The Supreme Council of Shari’ah in Nigeria (SCSN) in collaboration with the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) organised a two-day Symposium with the theme “Threat to the Unity of the Ummah and the Future of Nigeria, Citizenship and Nationhood” at the International Conference Centre, Abuja from 24th to 26th Shawwal 1442 (4th to 6th June 2021). Yours sincerely was in attendance and would like to share with readers the Lead Paper titled “The Nigerian Federation and the Management of our Diversity:A Critical Evaluation” which was presented by Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, OON, Yariman Jama’a. Enjoy:
Bismillahi Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim,
I am grateful to the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Nigeria, Jamaatu Nasril Islam and Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria for the opportunity to contribute to a discussion that is vital to the survival of our country in the context of the challenges which threaten it. I am impressed that religious organizations can venture to provide a platform for exploring a very sensitive set of related issues that may not leave the management of our faiths, its leadership or its imitations unscathed. I have no doubt that the entire nation will benefit from forthright and informed dialogue such as we will have at this Symposium about what makes up our strengths and weaknesses as a country of great diversity with the promise and the potential to buckle under its accumulating limitations.
I have taken the liberty to approach my task in this paper by focussing on a very sensitive and vital element which represents one of the building blocks of our federal system, as well as one of the weak links in its chain. This is the issue of the place of identity as the basis of our federal system and the distortions which we have brought to bear on it. Any responsible discussion on basic identity in Nigeria is bound to stumble around the irony that the one issue which today represents a major impediment to our progress beyond the precarious stage where we seem to be stuck, which is that virtually none of us chose his faith, ethnicity or region, is also the basis of much of the most damaging conflicts in which we are engaged. As we speak, ethnic and religious identities have been thrust to the forefront of the struggle for power, and they threaten to scuttle an arrangement that has progressively failed to develop beyond its ideals. Violence and threats remind us that our politics has failed to engineer a citizen, and leaders who benefitted from exploiting identity politics are incapable of containing its expanding influence. Indeed, they are riding harder on our weak points, and they leave many of us to wonder how they plan to govern a wrecked country, assuming, that is, that they manage to keep the country together enough to have elections in 2023.
* Presented at Symposium on Threats to the Unity of the Ummah and the Future of Nigeria, Citizenship and Nationhood Organized by Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria at Abuja, 4th June, 2021.
- Citizen and Indigene: The Law Versus Politics
A nation is made up of citizens defined by law in very clear terms. Citizens, however, have identities which define them further, and often pitch their legal status against their political status. Our constitution defines a Nigerian citizen in Chapter III of the 1999 constitution (as amended). The indigene and the settler are not legal entities, and the constitution mentions ‘indigenous’ only in reference to qualification for citizenship (Section 25(1)).
Yet the indigene has acquired a profound presence in our lives and in the manner we organize the struggle for power and economic resources. The elaborate constitutional provisions for the fundamental rights of the citizen had been blind to the indigene, or for that matter, the monster it has created, the settler. Chapter IV of the constitution outlines among others, rights to life, dignity of the human person, private and family life, thought, conscience and religion, expression and press, peaceful assembly and association, movement and acquisition of property to apply equally to each citizen.
Any abridging of these rights by another law, regulation or any action is illegal. Yet we have lived with rising barriers and stratifications of citizens which have real effects on the qualities of their lives, and the indigene has assumed such an underserved significance that he is the major impediment to the growth and development of a Nigerian identity, citizenship and a nation of laws. The growth of the indigene as a significant element in Nigerian politics has been nurtured by the murky and odious characterization of Nigerians in many parts of the country as settlers. The ‘settler’ has no legal meaning; no universally – accepted definition; no rights beyond those determined by the ‘indigene’ (who was at one time or the other a settler), has no protection against political and economic marginalization, and is discouraged from asserting any claim to equal treatment as the indigene or citizen.
- A federal arrangement is primarily an acceptance that countries will be basically designed to accord recognition to cultural, spatial or even political pluralism, and sharing of powers between federating units and a center which gives substance and meaning to identities, values and aspirations to all citizens. Significantly, federal systems define citizenship at the national level, and in various forms and scale, allow federating units the scope to design and determine how they organize governance and other matters which influence lives of citizens who live within them. Federating units’ design mechanisms which further delineate populations that can lay claim to them as units of origin through many means, including registration, obligations and entitlements, access to welfare or certain privileges, none of which however, abridge or deprive any citizen from other parts of the country their fundamental rights.
Conflicts over these attempts to create a state and a national citizen are endemic in all federal systems, and they have been resolved in most instances, by recourse to the judicial process and in many countries, by an alert agency which polices inter-governmental relations. Time and diligent commitment to the ideals and practice of federalism have also helped many countries to mature beyond major crises over basics. The fabled response of the Premier of Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello to the suggestion of President Nnamdi Azikiwe that both of them should forget their differences comes to mind here.” No”, the Premier said. “We should understand our differences, not forget them”.
Federal systems are highly unstable creations, but, as in the case of Nigeria, they are necessary and inevitable. They operate best if certain assumptions are made in their design and operation, and these are policed diligently through a political process that is rooted in the philosophy of federalism, by a leadership that is willing to operate within legal and political boundaries. Significantly, a federal system that will survive and grow needs these critical elements:
- i) A structure that captures the plural nature of the country and designs a federation that captures national identity and unity at the national level and diversity at the unit level;
- ii) A constitution that creates one citizen, irrespective of place of domicile, and federating units that have powers to create institutions, systems and processes and laws and regulations that will determine how the local population lives;
iii) A fair balance in power, responsibilities and resources, such that a central government has enough authority to undertake its responsibilities such as defence and security, external relations and promotion of peace and unity, and federating units that have real powers and resources to add significant value to the lives of citizens domiciled in them;
- iv) An arrangement that does not abridge basic rights and privileges of the citizen on grounds of identities other than citizen of the country, except in instances where laws and regulations are made by federating units which are consistent with provisions of the constitution;
- v) No limitation to the basic rights of the citizen is allowed, for instance, on grounds of his being non-indigene, settler or any other identity such as faith or ethnicity.