First they come for our identity—next may be our land.
Recently, Governor El-Rufai announced that his administration is abolishing the settler-indigene dichotomy in Kaduna State. It seems that by the power of one man’s pronouncement, a whole group of ethnicities lost power; they lost their claim to ownership of ancestral land and became drifting peoples, peoples without boundaries or identities. On August 6, under the facade of a committee for peace and reconciliation, Governor El-Rufai declared that there is no longer a difference between indigene and settler in Kaduna. Rather, the government considers all Kaduna State residents to be Kaduna State indigenes. (Note that the governor did not specify whether only Nigerians are qualified for this status.)
Such a sweeping change in policy defies both logic and morals. Moreover, the change may be unconstitutional, because citizenship is exclusively a federal legislative prerogative. The change was suggested by the General Martin Agwai’s panel that had only one month to sit and deliberate. Indeed, many interested parties did not even know that the panel had been constituted, and I do not believe the panel had a public sitting. Certainly the panel did not have enough time for the serious deliberation and analysis required to create a report that will transform the state or bring much-needed peace to the state, particularly the southern part of the state.
Stripping Kaduna State indigenes of the exclusive right to indigene status is not transformative. Governor El-Rufai is the governor of Kaduna, not of all states. Why the rush to make this change? The governor is taking some steps that demonstrate laudable eagerness and haste, but this change is not such a step. Rather, this change is a revolutionary transformation of the state that is detrimental to Kaduna State indigenes. A genuinely transformative agenda must be fair, logical, moral, and sociologically and constitutionally grounded in the unity and progress of the state.
Perhaps some indigenes of Kaduna State consent to surrendering their birthright, but the southern Kaduna indigenes, who have been marginalized for too long, do not consent. They have no other place to go. It may be an overstatement, but I dare say that an indigene of southern Kaduna can live more easily and peacefully and freely in Ghana or Mali, than in Kano State, Katsina State, Anambra State, or Ondo State
If this policy is implemented, Kaduna State will become a no-man’s land, which will open a floodgate of all sorts of shady characters. We will have to compete with not only scores of Nigerians from other states but also the non-Nigerians who already are here simply because they profess to be Muslims and/or speak Hausa and claim that they are indigenes. Since admissions to schools (especially into competitive disciplines such as medicine, science, and engineering), employment, and political appointments are based on “federal character”, Kaduna State indigenes are the most disadvantaged.
It is a high injustice that Kaduna State will become a no-man’s land, because its indigenes cannot claim indigene status in any of the thirty-five other Nigerian states (except Sokoto, and only in limited circumstances)—Kaduna indigenes will become Nigerians without a state, without a home, without a claim to any place. What a travesty! It is morally wrong to deprive a people of their most precious intrinsic possession. A leader who loved his people would show cautious deliberation in a matter of sociological possession and identity.
Before my detractors accuse me of parochialism, let me preempt them: I am member of a diaspora group, Southern Kaduna Diaspora (SOKAD), which made submission to President Jonathan’s National Conference in 2014. My group advocated for abolishing indigene status and following the U.S. model, under which every citizen has all rights in the state in which they reside. Americans can therefore claim to be “indigenes” of several different states during their lifetimes. It is not uncommon for members of the same family to be “indigenes” of different states and enjoy all the rights, privileges, and benefits of their respective states of residency. This policy applies in all fifty U.S. states, not one—unlike the lone-state system Governor El-Rufai is trying to implement in Kaduna.
If Governor El-Rufai’s policy is implemented, Kaduna State will be transformed in ways that divide, not unite. The policy he proposes must be a federal government policy, not a state policy. While we wait for pundits to evaluate the governor’s one-hundred days in office, I must say, there are things I appreciate about Governor El-Rufai. I love his zeal, and his monthly outreach is informative and innovative. But for this policy, the governor and I part ways. For this reason, I am conflicted about who Governor El-Rufai is and what his agenda is for the state.
First they come for our identity—next may be our land. I have spoken with some Gbagyi people of Abuja and others. Many Gbagyi people do not favorably evaluate Governor El-Rufai’s tenure as the Administrator of the Federal Capital. To transform the capital from a Lagos-type swamp to the modern capital that it is today, ancestral land had to be taken, and the Gbagyi were the ethnic group that suffered most. However, the non-Gbagyi see Governor El-Rufai as a transformative administrator. Each group has its reasons.
Kaduna State should not be another guinea pig, at least not now. Kaduna State should not be an experiment on eroding ethnic boundaries and identities (even if that erosion is desirable). The people of Kaduna State expect the governor in his first four years to alleviate poverty, create jobs for our graduates, foster peace, advance education, and encourage development. Such goals are more transformative than the idealistic policy of making everyone a Kaduna State indigene. Such transforming goals cannot be met without justice, fairness, and the rule of law. Declaring that everyone in the world can now come to Kaduna State and enjoy dual indigeneship, and thereby disempowering ethnic groups who have laid claim to spaces and places in the State for time immemorial while all other Nigerians can claim ownership of their respective ancestral and historical spaces, is morally unjust. Until it is a policy in all thirty-six states of the country (Sokoto is an exception, to some extent), this policy should not be implemented. I hope our governor reconsiders.
Tunga Lergo is a Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Santa Fe College, Gainesville, Florida, U.S.A.