By Sunny Ikhioya
IT is said that a society that opens itself to visitors, opens up for progress and development. We have seen this in such cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Ibadan and Jos before the civil strife, compared to other cities in Nigeria. In foreign lands, the United States of America readily comes up for mention.
If this is the case, why is the mass influx of strangers into the Southern part of Nigeria causing so much tension? Why will something that should bring peace and development to the people become a subject of acrimony between ethnic groups? The answer is in the manner that we are constituted and structured; it is something that should have been tackled a long time ago and which the leadership, from inception, has failed to handle.
It borders on the indigenes-settlers issue that has been the root cause of so many internecine crises in the country. We are now being forced to imagine what this mass influx of people to the South portends. From the date of swearing in of Muhammadu Buhari as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2015, the Southern part of this country has continued to witness unusual influx and mass movement of people of Northern extraction into the South.
A few cursory observers took notice and did raise concern, among which was the desire of the North, especially of the Fulani stock, to dominate the affairs of the country. More of concern is the fact that the bulk of these visitors were discovered to be foreigners. Nigeria has always been a land open to strangers and if your disposition is right, the people will always welcome you with open arms.
In the spirit of togetherness and brotherliness, individuals served in the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, were easily assimilated into towns and villages in the South without any question. But, there was something different in these migrants who have been trooping in since 2015. Whereas the Northerners that we were used to are friendly, warm and pleasant to relate with, these new ones came in with a swagger, are hubristic, arrogant and easily provoked. This made people to begin to worry about, what have become of our brothers from the North.
Our politicians have not helped matters. Instead of taking a dispassionate look at the situation as it concerns the stability of the nation, they made statements in line with their political leanings. The Boko Haram terrorists are still active in the North and people are being displaced from their homes. In the midst of all these movements, it is difficult to separate the good from the bad; so criminality in the South is gradually assuming a new, alarming dimension, especially with the involvement of Hausa-Fulani youths in kidnapping, looting and land grabbing.
To compound the matter, people under the cover of herdsmen have been unleashing terror in the entire land space. Suddenly, it dawned on some people that nomadism, as a source of livelihood, is no longer sustainable; so they have to do something about it. That is why they have taken over all the structures of government without regards to the principles of equality, fairness and federal character.
They have been trying to institute the Rural Grazing Areas, RUGA, settlement policy but have encountered resistance from states refusing to accept any plan to destroy communities and displace people from their ancestral lands. It used to be the vogue in the past that might is right; if you have power you rule, you take control but even in that circumstance, those in power never remain for too long before a new power takes over. That is why in the course of history, no dynasty lasts forever.
It has been so from time and will continue to be until the issue of equality, equity and fairness is addressed. Those nations that have chosen equality have enjoyed stability compared to the ones that are defending on superior force, especially amongst African nations. If we say that the country is one, it means that everyone from the over three hundred ethnic nationalities in this country is free to take up residence in any part of the country that he chooses to live in, without harassment and with full citizenship rights.
This is very much absent with us and the root cause of the divisions and strife in this country today. How should it then be addressed?
First, the leadership must agree that we are all one people, irrespective of tribe and religion. We must, therefore, enjoy equal treatment. If that is settled, we must begin to think of citizenship rights, meaning: you can be a citizen wherever you choose to be domiciled in any part of the country and where you are born, no matter your parental background.
To effect this, the President has to introduce a citizenship rights bill which will be endorsed by the National Assembly, state governors and states assembly for it to become a full law in the land. If a Nigerian can go to the UK and become a full citizen after four years of stay, why can’t same Nigerian be a full citizen in any part of Nigeria that is his choice to live. It is even worse when people have lived in an area for decades, born and bred there but are still being treated as settlers.
If we had copied rightly from the Western world, this issue should have been addressed a long time ago; but here, we always want to eat our cake and have it in our hands. At a time in the history of this country, an Hausa man was in the Eastern Region House of Assembly, duly elected. We had Igbos holding various parliamentary positions in the West and Southerners were comfortable doing same in the North.
Today the whole foundation has crumbled, our leaders now use ethnicity and religion to keep themselves in power; politics have become dirty and the nation more divided. So, these ones that are drifting into the South today must first be traced and identified.
If their motive is sincere, they should be in the towns and not remain in bushes; if their motive is sincere, they should be open to registration; through this we can identify the good and bad ones, identify their prospects and from there monitor and place them accordingly. If we have lived together as one, there will be no need for someone who has lived with you for decades, to suddenly betray you to alien interests because of the grudge of not belonging.
It is the enemy within that is the most dangerous; but if proper integration is attained, such tendencies will be eliminated. We must begin to see ourselves as one, otherwise, if we continue at this rate, the nation will be open to implosion.
Ikhioya wrote via www.southsouthecho.com