PROTECTION OF MINORITY RIGHTS IN A DEMOCRATIC NIGERIAN SOCIETY
By: Etannibi E.O. ALEMIKA
Being Paper presented at the Dialogue on Minority Rights organized by the League for Human Rights, Jos, 26-28 Feb., 2002.
The core problem of Nigeria is the failure of the state. It has failed to guarantee, for citizens, access to the means for meeting their basic needs, effective citizenship, and social/distributive justice. This failure has led to a crisis of legitimacy of the Nigerian state. The Afrobarometer Survey Report reveals that 86% of the nationally representative sample said that elected officials seldom/never look after the interest of people in their own status. Furthermore, 88% of the respondents said that elected officials do not listen to what people like them have to say. In the circumstance, loyalty to the State is attenuated and ties to primordial groups are increasingly strengthened because they offer access to material and non-material resources within both the public and private spaces, which the state has failed to do. In reality, as a result of both constitutional and policy provisions, primordial identities and associations mediate and weaken the relationship between the citizens and the State. This is why individuals seeking to access or obtain state resources often argue for their eligibility on grounds of marginalization of their ethnic or religious groups or region/zone, state, local government area, district or village of origin instead of on personal merit.
A major fall-out of this mediation of state-citizen relationship by primordial cleavages or politicized identities of religion and ethnicity is that major groups are more likely to exercise decisive influence on the State and take disproportionate resources out of it than minority groups. Consequently, the state is trapped at two levels of conflict that invariably negatively affect its legitimacy and performance; inhibit economic development, political stability, and the unity and integration of the country. The first of the two levels of conflict evident in Nigeria is the violent competition for state power and its vast economic resources by the majority groups. The second level is the marginalization or exclusion of minority groups from state power and economic resources, leading to resistance of such groups against both the state and majority groups. The political manifestations of these conflicts are the multilateral accusations of marginalization and domination, disunity and violent ethno-religious conflicts, and a weak state incapable of maintaining security in spite of vast security institutions, network and personnel. This demonstrates a simple fact, that, long-term national security lies in the promotion of the welfare of citizens, ensuring justice among citizens and groups, protection of and respect for human rights, and promotion of democratic governance principles of electoral choice, free and popular participation of all segments of society, accountability and the rule of law.
In this presentation, we explore an aspect of one dimension of the two levels conflict identified above, which is the state protection of the collective rights and the promotion of the participation of minorities in a liberal democratic society anchored on majoritarian rule.
The Concept of Minority
The statuses of minority and majority are contextual and, sometimes, historical. Furthermore, the concepts – minority and majority – have quantitative, economic, social and cultural dimensions. For example, a minority may refer to a group with small numerical population relative to another or other group(s). But it sometimes conveys power-relation and, therefore, refers to a powerless group or groups relative to more powerful groups in society. The concept of minority is also used in some contexts – for example, in Europe and North America – as reference to immigrant populations that have settled in host societies and constitute significant population. In the United States, the term is also used to refer to both the numerical population of groups as well as representations of groups in institutions of society. Invariably, the two usages tend to be correlated. The concept may, therefore, refer to ethnic, linguistic, religious, political and social (age, disabled) groups and women based on their relative number or representation or power in society.
Minority Fear and Minority Rights
Most usages of minority refer to group(s) or collectivities of people who are not adequately represented in the mainstream of socio-cultural, economic and political life of their society. It therefore conveys some measure of disadvantage – manifest or latent. Thus, different measures have been evolved in various countries to safeguard the rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups. Democratic governance is one measure. The attraction of democracy for minorities is its promise of equality among citizens, irrespective of their class, ethnicity, religion, status, and gender. But liberal democracy, which undoubtedly is the most popular variant in democracy, rests on individual rights rather than collective rights and, as a result, does not adequately guarantee equality between political, social, ethnic, religious and economic majorities and minorities. Thus, the needs for specific constitutional provisions to guarantee, protect, promote and enforce equality of groups or collectivities in the public domain. Consequently, some nations have introduced specific measures, which in themselves are undemocratic, to promote the participation of minorities. Such measures include anti-discrimination law, equal opportunity policy, federal/state/local character, quota, etc.
