By Rev. Fr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

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 nib it in the bud. This also calls for renewed efforts of the stakeholders of dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria to look inward and caution their adherents. 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 grow above ethnic, religious and party syndrome in governance. The mantra, “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 divides. After the election the hope, desire, expectation and aspiration 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 and the disadvantaged would still have value and sustenance akin to other civilized countries of the world. 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 watch the political drama of the National Conventions of the Republicans and Democrats here 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 do not relate to citizens with the mind-set 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 Center (www.grandroyaleevents.com) and SD&C, a construction company in 4473 Covington High Way, Decatur, GA 30035, Georgia owned by a Nigerian family who 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 (MD) 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 has put Nigeria behind civilization; 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 that 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? Would it be 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 imbued in the consciousness of many people who cannot grow beyond religious and ethnic indoctrinations. Religion should make people civilized and not archaic, 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 (http://www.legalnaija.com).

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. For advancement of any nation, there is need for capacity building and support for those who are contributing to the economy either by commerce, industry, and education. The concept of citizenship and nation building is a call to reflect on the gains that would accrue to Nigeria if the governments at all levels promote patriotism on the part of human development and nationhood. This could develop in the citizens the reality that no one does it alone and that together, on the wheel of progress; we can make Nigeria a great nation. To ensure that all citizens breathe the air of freedom, there is need for a national reconciliation in a way and manner that no one is suspected to be on a revenge mission. Vendetta is a slow poison that can destroy the freedom to grow gracefully.

Nigeria is a country that is blessed and loved by God. Otherwise, given the challenges that have arisen from religious and ethnic divides, the nation would have disintegrated.  So much has been said about the amalgamation of 1914 as a marriage of incompatible entities to compatibility. Until there is a referendum to renew the contract of making Nigeria one, Nigerians must learn to accept one another as citizens of the same nation. Now that some people have identified Nigeria as a country governed by two Constitutions, the leaders must really go beyond the evil of corruption to further enquire into the real strength, weakness, opportunities and threats of the nation.  Nigeria needs a renewed identity where every human being can feel a sense of citizenship irrespective of tribe, religion and political party. I believe we can fly! So, I pray that the zeal to grow a better Nigeria will take priority over religious fanaticism that has kept the nation in an antediluvian world. 

(Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the director of Mission and Dialogue, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (omonokhuac@gmail.com)



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