Indigeneity is an uncodified, yet much coveted and enforced policy of government especially at the state and local level of government in Nigeria. It comes with its discriminatory practices and has enshrined the unfair treatment of non-indigenes by local authorities as official government policy. Indigeneity, or the synonym indigeneship is the status of being a “native,” or “son of the soil,” in a particular locality in Nigeria, with the holder having the right to claim historical belonging in contrast to “settlers” who migrated from and originate elsewhere (Geschiere 2009). Yet, people naturally migrate, and as a product of their settlement and the seeming dominance of their cultures or perhaps the outcome of their ability to conquer and occupy a relatively virgin area makes them indigenes of the place (Adesoji and Alao, 2009). The indigenes of a place are those who can trace their ethnic and genealogical roots back to the community of people who originally settled (HRW, 2006)
Unsurprisingly, indigeneity is a global concept that has fueled debates in the academic world as scholars, specifically anthropologists, grasp with the conceptualization and legality of it. Making an example of the native Americans and their traditional leadership still much practiced, Riyom (2008) vehemently resisted the assertion that indigeneity, and its accompanying rights and privileges, is alien to Nigeria culturally, politically and economically. Alan Barnard made a case for its validity, arguing that it is a relational and legal concept that is contingent historically and situational, and saw it as a useful tool for political persuasion (Guenther, 2006). Mathias Guenther viewed ‘Indigenous’ as a term applied to people, and by the people to themselves, in their engagement in an often desperate struggle for political rights, for land, for a place and space within a modern nation’s economy and society. Such cultural identity and self-representation were seen as vital elements of the political platform of such peoples. According to Ojukwu and Onifade (2010), an indigene is one who claims to be the ‘son’ of the soil, a recognized citizen of a given space while a non-indigene is a stranger, a migrant who does not have rights of occupancy. Birth or naturalization in a given place does not guarantee status of indigene, but citizen. It is therefore common in many communities in Nigeria to see people still addressed as settlers, and are discriminated against even after migrating or settling for more than three decades, or having occupied the land for a century or more and no longer have any idea where their ancestors migrated from (Nwanegbo, Odigbo, and Ochanja, 2014; HRW, 2006).
There is no path to indigeneship no matter how strongly a person identified with a community he/she lives in. With the line between indigene and non-indigene rigidly drawn along ethnic of cultural lines, most Nigerian small ethnic communities embrace indigeneity out of fear of losing control of their identity by being absorbed into the larger population (HRW, 2006).
The politics of the soil thrives well in Nigeria and has gained influence over the way states design policy and distribute political and economic opportunities (Geschiere 2009). The category of “indigene” has effectively become a secondary tier of citizenship, administered by state and local governments, and institutionalized by the “indigeneship certificate”. The master key to the doors of political appointment, public economic opportunities, and political participation, up to federal level, lies on this certificate (Fourchard 2015; Ehrhardt 2017)
Indigeneity has roots in the colonial period, though it is argued that postcolonial forces reshaped and transformed it afterwards (Mang and Ehrhardt 2019). The political classification of colonial notion of the “native” has metamorphosed into the postcolonial “indigene”, while inscribed spaces of belonging have fragmented from regions to a large number of states and local governments (Bach, 1989). This fragmentation has made indigeneship increasingly formalized and certified.
Mang and Ehrhardt (2019) suggested that the use of native/settler hierarchy in Nigerian governance has changed in at least three significant ways after independence: first, through fragmentation into states and local governments, and away from largely regional politics around independence, thereby creating ever-smaller political units and increasingly localized versions of territorial belonging; second, through formalization, as indigeneity became increasingly codified and documented through the indigeneship certificate, issued by local or, more recently, state governments; and third, as the functionality of indigeneship forms in everyday life changed and, overall, became more important as a tool for economic, political and social opportunities for indigenes, and no longer that for power sharing and affirmative action at the federal level. This has often exacerbating intergroup competition at the level of local and state governments (HRW, 2006)
Also, Nigeria’s regional-ethnic politics has increased the demand by ethnic communities for autonomy, clamoring for political unit (i.e. region, state, or LGA) of their own. This is also on the backdrop of extraordinary diversity and lack of no meaningful or antagonist pre-colonial relationship amongst many ethnic groups before being hounded together into one colony by the British government. The distrust still exists (HRW, 2006).
