Recklessness of Political Governance in and Citizenship of Nigeria: Preventing a Second War of National Unity

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Muhammadu Buhari

Tolitical governance under Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is increasingly becoming reckless, especially under President Muhammadu Buhari. The recklessness is largely characterised by foreign policy remissness and adoption of dishonesty of purpose in the conduct and management of national questions. The recklessness is now to the extent of seriously threatening national unity and security. In fact, protection of national unity means nothing anymore.

Whereas the protection of national unity and interest is believed to be the main focus of every sovereign foreign policy in international relations. This is a common objective to all the Member States of the international community. However, the mania of the protection varies from one country to the other. For instance, when Western European countries especially wanted to impose democracy on Africa, they came up with the conditionality of democratisation as a pre-condition for the grant of development aid during the La Baule Franco-African Summit in France in the early 1990s.

Whenever the national interest of the United States is at stake, the Washingtonian authority uses visa denial, visa restriction or visa cancellation as weapons, in addition to economic sanctions, in order to defend and advance US interests. When Saudi-Arabia’s anti-drug law is violated, it is the sanction of death penalty without room for begging that is always advanced. Also, in an attempt to protect the national character of Sudan, dual nationality is not tolerated. Thus, national interest largely drives the conduct and management of bilateral and multilateral relations. The protection of Nigeria’s national interest cannot be said, stricto sensu, to be taken seriously in international relations. One critical example is the tardiness with which Government is handling the Nigerians on death row in Saudi Arabia. This is foreign policy recklessness, to say the least.

Most unfortunately, too, Nigeria’s national interest is, at best, ill defined. This is in spite of Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari’s theory of foreign policy concentricism and Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji’s further submission on it, that is, ‘constructive and beneficial concentricism. Professor Gambari wanted articulation of spheres of operation for Nigeria’s foreign policy, while Ambassador Adeniji agreed with Professor Gambari but posited that such operational spheres would only be meaningful if the national interests at stake in each sphere are first articulated.

Again, most unfortunately, Nigeria’s foreign policy lacks potency and articulation. Even with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari as current Chairman of ECOWAS Authority, his impact is not felt nationally and regionally. Without doubt, Nigeria’s foreign policy can be reactive but it must not always be. It must not only be a reactive policy of its own. The foreign policy of any vibrant or great nation, especially in the making, must always be anticipatory in design and always protective in defense.

Without scintilla of doubt, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is by far the best Ministry in Nigeria as it is generally the case in developed countries. This is simply because the best skills, the best in knowledge depository, in fact, the best brains are, more often than not, attracted to Foreign Ministries. The nature of diplomacy necessarily warrants this. So the issue is how to explain the where about of the sagacious minds of the Foreign Service Officers? And if the problem is not at the level of the diplomats, what is the problem with the leadership capability of the Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, a former international functionary for that matter? Vie internationale will specially espy this issue later in order to put its understanding in context

Apart from the challenge of foreign policy remissness, there is also the issue of nationality of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the standard bearer of the People’s Democratic Party at the last 2019 presidential election. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar not only contested in the presidential election but also strongly believed that he won the election. This prompted him to seek court redress. In the defense of the INEC-declared winner, President Muhammadu Buhari, his lawyers submitted that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was not even qualified to contest in the presidential election by virtue of the consideration that he is not an eligible Nigerian to contest for the highest office in the land.

Thus, who really is a Nigerian? Which category of Nigerians is eligible to contest for the position of the President of Nigeria? These questions raise the issue of citizenship by rule of ius sanguinis, that is, ‘blood ties,’ as a condition for citizenship. What is the position of the Constitution of Nigeria before 1999 and in the 1999 Constitution as amended?

