1999 Constitutional Amendment

The recent attack on Ndigbo in Lagos by some Yoruba elements loyal to the ruling All Progressives Congress, simply because they rejected their party’s candidates at the polls has brought to the fore the controversial subjects of indigene-ship and citizenship, writes STEPHEN UBIMAGO in this piece…

The Wednesday, February 27 attack of Igbo traders on Lagos Island by hundreds of social miscreants of Yoruba ethnic stock on the charge that they mostly voted for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), instead of their preferred candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), has once again brought to fore the controversial debate over indigene-ship and citizenship in light of Nigeria’s constitutional law.

Armed with dangerous weapons, such as cutlasses, broken bottles, wood and knives, the miscreants on the said day struck at about 9am at Oluwole, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tinubu, Bamgbose and Alli Streets.

Some of the Igbo traders, who were just opening their stalls for business, were beaten with instruction that they should lock up all their shops.

The armed hoodlums were seen parading the streets, shouting, “Igbo should go back to their states to do business. This is Lagos.”

“We campaigned to them to vote for Buhari, but they refused and voted for Atiku. They cannot come here to do business again.

“They must follow us to vote whoever we ask them to vote for. This is just a sample for them. If they ever vote for PDP again, that will be their end,” the hoodlums threatened in what verged on a chorus.

Expectedly, the threats made the Igbo traders to quickly close their shops, while they stood by to witness what was going to happen to their shops.

The attack came barely four days after the Presidential election, which was also marred by violence inflicted on parts of the State mostly dominated by Ndigbo.

For instance, during the presidential election that held on Saturday, February 23, thugs allegedly loyal to the APC reportedly disrupted voting with violent scaremongering at Okota (an Igbo heavily dominated suburb) in Oshodi/Isolo Local Government Area of Lagos.

Eye witnesses account had it that hoodlums, who came in about 10 motorcycles, forcefully dispersed voters, INEC officials and security operatives with an assortment of assault weapons.

Hence the election could barely hold in many of the polling units in the area due to the activities of the hoodlums – thereby effectively disenfranchising the electorate in the area.

It would be recalled that on Wednesday, February 20, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC national leader had reportedly appealed to Igbo people in Lagos to vote for the party’s candidates in the February Presidential and March Governorship elections.

The former Lagos State governor is said to have made the appeal at the APC State Secretariat in Ikeja while addressing party faithful at a stakeholders meeting.

“We don’t discriminate against them for NECO fees. We don’t discriminate against them for JAMB fees. Even in our universities, they take the benefit of our tuition and allowances and all that. Now this time, we say, help us, we say vote for us and our candidates,” Tinubu was quoted as saying.

The party leader said the party would be monitoring election results from Igbo-dominated areas like Amuwo-Odofin, Ojo, Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Oshodi/Isolo and Surulere in anticipation of votes for APC by the people of the South East in the state.

For many observers, therefore, the attack on the Igbo traders few days after the Presidential election was punitive and traceable to Tinubu’s earlier call on the Igbo to vote APC during the election, as their compliance level would be monitored at the pain of some grave consequences.

It is not unusual that during the election season some Nigerian politicians find it politically convenient to fan the embers of ethnic and religious divisions as a tool for fighting the election.

Politicians, especially the desperate ones, would often take advantage of the accumulated grievances, anger and frustration arising from suspicion and mutual distrust among the people to manipulate the indigene-ship question in the struggle for power.

They often use the devious scheme as a way of rallying votes for their candidates at the expense of their opponents.

Following each election cycle, the polity is often left more divided than typical, as a consequence of which Nigerians are reminded that they are at best tolerated strangers with no sense of belonging in their various places of residence outside their home states.

Indeed, when people live and work outside their states of origin in Nigeria, they hardly feel fully accepted.

They often lack a sense of belonging, although the constitution guarantees them the right of citizenship anywhere they find themselves in the country.

This plaguing sense of lack of acceptance is more often than not inflicted on non-indigenes during periods of election despite the fact that the concept of indigene-ship patently has no place in the constitution.

The Constitution only provides for citizenship under Chapter Three and in Chapter Four spells out the fundamental rights that accrues to each citizen in the polity.

Reacting to whether the development reflects a constitutional lacunae or gap in legislation, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, a lawyer and President Aka Ikenga, a pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, disagrees.

