• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

The national question: Can Nigeria bridge the divide?

Return to colonial anthem: Who are the real owners of ‘Nigeria’?

A symphony of cultures defines Nigeria. Each group, like a unique spice, adds its own distinctive flavour to the national character. For centuries, Nigerians have been a people on the move; their history is a testament to a restless spirit forever seeking new horizons. However, this very dynamism presents a hidden challenge. The constant flow of internal migration, a hallmark of the Nigerian experience, can also stir tensions between established communities and those seeking a new home. While the rich stew of Nigerian culture simmers with flavour, the heat can sometimes cause ingredients to bubble over. This is the crux of the “National Question” facing Nigeria: can we bridge the divide and ensure our cultural stew remains a source of unity, not conflict?

While the Constitution grants every citizen the right to live and work anywhere in Nigeria, the lines between “resident” and “indigene” remain frustratingly blurry. This ambiguity fuels resentment. “Indigenes” often claim special rights, while “residents” struggle with social exclusion, unequal access to land ownership, and limited political participation.

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The result? Fragmented communities, or “Bantustans,” exist within larger cities, where newcomers cling to their ethnic identity rather than integrate. Spurious titles like “Oba of the Yoruba in Awka” further entrench these divisions.

This national question demands a solution. Silence fosters resentment. We need a frank national conversation about the rights and responsibilities of both residents and host communities.

The path forward:

Standardise citizenship: Clear, consistent national guidelines for citizenship are essential. This should define the rights and responsibilities of every Nigerian, regardless of location.

Reciprocal rights: The concept of rights should be reciprocal. If residents in Lagos have limited access to land ownership, the same limitations should apply to Lagosians residing elsewhere.

Integration, not enclaves: We must discourage the formation of isolated ethnic enclaves. Integration, built on mutual respect and cultural exchange, fosters a more harmonious society.

Responsibility and civility: Respectful interaction is key. Residents must be mindful of the host community’s customs, while hosts must embrace newcomers as fellow Nigerians.

Dual citizenship: Perhaps a system of dual citizenship—state of residence and state of origin—could be explored. After a defined period of residency, citizens could choose to fully integrate into their new home.

Land rights reform: uniform land ownership laws are essential. Citizens, regardless of origin, should have clear and fair pathways to land ownership throughout the nation.

 “This ambiguity fuels resentment. “Indigenes” often claim special rights, while “residents” struggle with social exclusion, unequal access to land ownership, and limited political participation.”

Although these are difficult problems, putting them off will simply make divisions already present worse. The 10th National Assembly has a unique opportunity to finally address the “National Question.” By tackling these issues head-on, we can create a Nigeria where our rich cultural tapestry becomes a source of strength, not conflict.

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Let’s move beyond hypocrisy and doublespeak. It’s time to embrace the true spirit of Nigerian unity—a unity that celebrates our differences while fostering a sense of shared purpose.

We can all build a truly united Nigeria where every citizen, regardless of their background, feels welcome, respected, and empowered. This means creating a society where residents can integrate seamlessly, contributing their talents and perspectives to their new communities.

It means dismantling the artificial barriers that divide us and fostering a sense of belonging that transcends ethnicity. For sure, it is possible to picture a Nigeria where the richness of internal migration strengthens our national fabric and where newcomers and established communities collaborate to build a brighter future for all.

Let’s embrace the challenge, let’s rewrite the narrative, and let’s finally create a Nigeria that lives up to its full potential as a united and thriving nation.