Questioning Atiku’s citizenship
The citizenship of former Vice President, Abubakar Atiku as being contested by the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is not a new low in politics but a dangerous one.
The APC in reaction to a petition by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its presidential candidate, Abubakar Atiku, praying the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to declare Atiku as the lawful winner of the presidential election, has weaponised the birther allegation.
The APC’s lead counsel, Lateef Fagbemi, faulted the candidacy of Mr Abubakar in the election, claiming that the PDP candidate was a Cameroonian and not a Nigerian citizen, adding that his petition against President Muhammadu Buhari should be dismissed for lack of merit.
The party averred that Atiku was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa, in Northern Cameroon and was therefore a citizen of Cameroon and not a Nigerian by birth, therefore has no right to be voted for as a candidate in the election to the office of president of Nigeria.
Atiku’s citizenship had earlier been questioned by separatist leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, had in February released broadcast in which he claimed Atiku was a Cameroonian.
Section 131(a) of the Constitution stipulates that a person must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth to be qualified to contest for the office of the President.
The former vice president has vowed not to respond to the allegation. A statement by his media adviser, Paul Ibe, stated that such “ridiculous defence” from the APC to his statistical claims “shows to Nigerians the type of characters we have in the APC and its government, whose legitimacy runs out on May 29, 2019”.
Atiku further added that, “The fact that the APC chose to base its defence on the ridiculous assertion that the Waziri Adamawa is not a Nigerian should show to Nigerians the type of characters we have in the APC and its government, whose legitimacy runs out on May 29, 2019.”
Nigerian nationality laws confer citizenship on every person born in Nigeria after the date of independence, October 1, 1960, whose parents or grandparents were born in Nigeria and who were legally residing in Nigeria at the time.
The constitution also grants citizenship on every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.
Apart from citizenship by birth, section 26. (1) of the constitution allows for citizenship by registration and by naturalisation.
To qualify for naturalisation, a person must be of full age (17) and expected to have resided in Nigeria for a continuous period of fifteen years; is of good character, plans to remain in Nigeria, is familiar with Nigerian language and customs, has a viable means of support, and has renounced previous citizenship.
While most countries are seeking to highlight their borderlines to avoid systemic incursion by neighbours, the political class in Nigeria are shamelessly blurring our boundaries for political gains.
The constitution is very clear on who a citizen is. Political parties must therefore thread carefully in tackling their differences and avoid putting to question the nationality of a whole group while going for an individual.
Reports show that Atiku Abubakar was indeed born in a territory that was then not part of Nigeria, however the territory and its people are all Nigerians now. It is therefore reckless of the APC to unconsciously allot the territory to Cameroun. Though relinquishing of territory goes beyond speechmaking, the claims against Atiku may make indigenes of Jada feel disconnected from Nigeria.
Already the country is divided along ethnic lines we must be careful not to further divide the people for political gains by questioning the Nigerianess of a people over others.
We must remind the APC that Abubakar Atiku did not only serve as a former Vice President of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007, but that he was also elected as the governor of Adamawa in 1999 before he was picked by President Olusegun Obasanjo to be his running mate.
The Wazirin Adamawa also served in various capacities in the civil service, where he rose to the top of his career.
It is rather appalling that a man who has exceeded the 15 years required in attaining citizenship and with businesses scattered across the country will be so renounced all in the name of politics.
If eventually the tribunal upholds the APC prayers and disqualifies Atiku on the bases of his citizenship, then INEC, and indeed the Buhari led government must explain to Nigerians how a foreigner is allowed to contest elections in Nigeria.