Political Governance Recklessness and Nigerian Citizenship

The mania of political governance in Nigeria has little or no regard for the governed. Whatever is done or seen by members of Government is considered as correct, but most unfortunately, and more often than not, always far from the truth. Perhaps more disturbingly, when untruth telling is favourable to Government, it is covered up. It is policy of muteness. The politics of the 2019 presidential election, and particularly its aftermath, has the potential to destabilise Nigeria if care is not taken. This cannot but be so with the allegation that Alhaji Abubakar Atiku was not a Nigerian as at the time of independence in 1960. And yet, as a non-Nigerian he was still allowed to register to contest for the 2019 presidential election. Who really is a Nigerian before and after October 1, 1960? Why was he allowed to register to contest if he is known to be ineligible? This is a pointer to the political recklessness we are talking about in the political governance of Nigeria.

As provided in Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended, there are three types of citizenship of Nigeria: citizenship by birth, citizenship by registration and citizenship by naturalisation. The citizenship of Nigeria can be renounced and can also be deprived, especially in the context of dual citizenship. Renunciation of citizenship is at the level of the individual citizen while deprivation of citizenship is by the Government. It is citizenship by registration and by naturalisation that can be deprived by Government. Citizenship by birth cannot be deprived even if the citizen decides to reject it. Citizenship by birth is natural and it is often referred to as the principle of ius sanguinis.

In explaining this principle, Section 25 (1) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution defines a citizen of Nigeria as ‘every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria.’ In this regard, the person must have his parents and grandparents born in Nigeria. The constitution put it this way: ‘provided that a person shall not become a citizen of Nigeria by virtue of this section if neither of his parents nor any of his grandparents was born in Nigeria.’

This definition of a citizen simply emphasises a combination of the principle of ius soli, that is place of birth, and blood descent or linkage to someone who is already a citizen of Nigeria by affiliation to a community before Nigeria acceded to national sovereignty in 1960. The requirement of being a child or descendant of Nigerian parents is the aspect of ius sanguinis. That the Nigerian parents must also belong to an indigenous community raises the requirement of the principle of ius soli.

True enough, citizenship by birth is more important than the other two modes of acquisition of Nigeria’s nationality. For instance, citizenship by registration, as provided in Section 26 of the Constitution, says that, subject to the provisions of Section 28 which deals with the acquisition of dual citizenship, ‘a person to whom the provision of this section apply may be registered as a citizen of Nigeria if the President is satisfied.’ The satisfaction of the president is expected to have been attained if the would-be citizen meets three conditions: good character, intention to be domiciled in Nigeria, and taking the Oath of Allegiance as required in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution,

Two points are noteworthy about the acquisition of Nigeria’s citizenship by registration. The first is the expression ‘a person to whom this Section applies MAY be registered…’ The emphasis is on the word ‘may.’ It simply implies that registration can be refused, especially if the three conditions for satisfying the President are not appealing enough to be acceptable.

The second point is that Section 26 only applies to women married to citizens of Nigeria. This is citizenship by marriage if put differently. This Section is also to accommodate ‘every person of full age and capacity born outside Nigeria any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria.’ In other words, it is to provide for the children of citizens of Nigeria living abroad.

From the foregoing, citizenship by registration is subject to the whims and caprices of the President. The circumstances under which the President can refuse to register the children of citizens of Nigeria born abroad or whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria will be difficult to see. As noted above, citizenship by registration can be deprived while citizenship by birth cannot.

In the same vein, citizenship by naturalisation, as provided in Section 27 of the Constitution, says ‘any person who is qualified in accordance with this Section may apply to the President for the same of a ‘Certificate of Naturalisation,’ if seven conditions are met: if the applicant is of full age and capacity; of good character, has clear intention to be domiciled in Nigeria; acceptable to the would-be local community of residence, especially in terms of assimilation into the way of life of Nigerians; have capacity to contribute to growth and development of Nigeria; has taken Oath of Allegiance; and has ‘immediately preceding the date of his application either resided in Nigeria continuously for a period of 15 years, or resided in Nigeria continuously for a period of 12 months, and during the period of 20 years immediately preceding that period of twelve months, has resided in Nigeria for periods amounting in the aggregate to not less than 15 years.’