During the various pre-independence conferences, on constitutional arrangement for independent Nigeria, minorities expressed fear of domination and marginalization by the dominant ethnic and religious groups within their respective regions. They demanded for states constituted by minorities. Thus, minority ethnic groups in the North, which are largely concentrated in central Nigeria, requested for a Middle-Belt Region; minorities in the Western Region requested for the creation of the Mid-West Region – which was subsequently created in 1963, and the minorities in the Eastern Region requested for the creation of Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) Region. However, the Willink Commission established to consider the fears and demands of the minorities did not recommend the creation of regions for the minorities. This was the genesis of the elaborate and explicit provisions on human rights in the Independence Constitution (1960).
Another structural measure against domination and marginalization of minorities is federalism. A federal system of government is based on separation of executive, judicial and legislative powers. More significantly, federalism involves allocation of powers to the various levels of government as a means of protecting local interest and autonomy of the federating units. Federalism in most cases devolves powers to administrative units on territorial basis rather than on account of socio-ethnic identities. Therefore, if conventional federalism is moderated at local governance levels so that administrative and socio-ethnic units coincide, local self-governance of minority groups may be promoted without hurting the majorities.
Nigeria at independence, adopted a federal system of government in order to promote local autonomy. But the federating units were too large. Each of the three regions contained several minority groups who were dissatisfied because of their political and socio-economic emasculation and continue to agitate for the creation of new regions. In 1963, the Midwestern Region was created from the Western Region. The military coup in 1966 produced a military government. In 1967, Gowon military government restructured Nigeria into 12 States. Continuing agitation led to creation of more states in 1987, 1991 and 1995. Nigeria is currently structured into 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory, with 774 Local Government Areas. In spite of all these, agitations for the creation of additional States and Local Government Areas have continued unabated. The agitators justify their demands on domination, discrimination and marginalization within their respective states. Fear of domination is real but it is also often orchestrated and manipulated by elites in search of sphere of influence and platform for the struggle for a portion of the national cake.
The fear of minorities in the country is the product of poor quality of governance (the poor managerial and distributive capacity) – inadequacy and insensitivity of the state regarding the provision of basic necessities of life for the citizens, institutionalized corruption, pervading inequality and injustice, and a perverted reward system. Fear of discrimination and domination entertained by the minorities as well as politicised identities are social and political constructions that become critical and heightened under conditions of resource scarcity, inequality, hierarchical relations of subordination and super-ordination.
The nature and dynamics of relationship between the majority and minority groups in society are dependent on the political and socio-economic systems in which the groups are constituted. One major source of minority fear of exploitation, exclusion and oppression is the non-implementation and non-justiciability of the provisions of Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitutions (1979-1999) summarized in Figure 1. If the provisions had been duly implemented along with the provisions on fundamental rights in Chapter 4 of the Constitutions (summarized in Figure 2), effective social and civil citizenship would have been guaranteed. And in the circumstance, ethnic and religious or other social differences would not have carried along with them determinate economic and socio-political consequences for the life chances of individual citizens, as has been the case in Nigeria.
Figure 1: The Socio-Economic Rights Provisions in the Nigerian Constitution
|1. Promotion of democracy and social justice.
2. Promotion and guarantee of the security and welfare of Nigerians.
3. Participation of the citizens in their government.
4. Representation of the people, in their various diversities, in government.
5. Promotion of national integration through free mobility and protection of full residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the Federation.
6. Prohibition of “discrimination on the grounds of place-of-origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties …”
7. Abolition of all corrupt practices and abuse of power.
8. Management of the economy to secure for the citizens’ maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity.
9. Prevention of “the concentration of wealth or means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group.”
10. Ensuring “that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.”
11. Promotion of the ideals of freedom, equality and justice. To that effect, the government shall guarantee:
· That all citizens have equal rights, obligations and opportunities before the law.
· Human dignity.
