It’s the 21st century, but some Kaduna elites are saying no to citizenship and residency.

A southern Kaduna group has triggered shock with its campaign against the principles of citizenship and residency. The group, in a document titled “May Day Clarion Call”, says it rejects the Kaduna State Government’s citizenship policy and called for protests by indigenes.

The group said that the principles of citizenship and residency “abolish the rights of the indigenes of Kaduna State and pave the way for their being oppressed and excluded from the affairs of their state, right on their homeland.”

In the seven-page document, the group premised its action on the comments made by the state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, when he inaugurated the board of the Kaduna State Residents Registration Agency on April 11, 2019.

“On 11 April 2019, the government of Governor Mallam Nasiru El-rufai promulgated a new policy on the treatment of indigenes and non-indigenes of Kaduna State. The policy uses the excuse of seeking to abolish the ‘indigene/settler dichotomy’, but in fact seeks to abolish the rights of the indigenes of Kaduna State, so that they will be oppressed and excluded, unlike how indigenes in every other state are treated. On the same day, the Governor inaugurated a ‘Residents Registration Agency’ to be headed by one Elizabeth Joshua Ndonah. Earlier in June 2018, Governor Nasiru El-Rufai introduced a State Residency Card Programme allegedly to capture data on all residents of Kaduna State for administrative purposes.”

The group quoted tweets from the @govkaduna twitter handle reporting the events of April 11, 2019, to buttress its campaign against citizenship.

“The Governor’s official twitter handle broadcast the following messages on Thursday 11 April 2019 between 12.40 and 12.50pm:
‘In Kaduna State, the Indigene/Settler dichotomy has been abolished.’

‘Every person resident in Kaduna State would be accorded all rights as citizens and indigenes of the state.’

‘The Kaduna State Residents Registration Agency will create a reliable database of all residents in the state, with a view to providing useful data for planning, security, social welfare, education, employment, financial services, housing, health and other services.’

‘Elizabeth Joshua Ndonah will head the Kaduna State Residents Registration Agency.’”

Mallam Nasir El-Rufai has, over the last four years, repeatedly stated that his government recognises citizenship and residency, instead of the divisive indigene/settler dichotomy. Therefore, it is falsehood to claim that the citizenship policy was only initiated or announced in April 2019.

The arguments of this southern Kaduna group are highly unfortunate in this day and time. And it provides a window for other Nigerians to see how capricious elite from a minority section perceive equal citizenship, which is considered as a threat to their narrow nativist privileges.

What the southern Kaduna group is saying in stark terms is that it rejects an inclusive Kaduna State. In the 21st century, a group is openly arguing against citizenship because it thinks that only “indigenes” should enjoy full rights in what is called the homeland. But the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognises the right of any Nigerian to reside in any part of Nigeria and to enjoy the full rights of citizenship wherever they live.

Without stating how the inclusive act of recognising the citizenship rights of residents of the state injures anyone, the southern Kaduna group alleged that, “practically, this policy will reduce the indigenes of Kaduna State to a situation of slavery and brutal oppression, in addition to all the mercenary killings, suffering and pain prevalent across the state to date. At another level, this policy represents a critical step towards possible genocidal trends against Kaduna indigenes.”

The position of this southern Kaduna group provides a new vista for understanding the persistence of violent ethno-religious conflict in the southern part of the state. The insistence that so-called settlers are unwelcome in “indigenous” homelands accounts for the vehemence with which violence is practised against “settlers”. This group represents an assault on equal citizenship. The insistence on indigeneship rejects all the protections that the Constitution provides for citizens wherever they reside. It is a form of atavism and a formula for exclusion, consigning the “other” to the status of the permanent outsider and freezing him on the margins.

By contrast, citizenship is open and inclusive, providing a pathway to belonging to a community by residing in it as a law-abiding member. It is the civic way of constructing and sustaining modern communities.

Will Nigerians who from different corners have made welcoming metropolises of Lagos and Abuja countenance arguments against diversity and inclusion?

Governor El-Rufai has shown by actions that he stands for equal citizenship. His government has political appointees from every region of the country. And he has rejected identity politics, insisting instead on equal citizenship. But it is obvious that certain sections of the state still want things to be organised around tribe and religion.

Will the Kaduna State Government and the security agencies allow this planned defence of backward values to happen with all the potential to trigger violence? Will they allow atavism to trump the openness of modernity?

The concept of equal citizenship must prevail.