(I wrote this article in April, 2019. In the end, the Presidential Elections Tribunal agreed with me and went ahead to say the issue was a distraction. Please read on).
I will make this very brief. As brief as possible.
I will begin by adopting the facts as we have them in the public domain. I’m not interested per se in the complexion of the facts, for in a matter like this, ultimately, it is the law that will cause the facts to make sense.
So, the fact out there is that Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa, in Northern Cameroon and is, therefore, a citizen of Cameroon and not a Nigerian by birth, thus not qualified to contest to be Nigerian President.
Is this true?
Now let’s turn to the law to find out what it says about Atiku’s citizenship.
Sections 25, 26 and 27 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulated how a person can become a citizen of Nigeria in any three ways: by birth, registration and naturalization. But note that we are looking at citizenship by birth; only citizens by birth can contest for president.
Section 25 of the Constitution states clearly who is a citizen by birth. It states that:
“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.”
So going by the provision of this section of the constitution and the clear fact that Atiku was born in November 25, 1946 (before independence) in Jada, in the present Ganye Local Government Area of Adamawa State, an area which wasn’t part of Nigeria until February 1961 when the people voted to join Nigeria, you will see that Atiku is not a Nigerian by birth.
But wait. That is not the whole law. The problem is that people are not looking at other sections of the constitution. They are not looking at the whole law, that’s why they are coming to the conclusion that Atiku is not a Nigerian citizen by birth.
Section 309 of the same 1999 Constitution of Nigeria states that:
“Notwithstanding the provisions of Chapter III of this Constitution but subject to section 28 thereof, any person who became a citizen of Nigeria by birth, registration or naturalisation under the provisions of any other Constitution shall continue to be a citizen of Nigeria under this Constitution.”
Please read Section 309 quoted above again. Read it slowly.
Many persons have argued that no section of the 1999 Constitution took cognizance of the citizenship of those who voted in 1961 to become citizens of Nigeria. I agree. But there is nothing to worry about as long as section 309 of the 1999 Constitution is concerned.
The valid question now will be has then been any other Constitution that recognized, defined and determined the citizenship of those who voted in 1961 to become Nigerians?
Yes. There is.
The 1963 Constitution of Nigeria. Section 10. The title of this section is “Special Provisions as to Northern Cameroons.”
The said section 10 of the 1963 Constitution states that:
“10(1) For the purpose of determining the status of persons connected with the part of Northern Nigeria which was not included in the federation on the thirty-first day of May, 1961. The forgoing provisions of this chapter and subsection (3) of section 17 of this constitution shall have effect as if—
(a) for any reference to a particular date they were substituted a reference to the last day of the period of eight months beginning with the day next following that date; and
(b) for any reference to the former colony or protectorate of Nigeria (other than the second reference in section 7) there were substituted a reference to the part aforesaid; and
(c) That other reference included a reference to the part aforesaid
(2) nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall prejudice the status of any person who is or may become a citizen of Nigeria apart from that subsection.”
There it is. Very clear. The 1963 Constitution recognized the plebiscite of the people of Northern Cameroon and then backdated it to before 1st October, 1960 to give them the status of citizens by birth.
So in conclusion:
1. Conceding that Atiku Abubakar was born before independence in an area which wasn’t part of Nigeria; his parents were not from an area indigenous to Nigeria before independence in 1960.
2. Through a plebiscite, the people from the place where Atiku is from voted to be part of Nigeria in 1961.
3. This plebiscite was captured in Section 10, supra, of the 1963 Constitution and backdated to give these people citizenship by birth.
4. Section 309 of the present 1999 Constitution stated that any person who became a citizen of Nigeria by birth under any other Constitution shall remain a citizen by birth under the present Constitution.
5. And since Alh Atiku Abubakar became a citizen by birth under the 1963 Constitution, he is by all intents and purposes and by the ordination of Section 309 of the present Constitution, he is a citizen by birth and therefore eligible to run for the office of the President of Nigeria.
There are other valid defences to this challenge to Atiku’s citizenship by birth, but I will stop here. I trust that his lawyers know these defences already.
May Nigeria Succeed.
First Baba Isa (FBI) is a Legal Practitioner and writes from Abuja.