· Humane government actions.
· Independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law, and easy accessibility thereto.
· Just and humane working conditions.
· That all citizens, without discrimination, have the opportunity of securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment.
· The health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment.
· Adequate medical and health facilities for all persons.
· That the children, young persons and the aged are protected against any exploitation, moral and material neglect.
· Eradication of illiteracy through free and compulsory primary education; free secondary education, free university education, and free adult literacy education.
If these provisions had been implemented, the economic and political dimensions of minority fears would have been minimized. However, this has not been the case. The provisions on socio-economic welfare rights in Chapter 2 (Figure 1) are not justiciable. Furthermore, government actions often contradict the provisions. This is currently manifested in the auctioning of the public enterprises to a clique of foreign and Nigerian ‘entrepreneurs or investors,’ under the privatization of the programme. Furthermore, the liberalization and especially the commercialization of the government are antithetical to the welfare provisions in the Constitution. In the circumstance of declining access to public service and deepening problems of inflation, unemployment and poverty, competition for scarce resources among ethnic and religious groups is intensified to the level of warfare, thereby heightening the fear of minorities. This fear is further aggravated by the ethnicisation or ethnification of state economic and political decisions.
Figure 2: Fundamental Rights Provisions in the Nigerian Constitution
|· Right to life, including freedom from extra-judicial killing.
· Right to dignity of human person, including freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment; slavery or servitude; forced or compulsory labour.
· Right to personal liberty, including freedom from arbitrary arrest and unreasonably long detention.
· Right to fair hearing, including presumption of innocence until proved guilty, and access to impartial and open court proceedings, legal representation, etc.
· Right to private and family life, including privacy of communication.
· Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
· Right to peaceful assembly and association.
· Right to freedom of movement.
· Right to freedom from discrimination.
· Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.
It is clear that for the minorities, fundamental human rights provisions of liberal democratic constitutions are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the realization of their interests. But it is significant that the competition and warfare that characterize the struggle for the control of state power and state economic resources has assumed inter-ethnic violence among minority groups instead of violent confrontations between minority and majority groups. Parallel to this also is that competition and intolerance has intensified among the majority groups. There is a corollary of this situation in criminology where researches consistently show that intra-class victimizations are higher than inter-class victimizations as a result of socio-economic relational and power distances.
Protection of Minority Rights in Nigeria
Nigeria has a heterogeneous population, with groups and cleavages whose membership vary tremendously in size, power, wealth, natural resources and historical experiences of slavery (trans-Atlantic and trans-Sahara) imperialist (Arabian and Euro-American) and colonial penetration. In the circumstance, minority groups suffer marginalization and exclusion. This problem prevails partly because of the character of the Nigerian political economy and partly due to defective principle and structure of local governance.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) provided for three levels of government. These are the Federal, State and Local Government. Each level has exclusive functions. The three levels also exercise concurrent jurisdictions in certain matters as allotted by the Constitution. However, in event of conflict over concurrent jurisdictions, the Federal takes precedence over State and Local Governments, and the State over the Local Government.
The Nigerian Constitution is based on the principle of separation of powers – legislative, executive and judicial. As a result, the legislative, executive and judicial powers of the Nigerian government are vested in and exercised by the legislature, executive and judicial arms of government, respectively. But a major constitutional defect is the extreme subordination of local government to the State Government, which has led to undue interference in local self-rule.
The creation of local government areas in the country has not been based on principles of relative local self-governance and autonomy by diverse groups. The creation tends to reflect the colonial public administration practice that views local administration as field administration in aid of central or regional (state) government. Therefore, local government area creation has been influenced more by population, ‘criterion of viability’ and political influence of communities.
