Citizenship: An Appraisal Under The Nigerian Constitution

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The concept of citizenship commenced with the development of man’s idea about society, state and politics. It is derived from the concept of nationality in International Law.

Citizenship is a domestic affair of every country. Therefore, each country has the prerogative to do the following: define who are its nationals; impose its membership on people; claim and enjoy monopoly of coercive authority over all persons living within its jurisdiction; give protection to its citizens and in return exact obedience from them even when such citizens are in foreign countries.

Citizenship attaches to the person carrying it; the rights and privileges of citizenship attaches to a person both within and outside the domestic province of the country granting the citizenship.

Generally, citizenship has been found to be thrust on people at birth on the principle of descent (Jus Sanguinis) or the rule of place of birth (Jus Soli) or granted to aliens who qualify for and request for same.

Nigeria became an independent state from Britain on the 1st of October, 1960 and it was only then that its nationality became apparent; before the country attained its independence, the people in this country were classified into:

  1. British subjects and citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (if born within the colony of Lagos and its environs).
  2. British protected persons (if born within the protectorates, which comprised the remainder of Nigeria).

Under the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), only one class of nationals are recognised, that is, citizens of Nigeria of whom there are three categories – Citizens by Birth, Citizens by Registration and Citizens by Naturalisation.

Chapter III of the Constitution makes provision inter alia for the grant and withdrawal of Nigerian citizenship. It also prescribed the four methods by which a person may obtain Nigerian citizenship and they are:

  1. By Birth
  2. By Registration
  3. By Naturalisation
  4. Citizenship acquired under any previous Constitution of Nigeria.

It is only the President and the National Assembly that have powers to exercise authority and to legislate on matters relating to citizenship.

Under Section 32(1) of the Constitution, only the President shall have the power to make regulations relating to citizenship of Nigeria under Chapter III of the Constitution. Section 32(2) provides that, such regulations shall be laid before the National Assembly.

Citizenship By Birth

This is citizenship acquired automatically at birth. In Nigeria, a person becomes a citizen by birth merely by the circumstances of his birth. However, birth alone in Nigeria by itself does not confer citizenship as it is the case in most other countries especially the United States of America. In Nigeria, birth must be accompanied with descent from a Nigerian citizen or indigene. This means that, no one can acquire Nigerian citizenship by birth if neither of his parents is a Nigerian citizen.

Section 25(1) of the Constitution recognises three classes of persons who can be citizens of Nigeria by birth. They are:

  1. Every person born in Nigeria before the 1st of October, 1960 (i.e. the date of Nigeria’s independence), either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria, provided that this privilege shall not be enjoyed by such a person if neither of his parents nor any of his grandparents was born in Nigeria.
  2. Persons born in Nigeria after the 1st of October, 1960 either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria.
  3. Every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.

A citizen of Nigeria by birth has an inalienable right which cannot be stripped off by anybody (other than by the citizen) not even the President under any circumstances. He cannot be deported from this country for any reason whatsoever and he has a right to enter into Nigeria without restrictions.

Citizenship by birth has been described as “very tenacious and enduring; and even where it is lost, it does not die away but is dormant and may be regained by reintegration”.

A classical example could be seen in the celebrated case of, Federal Minister of Internal Affairs & Ors. V. Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman (1982) 3 NCLR 915, where the Supreme Court held that, the deportation of a citizen of Nigeria by birth to another country was illegal, a breach of the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution; and that as a citizen, he also enjoyed the right of immunity from expulsion and a right of entry into Nigeria.

Citizenship By Registration

Section 26(1) of the 1999 Constitution has empowered the President to grant Nigerian citizenship by registration to two classes of persons, namely:

  1. Any woman who is or has been married to a Nigerian citizen.
  2. A person of full age and capacity born outside Nigeria and any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria.

The President will only exercise his powers to grant citizenship by registration if he is satisfied that the person seeking Nigerian citizenship,

  • has a good character,
  • has shown a clear intention of his desire to be domiciled in Nigeria and
  • has taken the Oath of Allegiance prescribed in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.

Section 28(2) of the Constitution provides that, before a person is granted Nigerian citizenship by registration, the person must effectively renounce any other nationality or citizenship he may possess other than one by birth within a period of not more than twelve (12) months from the date of such registration as a citizen of Nigeria. This is why the taking of the Oath of Allegiance is made compulsory under Section 26(1)(C) for grant of citizenship by registration and Section 27(2)(f) for grant of citizenship by naturalisation.

