Re- Mile 12 Clash: Between Indigenes, Settlers and Citizenship Rights


By Dele Awogbeoba
I am writing this article as a response to the article written by Jideofor Adibe. What was troubling in that article is that it was premised on wrong assumptions in order to advance a dubious agenda. What appears to have been the cause of the riots in mile 12 was that an Okada rider killed a pedestrian and refused to take the injured pedestrian to a hospital prior to her death. Certain youths mobilized themselves to seek retribution on the Okada rider/ riders.

The writer then assumes that the vigilantes were “defending ethnic pride against “disrespect” and ingratitude of “settlers”. No such evidence is advanced for such an assumption. It beggars belief how Mr Adibe jumped to that wild conclusion. How the writer assumed that the attack was against non settlers as opposed to Okada riders based in the area beats me.

The writer then disingenuously jumps to his main agenda which is the unrelated indigene/ settler dichotomy and citizen’s rights and the repeal of the indigenization provision in the constitution. The fallacy behind the proponents of the change of law is that such a change will not stop Abeokuta from being Yoruba land and perceived by Nigerians as Yoruba land nor will it stop Aba from being perceived as Igbo land. At the end of the day, indigene laws have very restricted applications. It comes up only in cases where federal character is applied in hiring people into federal executive council, federal government schools and the federal government bureaucracy. The aim of federal character is to ensure that people of different ethnicities that are indigent to various states are reflected in federal government institutions (be it educational or bureaucratic). Some state governments use indigeneship rules to target their limited resources in favour of indigenes of their states in areas such as the provision of free education solely to its indigenes whilst “settlers” are compelled to pay school fees. That is not a policy that is applied uniformly across all states. Lagos and most SW states do not discriminate (and have never discriminated) between indigenes and non indigenes in the provision of free education. Some Northern and Southern states have and do.

Indigeneship is not used to determine the rights to stand for local, state or federal level elections. An indigene of Imo state can seek election as senator representing the people of Kogi west if he is able to get sufficient votes. In this republic, we have had a Yoruba (Grace Folashade Bent) represent a senatorial district in Adamawa South. We also have an Urhobo man representing a house of representative district of Lagos. Nigerians did not need the repeal of the limited indigeneship rights for such changes to occur. What is more troubling is that Nigeria is not operating a fair system in actuality. One has a situation where federal character is applied in most places of Nigeria outside of the South East of Nigeria.

The recent 2015 enrollment of students by the federal owned University of Nigeria showed that 95% of the students enrolled were Igbo names. More troubling, is the fact that a recent expose from vanguard newspaper made it clear that there is a pervading mentality in the South Eastern part of Nigeria that precludes the sale of land to non-indigenes. The best way to achieve true equality in Nigeria between settlers and indigenes is to pass laws that allow states to discriminate against indigenes of states that discriminate against their indigenes. If a student from Ogun state is required to pay school fees when resident in Anambra state then students from Anambra state should be required to pay school fees when attending schools in Ogun state. Sooner than later, Anambra state will find it counter-productive to impose discriminatory school fees on indigenes of Ogun state because of its likely rebound effect on its indigenes.

Similarly, if people from Kogi state are finding it difficult (due to institutional and discriminatory practices (be it at a governmental or cultural level)) to purchase land in Ebonyi state, then Kogi state should make it difficult or impossible for people from Ebonyi from purchasing land in Kogi state. The effect of this will be a quick change to laws in Ebonyi state that will make it more conducive for people from Kogi to purchase land in Ebonyi and vice versa. The existing laws do not encourage indigene/ settler disputes.

The change advocated by Mr. Adibe will not put an end to it either. It will exacerbate it. One could have a situation where federal character loses its intention and meaning where people from the settler hostile territories like the SE exclusively get allocated places into the federal infrastructure and thereafter are able to benefit from the allocations given to settler friendly places such as the North and Western parts of the country.

The proposed law will in effect give credit to discriminatory policies within certain zones and punish settler friendly zones that do not discourage inward migration. It is cultural habits and associations that give rise to such skirmishes. When traders in Lagos believe the shutdown of a market is targeted at igbos rather than an effort at modernizing a state or where an attack on an Okada rider is perceived by his tribesmen as an attack against their group (whether that be family, friends, Okada riders, Okada riders from a certain neighbourhood, Northerners, Muslims etc).

In Nigeria and in most parts of the world, people generally feel more comfortable being around people of similar cultural heritage. Settlers tend to cluster together and live and fight as one when living away from home. That will remain the case irrespective of whether the laws are changed in the manner advocated by Mr Adibe or not.

What must be done however, is that the laws should be enforced in a manner that prosecutes and convicts those people guilty of riotous behaviour and murder irrespective of whether it is motivated by family, neighbourhood, professional, tribal, regional or religious loyalty or otherwise.

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