Being the full text of the welcome statement by Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED) at the One-Day Africa Regional Conference to Commemorate the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, held on Tuesday, August 9, 2022, at the CHIDA Event Centre Jabi, FCT Abuja.
The Director, Africa Office of the MacArthur Foundation, Your Royal Highnesses, FCT Original Inhabitant groups and organizations, distinguished resource persons, fellow CSOs participants, invited guests, ladies, and gentlemen of the Press.
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this Africa Regional Conference on indigenous rights, with a focus on the rights of the Original Inhabitants (OIs) of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Nigeria. This conference is one of the activities organized by the Cohort working on the project of Promoting the Rights of Original Inhabitants in the Federal Capital Territory to commemorate the annual August 9 observance of the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
It is pertinent to note that despite the over four decades of marginalization, exclusion, and subjugation that FCT Original Inhabitants have endured since their ancestral lands were expropriated to make way for the Nigerian capital, few Nigerians and foreigners are aware of their plight, and struggles. Due to the lack of knowledge and awareness regarding the injustices suffered by the Original Inhabitants, there is a paucity of initiatives to assist them in seeking redress.
Consequently, the lack of awareness regarding the plight of the Original Inhabitants is also evident at the continental level, where Nigeria positions itself as a giant. Regionally, the issue of the injustice committed against the Original Inhabitants of the FCT has also received scant and superficial attention. This results in a lack of coordinated efforts to raise awareness about their plight. Therefore, there have been no broad continental activities connecting the problems facing the FCT Original Inhabitants to those of other indigenous peoples on the African continent.
This is the context in which the project of Promoting the Rights of the FCT’s Original Inhabitants was conceived. The project aims to address the decades-long injustices, marginalization, and exclusion suffered by the Original Inhabitants of the FCT since the relocation of Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja under Decree No. 6 of 1976.
The Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, has been supporting Original Inhabitant groups to develop initiatives to address pressing political, socio-economic, and cultural challenges facing them, and to foster opportunities for engagement with policymakers, and advocate reforms to promote inclusion, equity, and equality for the Original Inhabitants in FCT.
How Original Inhabitants in the FCT can advance their struggles and interests in accordance with the rule of law, justice, and respect for their citizenship rights is a crucial aspect of this project.
This Regional Conference and its theme, therefore, present numerous opportunities in this regard. Since similar indigenous struggles exist in other parts of the African continent, the Cohort working on this project deemed it necessary to hear directly from scholars and practitioners from other African nations.
CHRICED and members of this project Cohort are quite optimistic that by sharing experiences and comparing notes with our brothers and sisters from other parts of Africa, the organizations being supported will be able to tap into the treasure trove of experience and expertise available across the continent in order to advocate for justice with regard to the issues facing FCT Original Inhabitants in a sustainable and effective manner.
Consequently, while we look forward to hearing the valuable insights and perspectives of our distinguished scholars, we recognize as a group that there are a number of anomalies that have hampered the search for justice for marginalized groups such as the FCT Original Inhabitants. One example is the pervasive culture of impunity and disregard for the rule of law in Nigeria.
For example, despite FCT Original Inhabitants’ unwavering commitment to upholding peaceful, lawful, and non-violent means of seeking justice, Nigerian authorities have consistently frustrated and undermined these efforts. It has gotten so bad that even judicial verdicts issued by competent courts have been simply ignored by successive governments.
Without preempting our learned resource persons’ perspectives, let me state that this Regional Conference provides an opportunity to reflect on similar experiences from other parts of the continent.
In the face of the many adversities that FCT OIs have faced, we believe that the least we can do as a cohort is to inform the rest of the world that it is unfair and unjust that a people who made enormous sacrifices to provide Nigeria with its “acclaimed centre of unity” should no longer be treated as second class citizens in the land where they trace their origins.
To ensure that this message is heard, we need as many voices of reason and courage as we can find across our country, continent, and globe.
One of the unique qualities of the FCT Original Inhabitants is the fact that they have always relied on peaceful, and lawful approaches to get their voices heard. For this reason alone, they ought to get a listening ear. I look forward to the vibrant perspectives of this Regional Conference that would contribute to the search for justice by FCT Original Inhabitants.
At this juncture distinguished participants, let me express our unreserved thanks to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for its support of Original Inhabitants through CHRICED. When the history of the long and tortuous struggle of the FCT Original Inhabitants for justice and inclusion is written, the magnanimity of the MacArthur Foundation would be a prominent part of that story.
We have brought seasoned scholars and practitioners to do justice to the three major topics we identified. The Keynote on “Key Issues Affecting FCT Original Inhabitants: Travails and the Quest for Social Justice” will be delivered by Prof. Oshita Oshita, former Director General of Nigeria’s National Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), with a demonstrated history of teaching and working in the research, academic and civil society spheres.
A Chevening Scholar, Skilled in Conflict Resolution, Mediation, Nonprofit Organizations, Program Evaluation, Public Speaking, International Relations, Conflict-Sensitive Planning, and Mainstreaming of Peacebuilding in Development Programming. He is currently the Executive Director of the Ubuntu Centre for Africa Peace Building and Development (UCAP).
The second presentation on “Building Resilience, Fostering Recovery: African Indigenous Struggle for Social Justice” will be addressedby Dr. Quinter Akinyi Onyango, University of Free States, South Africa. Quinter is a dynamic, passionate, and innovative internationalization and communication practitioner with over 8 years of experience in international education, partnership, marketing and communication, and international student life support services.
She is a global citizen, that believes in people’s diversity as a source of strength to be valued and built on. Prof. Emily Choge Kerama of the Religious and Philosophy Dept, Moi University, Kenya will take us through “The Role of African Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge”.
Emily is a Professor and Chair of Postgraduate Studies in Theology at Moi University, Kenya. She is also a patron of Moi University Disability Club and a motivational speaker to various schools and colleges. She earned her PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary.
To the rest of the invited participants, I would like to thank you for honoring our invitation, and I do hope that what promises to be a lively discussion at this conference will enhance our understanding of the issues affecting the FCT-Abuja Original Inhabitants, as well as other indigenous peoples in the African continent, and provide suggestions for addressing them.
Finally, I would like to express my profound gratitude to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for their assistance in making this conference a reality. Without their support and commitment, we would not be here today.
Thank you for the rapt attention.