“On the question of marginalization, it would seem from many Northern elite (loosely defined for this purpose as those who can read and write in English and have access to email listserves, Facebook and Twitter), that the north does feel marginalized but it is not immediately clear why. The north has produced many of the heads of state/presidents of Nigeria. Northerners, as far as names and claims can go, presumably govern the 19 northern states with control over the resources allocated and generated. And as someone recently pointed out the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, PDP National Chairman, INEC Chairman, Inspector General of Police, CBN Governor, Chief Justice of the Federation, National Security Adviser and even the richest man in Africa are from the north – so where do the feelings of marginalization come from?”
In the 1940s Mallam Umaru Altine, a trader from Sokoto, moved to Enugu and settled there. By one account, by 1952, he had became the first elected mayor of Enugu, a post he held until 1958. 57 years after Mallam Altine’s election, Nigeria has degenerated into a society where the consideration by the National Assembly that residency replace origin in the Constitution has resulted in hysteria from many who, by name recognition alone, share the same ethnic origins as Mallam Altine. Somehow we have become a nation of ethnic supremacists who think that regardless of how long a Nigerian lives in any part of Nigeria – such a person has no right to make roots there, represent that place or participate in its governance.
How did we get here?
We got here because some people decided it is best for Nigeria to uphold ethnicity, state of origin and religion before merit, hard work and contribution – twisting us into the turn-by-turn, I-chop-you-chop Plc. which we have become. A country where skills, integrity and experience is always secondary to ensuring that at the table set to gorge on Nigeria, the carving knives are held by indigenes of each state.
The current state of Nigeria should dictate that business cannot continue as usual and that we should begin to take steps wherever we can to fix what we can. However, the poll run by the Senate Constitution Review Committee to test Nigerians views on ‘replacing state of origin with state of residence’ revealed a deep fear and suspicion, especially amongst northerners as evidenced by the reaction on listserves, Facebook, Twitter and articles such as Dr. Tilde’s, Is the South finally set to colonize the North?
The force of the reaction from northerners who publicly shared their views requires a deconstruction of the fear and suspicion. What will replacing state of origin with state of residence mean? Does the north feel marginalized? Why does the north feel marginalized? Who is a northerner with the attendant legitimacy to speak for the north?
It is not clear what the implications are for replacing state of origin with state of residence and so most of the hysteria has been driven by assumptions and the absence of the kind of information required. One of the key assumptions is that being an indigene would no longer be an automatic qualifier for a seat at the trough i.e. that for the purpose of accessing state and federal benefits and opportunities e.g., jobs in the civil service, scholarships etc., residency would be the determining factor. Sadly the accompanying website which might have defined residency and provided information on what it would be used for was DOA- like most government initiatives.
In the 1999 Constitution, the application of indigene for a benefit is only specifically mentioned once in Section 147(3) i.e. “the President shall appoint Ministers and each one has to be an “indigene” of the state.” Surely it cannot be this one albeit wonderful opportunity to join the chop and quench cult which would cause such hysteria? Besides, there is other legislation, particularly the Federal Character Commission Act which would have to be addressed, especially since Section 17(2)(k) gives the Commission the power to define an indigene for the purpose of benefiting from the turn-by-turn principle.
On the question of marginalization, it would seem from many Northern elite (loosely defined for this purpose as those who can read and write in English and have access to email listserves, Facebook and Twitter), that the north does feel marginalized but it is not immediately clear why. The north has produced many of the heads of states/presidents of Nigeria. Northerners, as far as names and claims can go, presumably govern the 19 northern states with control over the resources allocated and generated. And as someone recently pointed out the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, PDP National Chairman, INEC Chairman, Inspector General of Police, CBN Governor, Chief Justice of the Federation, National Security Adviser and even the richest man in Africa are from the north – so where do the feelings of marginalization come from?
It would seem that the feelings of marginalization come from a fear of not controlling the Presidency (and resources) and this fear originates from two places. The first is the fear of future marginalization. Those who are scared have decided that the north will never be educated enough and never catch up to the south and if access to government resources and positions were down purely to merit, they project that the north would definitely be marginalized. The second fear identified is the fear of the Nigerian system i.e. the corruption and impunity which makes a mockery of any suggestion that processes will be free and fair. Proponents of this position believe that because government influence on our lives is all encompassing and suffocating in its ineptitude – representation in government and the civil service is absolutely fundamental and as someone hauntingly put it “there should be fairness even in thievery since it is a part of our national life.”
The danger about preaching ethnic supremacy of the variety that Dr. Tilde advocates is that it precipitates a witch-hunt. Hitler wanted an Aryan race of blonds and blue eyes…what is/are the northern characteristics which mark a northerner? What do we do with the millions who are the result of procreation between northerners and southerners? What do we do with those who have successfully ‘merged’ into the space they inhabit; i.e., the southerners who are no longer distinguishable from the northerners they have lived with for generations and vice versa.
Can these categories of northerners speak for the north or must you trace your linage directly to a descendant of an emir? And what do the millions ostracized from social media by the dismal management of resources and economic policy really think about this issue? Do they care who is pretending to represent them in the civil service or in the army or is it just those who traditionally, from the time of the Sardauna, have been groomed to ‘lead’ and want to preserve that privilege for themselves and their progeny with the least amount of effort?
The fear of the elite is understandable but it is not acceptable, not in the Nigeria we inhabit today, and not in the Nigeria that looms in the future if nothing changes. Some argue that Nigeria is not ready and that legislation should not run ahead of the people. Fallacy. Legislation and policy should be able to prepare for and project the future and support the aspirations of its citizens, sometimes even when the loudest and strongest citizens don’t understand – just like legislation ran ahead of the people with the abolition of slavery, the end to racial segregation and the murder of twins.
The solution to the fear of marginalization by the north is to launch an aggressive education policy, provide opportunities for the development of the skills and talents of its vast human resources and get its elite to stop pretending that the North is filled with backward people when in reality it is brimming with neglected ability which has been deliberately ignored so that a few will continue being the only ones eligible to represent their indigenes.
Replacing indigene/origin with residency is not the magic wand to miraculously transform Nigerian, but it is one of the first bricks in the yellow brick road which will take our children and grandchildren back to the world that Umaru Altine lived in and beyond.