Nigerian Constitution backing citizenship

Indigeneship and the challenge of citizenship in Nigeria

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By Emmanuel Afonne, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

For Mrs Caroline Ukabundu, a retired primary school teacher in Enugu, the memory of being a non-indigene can never be forgotten in a hurry.

Ukabundu was a successful teacher who rose to the level of assistant headmistress in one of the government–run schools in Enugu, before she was disengaged under the administration of Chimaroke Nnamani.

Her aim was to get to the peak of her career, but that didn’t happen, as she was not recalled until her retirement.

Her crime is that she is not an indigene of Enugu State.

According to social scientists, being an indigene 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.

This puts him or her in contact with his kin and kindred.

However, citizenship or nationality is the status by which an individual has full rights and responsibilities in a country.

This is either as a result of being born there or by having acquired it through the legal immigration and citizenship process.

Ukabundu who now lives with the daughter and her family in Enugu, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the non-indigene policy affected her life and career in the civil service.

“I am from Enugu State but married to an Imo man, yet my state of origin disengaged me from work,” she said.

She said that the policy was eventually reversed by the successive government of Sullivan Chime, but that didn’t stop the then Gov. Theodore Orji from owing the path of Nnamani.

Orji’s reason for disengaging non-indigenes in the Abia State civil service was borne out of the desire to protect his citizens who faced similar ordeal in other states of the South-East.

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The disengagement which occurred on Aug. 25, 2011 saw about 2,604 non-indigenes mostly from Imo State removed from the payroll of Abia State civil service.

Imo indigenes appeared to be the worst hit, though other states such as Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra also got their share of the disengagement.

Although some politicians have braved the odds and won elections at the lower rug of political ladder such as counsellorship and local government chairmanship, it is rare at governorship level.

In fact, in many states, doing so will be akin to the Biblical head of a camel passing through the eye of the needle.

Indigeneship is also key to recruitment in public sector as applicants are usually required to present certificates of indigeneship before they are considered for certain positions or jobs.

A human rights lawyer, Pelumi Olajengbesi, said the actions of these states are illegal and run contrary to the provisions of the constitution.

He wondered why some of the governors would prefer to implement a non-indigenes policy when they and their family members have dual citizenship in other countries.

The legal practitioner said that Section 42 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination against anyone by reason of his origin, birth, status, ethnic, religion among others.

He therefore said it was wrong and inequitable for the government of any state to deploy a policy or make any laws that tend to go against the spirit of the Constitution.

“That law shall, to the extent of it’s inconsistent with the constitution be null and void as provided under Section 1 (3) of the Constitution,” Pelumi said.

According to him, an appraisal of the chapter of the constitution on “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy”, shows that the intent of the law is not to empower the state to protect only the interest of the indigenous citizens.

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Rather, it concerns itself with an all-inclusive federal government where the interest of each state is represented and protected.

This section of the constitution birthed Federal Character Commission.

“Take for instance; NYSC was inaugurated with the sole aim of fostering unity in diversity.

“Hence, corps members are deployed to different part of the federation for national service where they are expected to mingle and inter-relate with people of other cultures and beliefs.

“On the issue of 10 years residence, it’s actually a misconceived idea that must be immediately checked out if we must build a society free of discrimination and favoritism“, he said.

For example, he asked, if a Corp member from Osun State is serving a ministry in Kano State demonstrates resounding expertise in his work, should not be retained simply because he’s not an indigene of Kano?

“Or does he have to wait and live in Kano for 10 years before being considered for a deserved employment? Also, there are several citizens who got married to an indigene of another state.

“What is the fate of their spouse’s employment in the State? Should my wife be denied employment opportunities in my state simply because she is an indigene of another state?

“These are clear discriminatory policies which do not represent the spirit of our laws,” Pelumi added.

He cited the Oguamanam Ann Dibugo vs Gov. of ABIA State & others in Suit No: NICN/PHC/73/2021.

The claimant who was in the employment of the Abia State was forcefully transferred on the account of a directive by the state government simply because she is not an indigene of Abia State.

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The court while delivering judgement declared the act of the government of Abia State unconstitutional.

It ruled that citizens of the country are entitled to stay and enjoy equal employment opportunities in any state of the federation.

Ukabundu retired from service with the pain of her disengagement, but the judgement of the court was a big reprieve for her and other still in service.

Another Abuja-based lawyer, George Iwuoha, said governors have refused to listen to anybody including courts, on issues bothering on indigeneship in Nigeria.

“We need to strive and build a nation first. Today, we are experiencing what I will term ‘ethnic cleansing’ for lack of better definition, in several indigenous communities.

“How can you explain the non-indigene policy to the natives in Mangu or to the Tivs in Benue?

“How do you explain this policy to Igboeze people in Enugu state, since the herdsmen are running rampage claiming other people’s homesteads?

“Let us first understand who are Nigerians and who are not in our midst’’, he said.

According to him, the African is tied to his roots and it cannot be wished away.

“Europe and America are not like that. There is no basis for comparison,” he said.

Iwuoha some federal government institutions and policies tacitly support indigeneship.

According to him, they include federal character provision, quota system, contents of the exclusive legislative list, local government system as well as some institutions such as Federal Character Commission.

He prescribes a brand new “people’s constitution” or alternatively, the adoption of the 1963 constitution if the indigeneship and citizenship challenge would be compressively addressed. (NANFeatures)

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