…as tribunal sacks Ondo lawmaker with Nigeria-UK citizenship
Judgment can’t stand, say SANs
Lawan not losing sleep –Associates
Gbajabiamila, others decline comments
The Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan; the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, and several other lawmakers risk losing their seats following a recent ruling by an Ondo State Election Petitions Tribunal, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.
The tribunal on July 31, 2019, sacked Mr Ikengboju Gboluga, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party representing Okitipupa/Irele Federal Constituency of Ondo State for having dual citizenship and thereafter ordered that Mr Albert Akintoye of the All Progressives Congress be issued the Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The tribunal headed by Justice Nuhu Adi ruled that Gboluga was not eligible to contest the 2019 National Assembly election, having admitted in his INEC Form CF001 that he had “voluntarily acquired the citizenship of the United Kingdom” and had sworn allegiance to the country.
The judgment was based on Section 66 of the 1999 Constitution which states in part that, “No person shall be qualified for election to the Senate or the House of Representatives if: (a) subject to the provisions of section 28 of this constitution, he has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria or, except in such cases as may be prescribed by the National Assembly, has made a declaration of allegiance to such a country.”
Investigations by Sunday PUNCH showed that of the 109 senators, four admitted in their INEC forms on oath that they had voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country.
However, top sources told one of our correspondents that the figure could be much higher, adding that most of the lawmakers in this category either had the United States or UK citizenship, noting that the lawmakers were not born abroad but became citizens by naturalisation, that is, swearing the oath of allegiance to these countries.
They include Senate President Lawan, who represents Yobe North senatorial district; Senators Opeyemi Bamidele of Ekiti-Central; Teslim Folarin, representing Oyo Central; and Ibrahim Bomai of Yobe South.
In his form CF001, Bamidele said he was a US citizen and had also sworn allegiance to the country.
Responding to a question on whether he had voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country, Bamidele answered, “Yes, the United States of America where I was granted political asylum.”
When asked if he had indeed sworn allegiance to the USA, he replied, “Yes. I was granted political asylum by the USA.”
In his own form, the Senate President admitted that he had never changed his nationality in the past but admitted that he had voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country and had sworn allegiance to the same country.
Lawan, however, refused to disclose the country. It, therefore, remains unclear why INEC accepted the form from him since it had been stated that one must disclose the country.
Oyo-Central lawmaker, Folarin, admitted that he had voluntarily acquired the UK citizenship and had sworn an oath of allegiance to the country.
Senator Bomai of Yobe-South also admitted in his form that he had voluntarily acquired the citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda, an island nation in the West Indies in the Americas, lying between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Bomai, however, said on oath that he never “made a declaration of allegiance” to the country.
In the case of the Speaker, Gbajabiamila, he also noted in his INEC form that he had acquired the citizenship of the US.
Sunday PUNCH learnt that in the oath of allegiance for all persons who voluntarily acquire US citizenship, a person must pledge 100 per cent loyalty to the country.
However, parts of the oath are modified for religious and mental reasons.
It said, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform non-combatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
In the case of the UK, the oath stated, “I, (Insert full name), do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”
Judgment can’t stand –SANs
Meanwhile, lawyers, especially senior advocates of Nigeria, have reacted to the judgment with some saying the judgment could not stand.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ahmed Raji, said the judgment sacking the legislator for holding dual citizenship of Nigeria and the UK would not stand.
He said, “I don’t know the facts of the case. But if I understand and still recollect the provisions of the constitution and some decided authorities of the higher courts, it would seem that that judgment cannot hold water.
“I believe that an appeal to the Court of Appeal will put things in the proper shape. So, all I will say is that anyone who is aggrieved is encouraged to go on appeal.”
Also reacting, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Wahab Shittu, said, “The first thing to say is that our courts are not Father Christmas; they don’t make an order unless someone asks for it. If there are members of the National Assembly who hold dual citizenship, we cannot condemn them because their cases have not been tested in court. No one has invoked the jurisdiction of the court to challenge them.
“As for the Ondo lawmaker, who was sacked on the basis of dual citizenship, the question is: Is the decision of the tribunal consistent with constitutional provisions? My answer is yes. The lawmaker cannot hold such office while he has allegiance to another country.
