Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ex-Federal Minister Femi Fani-Kayode: a mirror of what nationhood is all about in contemporary Nigeria?

No doubt, ex-Federal Minister Femi Fani-Kayode was inflammatory in his August 10, 2013 essay, entitled “the Bitter Truth About the Igbos.” He was primarily reacting to fellow Nigerians who publicly expressed outrage over Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola’s “deportation" of a set of individuals  (who were said to be Igbo and destitute) to Anambra state.  There were conflicting news media reports of the number of persons who were affected by the "deportation." While some reports placed the number at 70, the Lagos state governor claimed only 14 individuals were involved.  I suggest that another diatribe is not a useful response to Fani-Kayode's rhetorical over-reach. Remember the old adage that two wrongs do not make a right. However, the controversy generated by his essay presents an opportunity for one to re-visit constitutional issues and challenges triggered both by his vexatious opinions and Governor Fashola’s own action that provoked all this brouhaha.

First, I would like to advise that those of us who might have been looking at the unfolding issues from the standpoint of their living experiences in the United States, should remember that in practical social terms, Nigeria is not the same kind of nation as the United States although constitutionally (as this essay shall demonstrate), Nigeria aspires to be like the former. Nativism or indigenousness, statism and tribalism prevail in Nigeria and do impact significantly on the life chances of individuals. Whereas what predominantly matters in the United States is one's state of residence (although covert racial intimidation and ethnic intimidation, powered by racism and its institutional support structure, do still rear their ugly heads from time to time) due mainly to the immigrant basis of its national formation, in Nigeria, on the other hand, an important life-chances determining factor is one's state of origin or even one's local government. So, to that extent, Fani-Kayode’s essay merely reminded all of us of the social realities of Nigeria--realities that may strike those of us who have become accustomed to the US system of social organization as oddities.

Second, it's common knowledge that by and large, Nigeria's federation's resources were used in creating modern Lagos, which used to be the capital city of Nigeria up until 1991, when the capital was moved to newly-constructed Abuja. It’s also common knowledge that as a federal capital, Lagos was regarded by all Nigerians as a commonly-owned territory of the Nigerian nation even though there was a simultaneous understanding that Yoruba-speaking Nigerians are much more native to that land mass. Thus, even if one were to play a devil’s advocate of a Fani Kayode revisionist-history declaration of Lagos as an exclusive ethnic enclave-- given the territory’s history of being developed with Nigeria’s federation’s resources and simultaneously being vested in by Nigerians across ethnic and class lines-- Lagos, to Nigerians in general, is still not an Ibadan, a Kano, an Enugu, a Jos or a Calabar. To Nigerians in general—probably both in their short-term and long-term memories--Lagos is still more like Abuja even though the latter has taken the official place of the former as the federal capital territory. Its continued dual attribute of being both the most populous city in Nigeria and the nation’s economic nerve center, despite losing its erstwhile status as the center of the federal administrative machinery, is reflective of a historic place that it has occupied in the imagination of Nigerians in general as a viable source of life support in the form of jobs.
At this juncture, one must recall, however, that 46 years ago, specifically in 1967, the Federal Military Government, headed by General Yakubu Gowon made a politically-expedient decision of granting statehood to Lagos, when it created the first set of 12 states (they have since grown to 36 states), which necessarily broke up the tripartite regional stranglehold over the neck of the Nigerian federation but also clipped the wings of the emergent Biafrian secession through its divide and conquer act of carving out Cross River and Rivers states from what used to be Eastern region. (The defunct Republic of Biafra was meant to cover all of the territories formerly known as the Eastern Region of Nigeria, or what today are known as the south-eastern states of Nigeria.) By granting statehood to Lagos (an action that would be the equivalent of granting statehood to Abuja), Gowon’s federal military government laid the foundation for and played into the hands of the kind of claim of exclusive ethnic ownership of Lagos that the Fani-Kayodes of Nigeria are now asserting—that is, that Lagos belongs exclusively to Yorubaland. If Lagos had been preserved officially as a federal capital territory, instead of being granted statehood, there would have been a stronger political and pragmatic basis for contemporaneously challenging that claim. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on where you stand on this vexed issue, Lagos is a state of its own. It's in that context that Fani-Kayode apparently disagrees with a point of view that Lagos is "a no man's land." Given that the Nigerian ruling elite of the 1960s made the afore-mentioned political mistake of conferring statehood on a territory built up, by and large, with both federation's resources and collective, across-the-board contributions and investments of ordinary Nigerians, including Yorubas—in much the same fashion as present-day Abuja--Fani Kayode and other Nigerians who reason like him, were handed a basis for stretching that political mistake to mean that Lagos is now exclusively owned by Yorubas, and, therefore, fellow Nigerian Lagosians, who happen to be non-Yoruba, are merely temporary guests.

Be that as it may, Nigeria is indeed a country of profound contradictions—contradictions that keep her from realizing her full potentials. So, while Nigerians, in general, view their states as “states of origin” and remain psychically attached to their given ethnic groups, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not label or categorize any state as belonging to any ethnic group. Whether we like it or not, the idea of "nativity" or indigenousness is deep-seated in the Nigerian ethno-cultural ethos, and clearly, it transcends both statehood and nationhood. Each of us, don’t we, believes that we are a native or indigene of this or that town/village in Nigeria. In that case, we always distinguish "indibeanyi" (that is, natives/indigenes) from "indibialabia" (that is, residents or persons who came from elsewhere) no matter how long such residents have lived in our midst.  Though culturally in vogue and deeply-rooted in the consciousness of Nigerians, there is no provision for an Igboland, a Yorubaland, an Hausaland, an Ijawland, or a Nupeland in the currently-operative 1999 Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. What that constitution says in chapter 1, part I (2) is that “Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of States and a Federal Capital Territory.” Sub-section 3 (1) of that chapter then provides that “there shall be 36 states in Nigeria, that is to say, Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara.”