The extent of importance of citizenship by birth is well explained not only in the cases of registration and naturalisation but particularly by Article 28 on dual citizenship which says, ‘subject to other provisions of this section, a person shall forfeit forthwith his Nigerian citizenship if, not being a citizen of Nigeria by birth, he acquires or retains the citizenship of nationality of a country, other than Nigeria, of which he is not a citizen by birth.’ In fact, if a person has acquired citizenship of Nigeria by registration or naturalisation and the person is not a citizen by birth of the other country, Nigeria requires an effective renunciation of the citizenship or nationality of that other country by such a naturalised or registered Nigerian within a period of not more than five months from the date of such registration or grant.

The essence of the foregoing is to determine how a citizen by birth or a non-citizen by birth is not only eligible or ineligible to be President of Nigeria, but also how national unity and security is seriously threatened by the same factors of eligibility and ineligibility. This brings us now to the constitutional or electoral code on presidential elections, as the relevant issue at stake is the question of eligibility to contest in a presidential election.

Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates that ‘a person shall be qualified for election to the Office of President if: a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; b) he has attained the age of forty years; c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and d) he has been educated up to, at least, school certificate level or its equivalent.’

This provision was slightly amended on May 31, 2018 when President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law a bill amending the provision of the 1999 Constitution. The new law reviewed the condition of membership of a political party by allowing individuals to stand for State and Federal elected offices as independent candidates. The new law also reduced the age requirement for the Office of the President and Governor from forty to thirty-five years, that of Senators and Honourable Members from thirty-five to thirty years, and that of the House of Assembly from thirty to twenty-five years. The reduction in age requirement has not generated controversy. It is the issue of citizenship by birth as a requirement for eligibility to contest in a presidential election.

PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, contested the election result of the 2019 presidential election and opted to challenge the result in the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal a day before the three-week deadline required by law, meaning that the Tribunal must rule on the case within the next 180 days. And in the event of an appeal against the ruling, the law allows for only 90 days after the initial 180 days for the tribunal’s ruling. His main complaint is that the INEC servers clearly showed that he won the election by a margin of 1.6 million votes and should therefore, on this basis, be declared the winner. As explained by Mr. Emmanuel Enoidem, Atiku Abubakar’s lawyer, the PDP ‘asked that our candidate, who won the election massively across the country be declared the winner of that election’ and that the election be set aside ‘on the ground of irregularities which were very apparent across the country.’ The tribunal heard Atiku Abubakar’s submission on March 6, 2019 and instructed the INEC to allow him access to all electoral materials used for the election.

In reaction to this, President Buhari and the APC argued that Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President, ‘was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa State, which was then in Northern Cameroon, hence he is a citizen of Cameroon… Since Atiku is not a Nigerian by birth, he was not qualified to have contested for the election.’ This argument is predicated on two factors. The first is that Atiku Abubakar’s place of birth was in Northern Cameroon which only came to be part of Nigeria in 1961.

In this regard, President Buhari’s defence lawyers submitted that, as required in Section 131 (a) of Nigeria’s Constitution, ‘a person must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth to be qualified to contest as President of the country.’ In fact, the APC ruling party accused the PDP of presenting a non-citizen as a candidate for the presidency. It asked the Tribunal to declare the 11.1 million votes Atiku Abubakar polled as wasted votes.

From the foregoing, the submissions of the plaintiff and the defence lawyers are conflicting. The issues raised for court adjudication were not addressed. Atiku Abubakar is more concerned about election irregularities and his winning the election. Muhammadu Buhari is more concerned about non-eligibility of Atiku Abubakar to contest the presidential election. Thus, there are two issues to address: who really won the election and how to interpret the non-eligibility of Atiku Abubakar to contest in the presidential election. These are the other two key issues that not only show the recklessness in the political governance of Nigeria but which also have the great potential to destabilise Nigeria for the first time on a permanent basis.