Once the Oath of Allegiance has been taken, it makes the registered or naturalised citizen an object of International Law subject to protection by the State of Nigeria or on its behalf within the comity of nations. Such a person can also represent Nigeria in international competitions such as the Olympics. However, such a person is not qualified to be elected as a President or Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The person is also not qualified to be elected as a Governor or Deputy Governor of any state in Nigeria.

However, regarding other elective or appointive offices, Section 307 of the Constitution provides that, the registered or naturalized citizen may only occupy those offices or hold such positions at any time after 10 years of becoming a Nigerian citizen.

Citizenship By Naturalisation

Section 27(1) of the Constitution empowers the President to grant a Certificate of Naturalisation to any person who satisfies the President under Section 27(2) that:

  1. He is of full age and capacity.
  2. He is a person of good character.
  3. He has shown a clear intention of his desire to be domiciled in Nigeria.
  4. He is, in the opinion of the Governor of the state where he is or proposes to be resident, acceptable to the local community in which he is to live permanently and has been assimilated into the way of life of Nigerians in that part of the country.
  5. He is a person who has made or who is capable of making useful contributions to the advancement, progress and well-being of Nigeria.
  6. He has taken the Oath of Allegiance prescribed in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.
  7. He has immediately preceding the date of his application either:

  (a) Resided in Nigeria for a continuous period of fifteen (15) years or

(b) Resided in Nigeria continuously for a period of twelve (12) months and during the period  of twenty (20) years immediately preceding that period of twelve months, has resided in Nigeria for periods amounting in the aggregate to not less than fifteen (15) years.

A person applying to become a Nigerian citizen by naturalisation must comply with the provisions of Section 28 of the Constitution with respect to not possessing in addition to Nigerian citizenship, the citizenship of any other country other than that of his place of birth.

Citizenship by naturalisation is a mere privilege and not a right and thus, may or may not be granted by the President in his discretion even if an applicant has met all the constitutional requirements. Therefore, the power of the President is virtually absolute and cannot be controlled by judicial process or enforceable by mandamus.

Citizenship Acquired Under Any Previous Constitution

Section 309 of the Constitution provides that any person who is a Nigerian citizen by birth, registration or naturalisation under any previous Nigerian Constitution shall continue to be a citizen of Nigeria under the present Constitution.

The implication of this is that, any person who was a Nigerian citizen under the Citizenship Acts of 1960 & 1961 (which supplemented the 1960 Constitution), the 1963 (Republican) Constitution and the1979 Constitution remains a citizen of Nigeria because the citizenship provisions of those Constitutions have been transmitted into the present 1999 Constitution.

Dual Citizenship

A Nigerian citizen by birth can possess the citizenship of another country; but, persons who are Nigerian citizens by registration and by naturalisation cannot possess a dual citizenship. They must renounce the citizenship of any country other than the citizenship of the country of their birth in order to remain citizens of Nigeria.

Loss of Citizenship

The citizenship of Nigeria may be lost in two ways:

  • By operation of Law
  • By deprivation by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Under Section 29(1) of the Constitution, a citizen of Nigeria by birth can voluntarily renounce his Nigerian citizenship if he is of full age at any time when Nigeria is not physically involved in any war and if in the opinion of the President, such renunciation is not contrary to public policy.

Section 30(1) & (2) of the Constitution, has empowered the President to deprive citizenship from a person who is a registered or naturalised citizen under certain circumstances. They are:

  1. If the President is satisfied that within a period of seven (7) years after becoming naturalised the citizen has been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than three (3) years.
  2. If the President is satisfied by official records of court or tribunal or after due inquiry that a person who enjoys the privilege of citizenship by registration or naturalisation has shown himself by act or speech to be disloyal towards the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
  3. If such a person has during any war in which Nigeria was engaged unlawfully traded with the enemy or been engaged in or associated with any business that was in the opinion of the President carried on in such a manner as to assist the enemy of Nigeria in that war or unlawfully communicated with such enemy to the detriment of or with intent to cause damage to the interest of Nigeria.

The powers of the President under the Constitution must not be exercised with abuse; the President must act reasonably and in good faith. He must confine himself to and be guided by the provisions of the Constitution.

Finally, being a citizen of Nigeria bestows full legal capacity on a person, which entitles him to all the rights, benefits and privileges guaranteed by Law. A citizen of Nigeria is entitled to the protection of the state and the citizen has a duty of allegiance to the state.

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