Citizenship and nation building
The social media is filled with information about ethnic and religious marginalization. While some Christians perceive every action of government as efforts to Islamize Nigeria, some Muslims are demanding that Christians allow them freedom to practise Islam as in the case of wearing hijab in schools. The leaders of the nation need to be aware of this threat and nip it in the bud. This is necessary because, in a country where the rights and obligations of citizens take priority, who governs the nation, whether a Muslim or Christian, should really not be a question. A true leader ought to be above ethnic, religious and party affiliation in governance. The phrase “I belong to no body and I belong to everybody”, if fully put into practise can save Nigeria from religious manipulation, conflict and war.
During the 2015 presidential elections many Christians (including some clerics) and people from all tribes openly campaigned for change because in a civilized society, political preference need not be in accordance with ethnic and religious inclinations. After the election the hope, of those who voted for change was that Nigeria would never again experience a failed government. It was hoped that every Nigerian would enjoy the value of citizenship with human dignity and value. It was hoped that merit and professionalism would be respected. The unemployed youths hoped that the era of begging and dependence was over. It was hoped that the Muslims and Christians would come together as citizens of the same nation to make Nigeria great. Change in all aspect of life was the dream of everybody. Perhaps, these expectations were outrageous!
As I watched the political drama at the National Conventions of the Republicans and Democrats in the United States, I see men and women of substance, quality, integrity and hope who believe in their country, America. This motivation and strength can only happen when people enjoy the benefits of full and authentic citizenship. What matters to the Americans is the pride of being a citizen of America. This citizenship is either natural or acquired. Naturalization is the voluntary process by which American citizenship is granted to foreign citizens or nationals after they have fulfilled the requirements established by Congress. The immigrants become citizens after some years in the United States. The Government of America does not relate to citizens on the basis of religion and ethnicity. Efficiency is highly respected hence people from other nations who have become citizens contribute immensely to the economy of the United States of America.
Some Nigerians manage industries and companies in America. When I visited Grand Royal Event Centre and SD&C, a construction company in Georgia owned by a Nigerian family whose members have become citizens of the United States, I marvelled at the contributions of our brothers and sisters who are employers of labour to some Americans, Nigerians and other nationals. I had an encounter with a medical doctor behind? who graduated from the University of Ibadan and worked in the University Teaching Hospital in Ibadan. Today, he is one of the best doctors Americans are proud of. He told me that Nigerians are among the best doctors in America in a very high number. When we objectively look at the human resources of Nigeria, one could wonder why the government is not able to engage the Nigerian experts to develop the nation. While the world is moving forward, why is Nigeria still so many years backward?
Religious bigotry and ethnicity have put Nigeria behind, whereas Nigeria is splendidly rich with human and natural resources. Today, the sense of citizenship is alien to many Nigerians.
After spending so many years in any part of Nigeria, how is it, that the person is still perceived as a stranger when it comes to politics? Why is it not possible for a Nigerian of Northern origin who was born and/or has stayed so long in the Southern Eastern part of Nigeria to be a governor there, or an Easterner who was born and/or has stayed all his or her life in the Northern part of Nigeria to be a governor there? Is it a taboo for a Christian to be the Minister of FCT? It is difficult to keep Nigeria one because, the sense of citizenship is not in the consciousness of many people who cannot grow beyond religious and ethnic indoctrinations. Religion should make people civilized because God is ever new and great is His faithfulness to his creatures.
In the Nigerian 1999 constitution, one may be a citizen either by birth, registration or by naturalisation (Section 25-32). A citizen by birth in Nigeria is a person who was born in Nigeria before or after independence and whose parents or grandparents belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria or any person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria. The President may register any person as a citizen of Nigeria if he is satisfied that such person is of good character; he has shown a clear intention to be domiciled in Nigeria and has taken the Oath of Allegiance. Such persons are usually women who are married to Nigerians or people born outside Nigeria who are of full age capacity and either of whose grandparents are Nigerians. Any person may also apply to the President of Nigeria to be granted a certificate of naturalisation with the satisfactory conditions such as full age and capacity; good character; clear intention to be domiciled in Nigeria; acceptable to the local community; etcetera
These conditions do not include religion as an obligation to be a Nigerian. The rights and obligations of a Nigerian citizen are covered by this condition to have made or “capable of making contributions to the advancement; progress and wellbeing of Nigeria”. This condition carries the hope for nation building.
Nigeria is a country blessed and loved by God. Otherwise, given the challenges that have arisen from religious and ethnic divides, the nation would have disintegrated. Nigeria needs a renewed ethos with which every human being can feel a sense of citizenship irrespective of tribe, religion and political party.
Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the director of Mission and Dialogue, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (firstname.lastname@example.org)