Saturday, December 12, 2015 12:13 pm
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja will, on 17 December 2015, deliver judgement on whether Senator Ben Murray Bruce, having sworn to an oath of allegiance to the United States of America, is qualified to be called, and occupy the office of a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Justice Abdul Kafarati, the trial judge in an originating summons filed by one of the contestants in the Bayelsa East Senatorial District election, Chief Anthony George Ikoli SAN, has been asked to determine whether a man with a dual citizenship, who swore to an oath repudiating his citizenship of the country of birth can aspire to become a Senator of the same country, particularly Nigeria under section 66 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
This suit is capable of determining the fate of several Nigerians that have voluntarily acquired citizenship of other countries. It particularly took to task sections 28(1) of the constitution which states thus: “Subject to other provisions of this section, a person shall forfeit forthwith his Nigerian citizenship if, not being a citizen of Nigeria by birth, he acquires or retains the citizenship or nationality of a country, other than Nigeria, of which he is not a citizen by birth”.
Section 66(1)(a) provides thus: “No person shall be qualified for the election to the Senate or the House of Representatives if, 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 to such a country”.
Also before the court is the “Naturalization oath of allegiance to the United States of America which states thus: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereign, 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 noncombatant 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”
Chief George – Ikoli SAN has approached the Federal High Court to determine the issue of Bruce dual citizenship and the naturalization oath of allegiance he swore to the US. Chief George- Ikoli is the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Bayelsa State. He is also the grandson of foremost nationalist, Ernest Ikoli, and the immediate past Attorney General of the state under the governorship of Timipre Sylva.
Bayelsa East Senatorial district comprises three local governments namely Brass, Nembe, and Ogbia Local governments. Four people contested for the senatorial slot. They are Bruce, George-Ikoli, Madam Irene Digitemi, and Mr Nelson Belief. The leadership of the PDP at the state had allegedly prevailed upon other candidates to step down for Bruce on account of his closeness to President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Originating Summons filed before the Court by Chief George-Ikoli seeks the court to determine the following issues:
Whether having regard to the combined provisions of Sections 66(1)(a) and 28(1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), an aspirant for the elective office of the Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who whilst voluntarily acquiring the citizenship of another country (that is the United States of America) and in the process of which he (the aspirant) declares on oath, the absolute and entire renunciation of citizenship of and allegiance and fidelity to Nigeria can without more be eligible and seek election to the office of Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
Whether an aspirant to the elective office of the Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who has declared under oath, that “he will support and defend the constitution of the United States of America, and he absolutely and entirely renounces and abjures all allegiance and fidelity to every prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, (including the Federal Republic of Nigeria) of whom or which he was heretofore a subject or citizen” is eligible by the clear provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended);
Whether a citizen of the United States of America whose citizenship is voluntarily acquired by subscription to the “Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America” and which oath absolutely and entirely abjures allegiance to a foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which he was heretofore a subject or citizen is eligible by the plurality of the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to contest for the elective office of Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
Whether the third defendant is not wrong to accept the nomination of the first defendant by the second defendant as its nominee for election to the office of Senator representing Bayelsa East Senatorial District at the forth coming 2015 National Assembly elections in view of the renunciation of the citizenship of Nigeria by the first defendant’s subscription to the absolute, unconditional and entire oath of allegiance of the United States of America;
Whether the first defendant having voluntarily subscribed to the absolute oath of allegiance to the United States of America and acquired its citizenship is not hereby ineligible to contest for the office of Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
And Whether the second defendant Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) is not wrong to present the first defendant (Ben Bruce) as its candidate for the election to the office of Senator representing Bayelsa East Senatorial District.
In a 15 paragraph affidavit deposed to by Chief George-Ikoli, he alleged that after the primary elections at which he came second, he undertook independent investigations of the entire process leading to the primaries and discovered that the first Bruce had disclosed in the affidavit he deposed to in INEC form C.F 001 that he had voluntarily acquired the citizenship of the United States of America and owes allegiance to that country.
He stated further: “I was shell shocked to know that the third defendant cleared the first defendant to run for Bayelsa East Senatorial District election when it is apparent on the face of the affidavit that he had voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria”. He therefore asked the court to declare that the candidature of the first Bruce suffers legal disability, and therefore an order disqualifying him from contesting the Bayelsa East Senatorial District elections. The suit which was filed on March 20, 2015 is yet to be assigned to a judge.
However, in a counter affidavit in opposition to the originating summons, Ben Bruce averred that “I am a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by birth and still remain one despite being naturalized in the United States of America. He further averred that “no interest of the plaintiff and any of the defendants have been endangered by my being declared winner of the election and returned as the senator-elect for Bayelsa East Senatorial District”.
Also, in a preliminary objection filed by Ben Bruce lawyer, Chief Bayo Ojo SAN, the defendants stated that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit and that the “suit as constituted does not disclose any course of action, nay, reasonable cause of action against the first defendant.”
In his address, Chief Ojo argued that the combined reading of both sections 28, and 66 of the constitution is to the effect that a “Nigerian citizen (other than a Nigerian citizen by birth) who acquires or retains citizenship of another country (of which he is not a citizen by birth) is disqualified from contesting for the office of Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Any other interpretation will defeat the intention of the law makers and will bring about manifest absurdity”
But lawyer to George-Ikoli, Mr Dele Adesina SAN insisted that the plaintiff has raised “very concrete, serious, and fundamental constitutional issues bothering on the interpretation of the provisions of the constitution”.
He said: “The plaintiff (George-Ikoli) has complained that there has been an infraction on the mandatory provisions of Section 66 of the constitution and has sought the intervention of this honourable court to remedy the situation; that the first defendant (Ben Bruce), a citizen of Nigeria by birth and of US by voluntary acquisition, breached the provisions of Section 66 when he participated in the second defendants’s (Peoples Democratic Party) primaries of December 2014; that the third defendant (Independent National Electoral Commission) failed to comply with the provisions of the same section when it approved the qualification of the first defendant; and that if the first defendant has been disqualified by the second and third defendants in accordance with section 66, the plaintiff would have been the rightful candidate of the second defendant in the elections, having come second in the primaries”.