On neither tribe nor religion but in brotherhood Nigerians should stand

UnityAT the time book writers all over the world refused to give Nigeria any chance, we proved the prophets of doom wrong by conducting one of the most peaceful elections in the history of Africa. The peaceful transition period and the rancor-free handing over and swearing in are testaments to the fact that democracy is rooted and widely accepted by all and that Nigeria is ready to lead Africa again. Most worthy of note is the congratulatory message from the main opposition political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the then President-elect and All Progressives Congress (APC) soon after the inauguration of the new government. This rare display of political maturity goes to show that the bitterness, acrimony, enmity and the wounds inflicted during the election period is healing-up at a fast pace. Now that election has come and gone, the new administration needs to focus more on things that unite rather than those which divide Nigerians.

The developed countries of the world have something in common; they have successfully removed tribal, religious and ethnic considerations from their polity. Americans relate to themselves and regard themselves as Americans and not as adherent of different religions, or ethnic groups. No doubt, Nigeria has been so divided along religious and ethnic lines since independence. This division was even made worse and prominent by events in the build up to the last general elections. Since 1960, all the crises and wars that had occurred in Nigeria were either caused by tribal sentiments, ethnic chauvinism or religious intolerance.

For Nigeria to develop and catch up with some of the fast developing nations of the world, there has to be a deliberate national policy aimed at down-playing issues of tribe, religion and ethnicity, like is the case in developed countries. Nigeria cannot develop to the extent of leading Africa and earning honour and respect among comity of nations if ethnic and religious considerations still reign supreme in our day to day dealings. With the exception of Lagos and Kano states, I am yet to see an Igbo man contest and win a political position in Sokoto, Jigawa, Zamfara, Ogun or Osun states. It is difficult for a Christian to emerge as a flagbearer of a major political party in some states in the North and it is almost impossible for a Moslem to emerge as a gubernatorial or senatorial candidate in Enugu, Anambra or Akwa Ibom states.

An Hausa man is treated as a non-indigene in Abia, regardless of the fact that he was born and bred there and has spent all his life there. An indigene of Sokoto cannot contest for a political position in Bayelsa, not because he is not qualified, but simply because his forefathers are not from that part of the country. But for the recent constitutional amendment carried out by members of the National Assembly where issues of citizenship by marriage was addressed, it was always an issue for a woman from Kogi State married to a man from Imo to be accorded the full privilege and right of an indigene of her husband’s state of origin.

Barrack Obama became a citizen of the United States of America by birth. Even though his forefathers were not Americans, he enjoyed the full rights and privileges of an American citizen which made it possible for him to aspire and subsequently became the first black-American President. This is the hallmark of a great and a highly developed society, Nigeria should learn from this example, so that we can be great again. Religious and ethnic considerations in political and appointive positions are the reasons we have continued to depreciate in values and development, it is the reason why quality men and women cannot emerge as leaders and it is the reason why corruption and insecurity is prevalent. The rule of law, good governance and quality leadership has been sacrificed on the altar of religion and ethnicity.

The 2006 national census was conducted with no questions asked about religion. This was because the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in his own wisdom, decided that religion should be excluded from the head count. Even though some Nigerians faulted and disagreed with that decision, I think it was a step in the right direction. As we prepare for another round of census, there is need for us to, not only remove religion from the head count, but it would do us a lot of good if the question of ethnicity is also removed from the census. The Rwandan genocide which has become an epitome of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man in the history of Africa was facilitated owing to the fact that it was demanded that the two warring ethnic groups of Hutu and Tutsi are inscribed on the national identity cards of every Rwandan. This made it possible for people to be easily identified, killed or maimed. President Kigali was quick to identify this and as soon as he became president, he ordered that new national identity card devoid of ethnic identification be issued to all Rwandans. Today in Rwandan, it is difficult to know who is Hutu or Tutsi; the only ethnic tribe that exists is Rwandan.

Considering the damage that ethnic sentiments and chauvinism as well as religious intolerance had done to this country, there is need for us to learn from the example of Rwanda in removing those issues that divide us. Regardless of any part of Nigeria we may find ourselves, all should be accorded the full right and privilege of indigeneship and citizenship of Nigeria. Nigeria should be our only tribe, religion and ethnicity. The current citizenship certificates being issued at various local government councils should be abolished. Emphasis should be on the state of residence and not on the state of origin. It does not make any sense that after spending more than 14 years of my life in Kwara State, my citizenship certificate still refers me to my local government council in Kogi State. I am regarded and treated as a non-indigene and I cannot freely contest for any political position, even though the constitution allows me to do so.

Nigeria’s quest for development, greatness and leadership in Africa entails and requires that tribe, religion and ethnicity be abolished from our day to day consideration. It is not until a Moslem can freely aspire and become a governor in Ebonyi, Enugu or Delta State, and a Christian is allowed to aspire and become a governor in Kano, Kebbi or Zamfara State can our path to greatness be accelerated. Elective and appointive leaders should be allowed to emerge regardless of tribal, religious or ethnic considerations. Their emergence should be based on potentials, past achievements, honesty, integrity and popularity. We have come to believe that we did not choose our tribes or ethnicity, and majority of Nigerians did not choose their religion. Many are Christians or Moslems because they were born into it. An Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Tiv or Ebira person is such, because he was born into that tribe and ethnic group. Hence, Nigerians should not be judged on the basis of their tribe, religion or ethnicity. If an Igbo man from Anambra has what it takes to govern Benue State and make it a better place, he should be allowed to do just that. Nigeria should be our only tribe, religion and ethnic group.
• Obaro lives in Ilorin, Kwara State. oseniobaro@yahoo.com, 08065396694.

• This article was first published on Wednesday, July 1. 2015.

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