National institutions: too weak to strengthen integration

Cover-IllustrationFor a moment, Kehinde Bamidele stood in front of his apartment on Angwadosa Road, Kaduna, staring menacingly at the carnage going on in the street. He felt uncertain that this was the same town he had grown up and lived all his life. He was numbed with disbelief. His fingertip was damp. His mind suddenly went to the images of Sometime In April: the Rwandan genocide tale.
Could this be another genocide?
God forbid! He sneezed.

Suddenly, he came back to reality. He turned the knob of his door and quickly entered the apartment. Hurriedly, he began packing his clothes. There was a gentle tap on his door. Fears gripped him. He moved gently to open the door and right in his front was his colleague in the office, Kenneth Umeh, panting, his luggage in his hand. Kehinde packed his things and ran out of the apartment, Kenneth following behind.

When both men got to the street, they saw an unending line of people fleeing with their belongings on their head. Some of the visible scars were corpses, burnt out houses that were no more than hollow shells. The streets had a desolate look as business closed down and people fleeing the town in panic.

Watchers of events in Nigeria say the frequency of religious and communal clashes, riots, conflicts and violence since 1980 to the present leaves much to be desired. They note that this is a reflection of a national crisis, and a nation at the brink of collapse or in search of its own soul.

The recent episodes of inter-ethnic warfare in Nigeria, exemplified by the carnage in Mile 12 in Lagos and Agatu in Benue State and the repeated killings in other parts of the country are indications of how terrible the situation has suddenly become.

The constitution, in section 14, which elaborates on the fundamental human rights, freedom to stay anywhere, freedom to marry and all that, is an additional strength to the constitution, but practically, it is not realisable. When you stay in a particular place, even when your great grandfather was born there, and you decide to contest election, you are in trouble. The only place where the policy has been tested is Lagos. In Lagos, you can come from anywhere and contest. You can see the case of Falake in Kogi State. So, it is like that, but the best thing we need to do is to begin to test them in our various states from local government.

The problem of national integration has become a recurring decimal in national discourse. The issue is probably one of the most complicated considering the over 120 languages spoken, three main ethnic groups, none of which constitutes a majority of the population, and the religious divide.

Recently, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, accused President Muhammadu Buhari of breaching the 1999 Constitution, which he swore to protect, by allegedly approving the killing of unarmed Igbo, who were agitating for Biafran Republic.

IPOB also frowned at the confiscation of newspapers that carried Biafran stories by armed soldiers in Aba, Abia State Tuesday, wondering what part of the constitution the publishers of the newspapers had infringed.

Concerns over the present state may have influenced the theme of Ondo State’s 40th year anniversary, where notable Nigerians dialogued on how to curtail the centrifugal forces rocking the country’s unity.

Titled, Curtailing Nigeria’s Centrifugal Forces, the symposium exposed the level of disunity among Nigerians.The Jegun of Idepe-Okitipupa, Oba Obatuga Michael, thanked Ondo State government for working to entrench inter-tribal fellowship, explaining further that there is no government document that tends towards such prejudice against any tribe; rather, many of the policies are driven to encourage national integration among the heterogeneous people.

“One thing I know for sure is that our people inter-marry. For example, people from this part of the state inter-marry from the South South, north, east and other parts of the country. We have people that are not native of the state that are employed in the civil service, even when many of the indigenes, who are eminently qualified, are unemployed,” said the monarch.

Though, he frowned at the centrifugal forces working against Nigeria’s Federal system, he was quick to say that the 2014 National Conference report should not be jettisoned.

“If the Federal Government implements the recommendations of the National Confab, I believe it will go a long way towards curbing many of the problems that are bedevilling the nation right now because a team of sound technocrats and patriots gathered to proffer solutions.

“We shouldn’t do things on political basis or party basis, we have to look at it holistically to benefit the country and achieve what is good for the nation irrespective of our religious sentiments and tribal inclinations. Something that is good must be supported,” he said.

A legal practitioner and member representing Etsako Central Constituency in Edo State House of Assembly, Damian Lawani, said discrimination and lack of national cohesion should be challenged in the law court, since it is a constitutional matter.

“The constitution, in section 14, which elaborates on the fundamental human rights, freedom to stay anywhere, freedom to marry and all that, is an additional strength to the constitution, but practically, it is not realisable. When you stay in a particular place, even when your great grandfather was born there, and you decide to contest election, you are in trouble. The only place where the policy has been tested is Lagos. In Lagos, you can come from anywhere and contest. You can see the case of Falake in Kogi State. So, it is like that, but the best thing we need to do is to begin to test them in our various states from local government,” the lawmaker said.

He said, “the fundamental rights of any individual, who is born in a particular place, and wants to be recognised in that place, and once that recognition is not given to such a person, the Constitution has been breached, but I think it is because in most cases, it has not been challenged in any court, that is why we are still having these difficulties.”