The Legality – Indigene Versus Citizen Debate
The Nigerian 1999 Constitution is particularly silent on indigeneity, though acknowledges the importance of citizenship as the basis of being identified as a Nigerian. Chapter Three (section 25) provided the basis of being a citizen by birth, and this covers: every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence with any one of his/her parents or grandparents belonging to a community indigenous to Nigeria; every person born in Nigeria after the date of independence either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria; and every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria (Riyom, 2008)
Other sections dwell on citizenship by marriage, naturalization, and intention to “domicile” in Nigeria. Riyom (2008) argued that citizenship, unlike indigeneity that is a natural link traceable to roots through blood lineage and genealogy, is a man-made arrangement that seeks to confer on a person certain rights that are enjoyed by all persons in a certain geographical location. To him indigeneship cannot be revoked or canceled whereas citizenship can, therefore citizenship comes with limitations that militate against complete assimilation and participation in the activities of the people whose citizenship is bestowed on an individual.
Providing further legal direction for Nigerian citizenship, the 1999 constitution made provision for the right to freedom from discriminations by stating in Section 42 of Chapter IV that, a citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not (a) be subjected to disabilities or restriction to which citizen of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions, political opinions are not made subject or (b) be accorded any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizen of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions (HRW, 2006). Constitutionally, there is no legal justification to marginalize and exclude non-indigenes, however this practice thrives and are often encouraged by the Federal government through some of her policies as I will discuss later.
Issues with Indigeneity
Indigeneity fosters exclusion and hostility, and reflects one of Nigeria’s main challenges to nationhood. This continually poses serious threat to unity, peace and development in Nigeria. Indigeneity in itself is not bad, but the reason and manner in which it is practiced has left a dent on it. People hardly feel accepted when they live and work outside of their state of origin. Expectedly, the long-existing seemingly unnoticeable differences among groups are now brought to the fore by the elite for power and position, the changing status of land and other natural resources as well as desire for separate identity among others (Adesoji and Alao, 2009). The fact that indigeneity, settlement or any other extraneous factor determine or deny or limit what a citizen can enjoy or the level he/she can aspire to is at the heart of the issue. According to Egwu (2013), Nigeria is a bifurcated system of citizenship by which a pan-Nigerian notion of citizenship operates at the national level while indigeneity operates at the local level.
The politics that necessitated indigeneity has made citizenship in Nigeria very complex and controversial. On average, 70 to 80 percent of state and local governments’ revenues comes from the federal government, making Nigerian federalism to revolve less around the idea of ensuring equitable political representation, but more around elaborately constructed rules governing the disbursement of federal largesse to other tiers (HRW, 2006). States and local authorities are increasingly compelled to ensure that only their indigenes benefit most, as it will appear unfair to ‘their people’ if ‘outsiders’ partake in it.
Indigeneity is exacerbated by poor documentation practices by government, leaving the determination of who is an indigene at the discretion of local officials, who often base their judgments on physical appearance, religion, language and ethnicity. Sadly, without the certificate of Indigeneship, an individual’s chances of employment at the state and federal levels is diminished, scholarships are denied, and are charged more for basic services provided by the state, even when such a person lives and pay taxes within the locality. Disgruntled non-indigenes are often asked to return to their place of origin, an area he/she may have never visited. In some states, individuals are denied access to purchase land and political participation. Indigenes even found themselves transformed into strangers by virtue of their religion. This is typical of Muslims residing in southern (Christian-dominated) and Christians residing in Northern (Muslim-dominated) Kaduna. People of similar ethnic background also find themselves discriminated against by mere hailing from different states, which interestingly may have been same state in the past. Failure of government at all levels means local authorities exploit indigeneity as an easy way to placate restive local opinion by reserving the increasingly scarce benefits of citizenship for their indigene “sons of the soil” (HRW, 2006).
