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El-Rufai’s Abrogation Of Settler/Indigene Dichotomy

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Governor Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai recently stirred the hornet’s nest when he approved the abrogation of the settler/indigene dichotomy and announced the establishment of the Kaduna State Residents Registration Agency to provide an unassailable database for all residents of the state to achieve equality for all, no matter the ethnic group or state of origin of residents.

Announcing the repeal of this dichotomy in his official twitter handle on April 11, 2019, the governor said: “In Kaduna State, the Indigene/Settler dichotomy has been abolished. Every person resident in Kaduna State would be accorded all rights as citizens and indigenes of the state. The Kaduna State Resident Registration Agency will create a reliable database of all residents in the state, with a view to providing useful data for planning, security, social welfare, education, employment, financial services, housing, health and other services. Elizabeth Joshua Ndonah will head the Kaduna State Residents Registration Agency.”

There’s no gainsaying that ethnicity has done harm and created running stream of bloodshed  that has flaunted many parts of Nigeria as a nauseating human barbeque fueled by ethnic clashes. While these bloodsheds have attracted both local and international outrage, our leaders have resorted to simplifying these killings as simply caused by ethnic factors. Nigeria’s political leadership has become shortsighted in critical thinking aimed at confronting current challenges. More often, many leaders have explained their inability to tackle issues bordering on rising ethnic struggles for supremacy. How come that an area that was known for peace and consensus building suddenly being transformed into a fertile killing field?  Why is the house built by Sir Ahmadu Bello sliding into a combustible ethnic inferno whose depth is immeasurable?

Worried by existential threats posed by this settler/indigene segregation, the Northern Governors’ Forum had in February 2017 met in Kaduna and resolved to rescind such a policy that promotes ethnic identities. In the words of the Chairman of the Forum, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, the abolition of the dichotomy was necessary to give every Nigerian citizen living in the North a sense of belonging.  Over two years since the governors resolved to abrogate the settler/indigene dichotomy, not a snivel has been heard from any of them.

As a governor who primes in taking the first shot, el-Rufai has taken steps to implement what his colleagues agreed to do on paper. But in doing this, not a few are insisting that his decision leaves a sour taste in the mouth and robs indigenes of the state their fair share of the national cake. The abrogation of the dichotomy runs against the provision of the Nigerian constitution that recognises the concept of “indigene” in a state which  forms the basis for sharing  monthly allocations to the three tiers of government by the federal government. In attaining development for their people, states have deployed resources to build institutions and businesses for the welfare and progress of their citizens. Schools and hospitals have been built by states to provide education and healthcare for citizens. In public schools, students indigenous to a state are made to pay lower fees, while non-indigenes pay higher fees. In both admission and job placement opportunities in federal institutions, quota system is deployed to give opportunity to all states, even though competence is most times relegated to ensure even spread. This unjust quota system which aims at justifying the idea of settler/indigene dichotomy approves the lowering of standards in admissions and job placements among states.

The recent elimination of the settler/indigene dichotomy by el-Rufai would have been a welcomed idea if all the 19 Northern governors had resolved to walk their talk. With only Kaduna State rescinding this ill-repute dichotomy that has stultified national patriotism and enthrone ethnic nationalism, Kaduna indigenes have become victims of double jeopardy. They now have the singular disadvantage of sharing their wealth with other state citizens, while being denied of same gesture in other states. Another point here is that Kaduna residents, who were non-indigenes but now indigenes, now have a sort of dual indigene status. While they enjoy the privileges accruable to indigenes, they are still indigenes of their states of origin and beneficiaries of same. I am yet to be told how this annulment of this dichotomy by Governor el-Rufai will work in favour of Kaduna State indigenes living in other states.

The Nigerian society is hypocritical and the failure of our leaders to rise up to the occasion and pull the rug off the feet of people stoking embers of violence plaguing our nation are some of the issues militating against national development. Abolishing settler/indigene dichotomy without addressing issues that have turned this country into Africa’s sleeping giant amounts to covering the blazing sun with a finger. I hope the land use act, true federalism and resource control, among unresolved issues, can form the fulcrum of national discourse to create a country where rights of everyone, no matter their ethnic and religious affiliations, will be respected. 

Without repealing this dichotomy, Governor el-Rufai knows too well that there is little inhibition for anyone from Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Zamfara, among other states of the North, to claim Kaduna as state of indigene. While someone with the name, Abdullahi Garba, can lay claim to be an indigene of any Northern state, with an exception of Benue, can the same applies to someone with the name, Samuel Garba or James Chukwu claim to be an indigene of Kano, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara?

I was once a victim of this veiled dichotomy which has become a full blown segregation that now forms the basis of ethnic/religious dichotomy when I applied to read Mass Communication at the Bayero University Kano (BUK) in 1987.  After my IJMB examination that year, I was qualified for an admission to read Mass Communication and Law. After a fruitless wait for the admission, I took a trip to the university to find out why my admission was being delayed. A relation working at the BUK was shocked that I was not offered admission when candidates with less points than mine had long commenced registration. Without hesitation, he got across to someone up who promptly promised to do something. However when my relation was asked from which state and local government area I hailed from, he was told I came from the wrong side of the divide.

When the final list was released by BUK in 1987 admission, I was offered B.Sc in Geography. I rejected the offer and made desperate moves to get an admission to read Law from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). My efforts met a brick wall as the authorities insisted that ABU was not my first choice. However, some who were in the same category with me were offered admission, but your sincerely was told to exercise patience. Since then, I have come to realise that certain people must bear the scars of discrimination. No matter your level of academic excellence, you can become unqualified by reason of where you hail from.

Just this year, I almost suffered a depression when a young girl, who scored an average of 270 in both JAMB and Post-UME tests, failed to gain admission into her dream course in the university of her choice in the North. Despite hailing from Kaduna State and her points, the young lady could not comprehend why she was refused admission to her course of choice. As someone who was also denied a course of my choice 32 years ago, I knew her pains, but I was not willing to throw a shroud of hopelessness over her dream and her belief in a country that should guarantee her right to be treated justly.

The failure of our political leadership to weave a symphony of national unity around oppressed and discordant ethnic groups has left no option for these groups, but to raise flags of ethnic identities to confront their problems. The recent abrogation of the settler/indigene dichotomy in Kaduna State can only be effective if other states in the North, including the entire country, follow the way of Kaduna State in abolishing this obnoxious dichotomy. Anything less than this is a deliberate policy aimed at subjugating Kaduna state indigenes and shrinking their opportunities for development.


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