PM News Nigeria
Is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar a Nigerian by birth, eligible under the constitution to contest for the presidency?
Justice Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja has fixed 4 May for the hearing of arguments over this question, that will determine Atiku’s political future, especially as 2023 is just by the corner.
Atiku, who ran in 2019 is expected to throw his hat once again in the ring. But suit FHC/ABJ/CS/177/2019 may end the ambition.
The case filed in 2019 before the last election, came for hearing on 15 March, before Justice Ekwo adjourned hearing till 4 May.
But left to Nigeria’s chief law officer, Abubakar Malami, Atiku should forget 2023.
Atiku is not a Nigerian by birth, Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) said in a deposition before the court.
Suit FHC/ABJ/CS/177/2019 was filed by the Incorporated Trustees of Egalitarian Mission for Africa (EMA).
The EMA citing sections 25(1) &(2) and 131(a) of the constitution and the circumstances surrounding Atiku’s birth, claims Atiku is not eligible to contest for the top office.
The issue was raised by the legal team of President Buhari, in a reply to Atiku’s challenge of Buhari’s reelection in 2019.
But now, Malami is saying pointedly that Atiku having not been born a Nigerian or by Nigerian parents, and having not met the provisions of Sections 25(1) &(2) and 131(a) of the Nigerian Constitution, would be violating Section 118(1)(k) of the Electoral Act should he put himself forward as a candidate.
The AGF in documents filed by a team of lawyers led by Oladipo Okpeseyi (SAN), said: “The first defendant (Atiku) is not qualified to contest to be President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The first defendant is not a fit and proper person to be a candidate for election to the office of president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The first defendant was born on the 25th of November, 1946 at Jada, at the time in Northern Cameroon. By the plebiscite of 1961, the town of Jada was incorporated into Nigeria.
“The first defendant is a Nigerian by virtue of the 1961 plebiscite, but not a Nigerian by birth. The first defendant’s parents died before the 1961 plebiscite.”
The AGF argues that the effect of the 1 June, 1961 plebiscite, was to have the people of Northern Cameroon integrated into Nigeria as new citizens of the country, even after Nigeria’s independence.
“This qualified all those born before the 1961 plebiscite as citizens of Nigeria, but not Nigerian citizen by birth. Consequently, only citizens born after the 1961 plebiscite are citizens of Nigeria by birth.”
He cited provisions of the 1960, 1963, 1979 and 1999 constitutions and noted that the “reasoning of the lawmakers in ensuring that the persons to be the President of Nigeria is a citizen of Nigeria by birth is because such a person is the number one citizen and the image of the Nigerian state.”
The AGF argues that, where it was revealed that a person was born outside Nigeria before Nigeria’s independence in 1960, in a location which was never part of Nigeria until June 1, 1961, as it was in this case, such a person would not claim citizenship of Nigeria by birth.
“This is even more so where his parents do not belong to any tribe indigenous to Nigeria until their death. The facts of his (Atiku’s) birth on the Cameroonian territory to Cameroonian parents remain unchallenged.
“At best, the first defendant can only acquire Nigerian citizenship by the 1961 plebiscite. The citizenship qualifications under Section 26 and 27 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), by implication, has limited the first defendant’s privileges or rights and cannot be equal or proportional to the privileges of other citizens who acquire their citizenship status by birth.
“This would include the legal preclusion of the first defendant from contesting for the office of the President of Nigeria.
The AGF says that the only situation where Atiku could have acquired Nigerian citizenship by birth under the 1999 Constitution was if both or either of his parents and grandparents were Nigerian citizens by birth.
He adds that another way would have been “if either his parents had become Nigerian citizen by virtue of Section 25(1) of the 1999 Constitution, which must be in compliance with Sections 26 and 27of the same constitution.
“With no concrete proof of compliance, we submit that the first defendant cannot contest election to the office of the Nigerian President.”
Section 26 contains the process of obtaining citizenship by registration, while Section 27 provides for the process of obtaining citizenship by naturalisation.
The AGF argues that Atiku may have committed an offence under Section 118(1)(k) of the Electoral Act, when he contested election in 2019.
However, Atiku and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are contesting the birther claim.