It is also instructive that under the Nigerian constitution (part IV, section 318 (1)), the term, “government” is interpreted as “the Government of the Federation, or of any state, or of a local government council or any person who exercises power of authority on its behalf.” Thus, there are three categories of “government” in Nigeria: the federal government, the state government and the local government. The constitution spells out a list of matters that are under the exclusive legislative authority of the federal government and also matters that are shared by both the federal and state governments, known as a concurrent list.  The “functions” of local governments are spelt out.

As this discussion unfolds, It is important that the reader keeps in mind the preceding definition of “government” under the Nigerian constitution because it will help us to put in its proper context the functions that are vested in that entity, be it at the federal, state or local level of “government.” The constitution (chapter II, section 13 (2b) declares that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” As one of 36 state manifestations of “government,” each state administration, constitutionally, is therefore responsible for “the security and welfare of the people” that are located within its territory. Notice that the constitution refers to the security and welfare of “people,” not just of “indigenes” of a state, as responsibilities of government.  A state is merely a component administrative expression of “government.” So is a local government.

It is also important for the reader to note that chapter II of the Nigerian constitution, otherwise known as “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy” provides that “the composition of the Government of a State, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such Government or council, and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognize the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the Federation.”

It is also of importance to recall that chapter II, section 17 (1) provides that “the State social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice,” and sub-section (2b) complements it by adding that that “every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law.” Along those same lines, sub-section 18 (1) provides that “Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.” Thus, as I have argued in a previous write-up, Nigeria’s state governments’ explicit or implicit practice of using  “state indigenousness” as a criterion for admission to state higher institutions of learning is an unconstitutional act that abridges the right of all Nigerians to “equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.” 

In addition to the afore-mentioned directive principles of state, Nigeria’s constitution contains a set of fundamental rights for Nigeria’s citizens. Here is a sample. Section 42 (1) stipulates that “a citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or

(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.

(2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.
It is also of notable importance to call attention to the fact that section 43 of Nigeria’s constitution provides that “subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria." 

Earlier on, I noted that every government within Nigeria is responsible for the security and welfare of the people within its area of jurisdiction. I also noted that “people” does not mean only natives or indigenes of the affected area. Juxtaposed with that constitutional imperative is the fact that the formula for disbursing federal revenue to the states and local governments includes "population." The population in question covers all of the persons/people who are domiciled in a given state or local government area. So, it's hypocritical for a state to circumvent the constitution by engaging in statism—that is, the act or practice of focusing state resources on state natives or state indigenes--after collecting money from the federation’s account partly on the basis of the official population of human beings within its borders. In real terms, isn’t statism, what predominates in Nigeria?  Isn’t statism—as opposed to constitutional federalism—the basis upon which Governor Fashola had his state agents round up and “deport” 14 or 70 persons, described as Igbos, to Anambra state? Is statism not the basis upon which Abia state government, not long ago, expelled fellow Igbos, who are not state indigenes, from his state’s public employment? Those of us who experienced the Nigerian civil war, even as teens, would have thought it impossible or unimaginable that a future Igbo leader would, someday arise, who would achieve a notoriety in history for dismissing fellow Igbos from his state civil service on account of the fact that such expelled Igbos belong to a different administrative unit called a state. What about some states’ practice of extending “contact-only” appointments to non-state indigenes? Are such non-state indigenes not, thereby, being treated as second-class citizens in their own country?

As America's President Abraham Lincoln once famously warned while condemning a dual labor system that prevailed in the United States during the era of slavery (wage labor in the North and slave labor in the South, prior to the 1865 termination of 250 years of African enslavement in the United States as a result of the North's victory in the civil war of 1861-1865), a country divided onto itself cannot endure. For how long will Nigeria continue along the deceitful path of full citizenship here and half-citizenship there--within the same country--for her own citizens?

It’s clear that due to statism, Nigerians are consigned to a life in which they are full citizens only in their “states of origin” but they are defacto second-class citizens in other states of Nigeria where they may reside. This will continue to be a source of tension, ethnic antagonism, tribalism and alienation from the nation-state of Nigeria. It’s clear from the preceding passages that Nigeria’s constitution does not provide for any form of diluted citizenship for any Nigerian anywhere within Nigeria, but the prevailing political culture promotes second class citizenship for non-state indigenes. The term, deportation, is usually applied to expulsions of unwanted individuals from one country to another. The subjection of fellow nationals to “deportation” from one part of a country to another is not an action that’s in conformity with both the spirit and letter of the Nigerian constitution. As a centrifugal form of behavior, it undermines both national cohesion and national camaraderie.

I must not close without mentioning that given his past exulted role as a federal minister, Femi Fani Kayode should be expected to rise above petty ethnic squabbles and to see and conduct himself as part of a national elite that would help uphold and valorize the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, promote national unity, and foster a sense of belonging among the linguistically and religiously-diverse people of Nigeria.

I rest my case.