Using indigeneship against married women is disincentive to national cohesion
Amanze Udeagbala was posted to Oyo State for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in 1999. While there, he taught the English Language at a public secondary school.
In the course of his service year, he met Yemisi, an Ondo State-born corps member, who read sociology at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna State, but taught in another school in the same local council in Oyo.
As the service year progressed, they became fond of each other and their friendship grew deeper as the days went by. Barely six months after the service year, Yemisi, at the invitation of Udeagbala found her way to the latter’s village in Enugu State.
After the initial raising of eyebrows by the older Udeagbalas, they soon warmed up to their son’s guest having been convinced by him that she was “a very good girl.”
Barely 18 months after Yemisi’s departure, the Udeagbalas headed to Ondo State to see Yemisi’s parents. Months down the line, Yemisi became Mrs. Udeagbala, after a beautiful wedding ceremony.
Not cut for business, she elected to continue teaching, while her husband was playing a major role in the family business.
But in the school where Yemisi was teaching, “while some colleagues took me as one of them, some others saw me as a stranger in their midst. Nevertheless, I was determined to do whatever it took to be accepted by all of them. But hard as I tried, not everyone connected with me the way I wanted, especially in the work environment.
“Since I was enjoying so much love from my husband and in-laws, I was least bothered by what was going on at my workplace. However, before long, my husband realised that I was battling to be accepted by some of my colleagues at work. He did not like what was happening to me and so was instrumental to my resigning my appointment to join him in his thriving business. I loved teaching the young ones and I knew I was good at it. Perhaps, by now I would have been high up there in the school system, but factors beyond my control did not allow that to happen. But I am still very happy in my marriage,” she submitted.
Without a doubt, Yemisi would have been happier if her expectations at the workplace were met and her career not truncated as a result of some ethnic sentiments.
But Mrs. Folashade James, from Ijebu Remo, in Ogun State, who is married to Raphael James, an Ikwuano man from Abia State, is still very pleased with the way things are panning out in her marriage.
The seamstress, a mother of three, works with her husband, where she manages their free skills acquisition centre that over 5, 000 women have so far been trained in 10 different vocations free of charge, in the last three years.
“I am from Ijebu Remo and I am married to an Ikwuano man from Abia State. We have been married now for 21 years, and we have three kids. We have been happy in the last 21 years, and my husband treats me like his sister and I attend to him likewise. My mother-in-law and father-in-law are with us and we have had no problem. I respect them and they respect me,” Mrs. James told The Guardian.
Asked whether her expectations have been met since getting into an inter-tribal marriage? She said: “I had no special expectations than to be happy in my marriage, and for that, I have it all. I did not get married for wealth or want of any particular appointment at the same time. I am not saying that if that comes I will not cherish or reach out for it, but I am happy in my marriage and have no regrets so far.”
Section 42 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) guarantees freedom from discrimination. Sub-section (2) stresses that “no citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely because of the circumstances of birth.”
But despite this declaration, millions of Nigerian women are being subjected to various forms of discrimination as the issue of indigeneship continues to lead to the ill-treatment of women, some of which go on for a lifetime, while only a few cases get reported.
In cases involving married women, a good number of them are sometimes portrayed as child-bearing vessels that are not qualified to represent or hold high/sensitive offices in their husbands’ states of origin.
Recent Cases Of Discrimination Against Married Women
OF late, two major incidents have left some parents worried about giving out their daughters in marriage to men outside their states of origin. The first, which happened early this year, saw the Cross River State House of Assembly rejecting for the second time, the National Judicial Service (NJC) request for it to confirm Justice Akon Ikpeme, as the substantive chief judge of the state.
The second incident was the controversy that greeted President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of Mrs. Opunimi Akinkugbe as ambassadorial nominee for Ondo State.
These two incidents, apart from raising fundamental issues around human rights, citizenship, the rights of women, and judicial processes, are also reflective of the deep-seated mistrust between ethnic groups in the country.
Put differently, actions like these, especially the bad example shown by the CRSHA, are at variance with the dictates and spirit of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended).
Genealogically, Ikpeme is from Akwa Ibom State, which was carved out of Cross River State in 1987. Born in Calabar, the state capital, she has lived her entire life in the state, and her husband is genealogically from Cross River State.
Justice Ikpeme’s father worked in the Cross River State public service and rose to the position of a permanent secretary, while she entered the state’s public service on graduation, rising to the Director of Public Prosecution, having chosen to align with her husband’s state of origin, which is equally hers by her marriage to him.
