Over the weekend, the All Progressives Congress boldly claimed that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Presidential Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party in the just concluded General Elections, is not a citizen of Nigeria by birth and ought not to have even been allowed in the first place to contest the election. This position has since caused endless controversies and serious uproar in the media. Since the matter might set a perilous precedent if left unattended to, we have found it pertinent to make a resolution of some of the key legal issues arising therefrom.

In a constitutional democracy, the different ways by which citizenship can be acquired are clearly stipulated in the constitution. By virtue of Section 25, 26 and 27 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2011 as amended, a person can become a citizen of Nigeria by one of the three ways: by birth, registration and naturalization. Since the fulcrum of this discussion is on citizenship by birth, the two other methods of acquiring citizenship will not be discussed in details.

Section 25 of the Constitution provides thus: The following persons are citizens of Nigeria by birth, namely-
(a) 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;
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.
(b) every person born in Nigeria after the date of independence either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria; and
(c) every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.
(2) In this section, “the date of independence” means the 1st day of October 1960.

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President Muhammadu Buhari and former vice president Atiku Abubakar

It will amount a truism to say that the above constitutional provision can be easily appreciated by a mind unpolluted with political prejudices. In fact, the Supreme Court in Shugaba v. Minister of Internal Affairs (1981) 1 NCLR 459 gave judicial approval and interpretation to that particular section.

The next issue to be determined therefore is, owing to Atiku’s ancestral link with Northern Cameroon, can he be said to be “born in Nigeria before the date of independence”? Can it also be said that his parents or grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria?

Before answers are given to these sacrosanct questions, let it be said that for our laws to be properly understood, an appreciation of the history before the advent of that particular law or that which led to the promulgation of such a law must be taken into consideration. On this issue, too, a quick sojourn into the history of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his people must be embarked on.

Atiku was born November 25, 1946 (before independence) in Jada town in Adamawa and an indegine of the same town. As Premium Times reported, Jada used to be in Ganye Local Government Area of Adamawa State. THIS AREA WAS NEVER PART OF NIGERIA LEGALLY UNTIL THE FEBRUARY 1961 PLEBISCITE where the people of the then Northern Cameroon voted to join Nigeria. Atiku’s father was from Jada Village of the old Northern Cameroon.

Can someone born before independence outside Nigeria in a community not indigenous to Nigeria become a Nigerian by birth? NO! But, the case of Alhaji Atiku is different. After the plebiscite that made Northern Cameroon part of Nigeria in 1961, all the people of Northern Cameroon, whether born before or after 1960 are now seen as Nigerians and all those communities therein are indigenous to Nigeria. Therefore, the legal implication of the 1961 plebiscite is that all communities of “British Cameroon” are deemed to be communities indigenous to Nigeria. In fact, the people in Northern Cameroon were not part of the Republic of Cameroon but were a geographical territory controlled by the British Colonial masters.

To buttress the argument canvassed above, Section 10 of the 1963 Constitution is to the effect that all those that became Nigerians by virtue of the February 1961 plebiscite are deemed to be citizens of Nigeria by birth and their communities are indigenous to Nigeria.

From the above, thus, it requires little or no imagination to detect that Atiku and infact anyone from those communities that joined Nigeria by plebiscite in 1961 are citizens of Nigeria by birth. Consequently, they can eligibly run for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under Section 131(a) of the 1999 Constitution and any political office whatsoever without any hindrance once other constitutional requirements are met.

Lord Denning has long said that words are not instrument of mathematical precision. Our courts have consistently posited that where the strict application of the plain, ordinary and grammatical meaning of words used in legislation will amount to absurdity, inconsistency and miscarriage of justice, the court should modify the words with a secondary meaning that are capable of bearing. Okeke v. A.G. Anambra State (1992) 1 NWLR 60. Several factors are put into consideration in the interpretation of law. If by any means the application of the plain letters of law to a set of fact will amount to absurdity or miscarriage of justice, the court of justice will be quick to reject such an evil attempt and stand on the firm side of law i.e. justice.

An attempt to twist history for the satisfaction of political prejudices should not be allowed to stand. If votes of those “affected” areas can be counted as valid in elections, if those areas are recognized by the Constitution under Section 3, if revenue can be generated from that same area, why then should they be treated as aliens in their country? This is brewing another crisis in the country. The engine behind this controversy should watch it!

Very soon, the downtrodden masses shall prevail over the enemies of this country.

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