GROWING INTO NIGERIANS
If we seek to build a better union, if we truly intend to enthrone meritocracy over mediocrity in Nigeria, the majority of people from the numerous ethnic and religious groupings that together make up Nigeria must make conscious efforts to grow into Nigerians. That means the Tivs, Igbos, Nupes, Yorubas, Ijaws, Hausas, Idomas, Fulanis, Ibiroms, Jukuns, etc., should stop looking at appointment into public offices through the prism of ethnicity. It means that “Christians” and “Muslims”, for instance, should stop interpreting public policy in religious terms. That is the minimum change we deserve as a people. We must grow into Nigerians, and ought not to remain in the diminutive state of our small ethnic and religious enclaves. It means that “For the purpose of promoting national integration, it shall be the duty of the State to: provide adequate facilities for and encourage free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the Federation.” [Section 15 (3) (a), 1999 Constitution of FRN]
Nigerians that would not protest the poor state of public infrastructure in their domains, but would rather congregate to condemn “lopsided federal appointments” ought to be heckled. We should be seeing mass protests across Nigeria against the neglect of our physical environment that brims with mounds of garbage and stinking open gutters that cause epidemics of preventable diseases, rather than waste public space with puerile wimps that “the president has not appointed any of my town's men in his government.” We have done the same thing for decades; but where has that taken us? It has taken us to where we are: an economy struggling for life, a country ridden with decrepit public schools, pot-hole-and pond-filled federal and state roads, unreliable public health infrastructure and services, and corruption-ridden economy. Few days ago, I was driving on a federal road (Elele-Owerri road). From the Rivers-Imo boundary, a nightmare confronted us; we came upon a vicious “river” on the road, caused by abandonment. Young men and boys turned into conductors for money. They guided vehicles through the water through “safer” patches for pay. The water came up to the doors of my jeep! As I wrote this article, I was contemplating a different route to take on my way back. I asked my daughter to take pictures of this madness. I am yet to hear about a mass protest by Imo citizens and residents about this unacceptable situation on a major federal road through their state. But I have heard and read about “marginalization against Igbos” in public appointments by the present government. I had to openly rebuke an Imo neighbor who voiced such allegation to me. He had lived in Europe before returning to Nigeria. “Such should not be heard from people like you who should be exposed,” I admonished him sternly.
Which do you prefer; appointment of your kinsman into a federal office or good road network, quality education and healthcare, reliable public electricity, and potable water in your community? Let us reason together. Since 1999, how many people from your community or ethnic group or religion have had the privilege of the public offices you are now crying about for “your people”? Have you got the figure? Now, what difference did that make in the standard of living of your community or ethnic group? I guess very little if at all. Very few public officials remember their local communities. I am impressed each time I drive through Udi “the home of Sullivan.” The road network is of very high quality, with modern safety infrastructure. Sullivan is the immediate past governor of Enugu State. But that is one good example among many unpleasant ones. Maybe Benue State, my state and neighbor to Enugu State, is a bad unique example. I am yet to see the advantage of federal appointments of Benue citizens in the standard of living of my people. I am not as concerned about the appointment of a Benue citizen into federal public office as I am concerned about the poor state of federal roads in my state (a federal responsibility), the unhygienic environment in our towns such as Gboko, Otukpo, Makurdi, etc., (which is both local and state responsibility).