All these meant nothing to the state assembly, which on two occasions – March 3, 2020, and on June 2, 2020, rejected Ikpeme’s confirmation despite two letters from the NJC to that effect.
However, after the House first rejected Ikpeme’s nomination, the Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Public Petition, Public Service Matters, and Conflict Resolution, representing Calabar Municipality, Efa Esua, broke ranks with his colleagues and said: “The letter from the governor was not referred to my committee. So, my position and a few others remain that Ikpeme is sworn-in, and I have not changed. I had expected my colleagues to be on the side of the law…”
While rejecting the re-nomination of Ikpeme for the second time by the NJC, the lawmakers at June 2, 2020, sitting insisted that though Ikpeme is married to an indigene of the state, her hailing from neighboring Akwa Ibom State by birth made her a “security risk” to Cross River State.
Akinkugbe, daughter of the late F. I. Ajumogobia, a former Chief of Mission at UNESCO, is married to Yinka Akinkugbe from Ondo State, and they have three children. She has under her belt, over 23 years of experience in the banking sector, and has worked at Barclays Bank, Stanbic IBTC, and Standard Chartered Bank.
But in condemning the nomination of the indigene of Abonema Local Council of Rivers State, the state Chairman, Ondo Youth Coalition, Ademario Emmanuel, reportedly said that the state Ondo State has prominent sons and daughters that could take up the appointment.
Emmanuel, who is also the National President, Youth Advancement Initiative, said: “The person that was nominated is not from Ondo State. We are doing more research to know those behind the recommendation of that appointment and we will send a letter to the Presidency and the governor. Ondo State cannot be short-changed and manipulated by some greedy set of persons because of power.
“It is insulting that we have people that can represent this state well in national affairs. Why are they not being given appointments? Ondo State has prominent sons and daughters who are well to do and can represent Nigeria and the state anywhere in the world. This appointment will not stand. When we have made up our mind, we will take the next step.”
The President, Yoruba Afenifere Youth Organisation of Nigeria, Eric Oluwole, equally said: “We call for the cancellation of Ondo State ambassadorial nominee within 48 hours. Someone cannot be nominated from Rivers State to represent us in Ondo State as an ambassador when there are many qualified indigenes.
“I urge Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State as a lovely person to play a neutral role in this selection. I want to believe the nomination was a mistake.”
However, contrary to their expectations, President Buhari refused to cancel Akinkugbe’s nomination when he dropped two nominees, whose nominations also drew controversy.
Dual Indigeneship On Grounds Of Marriage Still A Long Way To Reality
IN May 2019, the House of Representatives endorsed double indigeneship for married women. The development followed the adoption of a report of a Bill for an Act to amend the Federal Character Commission (Establishment) Act, 2010, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria CAP F7. It was that step that gave married women in the country an option of indigeneship.
Former Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, who chaired the committee of the ‘whole’ said the lawmakers amended Section 2, Part 11 of the principal Act, and introduced a new Section 2.
The new Section (2) now provides that: “A married woman shall have the option to lay claim to her state or local government of origin for implementation of the Federal Character formulae at the national level, or state as the case may be.”
The lawmakers maintained that if the amendment to the old law gets endorsed by the president, henceforth, married women in the country would have the option of choosing the indigeneship of their fathers, or husbands.
Edward Gyang Pwajok (Plateau, PDP) who sponsored the bill noted that it had far-reaching provisions that give married women the option of indigeneship in their state of origin, and state of marriage, and for related matters.
While debating on the general principles of the proposed amendment, Pwajok noted that married women usually face the dilemma of either choosing their state of origin, or state of marriage in official matters.
Mundane Considerations, Unfair Treatment Stunting National Development
WHILE commenting on Emmanuel’s claims that it was “insulting” for a Rivers State woman married to an Ondo man to be handed the state’s slot when prominent sons and daughters that could take up the appointments abound, Mrs. James asked: “I wouldn’t know how insulting that is, but if the Rivers State woman qualifies for the job, I think that it should be given to her, after all, if she was given an international appointment by maybe the World Bank, which might not care about her state of origin, by now Ondo people would have been rejoicing with her as their daughter. This tribal thing is why Nigeria is not moving ahead.