“But we cannot on that basis generally condemn members of the National Assembly until the jurisdiction of the court is invoked.”
But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, said the tribunal’s decision was wrong.
He said, “The tribunal is clearly wrong; the tribunal got it all mixed up. You cannot say because a man naturalises, he ceases to be a Nigerian. That decision may be correct if the man in question renounces his Nigerian citizenship upon naturalising. I don’t want to go into details because the case is already on appeal.”
Affected APC, PDP Reps react
Speaking with Sunday PUNCH on Friday, the APC candidate for the Okitipupa/Irele House of Representatives poll, Albert Akintoye, said INEC had given him the certificate of return.
Akintoye, however, noted that Gboluga had approached the Court of Appeal in Akure to overule the tribunal.
He stated there was nothing wrong with a Nigerian holding dual citizenship but argued that the moment a Nigerian swears an oath of allegiance to another country, he ought not to hold any public office.
The lawmaker said Section 66 of the constitution had stated categorically that swearing an oath of allegiance to another country disqualifies one from holding a legislative office.
He said he was aware that many lawmakers also had dual citizenship but said not all of them would have sworn an oath of allegiance
Akintoye said doing so was grounds for disqualification, hence the decision of INEC to put such questions in its forms.
He said, “There are many people that hold dual citizenship. It is allowed and if there are many of them in the House, nobody has put it in writing.
“There is a form that you fill: have you taken an oath of allegiance in another country? What most people fill is ‘no’ but in the column, he (Gboluga) put yes.
“They also ask you: what country? He said ‘the United Kingdom’ and the document is with me; I took it to court. If it is in Nigeria that you hold dual citizenship, good. But let any Nigerian that wants to contest confess that he has taken an oath of allegiance in Nigeria; they will disqualify him.”
The lawmaker said he would not be intimidated by the fact that Gboluga had hired legal juggernauts like a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Wole Olanipekun (SAN) ,and other senior lawyers.
He said he was hopeful that the Appellate court would not be intimidated and do the right thing.
When contacted, Gboluga said the matter had already come up for hearing at the Appellate court and judgement would be delivered soon.
He, however, refused to comment further, saying, “I don’t know you personally and I don’t feel comfortable talking to you.”
Senate President not losing sleep over dual citizenship —Associates
…Gbajabiamila, other decline comments
An associate of the President of the Senate said Lawan was not scared of losing his seat over his dual citizenship status.
He also said nobody had taken him to court over the issue.
The associate, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said the Senate President had never feared a possible litigation over the issue.
The source said, “We are not involved in any case that has to do with dual citizenship. Anyone planning such against us now will fail.
“The President of the Senate is a Nigerian. He has always been a citizen of this country. So, I don’t know why anybody will come now and prove otherwise.”
Meanwhile, another associate of Lawan said, “Who told you that the Senate President has a dual citizenship status and that he actually filled in that information in his records with the INEC?
“I have no idea of the Senate President filling in dual citizenship in his forms at the INEC. Our constitution is very clear on the issue of dual citizenship. INEC didn’t make it an issue.
“I am sure no tribunal would have asked any Nigerian with another country’s passport not to contest an election. I am familiar with the Electoral Act and the constitution. At the time we are trying to enjoin more Nigerians resident abroad to come home and be part of nation-building, do you think INEC would be discouraging Nigerians with dual citizenship from participating in the electoral process?
“I am sure the Ondo State tribunal verdict was not delivered purely on the issue of dual citizenship. It could form part of the verdict but it would definitely not be the major consideration for annulling the lawmaker’s election.”
Attempts to speak directly with Lawan, through his official spokesperson, Mr Ola Awoniyi, were not successful. Phone calls and messages sent to him via WhatsApp had yet to be responded to as of the time of filing this report despite indications that he read them.
Gbajabiamila, who was said to have remained in Saudi Arabia where he went on Hajj, also declined to speak on his citizenship status.
When contacted through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Lanre Lasisi, he simply said, “We have no comment.”
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Bamidele, did not also respond to enquiries sent to him on the issue.
Similarly, senators Folarin and Bomai, did not respond to questions put across to them on the issue.
Neither of them responded to the calls and text messages sent to their mobile phones as of the time of filing this report.