Ethnic minorities seek legal shield, abolition of Sharia in the north

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The Nigerian Ethnic Minorities Movement, comprising minority groups in the six geo-political zones, has called for constitutional protection for ethnic and religious minorities similar to those contained in the United Nations declaration on the right of minorities.

The demand was one of over 20 contained in a presentation by minorities comprising about 400 ethnic minorities of Ibibio, Edo, Efik, Itsekiri, Isoko and others in Plateau, Yobe, Kaduna, Kogi, Nassarawa, Gombe, Borno, Niger etc, to the ongoing national conference.
A copy of the document signed by 39 ethnic leaders, including the conveners – Mr Edward Ekpoko (Itsekiri, Delta State) and ZKA Bonat, Coordinator of Kaduna Ethnic Nationalities Forum – was obtained by our reporter.
It stated: “After several meetings and consultations, we the Nigeria’s ethnic minorities have resolved to work together to ensure our collective survival in Nigeria. For 100 years, the majority ethnic groups in the country have bestridden the nation with little or no regard for the minority ethnic nationalities.”
They lamented that the political, strategic and economic objectives of the three major ethnic groups have been used as the basis for policies formulation to the detriment of over 400 minority ethnic nationalities, whose population they claimed is more than that of the three ethnic majors put together.
“There is no doubt that the injustice, deprivation, marginalization and neglect of the minority ethnic nationalities over the years is primarily responsible for the incessant expression of discontent over the structural defect of the country which has resisted and will continue to defy systemic reforms and political engineering until the right things are done to all the nationalities to ensure justice, fairness, equity and respect, devoid of threats, fear, alienation and uncertainty.
“There appears to be an erosion of trust in government generally: a crisis of democracy. The sort of transformation we articulate here will change Nigeria from a poor unprogressive country that it is today to a rich and progressive one,” it added.
To this end, the ethnic minorities demanded, among others, that the Nigerian constitution should define, defend and criminalise acts of marginalisation and discrimination against minorities.
They also called for the creation and enshrinement of a Nigerian Commission on the Rights of Minorities and Indigenous People to empower, protect, promote, and enforce the rights of minorities.
The NEMM also wants a declaration that “Nigeria is a traditional society made up of indigenous people with homelands. An indigene is a person who originates from a particular place – homeland. It is tied to ethnicity.
“There is a difference between a person who is an indigene and the one who is resident in a place. The person, who has residency in a place other than his homeland can enjoy the right of citizenship. Since the Nigerian is psychologically and culturally tied to his homeland, he cannot have dual indigene-ship.
“In the Nigerian context therefore, there is need to distinguish between citizenship and indigene-ship in order to offer some minority ethnic nationalities protection in their homelands or they risk extinction in the face of rapid urban migration by the majority ethnic nationalities from their homelands.
“Today, the indigenes of Onitsha, the Itsekiri of Warri, the Efik of Calabar and Yoruba of Lagos are facing the threat of losing their homelands.”
Furthermore, the group sought the abolition of the Islamic code (Sharia) in the northern parts of the country, saying religious, family and personal laws are some of the most invasive areas of law that are used by those in authority to intimidate and oppress minorities.
“Restriction on building of churches in some part of the North should be criminalized because it violates the freedom of the Christians to worship in the North. Freedom of worship and freedom from discrimination on the basis of religion must be guaranteed, protected and practically enforced.
“The Federal, States and Local Governments should maintain the secularity of the country. They should not be involved in religious affairs, including building of religious schools, mosques and churches as well as sponsoring individuals for hajj and pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. CAN should keep a distance from government leaders and frown on preferential import duties.
In the same vein, it kicked against proposed grazing reserves in all the 36 states, remarking that the Northern states should be encouraged to re-establish the 417 grazing reserves designated by the then Northern region in 1965.
It described the proposal as akin to condoning “systematic genocidal attacks on minority ethnic nationalities in order to compel the National Assembly to legislate setting aside of land taken from farming communities in states for a major ethnic group to bring their kith and kin from all over West Africa to use as grazing corridor.
Other demands contained in the document included abrogation of the Land Use Act, full implementation of Federal Character provisions and practice of true federalism with ethnic groups as federating units
“Big ethnic nationalities can form a federating unit, while minority land-owning ethnic nationalities can form a federating unit or a state/region with other ethnic nationalities with which they have geographical contiguity.
“Each State/Region or federating unit should control its resources and pay agreed tax to the federation/union.”
Nevertheless, it suggested that the Union (Federal Government) should be saddled with legislating only on arms, ammunition and explosives; banks, bill of exchange and promissory notes; Citizenship, naturalisation and aliens; customs and excise duties and currency, coinage and legal tender.
Other task for the federation include defence, deportation of persons who are not citizens of the union; election into the offices of President and Vice President; External Affairs; Maritime, shipping and navigation; passports and visas and prisons.