The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Producing certificates of origins and implementing legal discrimination in Nigeria

The population in Nigeria is officially divided into two categories of citizens: those who are indigenes and those who are not, the first ones being those who can trace their ethnic and genealogical roots back to the community of people who originally settled in a specific place, most of the time a local government. In Nigeria, most of the 776 local governments of the federation produce certificates that identify the origin of their holders. Despite the centrality of this process in shaping legal identity, this identification process and the everyday production of certificates of origin have received little attention. The increasing literature on indigeneity, ethnicity and autochthony in Nigeria has rather insisted on conflicts triggered by the division of the citizenry into two distinct bodies (see for instance, Adebanwi 2009; Ukiwo 2006; Higazi 2007; Osaghae and Suberu 2005) or on the discrimination of the non-indigene in access to civil services, to job, universities or political positions (HRW, 2009). Looking into civil registration process has neither really been a concern among specialists of public administration. If the ethnography of bureaucracy is an emerging field of research in some African countries (Bierschenk and de Sardan 2014; Darbon 2001; Blundo and de Sardan 2007) it is not yet the case in Nigeria. And if we know the centrality of the politics of quota introduced in the late 1970s in Nigeria and its effects on federal bureaucracies (Gboyega 1984; Mustapha, 2007; Kirk Greene 1983; Owen 2013), the role of public servants in producing identity papers have not been looked at specifically. This article follows up a three year empirical research which has looked at the bureaucratic machinery of issuing certificates of origin in two local governments of Oyo state (in the south-west), the everyday encounters between users and bureaucrats and the complicated and ambivalent process of identifying a ‘true indigene’ by civil servants (Fourchard 2015). This legal process has to be understood in a framework of institutionalised xenophobic discrimination and what does this mean for the definition of citizenship in some African countries (Fourchard and Segatti 2015). This paper will look more especially at the mass process of producing certificates of origin, between new biometric system used to produce ID cards for Nigerian citizens (Breckenridge 2011) and the incompleteness of civil registration in Nigeria. Certificates of origin are not identification paper like the others: they are at the core of the working of the state and the administration: they are highly needed for the politics of quota in federal, state and local government administrations, in most of universities as well as for public jobs. They are simultaneously the legal basis against which non indigenes have been routinely discriminated. They are at the core of a massive identification process which remains a pen and paper based process. This work is a step towards a better understanding of the concrete and everyday conditions of the production of identification papers in Africa in general (Cooper (2012), Breckenridge (2005), Breckenridge and Szreter (2012) and in Nigeria in particular.

Event reference: 
The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity