Citizenship And Democratisation In Nigeria: The Amaechi’s Example


Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation-state made up of previously independent nationalities or polities which is extrapolated to be between two hundred and fifty and four hundred with variegated cultures, interest, size, distribution of power, influence and resources. Nigeria is said to have more than five hundred and ten local language. Added to this diversity is the religious pluralism. Nigeria is a multi-religious society. However, the common denominator is that these ethnic groups are broadly categorized into ethnic ‘majorities’ and ethnic ‘minorities’ hence, the adoption of the generic term “WAZOBIA” referring to the ‘Big Three’ ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. That is Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo.

It is a fact of history that Nigeria as a modern state was born on I “ January, 1914 when the British arch-colonizer Lord Lugard joined the different polities together and became independent on 1st October, 1960. since he refused to take the advice given by some colonial official to reorganize the country into smaller and more equal units, and his failure to consult the people involved he created a country that Ikime (1985: 17) descri bed as “geog ra phically lopsided; ethnica lIy i ncong ruous and administratively absurd”. It will be ahistorical to infer that the various peoples of Nigeria were first brought together by the act

of amalgamation. In stating the obvious, the various polities of today’s Nigeria were in constant relationship for many centuries before the intrusion of Islam in the i s” century and the advent of imperialism and colonialism. This fact of history has debunked the notion that the Nigeria is a mere geographical expression.

If this is agreed, then it is plausible to argue that the question of citizenship and ethnicity is closely linked with the British colonizers. Following the amalgamation of 1914 which is widely acclaimed as “the mistake of 1914”, the British vigorously pursued their imperialistic policy of “minimum input for maximum out put” with the adoption of “Divide and rule” principle. On the other hand, the policy of ‘Divide and rule’ was adopted for the purposes of maintaining law and order so as to ensure uninterrupted exploitation of the colonized. This policy among other things polarized the different ethnic nationalities that were forced together without consultation. This was done by manipulating them against one another so as to perpetuate their stronghold on economic and political powers. The emergence of political parties on regional or ethnic lines can further confirm this position. For example, Action Group (A.G) was for the West, National Council  for N i g e ria n Ci t i zen s , (N C N C ), was for the E a s t and the Northern People’s Congress, (NPC) was essentially a northern political party. The acrimony that followed created a deep hatred among the ethnic nationalities that the British placed at strategic positions over others in the colonial civil service.

Hence, the aggressive ethnic nationalism as the various groups agitated for self-determination. This was evident in all facets of human endeavours like politics, sports, religion, economic, social, to mention but a few.

What was more, the domination of certain spheres of the Nigerian society by some ethnic groups further deepened the endless spate of hostility, antagonism, and ethnic discrimination among the different ethnic groups. Ethnic discrimination i.e. a situation in which people of the minority ethnic groups are given unfair or unequal treatment because of disparity in ethnic groups started to gain currency. This gave birth to identity politics.

However, among the so called majority ethnic groups, the story is the same. The acclaimed superior ethnic groups look at the other ethnic groups with contempt. For instance, the Igbo people are known to posses some business acumen that gave them an edge over other ethnic group. This steering qualities made them an object of hatred hence discriminated by other ethnic groups. The Hausa people are believed to occupy the echelon position of the administration and politics. They suffered discrimination because of this. The Yoruba people are reputable to dominate the bureaucracy and education. Consequently, they are hated for this.

It could be gleaned from the above that the British made no concerted efforts to integrate the various ethnic groups that birth modern Nigeria. The provinces into which Nigeria was so divided were administered separately and colonial administrators jealously guarded these provinces under their jurisdiction as separate entities. In actual fact, they produced a regime of dichotomy in the realm of ‘citizenship’ and ‘indigeneship’ among peoples and communities that had interacted effectively despite rivers, mountains, valleys and so on for several centuries prior to their conquest. Obviously, they truncated Nigerians into different camps of “strangers-native”, “indigenes”, “first class citizens”, and “second class citizens”.

These were the inhabitable and unfavourable socio- economic,cultural cum political climate that Nigeria found herself when she eventually became an independent nation-state on l “

October, 1960. succinctly put, the problem of Nigerian citizenship and national integration was not solved when Nigeria became independent. Indeed, Nigeria was made up of poorly integrated divergent cultures, different languages and lack of popular will. We will come to post-independent Nigeria later but let us first dissect the concept of citizenship.

Historically, the ancient approach to the concept of citizenship was all exclusionary. The practice was that non- indigenes were excluded from the main stream of things. For example, in the democratic Greek city states, citizenship was restricted to free and native-born men, with slaves and women taking care of productive and reproductive activities to allow their masters to engage in politics, leisure activities and warfare. In the same vein, the ancient Roman Empire first restricted citizenship to the residents of Rome, and later extended it to free inhabitants of the empire in AD 212. In plain speak, citizenship was the basis of social or class differentiation in Ancient Greek, France, United States of America and others. It was in the 20th century that the concept of citizenship became inclusive.

In contemporary times, citizenship can find meaning and location either by the place of birth (what the French referred to as Jus Soli which literary means the law of the Soil) or by blood (Jus Sanquinis) . Generally , citizenship has to do with the capacity to govern and be governed. It denotes the condition of bei ng a citizen. It encom passes civi I activity, pu bl ic spi rited ness and active political participation by members of a political community. However, to Marshall (1997:294) citizenship is “the right to share to the full in the social heritage and to live the life of a civilized being according to the standard, prevailing in the society”. In their own contribution, Bobson and Clarke (2001: 52)

have broadly categorized citizenship into three: comprising a person, the institutional matrix of her or his political community, and the terms of that relationship.” Also Marshall (1997: 294) on his own part situates three elements of citizenship: civic, political and social. According to him, the civic features refer to the rights necessary for individual freedom to justice, the political attributed composed of the right to participate in the rig ht political power, as a member of a body invested with political authority or an elector or the member of such a body. The social element has to do with the whole range from the right to include economic welfare and security to the right to share to the full in the social heritage of the society. Hence, citizenship refers to the right be it political, social and economic, a citizen has in a state having fulfilled the requirement or qualification of such state.

The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, further expounded on the concept of citizenship when the document specifies three main ways by which the citizenship of Nigeria can be acquired. These include:  (a) By birth -section 25 (b) By registration – section 26 (c) By naturalization -section 27 Section 25: 1 (a) of the constitution goes further to buttress that:

(a) Every person born in Nigeria before the date of independent either whose parents or any of whose grand parents or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria. Provided that a person shall not become a citizen of Nigeria be virtue of this section if neither of his parents nor any of his grand parents was born  (b) Every person born in Nigeria after the date of independent either of whose parents or any of whose grand parents is a citizen of Nigeria; and  (c) Every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.

From the foregoing, it could be deciphered that the date of independent’ here refers to the 1st of October, 1960. By implication, indigeneship is older than citizenship. Indigeneship dated back to centuries before the European contact. Today, the concept of citizenship is given priority attention so as to build Pan-African solidarity which is occasioned by the colonial experience and the emergence of globalization that is sweeping across the galaxy.

Thus, anyone who refuses to accept the ideology of citizenship will find it extremely difficult to organize better social life for his or her citizenry. Infact, the absence of holistic civic culture will spell doom for Nigeria’s nascent democracy.

Samuel is a student of Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt.

To be contd.

N-ue, Uebari Samuel