Indigeneship, Citizenship and the Lost Nigerianship: An Unpopular Essay (Part)


Joseph Dangme Rinyom


There is no denying the fact that the Nigerian Constitution acknowledges the importance of citizenship as the basis of being identified as a Nigerian. In Chapter Three (section 25) it reads:


25. (1) The following persons are citizens of Nigeria by birth-namely-


a) every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria ; Provided that a person shall not become a citizen of Nigeria by virtue of this section if neither of his parents nor any of his grandparents was born in Nigeria .


(b) every person born in Nigeria after the date of independence either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria ; and


c) every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria .


(2) In this section, "the date of independence" means the 1st day of October 1960.

Other sections dwell on citizenship by marriage (it seems only women married to male Nigerians), naturalization, and intention to “domicile” in Nigeria more or less permanently. By way of summary, this chapter seeks to define this concept (citizenship) to include: those whose parents are Nigerians (whatever that means-it sounds like a reference to indigenes), those born to at least a Nigerian parent (indigene?), those conferred with citizenship by the President after indicating interest to be law-abiding permanent residents of Nigeria. Put simply therefore, citizenship is a conferred status on people ready and willing to be identified, permanently, with a given country.

Many commentators have argued that this should be the basis of structural organization in Nigeria , and not a few believe it holds the key to a more lasting peace since every Nigerian could be entitled to settle wherever (s)he wants, and be engaged, fully, in all aspects of life within the residential areas of their choices. This argument appeals to a whole lot of people, and as usual, our leaders have grasped this straw of reason as the soundest idea ever conceived in Nigeria . There is no denying its seeming profound appeal, but let’s take a second look at the issues involved.


First, there are fundamental differences between the two concepts: indigeneship and citizenship, both theoretically and practically. Whereas indigeneship is a natural link between a person and a 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, citizenship is a man-made arrangement that seeks to confer on a person certain rights that are enjoyed by all persons in a certain geographical location. For instance, the Igbo are identified with the South-eastern part of Nigeria . When an Igboman gives birth to a child, the child automatically becomes a citizen of Nigeria by the mere fact that his parent(s) is associated, by a blood-land attachment, to a geographical location called home-igboland- within Nigeria . A Scot, who does not have this attachment could however settle in any part of Nigeria , contribute to its development, and be conferred citizenship status. The difference here is that whereas the citizenship of the child born to Igbo parents cannot be revoked (though theoretically the person can renounce his citizenship), the citizenship conferred on the Scot could be cancelled anytime at the discretion of the President of Nigeria.


Secondly, citizenship has limitations that militate against complete assimilation and participation in the activities of the people whose citizenship is bestowed on an individual, while indigeneship, in most instances, does not contain most of these restrictions. Let us take the case of the esteemed traditional institutions that we allocate a lot of premium on. There are certain traditional rites, rituals, titles and stools that can only be conferred on indigenes (“sons and daughters of the soil”) in most places in Nigeria that cannot be bestowed on a citizen, no matter the status, connections and seeming acceptance of the person. In fact within the same geographical area and among the same people these offices discriminate against persons qualified to take on this mantle. For instance, it is hardly conceivable that a true indigene of Lagos can be installed the Ooni of Ife, even though the person is Yoruba, talk less of a Hausa man whose family has lived in Lagos for over a hundred years becoming the Oba of Lagos. In the same light, no matter how long an Igbo family has stayed in Kano, no matter the contribution they have rendered to the development of Kano, no matter how loved they are in Kano, no protégé of the family could aspire to the seat of Sarkin (or Emir of) Kano. This does not in anyway prevent the members of such families from participating in the political, social and religious activities of their areas of residences. Only that their births to ethnic groups other than the ones they reside among, which were no fault of theirs, have disqualified them from some “rights” in these places. It is conceivable, though, that an Igbo man could contest election as Governor of Kano State even if his chances of winning are nil. It is conceivable to have a Yoruba as a Senator from Kano State if he is voted in by the people, but it is not conceivable by any stretch of the imagination that any of these two could ever be the Emir of or Sarkin Kano. Electoral privileges are accorded persons that are citizens, either by right of birth or by the privilege of conferment but appointments, especially to sensitive positions of representations of a people such as the ultimate traditional offices, are restricted, in most instances to indigenes of the locality. This is not strange because citizenship, itself, is categorized.


 Let’s take a look at the USA which represents, to many misinformed Nigerians, the ideal of assimilated citizenship. By nature, the US is an immigrant country which means that most residents not only perceive but recognize and acknowledge themselves as settler-lords. The Native Americans (which were initially known as American Indians) are recognized as the indigenes (in fact the term native is indicative of this status) and are accorded certain rights and privileges that are not universal in the country. For instance, within the Native American colonies, traditional leadership is recognized (but does not exist or apply in the generality of the country) and small privileges like alcohol drinking is not restricted. In most states of the US , one has to reach the legal age of 21 before one could buy or be sold, and drink alcohol publicly (when in doubt of your age, identification documents that contain your legal age such as the driver license is required). Among the immigrant population (i. e non-native Americans), there are citizens by birth (those born in the USA or whose parents are citizens of USA ) and those that are bestowed (immigrants into the USA who have been accorded citizenship status). These are recognized officially as those that could contest for elections into political offices. However, no matter how long you have stayed in the US , no matter the level of contribution to the development of the country, you are not eligible to contest elections to the office of the President of the United States of America unless you are a citizen of the US by birth. This means that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the beloved governor of California who has been a citizen of the US for over 20 years cannot seek the exalted office of the President, even though he seems to have a lot of respect and support from a diversity of people, regions and states in the US . He is a native of Austria , born and bred in Austria and immigrated to the US in search of greener pastures. There are citizens and there are citizens!


Coming back home, several people, residing in various parts of Nigeria other than their ancestral homes have been elected into offices to represent the people of their areas of residences. For instance, in Plateau State the late Mr. Akporido from southern Nigeria was elected as a member to the Plateau State House of Assembly during the IBB era. Malam Saleh Hassan, the present member representing Jos North and Bassa constituency in the Federal House of Representative is a well known indigene of Bauchi State where his father hails from. As a citizen of Plateau State , he was and is qualified to contest and be elected into the office which he now occupies. Councilors and administrators of Igbo and Yoruba extractions have enjoyed these privileges as citizens of Plateau State , especially within the Jos North Local Government Council. But let’s face it, could any of them be eligible for the office of the Gbong Gwom Jos? Here, citizenship alone would not suffice, only indigeneship could. Obasanjo is the paramount ruler of his native village (or at least so I gather from some news reports). Would it be conceivable that a Hausa man whose family has been in Obasanjo’s village for more than fifty years and who was born and bred in this same village could contest the Balogunship (or whatever the title is) with Obasanjo on the premise that the Hausa man is an indigene of this village? This illustrates my point that citizenship of any area in the world for that matter has restrictions within the accepted structural set-up of the people. And no matter how much we deny indigeneship, we embrace it in more ways than we care to admit in order to keep and move the nation forward, at least in the present arrangement of things. It is therefore wickedly hypocritical, unpatriotic, sadistic, and irresponsible to claim or even suggest that indigeneship is alien to Nigeria- culturally, politically and economically.


But the real questions still remain unanswered: Is an organizational structure based on indigeneship, as it is now, the best for Nigeria ? Do we need a change from this traditional arrangement that has, as its core, the culturally expedient and accepted concept of indigeneship? Are we ready to let go our individual and collective prejudices in favor of a new organizational structure for Nigeria ? These are the questions that demand answers, and the issues worth discussing, not the conjured questions of whether or not indigeneship (legally) exists in Nigeria !