Long before the start of the present constitution amendment process, Nigerians have been clamouring for a resolution of the indigene-settler divide. Having witnessed and experienced various violent conflicts and how people have been denied opportunities based on who is an indigene and who is a settler, there seems to be a consensus among Nigerians that people who have lived in an area for long or who were born in an area should enjoy the same privileges as those originally of the area. The only part of Nigeria I am aware of that seems to be against the abolishing of this dichotomy is Plateau State, which is unsurprising considering the fact that there has been a ongoing conflict of about two decades which flares up from time to time, where the indigenes feel the settlers have come to overpower them on their own lands.
The problem with the 1999 Constitution at present with regards to the indigene–settler divide is its non-definition of the word ‘indigene’. Throughout the entire constitution, the word ‘indigene’ appears only once, in Section 147 (3) which says that, “at least one minister be appointed from each state, who shall be an indigene of such state” [emphasis mine]. It does not say how the indigeneship of one could be determined: was it by ancestral line or by number of years spent in the state?
This problem reared its ugly head in 2010, when President Goodluck Jonathan nominated Olusegun Aganga as Minister-designate from Lagos State. However, the Lagos State chapter of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) rose against the nomination, arguing that Mr. Aganga was from Edo State, not Lagos State and thus could not represent Lagos State in the Federal Executive Council. This was despite his having been born and bred in Lagos State, and undeniably having the quality and experience to be a Federal Minister.
It is instructive to note that the culture of indigeneship is borne out of our scarcity mindset: the belief that the resources and opportunities are few, hence, we better secure it for ourselves and our children lest those outside come and take what is rightfully ours. This is opposed to creating a competitive environment where everyone who can create positive value is welcomed, as truly wealthy societies do.
There is no denying the fact that it is about time that we settle the issue of indigene-settler, and transit to using the language of residency. There are too many Nigerians who cannot lay claim to any state as their own as they were born and bred in states other than those of their fathers. They are neither accepted in the states they were brought up and with which they have emotional connections, nor are they recognized as bonafide sons of the soil in their ‘home states’, as they are barely known.
Whatever clause shall end up in the amended constitution must, first of all, allow Nigerians to be able to obtain residency in the states of their birth. Not only that, a reasonable amount of time spent in a state should be set as the requirement to obtain residency. I would suggest 5 years.
But also, I do not believe that being a resident of one state should disqualify one from being a resident of another. Multiple residency should be allowed as long as one has spent the required period in each of the states. Even though this may seem to cause a conflict in the implementation of the clause that requires a minister per state, I am suggesting this because I am also of the belief that a clause stipulating that every state produces at least one minister goes further to make our scarcity mindset a constitutional provision; hence it should be struck out.
We should be accepting, as long as one is contributing positively to the economy and society. This cannot be achieved unless we have in place a competitive system, and a situation in which the component units of Nigeria are weaned off the center.
The concentration of wealth and power at the center, together with our dependence on oil for revenue, is one of the reasons that such a scarcity mindset exists, as it does not offer any incentive to work. Rather, it entrenches an entitlement mindset based on where one is from, which in turn forms the basis of who can and should get certain privileges such as jobs, appointments, admissions, etc. This is what leads to the scarcity mindset I described above.
Unless the scarcity mindset is destroyed, I am afraid that all our best efforts at resolving the indigene-settler dichotomy would be of no effect.