The 1999 Constitution established Nigeria as a federal democratic and republican nation. The question then is why are people still afraid of domination and marginalization? The answer, for the ethnic minorities, is that the structure, powers and constitution of local government do not involve a deliberate framework that enable each of the constituent minority ethnic-nationalities to maintain their identity without being politically colonized, economically impoverished and culturally assimilated by larger (sometimes contiguous) ethnic groups. Thus, while the constitution provides for individual rights, it neglects minority group rights. The neglect derives from the assumption that protection of individual rights will be sufficient for the protection of individuals and groups against oppression, exploitation and ‘internal colonialism.’ Another reason for the continuing fear of domination and marginalization is the character of the Nigerian state. The Nigerian State is a patrimonial and rentier entity. Paradoxically, it is the patrimonial, prebendal and rentier character of the state that has led to the explosion of identity (including minority) politics for purposes of accumulating as much resources as possible from the state by the elite from different groups. Primarily for themselves, and secondarily for their ‘people’ in order to maintain patron-client relations between themselves and their ‘people,’ which they claim to represent.
Relative Local Autonomy as Minority Right
Our position is that if the provisions of Chapters two and four, and Section 10 (barring adoption of state religion) of the Constitution had been effectively enforced, the concern of minority rights would have been limited to three important areas – participation, local self-rule and preservation of linguistic and cultural heritage. These do not create enormous difficulties, once they are no longer associated with access to basic needs, which provisions of universal access, equal opportunities and balance/even development largely provided for but not enforced in Chapter 2. Our position is that the protection of minority rights in the country can be realized without undue restriction on the democratic rights of majority groups. Below we sketch two sets of related proposal, first to guarantee political equality and socio-economic welfare of citizens, and two to enhance minority rights (collective rights of participation and representation, linguistic and cultural heritage).
Democratic Citizenship Rights
The following institutions and framework of governance should be developed and maintained:
- Social democratic state. This form of state blends political liberalism and socio-economic welfarism, and thereby addresses the basic needs of citizens.
- Social welfare system with provisions for universal access to primary and secondary education; health and medical care for infants, children pregnant and nursing women, aged and disabled, and treatment of chronic, terminal and serious illnesses.
- Equal opportunity and balanced/even development. This will entail increasing opportunities in deprived communities without holding down relatively advantaged areas. For example, if an area is educationally disadvantaged, more schools may be built and incentive for enrolment and retention may be provided within the local community and over a specified period, without creating undue disparity in admission requirements between advantaged and disadvantaged communities. The same reasoning applies to public sector employment, and access to other public services and infrastructure.
- Protection of individual rights.
- Separation of state and religion, meaning non-involvement of the state in religious matters. Government should leave the religious space to religious institutions. Specific constitutional provisions on freedom of religion, non-religious discrimination, and non-involvement of government in the implementation of administration of religious programmes, institutions and laws are necessary. Religious institutions and ‘laws’ or injunctions should be administered by respective religious organizations within the context of voluntary associational life.
- Government should promote effective citizenship – through effective protection of citizens’ right to freedom of movement, full residency rights in every part of the country, in addition to other fundamental rights.
These are universal rights that the government must guarantee every citizen without discrimination.
Minority Rights of Participation and Representation, Language and Culture
The following sets of rights and state actions are advanced as measures for protecting minority rights of participation, linguistic and cultural preservation/development, and relative local self-governance, without undue infringement of liberal democratic and constitutional principles:
- There should be constitutional framework for a democratic and participatory local government system with adequate autonomy, powers and resources. This will maximize the participation of people in their own affairs, and should promote accountability and better resources management for the well-being of the people. As much as possible, every self-identified ethnic group should constitute at least a local government area so that they can develop their linguistic and cultural heritage as against the growing absorption of minority ethnic groups by larger ones, which results in oppression and marginalization.
- The clamour for regionalization (or the current aberration called geo-political zones – a ploy of politicians seeking for political bases) will lead to instability and create many centres of internal colonialism. This is more so in the Middle-Belt states with large number of ethnic groups with varying population sizes as well as some degree of religious plurality. Examples of states in the Middle-Belt where majority ethnic groups, by virtue of their population, insist on the domination of public resources include Benue and Kogi States. In others, nepotism underlies many government decisions and appointments. The Middle-belt is already a hotbed of inter-ethnic hostilities and xenophobia. It is not an accident that the two zones with the greatest concentration of minorities (North-Central and the South-South) have witnessed more communal violence than zones with concentration of relatively homogenous population. The violent crisis may be attributed to intense competition among groups in the zones as well as manipulation of such competitions by politicians from other zones seeking electoral and economic outposts outside their own areas. What is needed is further restructuring to guarantee spheres of local autonomy and self-governance to every ethnic group in their social and cultural affairs and as mechanism for inclusive participation in state and national life.