I will explore in briefs, few of the many documented cases exclusionary effects of indigeneity:
Mass Firing of Non-indigenes in Kano and Abia States’ Civil Service
Many States have it as a policy to refuse employment to non-indigenes in their state civil services. In Kaduna, Kano and Plateau States, non-indigenes can only be hired, only but on a contract, non-pensionable basis, if there is no qualified indigene applicants for a position (HRW, 2006). In a 2002 mass firing in Kano believed to be targeted at non-indigene, at least one thousand of them, mostly civil servants and teachers, lost their jobs. Similarly, in August 25th, 2011, Abia State issued a directive for disengagement of non-indigenes, asking them to return to their state of origin. Interestingly, some people affected have put in about 20 years in service, with majority from neighbouring Igbo speaking Imo State and a sizeable number of women married to Abians (Vanguard, October 8, 2011).
The Perceived threat by Oba of Lagos to Igbos in Lagos on Electoral Choice of Candidate
Just six days to 2015 governorship election, upon a courtesy visit to the Oba at his palace by Igbo traditional rulers in Lagos, the Oba of Lagos was quoted to have demanded that the Igbo residents in the state cast their votes for his preferred governorship candidate, or face his ire. He further promised prosperous Lagos if they go with his wish (Sahara Reporters, April 6, 2015). The anger was linked to the three assembly seats won by the opposition party that fielded candidates of Igbo extraction in Igbo-dominated area of Lagos State.
Academic Participation Denial to Non-indigenes in Zamfara State
Almost all the thirty-six states discriminate against non-indigenes in their admissions policies, while charging higher fees from those who manage to secure admission. In September 2004, Zamfara State took it a step further by barring non-indigenes from attending the state’s public schools, though it was later reversed to introduction of fees for non-indigenes, and leaving it free for indigenes. Preferential treatment to “Catchment areas” in federal University admission also further alienate non-indigenes. In Kaduna, non-indigenes are ineligible to compete for any of the roughly 8,500 scholarships given out each year (HRW, 2006).
Lagos State Rejection of Olusegun Aganga as a Federal Minister
Section 147 of the 1999 Constitution require that ministerial appointment must consider indigene of each state, without explicitly defining ‘indigene’. On this ground, the nomination of Olusegun Aganga as minister from Lagos State was rejected by Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, stating that he hailed from Edo State, even having lived in Lagos for many years (PM News, July 6, 2011).
Indigeneity has also been attributed to the cause of several indigene-settler conflicts. Several federal policies like quota system and federal character have only reinforced the issue.
Continuous discarding of residency in favour of indigeneity does not bode well for peace, unity and development of Nigeria. Discriminatory practices by one state or locality only begets retaliatory action in higher or equal amount by other States or localities. Therefore, Federal government must step in and provide leadership: First, by providing a clear definition of the concept of indigeneity in the constitution and; second, by sponsoring, passing into law, and enforcing Residency Rights Bill that will expressly prohibited-and criminalized-discrimination against non-indigenes who had lived and paid taxes in their state of residence for at least a defined number of years. Such measures must equally protect traditional leadership and institutions of small ethnic communities.
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PM News (2011) Reps Reject Aganga As Lagos Ministerial Nominee. Wednesday, July 6, 2011. https://www.pmnewsnigeria.com/2011/07/06/reps-reject-aganga-as-lagos-ministerial-nominee/
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Sahara Reporters (2015) Raw Video: Oba of Lagos Threaten Igbos Over Governorship Election. Sahara Reporters, New York, April 06. http://saharareporters.com/2015/04/06/raw-video-oba-lagos-threaten-igbos-over-governorship-election