I am always sad when I read comments by Nigerian readers on an opinion or news article. It is always certain that the conversation will degenerate into a spat of Igbo Vs Yoruba, Christians Vs Muslims, Fulanis Vs Ijaws, etc. I am also surprised that quite a number of those involved in those often vulgar conversations claim to have lived or are living in “civilized” countries. In my opinion, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) is doing a very poor job of providing the needed orientation of the mind of the Nigerian towards what is fair, true, just, lovely, kind, and respectful. We need to address ourselves to what “Federal Character” is according to the constitution. We need, for instance, NOA school ambassadors that would teach our students both the privileges and responsibilities of citizens, the respective duties and obligations of the various arms and tiers of government. The NOA is a veritable tool to help grow Nigerians rather than tribal warlords, and thereby fulfill Section 15 (4): “The State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various peoples of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.” One way to foster that feeling of belonging is the guarantee that every Nigerian enjoys full rights of citizenship wherever they live. The traditional, local, and state leaderships should be held responsible for every infraction of constitutional privileges of citizenship. If I, a Benue man, want to buy a plot of land in neighboring Enugu State, for instance, and I find it impossible because of my ethnic affiliation, it is not the fault of the Federal government, but that of the traditional, community, and state leaderships in Enugu State that have failed to protect those privileges. And this applies in all states of the federation. It is enshrined in Section 15 (2) that, “Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.” I affirm that the federal and state governments have significantly failed to enforce this section of our constitution. An amendment of the 1999 Constitution, which re-defined citizenship by birth to include place of birth in any part of Nigeria, and which the former president had withheld assent of because of some other amendments disagreeable to him, requires quick attention. This amendment, if carried through all the relevant processes, would promote rapid integration in Nigeria.
Few months after I started working as a professor in my new university, I went to visit a departmental unit in the university. I met a Tiv lady there and we got talking in the Tiv language. An Igbo man who stood by was excited and approached and spoke to me in fluent Tiv language. I learned that although his parents were both Igbo, he was born and brought up in Gboko in Tivland. Emmanuel, his name, is more a Tiv man than he is Igbo, the ethnic group of his parents. Many such examples abound in Nigeria. If I live in Kaduna State, I should be concerned about the development of Kaduna State; same if I live anywhere else in Nigeria. When some Nigerians complain against “marginalization” in appointment into federal public offices, it grieves me when I look and see that such complaints arise out of ignorance or unseasoned mischief. Take, for instance, the suspicious assumption by some elite from the southern part of Nigeria who hold the opinion that there is only one ethnic group in “the North” or that there is only one religion in “the North.” In complete misinterpretation of the “Federal Character”, which is in recognition of the federating states, which is equally amplified in the sharing of the commonwealth from the Federation Account, they allege “lopsided federal appointments” because, to them, appointing a man, for instance, from Hong Local Government Area of Adamawa State as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and another man from Borno as Chief of Staff to the President of the Republic, amounts to a violation of the “Federal Character.” They fail to recognize that Adamawa State and Borno State are not the same, or that Adamawa State has more than twenty different ethnic groups, and that the Muslim-Christian population in the state is about 50-50. I think it is inconsiderate to speak and act as if it is only when one of the Foursome—Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, and Niger-Delta (crude oil-producing region)—does not have “their own” holding “juicy” or “powerful” federal public offices, that a lot of fuss about “lopsided appointments” is made. And then, some lump other ethnic groups north of Rivers Niger and Benue with the Hausa-Fulanis to create another chimerical compound: Other-Hausa-Fulanis. This indirect diminishing of other ethnic groups in Nigeria ought to stop if we are interested in ethnic integration to build a new Nigeria. Furthermore, concrete steps towards citizenship rights protection across Nigeria should be taken by the Buhari government and state governments. Nigerians should be able to own property everywhere in Nigeria according to the constitution, and live peaceably with their neighbors, contributing to the development of their resident states. This is how to build a better union; not appointments into public offices, which a very few in the exclusive club across Nigeria use to cultivate selfish goodwill, and amass such obscene opulence that terrorizes. The new federal government must ignore the voices that are too inured to the past to shine the light on the real issues that concern Nigerians—the provision of capacity-boosting infrastructure (hard-and software) for their daily endeavors. Extra-constitutional assumptions like “geo-political zones” in the distribution of the commonwealth and appointments must cease. After all, we do not share revenue according to “geo-political zones.” Dramatizing the sanctity of States whether in matters of place of birth or allocation of benefits should be encouraged by the federal government. Besides, with uncertain number of ethnic groups in Nigeria (in excess of 250), consideration of ethnic-benefits will always attract allegations of “marginalization” at the local, state and federal levels. But good governance, typified by the provision of security and welfare of society shall drown them.
Written by Leonard Karshima Shilgba.
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