Constitutional Amendment: Afenifere Cautions National Assembly On Indigeneship

The pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, has called on the National Assembly to go beyond the surface in its desire to reconsider the proposed Amendment on Indigeneship status for people living in particular locations in Nigeria. The call was contained in a Press Statement issued by the National Publicity Secretary of the organization, Comrade Jare Ajayi.
It would be recalled that the Speaker, House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, on March 8, 2022, announced that the National Assembly will reconsider at least three proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution that have been rejected by the House earlier on. This was sequel to protests by the womenfolk on the rejection of the said three proposed Amendments. The three Amendments are those on foreigners married to Nigerian women, Indigeneship and that of 35 per cent affirmative action in which women are asking for more space in country’s political space.
Commenting on the issues, Ajayi stated that Afenifere is very much in support of women in the country being treated equally and fairly like their male counterparts. He however called on the lawmakers to ensure that in the amendment concerning Indigeneship, a proviso is not inserted in the Constitution that would surreptitiously make non-natives to supplant the indigenes of a particular space in the country.
”We are saying this against the background of the move by some people who are agitating that anyone who is born in a particular area or has lived in the area for ten years be granted the indigeneship of the area in question. We agree, and indeed believe, that every Nigeria has a right to live in any part of the country. But, we are also realistic enough to acknowledge the fact that every group anywhere in the world normally has a place that could be regarded as its native-land. The process or right to make such a claim derives from the linkage the group has with the ancestors who first settled in the given area.”

‘Attachment to one’s community and, through it, to the soil of the ancestors or the homeland, is a fundamental dimension of the notion of citizenship in Africa’ as widely acknowledge by participants at a conference on ‘Citizenship and Indigeneity Conflicts in Nigeria’ which held in Abuja, Nigeria from February 8th -9th 2011.
It is a known fact that some armed bandits were forcefully camping themselves on some lands after killing or ousting the native-inhabitants of the area. This is happening especially in some parts of the North.
Ajayi said that Afenifere is not against peaceful and harmonious co-habitation by any tribe in any part of the country, but is calling attention to the danger inherent in legally conferring indigeneship status on non-natives simply because they have lived for many years in the said area adding that such a notion is at the root of several communal clashes in the country. It is also very likely to create more problems especially in a situation where herders settle on farmlands, raise families and rear livestocks. Unless carefully handled, in a few years’ time, there may be conflicts with original inhabitants of the area as has been happening in Southern Kaduna, Benue state and some other places.
According to Afenifere, what is desirable is residency right as is the case in countries we look up to such as the United States of America, Europe and the like. If you have lived in those countries for certain number of years and you satisfy certain conditions, you are given residency status with rights and privileges that are almost akin to that of an indigene. That is what we should emulate here.
Ajayi went further to say that what is being said is not to negatively affect the status of a woman in a marriage. As a matter of fact, once a woman is married to a man outside of her nativeland, she should enjoy all the rights being enjoyed by other women in the husband’s area.
Craving against being misunderstood, Ajayi said that the reluctance to honestly deal with the issue of citizenship and indigeneship has been at the roots of major inter-communal and inter-ethnic clashes we have been having over the years. He added that conflicts in this respect began the moment the Euro-American concepts of citizenship and indigeneship were made to override African concept of the same ideas.
Quoting the Congo-born Emeritus Professor Georges Ntalaja of the North Carolina University, Ajayi said that Africans are humans with ‘the greatest attachment to ancestral lands’ and that it is in that milieu that their ‘values of solidarity such as ethnic allegiance and patriotism are born’. Attempts to pretend that this was in the past have been responsible for the skirmishes that are occurring these days. And they are likely to occur still if we failed to face the reality of our situation.
While acknowledging that no-one has a say in where he was born; for that reason, claim to a land should not occasion bloodshed, Afenifere spokesman was however quick to add that native occupants of a land are not usually the precipitator of a clash – for they know that they have more to lose. It is usually those who came as usurpers that create the problem.
Advising lawmakers to be mindful of how they couch the proviso on Indigeneship, Ajayi again quoted Prof Ntajala who said that “across Africa, groups identified as strangers or settlers may live in an area for over 100 years and still be considered as having no legitimate rights in the land they occupy.
The spokesman was emphatic that Afenifere does not believe in discrimination in any form. Rather, what it is advocating is that while settlers deserve protection, the rights of the indigenes should also be respected within the ambit of the law that is fair and just.
“Inter-ethnic cohabitation is an agelong thing among our people without much hassles. Problems being experienced now were as a result of fueling by political elites and territorial expansionists. In the words of Prof Armstrong M. Adejo of Benue State University, ‘the horrendous relationship between the State and ethnic groups, … are functions of the State aggressive accumulation of power and resources; deprivation of communities of their autonomy and power hierarchies, and structural change in the economy which exposed a reasonable percentage of people to several shocks in the development problem”.

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