Are Nigerians Nigerians? Rethinking Nigeria’s Citizenship Laws

July 19th, 2012

By Toluwani Eniola

NewsRescue- When will Nigerians be accorded the full-fledged rights of citizens in their country, irrespective of whatever region of the country they are born and bred?

This question has remained a mirage. One of the undoings of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is the stifling problem of “indigeneity’’ as conditioned by the citizenship law.

Indigeneity and problems of citizenship in Nigeria make a person born and bred in Lagos, Ibadan, Kano or any other part of the country not a true member of his society, contrary to what obtains in the United States and other ‘developed’ countries.

This is because an Igbo man can not contest  governorship of Katsina state or a Hausa man, with Nigerian citizenship status, cannot contest election in Lagos, even though he was born and bred there and has contributed to its development.

An Itsekiri man living in Oyo State for over 25 years, making necessary contributions to the development of the state, is not regarded as an indigene of the state.

Irrespective of the number of years he has spent in Oyo State, he and all members of his family are still regarded as settlers and non-indigenes, hence, they cannot have access to or benefit from what is purely reserved for the indigenes, even if such indigenes have not been in Ekiti State for over 30 years.

In Lagos, for instance, calling yourself a Lagosian, doesn’t guarantee you the full citizenship rights, even though you were born and bred there, know only Yoruba and have no worthwhile connection to anywhere else.


Only in Nigeria do you hear of citizens, being deported out of states. The poor, homeless and disheveled, being packed from the streets and deported to where it is thought they are ethnically affiliated, or just anywhere else, period. So much for ECOWAS free inter country movement, when there is restricted movement within states in Nigeria. See: NewsRescue- Ekiti State: Beggars are Potential Terrorists; Deportation Commences

Nigerian Constitution, Chapter IV : Fundamental Rights

41. (1) Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.


The cry for a change by international observers, the media, social activists, public analysts and victims of this problem – that ‘hometown’ should be totally dissolved, has not yielded positive results, as indigeneity is firmly placed before national citizenship in the country.

‘WaZoBia’, constructed from three of Nigeria’s 521 languages

Options which have been suggested are- total dissolution of the ‘place-of-origin’ reference, or substituting ‘place of birth’, as against the phony, redundant ‘where your father built his house’, method.

Apparently disturbing and hindering Nigeria’s federal unity, the matter has generated growing concern. Abdullahi Adamu, the former executive governor of Nasarawa State, Nigeria, once described it as a situation that  has assumed serious social and political meaning in Nigeria and around the world.

Indigeneity is used in Nigeria to distinguish natives of a particular place from other Nigerian citizens found in that locality. It is also used to confer special privileges which are beyond the reach of non-natives on the natives.

The problem of indigeneity manifests in employment, admission into schools and colleges and appointment of people into positions across the country.

Ga tribe of Ghana
Ga tribe of Ghana, said to have immigrated from Nigeria


Some have submitted that the ‘tribalism’ misnomer, a word purposefully used by the colonialist to facilitate their divide-and-rule, colonization mechanism, and has no fact based relationship to the inter-woven African society, is at the root of the ‘place-of-origin’ malady.

Like Europe, Africa does not have tribes, its people inter-married widely. Tribes are the 12 intra-marrying tribes of Judah. The ex president, Babangida’s wife was from Delta state. Another former president, Murtala’s wife was a Yoruba lady. Nigerians from Benin migrated to Ghana, indigenized and are now the Ga people of Ghana. Such examples are limitless.


Abuja, FCT (1976), with its composite name, the ‘Abu’, derived from ‘Abubakar’ of Zazzau, and ‘Ja’, which according to some, referred to his light skin, though some say it is from Suleja, and others, that it is from ‘Jatau’, his dad, was established as a model ‘state’ in Nigeria. Designed on the blueprint of Brasilia, capital of Brazil, the capital’s integrative model, for once, gave every Nigerian resident a full right to identity. A true and unique example for Nigeria.

Unfortunately, other states, including the former capital, Lagos are not following the FCT’s example.


Even when Nigeria was its various regions, each individual of an ethnic group fully belonged and could fully represent in other parts of his region.

