Abuja Writers and National Conference’s Missed Opportunity,By Zainab Suleiman Okino



Zainab Suleiman Okino_2Unless, something dramatically unusual happens and the subject in questions finds its way into the discourse, the President Goodluck Jonathan-guided National Conference might have missed a golden opportunity to focus on one of the most controversial issues that underscore the country’s instability–the indigene/settler and integration issue. The endless war of attrition among the people of Southern Kaduna -Hausa/Fulani counterparts, Berom-Hausa/Fulani in Plateau state, Jukun-Tivs and Aguleri-Umuleri is as a result of the unsettled matter of citizenship and integration; and how we shouldco-habit. Should we see ourselves first as Nigerians or as Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo?
Juxtaposed with the efforts of more progressive groups to seek to answer the question above in their small corners, the National Conference which ought to have proffered answers to this rather ugly cog in nation building, is more focused on elite-gratifying matters that will most likely fracture the country further. However, at the weekend in Abuja, the Abuja Writers’ Forum (AWF) beamed the searchlight on the citizenship-indigeneship squabbles when it hosted the trio of Iresiri Samson, Olayinka Oyegbile and Zainab Sule, a musician. Oyebgile’s book, Home Away from Home (…History of Ogbomoso People in Jos) which espoused the propriety of making integration a growing concern, should interest the delegates to the conference. The AWF event also got the audience wondering why President Jonathan didn’t deem it appropriate to include indigene-settler vis a vis citizenship question on the Confab’s agenda.
On the other hand, a cursory look at the committees being proposed at the Conference does not offer any hope on this all important issue. Instead, the list reads like a trip into impossibilities and conflicts. There are about 20 proposed committees; each is as contentious as it comes. Among others are Committees on Devolution of power; Political restructuring and forms of government; National security; Electoral matters, etc,.
For example, the committee on devolution of power is expected to discuss Fiscal federalism, under which matters like revenue sharing, resource control, and sharing formula come. If the Confab is not an exercise in futility, how does anyone hope to achieve a consensus on revenue sharing or formula and resource control, when even the PIB, which to some extent addressed these issues has not been passed into law more than five years after the bill was conceived, because of these same problems?
Another example worth citing is the committee on Political restructuring and forms of government, under which we have sub themes like federalism, regionalism, state creation, geo-political zones, presidential or parliamentary form of government and bicameral or unicameral legislature. Considering the bad blood that has trailed the Constitution review’s inclusion of state creation on its agenda, you do not need a pathological cynic to tell you that state creation will produce rancour and friction as did pattern of voting last week. Those who agitated and could not get new states and LGs during the military era should just forget it. In my opinion, this is the least of our problems. We should rather focus on the viability of existing states than create more. In any case, how many of these states can stand on their own without government subvention? Besides, the agitation for the creation of more states is an endless one; the more the federal government creates, the more the demand increases; every group wants a fiefdom it can milk and control. Perhaps, federalism or regionalism and presidential or parliamentary system are worth discussing, for many are still nostalgic about the old parliamentary system that was a lot cheaper and less cumbersome to run.
So it was that the most profound matter of indigene-citizen which must have elicited Oyegbile’s book on his life in Jos and root in Ogbomosho does not appear to matter to the ruling class, and Jonathan this time.
Mercifully, the intervention last Monday by Atedo Peterside sought to amend the proposed Committee on Immigration under which Citizenship and Nationality come under. This is germane to the Conference. As a Rivers state indigene, who has lived 40 years of his life in Lagos; married to a Lagosian (Yoruba) and has been paying taxes to the state, he is still not eligible to claim Lagos state, with the way Nigeria is presently constituted. Neither his children, who probably do not know anything about their so-called state of origin.
“Olayinka Oyegbile was born and raised in Jos, Plateau state. Although his parents are from Ogbomoso in Oyo state, he never left the North until he was almost a teenager. Until his secondary school days, his hometown was just a name because he felt at home in Jos and other parts of the North where he had lived and travelled widely”. Sadly, that part of the country he called home ceased to be when ethnic and religious conflict took the better of the erstwhile Home of Peace. And as he revealed, at the forum, his father who went to Jos as a teenager, lived his life and paid tax to the Plateau state government and was well past paying taxes (in old age) before going back to Ogbomosho but was never qualified to be called an indigene of the state. He (Olayinka) that was born and bred there could not claim to be from the state, just as a Hausa or Igbo man raised in Ibadan or Warri cannot claim Oyo or Delta state. This and more thorny issues of nation-building are what Oyegbile chronicled in his book. Today, Jos is no longer home to him and millions of other such “settlers”.
In the same way, the harmony that existed between Muslims and Christians communities during his childhood, and which has since become a mirage was in focus at the forum. He has since moved on with his life, but the question has remained unanswered.
Whereas we still live in the past here; in the US type of federation that we try to ape, everywhere is home to all Americans. Immigrants who have stayed for up to five years can apply and formalize their citizenship. Even Nigerian pregnant women go to the US to have their babies so they become instant American citizens. Oyegbile told a familiar story of how his brother’s children in the US call Nigeria their “father’s land and not their fatherland”, effectively cutting their links with Nigeria, and making America their home and country.
Not even three generations will give you that privilege in Nigeria. Kudos to the Abuja Writers’ Forum for choosing to host guests whose narratives should actually engage our Confab members. Theirs is food for thought for the Jonathan government that initiated the Confab and chose to ignore the most important issue threatening the corporate existence of the country.

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