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Nigeria: Constitutional challenge to the indigene-settler dichotomy for impeding the enjoyment of fundamental human rights

By October 19, 2010March 24th, 2021No Comments

19 October 2010

Twenty Nigerian citizens and a non-governmental organisation are challenging the indigene/settler dichotomy legally before the Federal High Court in Nigeria. The Federal High Court, Kaduna, presided over by Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Shuaibu, adjourned the case to 24 November 2010. The applicants contend that the indigene/settle dichotomy impacts negatively on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution and African and international human rights law.

21 applicants mounted a constitutional challenge before the Federal High Court in the Kaduna Division against the Federal Government, the Federal Character Commission, Plateau, Kaduna, Kano and Katsina states and Jos North Local Government Area (LGA), Shendam LGA, Kaduna South LGA, Giwa LGA (Kaduna), Fagge LGA (Kano), Kumbotso LGA (Kano), Nassarawa LGA (Kano) and Tarauni LGA ( Kano). The Applicants are challenging the policy and practice of discrimination meted out to them by the named respondents through their classification as “settlers” or “non-indigenes”. This suit, brought under the new Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, therefore seeks to obtain a decision that will lead the Respondents to fully recognise and respect the rights of the applicants, as well as of all other Nigerians.

The Applicants, all residents in the said States and Local Governments for decades (and their families sometimes for centuries), are seeking an order for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights. They contend that these rights are enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and other laws, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Act 1995 (Federal Laws of Nigeria, Cap. 10). They also base their claims on international law, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

A favourable outcome will benefit millions of victims and reform the current order. It is hoped that this suit will generate change in Government policy and practice with regard to this issue. Additionally, the suit will inject objective and universal constitutional concerns into the otherwise polarised and potentially explosive question of denial of constitutional rights and discrimination on the basis of place of origin and ethnicity


The Federal Character Principle is enshrined in s. 147 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. However well-intentioned,  in a multi-ethnic setting like Nigeria, the Principle has been unnecessarily expanded and distorted, allowing for politicization of the question of who is considered “indigene” of a State or Local Government Area in Nigeria. Further, classifications of “indigeneity” and issuance of “indigene certificates” have resulted in preferential and sometimes exclusive access to rights and services ordinarily due to all citizens. As a result, Nigerians who are classified as “non-indigenes” or “settlers” are marginalised and excluded in ways that have nothing to do with the aims of preservation of cultural identity and autonomy envisioned by the Federal Character Principle.

The discriminatory treatment meted out to “non-indigenes” has deep historical and socio-political underpinnings, and is probably the most sensitive subject in Nigeria’s public life. It has contributed to a cycle of violence in certain states and is of earnest national security concern for Nigeria. As such, if not resolved, it can threaten the very social fabric of Nigeria.

“Non-indigenes” are discriminated against and are denied rights, opportunities and benefits, including:

a.      educational opportunities and benefits;

b.      employment opportunities and benefits;

c.       access to public and military service;

d.      property ownership and allocation;

e.      government infrastructure and services such as roads, water and schools; and

f.        political participation and opportunities.

The discriminatory treatment faced by “non-indigenes” defeats the idea of integration which should help in moulding society and strengthening the “One Nigeria’ belief.