The military dispensation of course as is its nature, allowed a level of integrative leadership and societal integration. Some military governors were noted to be some of the best to impact states they were posted to. An example is Lt. Col. George Inih, who during his reign in Kwara state, built some of the best infrastructure in the state, road networks and the stadium.

Democracy however is compounding the problem of non-Nigerianism, working on reviving old age rivalry. We see with the reintroduction of democracy in 1999, the resurgence of ethnic militia, including the OPC, the Bakkassi boys in Ebonyi and other eastern states,  and even the nascent AREWA peoples congress in the north.

Boko Haram and MEND are monstrous hybridizations and bastardizations of the existing concept of ethnic based militia groups.

Is there any rational to the ‘rotational presidency’ system? How about Nigerians uniting to seek value leaders as against leaders by ethnic association, who have been known in history to let their people down more than any others. The North, Nigeria’s poorest region as typical example. According to, Nigeria has over 521 ethnic languages, 510 of which are still living. Do the citizens plan to rotate through all of these, or some are just less equal than others?

Related: NewsRescue- Democracy Fails Africa


Nigeria’s youth service corps (NYSC), which was initiated by Yakubu Gowon after the civil war, was a wise attempt to foster a sense of nationalism. However, how effective can this program be when after finishing one year of service, your eligibility to public employment in the state of your service immediately expires and you lose your welcome. Whereas, there should rather be a full right of employment guaranteed for service members in their states of service.

The NYSC was so exemplary it has been copied by other countries, though sadly many Nigerians clamor for this program to be dissolved, due to ethnic sentiments and a lack of understanding of how critical it is.

The sad truth is that the so-called elite,  sponsor and propagate this segregation of society and mind, for their pocket gains. In actuality however, they, the rich ‘cabal’ are best friends of each-other, with no ethnic barriers, playing and partying together, it is the rest 149,990,000 Nigerian poor masses that are most affected in more ways than they fathom, by this loss of national belonging, nationalism and nationality rights.

As rightly observed by a lecturer, Dr Femi Omotoso, indigeneity is a very serious issue affecting the survival of Nigeria as a geo-political entity.

“There is a deep attachment of Nigerians to their states of origin, regardless of whether or not they are residing there,” he said in a scholarly report.

While foreigners are allowed to naturalize after spending some years abroad, such opportunities are not given to Nigerians living in states other than their own in the country.


The Chairman of the Confederated Igbo Indigenes (CII), Lagos State, Prince Anayo Nnama,  last year was quoted in  The Sun newspaper as saying  that  an Igboman would be governor of Lagos State “in the nearest future.”

He told Daily Sun: “As our democracy grows, non indigenes will contest elections in Lagos and win. What I am sure of is that in the nearest future Igbo man will rule Lagos. After all, Zik won election in Lagos in the First Republic.”

“It may sound funny but I tell you, that 43 per cent of the population of Lagos is Igbo, 47 per cent are indigenes while 10 per cent are other tribes and nationals. That tells you that at a stage as our democracy grows, non-indigenes will contest elections in Lagos and win.

“What I am sure of is that in the nearest future, Igbo man will rule Lagos. Afterall, Zik won election in Lagos in the First Republic. I schooled and lived in USA for over 20 years. The law says if you live in America for certain period of time you can vote and be voted. This is exactly why Obama became the president of America.

“Years back it was impossible, such as the days of Martin Luther King but in our days it became possible. The Igbo own 70 percent of businesses in Lagos and our financial contribution is responsible for the economic growth in the state. If it doesn’t happen now, it will happen in the future. Also what determines who governs is no longer tribe or religion but the ability and capability to preside over the affairs of the people. A time will come when a Yoruba or Hausa man will rule states in the South East and South South. Soon leadership will know no borders.


Many respondents to Nnama’s dream that an Igboman would become the governor of Lagos State believe that the dream may be an illusion.

According to comments on social networking forums, the Igbos should live by example. They said in as much as an Igboman would not permit a Yoruba man to contest election in the East, such possibility should not be expected in the Southwest.

The stagnation is sadly obvious. Nigerian’s are stuck in the wrong quagmire. You can’t burn a fire, and you can’t dissolve water, but you can use the fire to boil the water.