Asked whether it would it be out of place for parents to caution their daughters to be wary of where they search for love considering what has happened to Justice Ikpeme and Akinkugbe, she responded, “for me, what I am telling my daughters is that they should follow their hearts because marriage is about their happiness, and not just political or non-political appointments. If one door is closed more doors will be set open.”
She added that discriminating against career women in their husbands’ states is “not different from racism, which we complain about, so let us learn to let the best hand handle the job. A woman who is married to a man is automatic of the same state of origin as her husband, and no segregation as she should never be discriminated against. If she is good enough to contribute to the upliftment of the community, or state, she should get the job. It is high time we started putting round pegs in round holes and not put square pegs because they belong to the digger of the hole.”
The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria was swift in commending President Buhari and the National Assembly for the positions they took in respect of Mrs. Akinkugbe. The Senate last Wednesday cleared Akinkugbe for the ambassadorial role.
The National Public Relations Officer of FIDA Nigeria, Eliana Martins said: “How can a mother be rejected but her children and grandchildren are accepted? How is this fair and equitable? We reject this mindset and must all rise and speak out against this. The constitution is the highest law of the land and we must all be guided by it. It provides against discrimination based on gender, place of birth, etc. Nigeria in 1985, also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination Against Women. Furthermore, the African Charter on People and Human Rights prohibits all forms of discrimination. So, we can rely on all relevant laws to seek relief and enforce our fundamental rights.”
She stressed that “persons in authority such as parents, educational institutions can help change the narrative, re-orientate, and educate right to stop discrimination. Likewise, faith-based institutions and traditional leaders changing repugnant customs, rules, and cultures
“The Federal Government and indeed state governments must be very firm in upholding the positions of Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). More appointments of married women need to be made based on their state of marriage to drive home the point such that it gradually becomes a part of our psyche, and stressing the point that it is not a crime to be a woman, neither should gender nor marital status determine how women should be treated.”
She continued: “As we educate and empower the girl-child, she must be opportune to break any glass ceiling, so let us equip and support her to accomplish her full potential. The nation needs her input as a citizen. We must encourage a focus on merit and qualifications, efficiency, and professionalism. Our desire is good development and progress rather than trivialising issues constantly with gender and tribal sentiments, which cause divisiveness, conflict, and disunity.”
On the implications of the discrimination suffered by Ikpeme and Akinkugbe, Martins said: “Actions like this, to a very large extent, discourage inter-tribal marriages. We have seen several cases where the progress of women is hampered because they are not from a particular state, even though the records reflect very clearly that they chose that state over their state of origin. Having married, they willingly live in their husband’s state of origin, have children there, and bring them up there, while giving life there their best shot. They work in those states and even speak their languages, yet when it comes to positions, promotions, or entitlements, they are turned down based on indigeneship. This is most unfair and unfortunate, and a great injustice to such women.
“Particularly when Section 42 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution guarantees freedom from discrimination. Sub-section (2) stresses that no citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely because of the circumstances of birth. Based on this right, women should ordinarily freely marry anyone, from any state without thinking of long-term repercussions to them (such as being treated as second class citizens) in states they have lived and given their all to. This would not encourage one Nigeria and unity.
“Worst of all, as a developing nation, we ought to be stressing merit, the capacity to function, best experienced, and most qualified. But sadly, our focus seems myopic and is often based on tribalism and nepotism. With this level of thinking where we are prepared to jettison merit, quality, and competence for tribal sentiments, it would greatly set us back as a nation. This means our hardworking and industrious women will sit back, and we would certainly not be opportune to get the best from all our citizens,” the legal practitioner said.
The FIDA Nigeria chief continued: “We must as a nation remember our core values and visions for building a one Nigeria. Inter-tribal marriage helps to fully integrate us as people particularly, as it helps us build bridges and blend strengths against weaknesses. For as long as the issue of indigeneship is used against women, it will largely dissuade women from inter-tribal marriages and proper integration. If I have been victimised in marriage, the question is why would I allow my daughter or ward to face that same challenge that would prevent her from realising her full potentials?
“As a people, we must not do anything which is not fair, or which brings about conflicts and divisiveness. While the legislature should go ahead and review laws and policies of the government, we must all join hands to stop discrimination using all available means to communicate effectively and accomplish our goals. For instance, we should use songs, jingles, talk shows, speeches, drama/plays, poems, posters, campaigns, and outreaches, etc., to change mindsets, attitudes and encourage positive reorientation.”