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Advocating for the Rights of FCT Original Inhabitants: Milestones and Challenges Ahead

Text of Joint Press Conference addressed by Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED), in collaboration with Journalists Network for Indigenous People, and Lawyers Network for Indigenous Peoples held on Tuesday, August 8, 2023 at Corinthia Villa Hotel, 9B Arochukwu Street, Beside Old CBN, Garki, FCT Abuja.

The Director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Africa Office, members of the cohort advocating for the rights of FCT Original Inhabitants, and our ever-committed colleagues from the media and civil society organizations, ladies and gentlemen.

We cordially welcome you to this press conference on behalf of the diverse and committed group of stakeholders working to promote and preserve the rights of the marginalized and excluded Original Inhabitants in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The United Nations has designated tomorrow, August 9, 2023, as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The Day is recognized globally every year on August 9. It commemorates the date of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations’ inaugural session in 1982. The primary concerns of the International Day are the liberties of indigenous peoples around the globe.

One of the most critical issues to reflect on in the context of promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples is the principle of self-determination. This principle is well enunciated and recognized as a fundamental right in major human rights instruments, including the United Nations Charter. Similarly, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) states that Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination (Article. 3) and in exercising this right, they have the right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Self-determination is fundamental and must be taken together with Articles 1 and 2 of the UN Declaration because Indigenous Peoples are subject to international human rights law and as Peoples are equal to all other Peoples. These three articles of the UN Declaration confirm that Indigenous Peoples, including children and youth, have the right to make their own decisions and carry them out meaningfully and culturally appropriate to them.

Connected to the provisions of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended, there can be no mistaken the fact of the decades-long violation of the rights of the Original Inhabitants in the FCT. Section 42 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution states that: A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not by reason only that he is such a person (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in practical application of the law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject to.” With respect to the Original Inhabitants, this section of the Constitution and various provisions in international human rights instruments have been repeatedly violated for nearly fifty years. Addressing these injustices through sustainable, lawful and peaceful civic engagements has been the focus of our project of Promoting the Political, Economic and Cultural Rights of Original Inhabitants in the FCT in the last two years.

The UN International Day of World Indigenous Peoples 2023 theme, Indigenous Youth as Change Agents for Self-Determination, aptly depicts the realities of Original Inhabitants’ struggles in the FCT. Our coalition of stakeholders advocating for the promotion and protection of the rights of FCT Original Inhabitants has therefore deemed it necessary to use the opportunity presented by this international observance to celebrate the resilience of FCT Original Inhabitants, while intensifying the advocacy to end the Nigerian State’s violation of their rights. There have been a number of commendable outcomes within two years of vigorous advocacy for the promotion and preservation of the rights of FCT Original Inhabitants, which must be celebrated while the advocacy continues.

Historic Nomination of FCT Indigene As Cabinet Minister
This Coalition acknowledge the unprecedented nomination and successful screening of an FCT indigene, Hon. Zephaniah Jisalo, as Minister-designate. We thank President Ahmed Bola Tinubu for listening to the aspirations of OIs, but we encourage him to go a step further and appoint Hon. Jisalo as FCT Minister to preside over the affairs of his people. This will reduce the feeling of alienation by the Original Inhabitants whose right to elect a governor and state house of assembly has been denied over the years.

Last month, from July 15 to July 21, 2023, the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) led a 12-member delegation of Abuja Original Inhabitants to address the United Nations’ 16th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) in Geneva, Switzerland, on the plight of OIs who face political marginalization, landlessness, statelessness, economic emasculation, and the threat of cultural extinction. The delegation therefore sought the United Nations’ commitments to protect the rights of OIs. The nomination of Jissalo coming at the heel of that journey, is commendable, and it represents a bold first step towards addressing the decades-long injustices, marginalization, and exclusion of the Original Inhabitants whose ancestral homelands were taken over via Military Decree 6 of 1976 to make way for Nigeria’s capital. What this means is that the long-suffering indigenous peoples in the FCT will now have a voice in the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

As such, the Original Inhabitants in the FCT are well within their right to roll out the drums and celebrate this milestone, which is the outcome of a long and tortuous struggle that put the pressure on the political actors to take the necessary step of including Original Inhabitants in a critical governance structure. This coalition therefore commends all community and civil society actors, including men, women, youth and people living with disabilities who came together in one full voice to demand an end to the treatment of FCT Original Inhabitants as second class citizens in their ancestral homelands. The decades long efforts and activism have now ensured that FCT indigenes would stand shoulder to shoulder with compatriots from other parts of Nigeria in making decisions for the good and orderly governance of Nigeria.