The situation is more worrisome in Nigeria’s universities where citizenship of a state or catchment area are determining factors to secure admission.

This has wasted many dreams, as prospective students seeking admission to universities outside their state of origin have had their dreams thwarted.

Some Federal Universities in Nigeria are more likely to admit you than other Federal Universities in Nigeria since these Nigerian Universities that are likely to admit you are within your catchment area.

For instance, an Ekiti candidate seeking admission to study Law in the University of Lagos will have a lower cut-off mark than a candidate from Bayelsa State seeking similar admission. Yet they are all Nigerians.

Education is the road to our future and we have bungled that up too.


The story of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Barack Obama has further shown the need for Nigerians to reconsider the citizenship law.

Arnold was not born in the USA (he was born in Austria) yet he became Governor of California as a naturalized American.

And the greatness of a Kenyan mans son, who spent the formative years of his life in Indonesia, was tapped in the US with the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the president in 2008.

Barack Obama, US’ 44th elected president. His father was a Kenyan student in the US

Would this ever happen in Nigeria?


Citizenship, according to Cambridge International Dictionary of English is a state of being a member of a particular country and having rights as a result of this.

Sections 25, 26 and 27 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution make provisions for all categories of citizenship i.e., by birth, by registration and by naturalization .

Sections 33-43 are constitutional provisions that guarantee the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens. The right to freedom from discrimination, in Section 42 (1), (2) and (3) is also established.

According to these sections and subsections:

•             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

•             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

•             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, religion or political opinions

•             No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstance of his birth

While the constitution is outrightly against any form of discrimination, the constitution has further compounded it by not providing means for full implementation of the rights.

Related: NewsRescue- Nigeria: The Illusion of a North Dominated Rule

In the words of Femi Omotoso, a political scientist, “there seems to be a lot of contradictions between the formal provisions in the constitution on citizenship rights and the practical application of these rights altogether. When applying these rights, citizenship is unfortunately substituted with indigenes or natives particularly when it comes to the issues of appointment, election or other benefits from the state.

“This no doubt is a mockery of the constitution which itself does not provide enough safeguards against such discrimination but instead tends to promote it. The application of citizens’ rights often generates political tension and violence due to the fact that it is intricately tied to the issue of ethnic identity and indigeneity.”

Now for some of us who anticipate a solution to this lack of belonging, in the division or disintegration of Nigeria. The problem that plagues us today will actually be catapulted in the divided pieces. Many of the leaders we have witnessed in Nigeria’s history, who hail from ethnic minorities, will never have gotten a chance to visit the governors lodge, talk-less rule in their regional parts. The weight balancing of the diverse Nigeria today has allowed minorities gain power and protected others. In divided pieces, hegemonic power control will emerge, and as powerful families shore-up their influence, segments of the society will literally be forgotten to extinction.

With our loss of indigineity also goes our sense of belonging. The Ghanaian wears his ‘Kente’ garb and claims his country, similarly, the American flies his flag. But the Nigerian wears nothing and flies nothing, because he lacks the rights, guarantees and protection of being a Nigerian. A second class citizen in all but his state, and possibly there too, with may Nigerians having spent several generations outside their so called ‘home state’, hence losing all significance and rights there too.

We need to start to end this now!


The anticipation for a change seems to be yielding results as the Presidential Committee on the Review of Outstanding Constitutional Issues headed by Justice Alfa Belgore  last week Tuesday submitted its report to President Goodluck Jonathan.

The committee according to media reports pointed out areas needing constitutional amendment to allow for genuine democracy and good governance in the country.

While submitting the report to President Jonathan in his office in the Presidential Villa, Justice Belgore revealed that the committee endorsed many of the recommendations in line with its mandate, “made several innovative additions to strengthen the constitution, deepen our democratic ethos to promote good governance and the speedy dispensation of justice for all.”

Hopefully Nigerians in Nigeria will someday be able to enjoy the rights and privileges they demand and enjoy abroad, where they are accorded full citizenship by so many naturalization processes, as simple as birth,  marriage, asylum, and even employment. Great Nations like UK and the US where Nigerians are even elected senators and councilmen.

Lekan Abayomi, Rotimi Adigun and Isah Ibrahim contributed to this article