“How can they come to our land (state) and fight us?” “Our government should do something about this and do it fast!” “We have to chase them out of our land!”
These and many more are comments one comes across everyday on both social networks and group discussions among citizens of Nigeria, especially from states like Benue, Plateau, Taraba etc. Why is there conflict everywhere about who owns the land and who doesn’t? In trying to answer these bothersome questions a lot of things have to be considered. For example, who is a citizen? What is the difference between citizenship and indigeneship? What is the position of the Constitution?
The negative consequences of ethnic conflict in Nigeria have stimulated the debate which is hinged on contestable issues such as the dichotomy between citizenship and indigeneship. Why should other citizens term others as non-indigenes, settlers, migrants in other parts of the country and what should be the right of Nigerian citizens?
The term “citizen” typically refers to any person who owes allegiance to a sovereign state and thereby receives certain protection within that state.
Section 25 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution1999 expressly stipulated who is a citizen of Nigeria. Citizenship and indigeneship are different terms both theoretically and practically. While indigeneship is a natural link between a person and geographical location (his ancestral home) where he traces his roots through a blood lineage and genealogy that puts him in contact with his kin and kindred, citizen is a man-made arrangement that seek to confer on a person certain rights that are enjoyed by all persons in a certain geographical location.
Nigeria is a multi-cultural and heterogeneous society with at least 250 ethnic groups across the six-geopolitical zones of the county. Consequently, there are a multitude of indigenous tribes across the length and breadth of the country with different cultures and traditional dispositions, even within the same state. Intolerance among these ethnic groups has led to catastrophic consequences in the form of violence and wanton destruction of lives and properties, notable among which are the Hausa-Berom clash, Plateau state, Tiv-Jukun, Taraba, Tiv-Fulani, Benue and the Zangon Kataf debacle in Kaduna state. These conflict illustrate how identity is used as the bases to access opportunities within a heterogeneous society. One of the consequences of such frequent ethnic conflicts in Nigeria lately, is the impact on the content of citizenship. These conflicts continue to diminish the quality of rights associated with Nigerian citizenship. It has occasioned discrimination and exclusion.
Since the denial of right of many Nigerians residing in places other than their homeland has enormous consequences on national cohesion, it is imperative to redefine the status and character of the Nigerian citizenship. First there is need to address the issue of citizenship rights constitutionally. This can be done through a constitutional amendment that should clearly states that Nigerians have inalienable right of residence, to contest for public office, own land, have access to social benefits such as employment and scholarship in any part of the country. Consequently, there is need to replace or supplement the indigeneship principle and replace it with the residency principle to entitle a person to all the rights and privileges of a place he/ she resides. The treatment of any Nigerian by any local and state authority should be based on justice and fairness. In this way, Nigerians will mold a spirit of accommodation among themselves thereby fostering the much needed national integration and cohesion for development to take place. It is an act of political intolerance to see a fellow Nigerian as a foreigner in his home land.
Secondly, land issues must be addressed. Land reforms are overdue as such must be un-taken. The reform must make land a resource that is accessible to all. A situation where some Nigerians are denied access to land because they are perceived to be “visitors”, “non-indigenes”, or “migrants” will only tear the county apart rather than web Nigerians together.
Thirdly, it is important for Nigerians in its drive towards inclusive citizenship to work closely with civil society groups to reorient Nigerians. Dealing with citizenship challenges in Nigeria will require a change of mindset. For this to happen, massive civic education and reorientation campaign should be embarked by all progressive. As a youth, it is disheartening to see the massive division created in Nigeria. I hope to live in a Nigeria where I can call any part of the country my home.
Duku Renne is a graduate of law from Madonna University and an intern at Open Society Initiative for West Africa