• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Between residence and origin: The national question in Nigeria

Between residence and origin – the national question in Nigeria

“However, some of the internal migration and intermingling within the Nigerian space has been overtly antagonistic or predatory.”

One of the measures of the unique strength and virtually limitless possibilities of the Nigerian nation is the footloose tendency of its various peoples and their relentless tendency to co-mingle.

This constant movement and intermingling started long before Nigeria’s independence. Some historians would say that the movement even preceded the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates and the creation of the Lugardian contraption that would be known as Nigeria.

It is necessary that this interchange not be romanticised or distorted from a historical perspective. The mingling was not always peaceful or invariably done with the best of intentions. The standard assumption in human migration is that it is driven by adventure, escape from danger, or a search for a better life.

In choosing a destination to move to, there is a need for a sense of affinity with the host community and their ways, and even a sense that one will grow to be like them. However, some of the internal migration and intermingling within the Nigerian space has been overtly antagonistic or predatory. There have been several wars with forced relocations.

There were the Yoruba Civil Wars of 1789–1893, which marked the disintegration of the old Oyo Empire after the death of Alaafin Abiodun. Key events included the loss of Ilorin, the betrayal and killing of the renegade Afonja, the Are Ona Kakanfo, and the sixteen-year-long Kiriji War. The most significant event in these forced relocations was the Jihad of Usman dan Fodio, which affected much of the north of future Nigeria and was only halted by Ibadan warriors in 1840 in Oshogbo.

The pace of internal movement has increased massively since independence. Major cities, especially in the Southwest, have been affected. Lagos, in particular, has borne much of the brunt of this internal migration, with estimates that up to one thousand new arrivals enter the city every day, while the reverse movement is miniscule.

Nigerian communities generally have a welcoming attitude to strangers. But there are different cultural attitudes that guide interaction. In parts of Northern Nigeria, the ‘Sabon Gari’ is a section of the city where non-indigenes are allowed to carry out their everyday lives. Although Ibadan, a city in Oyo State, has a location called Sabo, which has a high population of Northern Nigerians, it is not in the culture of many of the peoples of southern Nigeria to segregate indigenes from non-indigenes.

Other local differences exist from place to place. In the Southwest, anyone who can afford the cost can buy land and build a house virtually anywhere. Anyone can start a business without needing a local ‘front’. In some other parts of the country, it is almost impossible to buy land or build a house in your own name.

It is a touchy subject, and officials and indigenes alike are often defensive, speaking from both sides of the mouth. Sometimes even indigenes of neighbouring states who share the same ethnic stock face the same restrictions.

Another issue is that some people migrate in large numbers to other communities. Instead of mingling with the locals, they form a separate and distinct community, on the basis not just of ethnic stock but sometimes even religion. Effectively, they become a ‘Bantustan’, separate and distinct from the local community, making a show of having a different world view.

In the Middle Belt, such communities may appropriate the identity and ownership of a whole local government and show overt political hostility to its local community. The natural cry of the host that his traditional land has been ‘taken over’ by strangers has led to endless conflict.

There is still another element of behaviour that has evolved to sour the story of internal migration in Nigeria. People originally from the same town who settle in alien parts often seek their fellows out and form associations, which are really social clubs. With the Nigerian penchant for titles, the leaders of such groups have given themselves grand titles such as ‘Oba of the Yoruba in Awka’, Serikin Fulani Lagos, or Eze Ndigbo. There is nothing ‘traditional’ about these essentially bogus titles, but their usage has been allowed to insinuate itself into public visibility, opening loopholes for political cleavages and causing intergroup disharmony.

The existing Constitution gives every citizen the right to live and work anywhere in the country, but it sidesteps realistic demarcation between ‘Resident’ and ‘Indigene’. It is silent on their rights and responsibilities and does not say what any citizen would need to do to transform from one status to another.

President Shehu Shagari, once while campaigning in Lagos, spoke harshly against ‘tribalists’ who were claiming that indigenes had special rights. He could not extrapolate the same logic of ‘total equality’ to his own Sokoto.

Every government since Babangida has been aware of the need to discuss and agree on ‘The National Question’.

How can Nigeria standardise its citizenship rights and responsibilities, for harmonious living?

Should people have non-reciprocal ‘rights’ somewhere, rights which other people cannot have in their own homelands?

Should people be entitled to form enclaves and hold themselves apart from, perhaps even superior to, their host community?

What are the responsibilities of host communities?

What are the responsibilities of ‘guests’? Do these include civility and respect?

Can people have two States – a State of Residence, and a State of Domicile, in perpetuity? Or would a defined period of long stay entitle them to give up one for the other?

Should the same land and property rights operate by enforceable law across the nation, or should people continue to speak mischievously from both sides of the mouth?

Perhaps the much-derided 10th National Assembly would see a need to take on the National Question, finally, stepping where eagles have feared to tread.

Or perhaps Nigeria will ‘play safe’ yet again and continue with hypocrisy and doublespeak, while its citizenship remains a paranoid predatory interplay for advantage over others, mixed with outpourings of grievance psychology.