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Remembering the stateless people of Nigeria

Remembering the stateless people of Nigeria
June 01
11:11 2021

Zephaniah Dantani was excited to hear the good news of his success at the job interview to recruit young professionals for the Central Bank of Nigeria. He was overwhelmed with emotions as he hurries up to confirm from his electronic mail the good news broken to him a while ago via a text message sent to his phone.

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“Waoh! What a sweet end to the harrowing five stage interview process that began twelve weeks ago!” He enthused as he opened his mail. The exercise had commenced with a written test that was used to reduce the two hundred and fifty thousand young job seekers shortlisted to a more manageable three thousand applicants who had two more tests to write before they could qualify for the two technical stages that will determine the successful applicants. Even though he knew he performed very well at the fifth and final stage, he wasn’t quite sure whether he will be one of the final lucky 150 people who would be picked eventually from amongst the 650 finalists. He felt he was in dream land of sort as he hurriedly began to search for the message that was sent to him by CBN’s Human Resources Department.

“There you are!” He shouted ecstatically and opened the mail. The message confirmed the good news in greater details and directed him to click the link to the acceptance form that must be filled and submitted before resuming work in two weeks. As he clicked the link and scrolled up and down to survey the required information in the form, his mien suddenly changed and his excitement fizzled away like the smoke in a dark night.

The transition in his countenance was so deeply troubling that anyone watching nearby would wonder whether he was asked to go bring his dead great grandmother along with him as a condition for resuming work in the new job. Amazingly, that wasn’t the case. The source of his sorrow was the section of the form which required him to select his state of origin from the 36 options provided.

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Filling forms for university admissions, telephone subscription, applying for international passport, driver license, jobs and so on has somehow been Dantani’s greatest nightmare since he became old enough to fill forms by himself. He always gets confused and sorrowful whenever he gets to the part where he has to fill his state of origin because he is one of the over 2 million Nigerians without a state of origin. All the forms always provide space for him to fill the Federal Capital Territory as his place of residence but customarily leaves out FCT as one of the options whenever information for his state of origin is required.

While applying for University Admission seven years ago, he was forced to select Niger State even though he is not from any town or local government area in Niger State. If he had refused to pick one of the states near FCT as his home state, he would never have been able to submit his form no matter how many times he tried. His parents and grandparents are from Bwari in the Federal Capital Territory, but sadly the FCT is not a state in Nigeria.

The constitution of Nigeria in Chapter deals with the issue of the FCT. It stated that the FCT shall be ‘treated as if it is a state,’ yet it only recognizes only 36 states. That foundational error has rendered not only Dantani, but all the indigenous people of the Capital Territory stateless and always forces them to lie and select any of the adjoining states of the FCT that is nearest to their village as their state of origin whenever they have to fill out a form.

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The burden of statelessness is only one of the many burdens of the indigenous people that are the original owners of the land housing Nigeria’s capital city. The systemic marginalization they are forced to endure every single day is the King of all their burdens. They have lost a huge chunk of their farmlands land with all the history behind those lands and they are losing more and more with every new day that breaks.

If there ever is any hope that the injustice done to these ever peaceful and considerate people will ever be addressed, the constitution amendment being touted by the 9th National Assembly appears to be quickest semblance of hope. The Lawmakers should be courageous and caring enough to seize this opportunity to address the pains of the people who have been made to suffer all manner of systemic marginalization for over four decades as their supreme sacrifice to give Nigeria a better capital city.

Asides from being made stateless, they are being made landless too. Their farmlands are the foundation of the new modern city we enjoy today. With every new district opened up for development, the livelihoods, culture, history and memories of thousands of them disappear with the bulldozers that clear the land.

The Original Inhabitants of FCT have been directly denied the enjoyment of many of their rights as enshrined in the UNDRIP since General Muritala Muhammed approved Justice Akinola Aguda and his panel’s selection of the 8,000 square kilometers land as the most suitable for Nigeria’s new capital city in 1976. The disruption and dislocation they have experienced is apparent in their loss of basic political, cultural and economic rights. The relocation of Nigeria’s capital city from Lagos has taken a serious toll on the lives, livelihoods, economic opportunities and cultural repositories of the people.

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Erroneously, many people had thought that the Federal Government of Nigeria had compensated the people of FCT for their land taken over to build Abuja. Only a few people know that the Olusegun Obasanjo’s government that succeeded General Muhammed couldn’t pay the over 6 billion dollars needed to compensate the original owners of FCT because the agreed sum was as at that time Nigeria’s budget for three years. Subsequent governments have either been pushing the compensation issue aside since then or merely begging the issue.

The National Assembly must now rise above sentiments to put the plights of the Indigenous people of the FCT on top of their priority list as they pursue their new agenda of amending Nigeria’s most derided constitution. Correcting the injustices done to the very accommodating people of FCT through this constitution amendment is the only recipe to avoid the looming danger that continuous neglect and violation of the rights of the people of FCT exposes the nation to.

All well meaning people of Nigeria and the world must stand up in concert with the Original Inhabitants of the FCT from now on to put the key constitutional and governance issues undermining their political, civil, economic and cultural rights on the platform of change.

The Original Inhabitants of our nation’s capital have been at the receiving end of unjust dispossession of their lands and livelihoods without proper compensation for far too long. It’s time to right the wrong.

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Osho is the Executive Director of Inspire Nigeria Initiative. He ran for election in 2019 to represent the Federal Capital Territory in the Senate as the candidate of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP).

1 Comment

  1. Marshall
    Marshall June 02, 16:20

    This is indeed a pathetic story of a people group. Apart from the Rohingya people of Myanmar ,acclaimed yo be the most persecuted tribe in the world, the stateless people of the FCT ,should be the second in that ranking. This requires an urgent attention by the Senate of the federal Republic for redress.

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