He said the provision should be allowed to remain in the constitution “If we discover we cannot enforce any law, it should not be made in the first place, but as far as it is in our constitution, it should be implemented to the letter.”

According to the Executive Director, Registered Voters Association of Nigeria (REVAN), Dr Philip Ugbodaga, the country’s national institutions that should preach integration are too weak to live up to their responsibilities. He insists it should remain in the country’s law books, “our national institutions have been very weak to sustain those constitutional provisions, the National Orientation Agency and others have not been up and doing, otherwise, we expected that such national intuitions should have been able to galvanise, especially, the young people to ensure that this generation and their younger ones are not also wasted.”

He continued, “the problem has never been whether it has been legislated, I think that it should remain in the Constitution, but we should leverage on the lessons of history and the peculiar situation we found ourselves now, where its enunciation in the Constitution has not given expression to any national integration. We should allow ourselves to play more roles that physical expression to the letters and spirit of the constitution. We need to drop our individual ethnic toga.”

Ugbodaga said Nigerian leaders, over the years, have not been able to separate themselves from divisive political climate inherited from the British. “I think it is a disgrace that since the British left us, we have been unable to mobilise our vast human and natural resources to be able to form an integrated country that is founded on shared values and I am sure that it is a realisation of the distrust and the centrifugal tendencies among Nigerians arising from that era,” Ugbodaga lamented, adding, “it is a realisation by our founding fathers of the need to engender national integration and shared common values that made them input into every successive Constitution, the clause that makes it possible for one to be able to integrate anywhere you reside in the country, irrespective of your original state of origin and to be able to contest election and participate in every political activity, but this has not been the case, as we have been unable to interact and complement ourselves in order to utilise our weaknesses to jumpstart a viable social political rejuvenation.”

He also said Nigerian leaders need to be more nationalistic, “because what is happening in the component parts mirrors the tendencies of our leaders today. Nigeria lacks national leaders, what we have are ethnic leaders; Ijaw leaders, Yoruba leaders, Igbo leaders, Edo leaders, but we do not have national leaders.”

In June 2013, a Pakistani-born environmental engineer, Mehreen Faruqi, made history as the first Muslim woman to be elected to an Australian legislature.

Faruqi is the epitome of the new Australian spirit of ‘giving people a fair go’ after years of anti aboriginal policy and the loss generation.

Until the 1970s, racial preferences were institutionalised in an immigration policy that promoted white supremacy. But an embrace of multi-culturalism has led to an upsurge in migrations.

Yet, in Nigeria, it is very difficult for somebody, who is considered to come from another state to assume political leadership or rule. In fact, it is almost an anathema for a non-indigene to be elected into a political office.

Many have argued that the question of State of Origin (SOO) lies at the heart of division, ethnic conflicts and lack of social integration in the country. They say SOO should be replaced with the less proactive State of Residence (SOR).

They also blame the violence and tensions across the country on the claims of indigenes over non-indigenes.Many support the review, which will result to positive changes in the society, but said the Nigerian nation was not ripe for such indigeneship right as practiced in other parts of the world. However, it is reasoned that the political elite in Nigeria will not want to do away with state of origin because they are the ones benefiting from it.

They say that SOO has continually encouraged tribal and ethnic sentiments such that to do anything in Nigeria, from admission to educational institutions, getting government jobs or enjoying any benefit from the government, even to vie for political office, the state of origin issue must come up.

Despite the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sex, place of origin or ethnic group by Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, even at the highest level in the country, people still face discrimination based on where they come from despite the “one Nigeria” slogan.

Nigerians who have lived in certain places in the country for close to two decades and have been law abiding while contributing to the development of such places are still regarded as non-indigenes. good roads, proper medical facilities, social infrastructures, and no good schools. Environments such as these generate fear distrust hatred, frustrations, anger, etc. Under such circumstances, it is easy to believe that if the other ethnic group(s) go away there will be enough.

The gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater. While the rich got richer, the condition of the majority has deteriorated with the income of single individuals equalling and surpassing the combined income of millions of Nigerians.
The conscious manipulation of ethnic consciousness under terrible social conditions gives rise to periodic explosions of ethnic clashes.

For Alhaji Abdukadri Balarabe Musa, chairman, Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), “there is high level of poverty and desperation in this country. There are so many other security problems. The problems are not only numerous, but known, however, the solution lies in a revolutionary measure.”

A proof was the initial refusal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alooma Mukhtar, to swear in Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo to the bench of the Court of Appeal. Justice Jombo-Ofo represents Abia, her husband’s state of origin, though she hails from Anambra State, but she had her service transferred from her state to that of her husband. In spite of her 14 years of service in Abia State, petitions still rose from there that she is not one of their own and could, therefore, not represent the state.

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