National anthems all over the world are animated by lofty visions. Ours have served us rather well in this regard. Both the genteel post-independence anthem, with its clarion chant ‘Nigeria we hail thee’’ and the more energetic successor ‘Arise o Compatriot’ introduced by the Obasanjo Administration in 1978, contain alluring professions of group idealism. The independence anthem spoke of Nigeria as an entity, even if it ‘differs in tongue and tribe ‘it still stands united in brotherhood ‘. The 1978 anthem has been equally high-spirited and among other things, emphasizes the projection of ‘one nation bound in peace and unity’.
Yet for all this profession of equality, unity and brotherhood, ordinary life in Nigeria has continued to be hobbled and undermined by extremely antiquarian, discriminatory and non-progressive determinants. We in particular, note the formal requirement for citizens to disclose their state of origin or in some circumstances, to be categorized as either settlers or indigenes. Both demands are odious and should have no place in a modern political community
The demand for a state of origin document can be made on citizens in diverse circumstances; i.e., while renting a facility, taking a loan or wife, vying for a scholarship or accepting a high profile position in the public service or private practice. These demands reinforce exclusivity and leave no window for the development of a new civic identity.
A more well-known social and political restriction is the so called indigene-settler dichotomy, through whose prism access to public resources and appointments is determined. The indigene-settler dichotomy is a very touchy subject and has periodically produced social unpleasantness and violence across the length and breadth of our country. The special access this system seeks to create for those regarded as indigenes has caused a great deal of disaffection amongst those discriminated against.
Wherever the requirement for ‘state of origin’ or the indigene-settler dichotomy have formed the basis of public policy, they establish jurisdictions which enthrone inequity and promote discrimination. Political communities all over the world, grow and expand, not because of short sighted principles of exclusivity, but rather on the basis of an egalitarianism which welcomes fresh blood and strangers.
Section 41 (1) of the Nigerian constitution gives every citizen the right to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside thereof. Section 43 further guarantees every citizen, the right to acquire and own movable property everywhere in Nigeria. However, these guarantees are frequently moderated and challenged by indigeneship rights and ancestral entitlement.
Our leaders, it appears continue to live in denial. From roof-tops, they make holy noises about killing tribalism, ethnicism and other forms of discrimination. Yet, we know that in truth ethnic recognition provides the basis for the allocation of public resources. When states are created or appointments are made, it is often in quiet recognition of some ethnic calculus. Thus our states, local governments, and even appointments have become ethnic havens populated by ethnic supermen and women. We have left no room for the development of a Republic driven by citizenship considerations. The ‘state of origin’ syndrome, along with the indigene-settler dichotomy represent a poison in our body politic.
This twin evil, along with other wrongful initiatives have continued to make it difficult for us as a people and country to realize our full social and political potentials. We are glad to note that 19 Northern Governors early this month, called for the abolition of the indigène-settler dichotomy. In Kaduna State, Governor el-Rufa’i has abolished the dichotomy. Additionally, Senator Dino Melaye, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory has submitted a bill for the abolition of the demand for state of origin certification. Instead, only state of residency certification may be demanded. These are important steps and deserve to be supported and promoted.
We must all be committed to the establishment of a new national society, which will say no to discrimination; which will welcome fresh talent and fresh vision and which like other great countries in the world, will thrive on inclusiveness and open doors. It is time to abolish the indigène settler dichotomy and the ‘state of origin conundrum’.