Beyond Ministerial Slot, What Next for the Struggle

Given the achievements recorded in the course of the advocacy for the promotion and protection of the rights of FCT Original Inhabitants so far, there could be the temptation for stakeholders to rest on their oars. This coalition however calls on Original Inhabitants and other Nigerians campaigning for their rights to keep up the good fight. The ministerial slot is just one out of the several issues, which constitute the crux of the marginalization and exclusion of the indigenous peoples in the FCT. In the first place, there is the unresolved land question, which borders on the fairness and adequacy of compensation for the lands belonging to FCT Original Inhabitants, which are being taken over by the government. There is also the unresolved question of elected state structure in the FCT to adequately accommodate the interests of the OIS and residents. This is connected to the core principle of free, prior and informed consent as enunciated in Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which makes it explicit that indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

Also, there remains the fundamental question of political representation of FCT Original Inhabitants in the context of the wider need of a democratic sub-national, which will allow FCT Original Inhabitants cater for their social and economic interests. It remains an anomaly that while other Nigerians have the right to vote and elect Governors and members of the State Houses of Assembly, FCT Original Inhabitants are denied this same right. Added to this is the imbalance in the number of legislative seats provided for the indigenous peoples in the FCT. As it stands, FCT remains in the incongruous and unacceptable situation of having only one Senate seat and two House of Reps seats, while other States, even those with less population than the FCT have three Senate seats and scores of House of Representatives seats. Subsequently, the indigenous peoples in the FCT need sincere and far-reaching constitutional and legal reforms, which would address the structural imbalances at the heart of their marginalization and the exclusion from critical governance structures.

Another important point to make is about Nigeria commitments to international treaties and obligations. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the international legal instrument for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” that has been ratified by 196 nations.” Nigeria signed in 1992 and ratified in 1994, but Nigeria at state and Federal levels treat the CBD with contempt. We call on Nigeria to respect her international obligation on CBD. The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 is an International Labour Organization Convention, also known as ILO Convention 169, or C169. It is the major binding international convention concerning indigenous peoples and tribal peoples, and a forerunner of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We call on Nigerian government to take necessary steps to ratify and implement the Convention.

Finally, the Nigerian State, which took over the ancestral lands of FCT indigenous peoples owes them a duty to support the preservation of their cultural treasures and repositories. FCT indigenous peoples have rich and vibrant cultural and art forms, which cannot be allowed to go into extinction. Such cultural treasures and craft forms like pottery, and traditional clothe-making passed down from generation to generation, would be the basis for a flourishing tourism industry, if properly harnessed. These cultural treasures and repositories remain important sources of livelihoods for the indigenous population in the FCT. In this regard, this Coalition takes this medium to warmly invite the general public to the Grand Cultural Rally of the nine tribes and 17 chiefdoms of the indigenous peoples in the FCT taking place at the Old Parade Ground, Garki, Abuja, tomorrow August 9, 2023.


1. Professor Momodu Kassim-Momodu, Chairman, CHRICED
2. Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, Executive Director, CHRICED
3. Professor Ademola Popoola, Chairman, Original Inhabitants Lawyers Network
4. Professor Jamila Nasir, Original Inhabitants Lawyers Network
5. Comrade Wale Adeoye, Journalists Network for Indigenous People
6. Mr. Adetokunbo Oyetunji, Journalists Network for Indigenous People
7. Comrade Festus Yakubu Rhoda, Original Inhabitants Cohort Group
8. Mrs. Faith Nwadishi, Original Inhabitants Cohort Group
9. Ambassador Hannatu Usman Nga, Original Inhabitants Cohort Group

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