Additionally, the two issues clearly showed the foundation of fraud on which political governance of Nigeria is predicated. The political elite is very fraudulent and selfish by design, reckless in action and very remiss in original political thinking and creativity. Put interrogatively, when did the Government know that Atiku Abubakar is not a Nigerian by birth? If Atiku Abubakar had not taken Muhammadu Buhari and the APC, as well as the INEC to court, would the issue of his non-citizenship by birth ever be raised? What did the INEC consider to have accepted that Atiku Abubakar was qualified to contest? Didn’t the INEC verify Atiku Abubakar’s records? Without doubt, all those who cleared Atiku Abubakar to contest in the presidential election appear to be the most dishonest and sharply corrupt Nigerians. They constitute major obstacles to a vibrant, strong and united Nigeria.

Second, how can it be rightly argued that Northern Cameroon was not part of Nigeria even before 1960? Who has forgotten that Northern Cameroon used to be a UN Mandated territory given to Britain following the end of World War I and that when the United Nations succeeded the League of Nations at the end of World War II, Britain was still given the responsibility to continue to administer Northern Cameroon under the new Trusteeship System? Who has forgotten that Britain administered Northern Cameroon as part of Nigeria? If Britain was not administering Northern Cameroon, and particularly as part of Nigeria, why did Britain hold a referendum in 1959 to ask Northern Cameroonians whether they wanted to join Nigeria on attainment of independence? Who has forgotten that 42,788 people indicated their readiness to join Nigeria and that 70,546 others were not against but only opted to take the decision to join or not to join at a later date, which eventually took place on February 11-12, 1961?

In 1961, majority of the Southern Cameroonians opted to join Cameroon with 233,571 as against 97,741 votes who wanted union with Nigeria. The reason for union with Cameroon cannot be far-fetched: French speakingness. It is also this linguistic factor that also similarly explains why the majority of Northern Cameroonians voted to join Nigeria with 146,296 votes as against 97,659 who preferred union with Cameroon. Put differently, Southern Cameroonians were Francophone while Northern Cameroonians were Anglophone.

When we talk about citizenship of Nigeria by birth, which Nigeria are we talking about? Was it on October 1, 1960 that there was Nigeria? If life as a Nigerian begins in 1960, didn’t the 1960 Constitution allow all non Nigerians domiciled in Nigeria to become Nigerians not to talk about the people of Adamawa? We all know the answers, but we allow excessive political dishonesty to belittle Nigeria.

President Buhari might be right in saying that Atiku Abubakar was born in Jada in Adamawa which later became Sardauna Province of Nigeria. This is the argument of citizenship by ius soli. But why is there silence over the parents of Atiku Abubakar? The father is an indigene of Sokoto and the mother is an indigene of Adamawa, a factor that falls squarely on the rule of citizenship by ius sanguinis? Atiku Abubakar has been a de facto and a de jure citizen of Nigeria by ius sanguinis, ius soli and principle of effectivity as allowed in international law. His public appointments lend credence to this.

If Atiku Abubakar is suddenly not a citizen of Nigeria by birth, implying that all the people born in Adamawa before October 1960 cannot and must never aspire to be President of Nigeria, it simply means that Nigerians are making haste towards self-destruction. Government is entrenching justice selectively and on temporary basis which should not be. Besides, President Buhari cannot be flouting court orders and be also expecting others to comply with his own manu militari-driven rule of law. There is need for great caution, especially in light of the threats of the Conference of Minority Tribes ‘to mobilise its members across the nook and crannies in Nigeria to a street protest should Alhaji Atiku Abubakar fail to tender unreserved apologies to Nigerians, and also return to Cameroon or seek naturalisation in Nigeria. Let the issues of election irregularities be first addressed and let the truth be known. Atiku Abubakar’s alleged non-citizenship by birth is a different matter entirely which can destabilise Nigeria in an unprecedented manner different from the experiences from Biafran conflict.