According to him, it is rather a problem at the roots of the Nigerian character. It also reflects Nigeria’s main challenge of nationhood.

“There is something wrong with the Nigerian character that makes it difficult for people to accept other people’s ethnicity, and it verges on xenophobia,” he said in an exclusive chat with Daily Independent.

“It is a typical Nigerian problem because the constitution is very clear on who is a citizen. There is nothing like indigene of a state in our constitution.

“Therefore anybody who says I am an indigene and therefore we will deny you your constitutional right for this or that reason is breaking the law of the land.

“The constitution is clear that the rights of residence, movement, assemble, etc are all enshrined.

“In none of the sections did the constitution grant any special rights to indigenes. All rights go to the citizen anywhere he is resident in Nigeria.

“Sections 40 and 41 of the constitution are very simple and direct. A citizen of Nigeria has right to own moveable and immoveable property anywhere in Nigeria.

“Chapter 4 of the constitution deals with fundamental rights. That chapter explains the rights that accrue to the citizen in minute detail. But then you find the human factor.

“Then a governor comes up and says if you are a non-indigene you cannot do or enjoy xyz. Are you the constitution?

“The right of franchise has nothing to do with indigene-ship. If you go to England today there are many Nigerians who are holding political posts. In the US you find Africans. Even a refugee from Somalia, a Muslim for that matter, is now a Congress-woman in the US.

“The London Mayor, what is his religion? It is primitive clannishness that makes politicians to use divisive rhetoric to divide us.”

It goes without saying that politicians’ proclivity to whip up ethnic division does have adverse effect on the polity. But does the law provide for measures for reining it in seeing its pernicious effect on the polity?

Reacting, Uwazuruike maintains that the law has made adequate provisions to tackle all forms of criminality. He regrets however that the will to enforce the law by the authorities is what is lacking.

“There is a law against arson, there are laws forbidding burglary and armed robbery. These laws are there. The only thing is: Is the authority ready and willing to enforce them?” he queries.

“Let me bring it home: The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to arrest and charge to court any person involved in the crass murder of Nigerians, especially in the Middle Belt.

“Even when they did the mass burial of persons slaughtered by Fulani herdsmen last year, some people were angry with Ortom, the Governor of the state, for doing a mass burial.

“They said couldn’t he have done it quietly? And I wondered, ‘Are those people human beings at all?’

“So the problem of this country is not the inadequacy of law. The laws are there.

“Ten days ago some traders were disposed of their goods. That is stealing. We have policemen all over the place. Why have they not arrested any of the perpetrators of the act?

“Some people are already publicly threatening assault at Igbo people. Threat of assault is a criminal offence. Why have the police not gone on to arrest and charge those fellows threatening people?

“If we have a government that is interested in the human rights of the people, they would have done everything to reassure the people of their safety.

“So I am concerned that the government has failed to act as is constitutionally expected of them.

“I hold that they are in cahoots with those threatening innocent Nigerians just to disenfranchise them because it is good for their electoral chances.

“They know that if they can stop you from voting, then they have won. Is that election?

“Interestingly, the Electoral Act 2018, which the president refused to sign into law, took care of all of these infractions.

“We hope that the next legislative Assemble will start working from day one with the hope that the president will not find fault in it and quickly move to sign it to law.”

The right to vote presupposes and incorporates the right to be voted for. That right accrues to the citizen irrespective of his place or state of residence.

So, if a Yoruba, who is resident in Zamfara State, can vote in the governorship or legislative assembly elections in that state, he also has the complementary right to put himself to be voted for even as governor or assembly man in the State. This right at least exits in principle, pursuant to the 1999 Constitution.

Prince Okey-Joe Onuakalusi, a lawyer and politician, explains in an exclusive chat with Daily Independent that “You will notice that for all the elective positions in Nigeria, be it House of Assembly, National Assembly, Governorship or indeed office of President, the barest qualification is that the person concerned must be a Nigerian citizen. It is as simple as that.

“There is nothing that stops a non-indigene of a state from contesting for any representative position in that state so long as the person is a Nigerian citizen.

“That does not detract from the fact that in Nigeria, people have strong ethnic, tribal or religious loyalty.

“And this is what seems to have affected our ways, our thinking, and our attitudes; and has therefore given rise to the mythic notion of indigene-ship, which has no foundation in the Constitution.”

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