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. 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.”
I am yet to hear about a mass protest by Imo citizens and residents about the 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. 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? 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.
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 l, 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.”
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.
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 recognise that Adamawa State and Borno State are not the same, or that Adamawa State has more than 20 different ethnic groups, and that the Muslim-Christian population in the state is about 50-50. 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.
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 neighbours, 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 terrorises.
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 endeavours. Dramatising 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 “marginalisation” at the local, state and federal levels. But good governance, typified by the provision of security and welfare of society shall drown them.
• Shilgba wrote via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reference: The Guardian September 17. 2015