- The idea and promotion of social justice and participation or representation between groups should involve a balance of the following elements:
- Proportionality – i.e., representation on the basis of representation in the nation’s population;
- Equality of the various nationalities, irrespective of their population size. For example, state houses of assembly may consist about 75% of people elected on basis of democratic electoral representation, and the remaining 25% on the basis of equality of ethno-cultural entities (i.e., one ‘self-defined ethnic, one representation’);
- Affirmative policy and action should be introduced when desirable. But in every case of such policy and action, a maximum time period for implementation must be stated after which any group that has benefited will be subject to a criterion of strict merit or desert. Affirmative actions must have time-targets, properly and effectively monitored, and should not become, or translate to, perpetual rights. Affirmative policies should attempt to widen or expand opportunities in disadvantage areas instead of lowering standards for such areas vis-à-vis the advantaged areas or communities;
- Local Government should be made relatively autonomous as the third-tier of government and a pillar of development in Nigeria. In essence, the Local Government should be strengthened, and 40% of the country’s revenue (after deductions for derivation, etc.,) should be allocated to this level. The Federal Government should take 30%, and the State Governments should be allocated 25%, while 5% may be retained for contingency/special allocations. Emphasis on devolution of power and transfer of resources to local government as strategies of development and local self-governance for the nationalities is superior to advocacy for regionalism. Regionalism, outside voluntary political and economic co-operation, may re-establish internal colonialism and the oppression of minority by majority groups on a more widespread and intense scale than ever before;
- There should be a constitutional provision that recognizes all Nigerian languages as equal, and deliberately developed, instead of forcing Minorities to be assimilated into Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba ethnic-nationalities. Thus, all languages should be developed on equality basis, from spoken to written texts. In particular, attention should be paid to micro-ethnic groups whose languages have not developed orthographies or written format are, therefore, going to extinction. Speakers of such communities are, as a result, virtually being assimilated into contiguous or imperialist/expansionist majority ethnic groups as a result of the use of their linguistic texts for education, enlightenment and religious practices/observances. Examples of this condition include the recently invented/discovered ‘lost tribe’ of ‘Okun-Yoruba’ group of Kogi State in relation to Yoruba, many ethnic groups in the Middle-Belt in relation to Hausa, and several groups in Rivers State in relation to Igbo. Politicians of these majorities promote the assimilation as a means of increasing the population of their groups and, thereby, gain electoral advantage. However, they seek to assimilate the minorities as inferiors. The proposed provision for the creation of at least a local government area for every self-identified ethnic group to develop their language, with assistance from the central government, will reverse this internal colonial assimilation and cultural genocide;
- The Constitution should be amended to grant full rights and obligations as are granted to indigenes (other than to become a ‘traditional’ ruler) to any Nigerian citizen born in any state or who has resided in any state for five years and discharged his or her civic obligations – paying relevant taxes and levies;
- Government should also leave the management of traditional institutions to the different cultural groups to which they belong as a cultural property and heritage. A republican system cannot continue to harbor feudal institutions. It is recognized that successive governments continue to promote this anti-democratic tendency in order to gain illegitimacy. But it should be clear that majority of traditional rulers are nuisance, which would have long been discarded by their people but for their imposition as government employees without schedule of duty. More repugnant is even the imposition of traditional rulers alien to many communities through the traditional rulers’ grading system. Government should not maintain traditional rulers; cultures or groups that desire them should be responsible for their appointment, remuneration and maintenance;
- The curriculum at the primary and secondary levels should incorporate subjects that can promote inter-ethnic and religious harmony, and remove stereotypes and prejudices.