria

Prof Chidi Odinkalu

The discussants said citizenship should be encouraged in Nigeria.

The Chairman of the Board of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, has urged stakeholders to work towards promoting citizenship in Nigeria, rather than identity for indigenes.

The chairman made the call on Wednesday in Abuja during a one-day dialogue on “Citizenship and Inclusion in Nigeria.’’

The dialogue was organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in collaboration with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and PREMIUM TIMES.

Mr. Odinkalu said there was the need to emphasise citizenship and de-emphasise ethnicity or indigene identity in order to promote national integration and development.

He called for commitment on the part of government towards ensuring that Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic alliance or religious affiliation, were treated as citizens.

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“We want to forge alliances and partnerships and association across the country to see how we can tackle this problem.

“Those countries where citizenship worked were not invented from space. It took leadership, investment, hard work, commitment and sacrifice from the people.

“The boundaries of the United States were not made by God, human beings made them. It’s only Islands that have natural boundaries.

“All of us, therefore, have the responsibility to be positive about this country and for the sake of the future,” he said.

He said that “being positive also means making our mindset to be positive as we cannot continue to spin negativity when we can actually invest in making the country safer for our children.’’

The human rights boss said: “How can you send a child to school and other children call the child a thief? Not because the child stole but because parents have polluted their minds into thinking that people who answer a particular name or claim to come from a particular part of Nigeria are thieves?”

He said that the commission would not relent in sensitising Nigerians on the importance of citizenship rather than indigene identity, which he said had led to segregation and domination.

He emphasized on the need for change of people’s mind set in order for all Nigerians to live and work in any part of the country without molestation.

“The issue of citizenship requires adjustment of mind set, administrative intervention and adaptation.

“We need a new ethnography that honours everybody that is part of Nigeria, not just the WAZOBIA thing, as every ethnic group counts.

“The NHRC is going to challenge universities to come up with research works that will honour every part of Nigeria.

“Nigerian women are also very important. The role they played in establishing the identity called Nigeria needs to be honoured,” he said.

In a keynote address, former Director General of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPPS, Yakubu Sankey, blamed the Nigerian Constitution for compounding the controversy surrounding citizenship in Nigeria through the introduction of other identities like indigene, settler and resident.

“Citizenship is an identity that entitles the holder to specific rights and privileges,” Mr. Sankey, said.

He, however, added that citizenship as an identity, which entitled Nigerians to specific rights and privileges, was of no effect due to entrenchment of those identities.

The former director-general blamed the state for failing to take necessary steps toward guaranteeing the rights and privileges of Nigerians as citizens.

He pointed out that the failure on the part of the state had forced people into identifying more with identities like family, tribe, religion and indigene.

According to him, the status of a viable state is linked to social, economic, political and legal institutions rather than citizenry, which plays a crucial role in the integration and political stability of the nation.

“We must ensure that the citizen identity transcends all other rival identities

“The state has failed to take the necessary steps to know the citizen by name, therefore, it is not able to guarantee his rights and privileges, nor command his allegiance or enforce obligations.

“There is a need to find a point of convergence between the rights of citizens who may be identified as indigenes, residents or settlers such that makes a win-win situation.

“There is also the need to guarantee the rights of any settler or resident citizen to contest for political office, secure public sector jobs, political appointment and scholarships without hindrance,” he said.

One of the discussants and a legal practitioner, Maryam Uwais, said that women and children suffered most when issues of identity were mentioned in the country.

She spoke on “Citizenship and the Nigerian Child’’ and said that the Federal Character guidelines were not women-friendly, adding that the rights of women as citizens were threatened.

She called for more emphasis on areas that would contribute to the growth of the country, rather than indigene identity.

“There is the need to focus on citizenship, tax generation and good governance for the development of the country, rather than emphasis on indigene identity,” she said.

She said that indigene identity was responsible for power tussle and other forms of crisis being witnessed in the country today.

Another discussant, Sam Egwu, who is a Team Leader on governance with the UNDP, said there was the need to promote citizenship as many Nigerians did not know their origin.

He said it was difficult to tell who the indigenes of a particular community were, given the fact that many tribes had now claimed different geographical locations.

“It is superfluous to tell who the indigenes of a particular place are. Ethnic identity changes and boundaries collapse. So, ethnic identity is very elusive.

“We have to be careful in defending our identity because that is why there are conflicts

“Ethnic identity changes, it is not static.

“Thirty years ago the Igede tribe in Benue were glad to be called Idoma, but today you can’t call them Idoma,” he said.

He called for the amendment of the constitution to address the problem of citizenship in the country.

Additional Reports from NAN

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