By Turaki Hassan
On January 24, 1980, in the heydays of the administration of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigerian immigration officers, acting on an order from the then Minister of Internal Affairs Bello Maitama, arrested and summarily deported the Borno State (Borno+Yobe then) House of Assembly Majority Leader, Alhaji Abdurahman Shugaba Darman to Chad Republic on the pretext that the government had discovered that he was not a Nigerian but a Chadian.
Alhaji Darman was a politician of note and very charismatic, a man who attracted and wowed large crowd at political rallies due to his oratory and stout criticism of the NPN regime. He was also a grassroots man and stalwart of the opposition Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP) and seen as the de factor governor, due to his influence in the government. The old Borno state was the stronghold of the GNPP while the federal government was controlled by NPN.
While Darman was cooling his heels in a Chadian village, his political party, the GNPP instituted a legal action, challenging his illegal deportation. In its defense, the federal government brought an old woman who claimed to be the mother of Alhaji Darman. The woman testified that she was the biological mother of Darman and wept profusely, claiming that she wanted her lost son back to his fatherland of Chad. In his defense, Darman denied ever knowing the woman, insisting that his mother was alive and lived in Maiduguri and was a well known person.
In the end, the court revoked Darman’s deportation order and even awarded to him, the sum of N350,000 damages. The government also lost the appeals in both Court of Appeal Kaduna and the Supreme Court.
The deportation, the court case and the drama that ensued made Alhaji Darman a hero and popularized him, such that the case became authority in law -Shugaba Darman Vs Federal Government.
Almost 40 years after, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is threading the same ignoble path. It appears that Nigeria is the only country on earth where lessons are never learnt. APC’s submission to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal that former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is not a Nigerian, is laughable.
Atiku was born in Jada Adamawa state, did all his education in Nigerian schools, was in the Nigerian Customs Service for 20 years, until he retired as the second in command, was presidential aspirant of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1992, was elected governor in 1999, and was Vice President for eight years. For all the over 70 years he has lived in Nigeria, nobody, no one has ever raised issues with his citizenship until now and it came from a very unlike and unexpected quarters-The APC-Nigeria’s ruling party. Wonderful. If not that the APC stated this in a court filing, one will have taken it for a joke, even at that, a very expensive one.
Definitely, this is not a joke, it is a very very serious issue and maybe, a deportation order might have already been signed by Interior Minister Abdurahman Danbazau, ordering that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar be deported to Cameroon. So, while he cools his heels there, his legal challenge of President Muhammadu Buhari’s election would be statute barred, as argued by APC in the court filing.
Section 131 of the 1999 constitution provides for qualifications to the position of the President which states that: “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth.”
Thus, the APC is arguing that since Atiku is not a Nigerian citizen by birth, he was not qualified to run for the office of the President of Nigeria and as such does not have the locus standi to even challenge the results of the presidential election. Coming from the ruling party, this should not be taken lightly. Nigerians should give it all the needed attention because what the APC is saying is that the area where Atiku came from is not part of Nigeria even as at today or they have limited rights and privileges unlike the rest of us.
This is a very dangerous path that the party is threading- it is setting a negative and bad precedent which may eventually lead to dismemberment of Nigeria.
The APC hinged its case on section 25 of the 1999 constitution which deals with citizenship by birth. To be qualified to run for the office of a Governor or President one must be a citizen by birth while those who acquire their citizenship through naturalization can only contest for other positions, other than the two mentioned.
Section states that: “(1) The following persons are citizens of Nigeria by birth-namely-
(a) every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria;
(b) Provided that a person shall not become a citizen of Nigeria by virtue of this section, if neither of his parents nor any of his grandparents was born in Nigeria.
(c) every person born in Nigeria after the date of independence either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria; and
(d) every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.
(2) In this section, “the date of independence” means the 1st day of October 1960.
Indeed, the framers or drafters of the 1999 constitution, which is a replica of the 1979 constitution, omitted the issue of citizenship by plebiscite. The 1963 constitution captured but it was omitted in the 1979 and 1999 documents. This is the lacuna the APC is capitalizing on to advance its case.
“The man who saw tomorrow “
In the 7th Assembly, Hon Barrister Ibrahim Tukur El-Sudi, a one time Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice in Taraba state, sponsored a Constitutional Amendment Bill to address this defect or lacuna. The bill scaled through and even got more than 2/3rd of votes from the states houses of assembly but unfortunately former President Goodluck Jonathan refused to sign the entire amendment into law.
Honorable El-Sudi had then argued that one day a “busy-body may wake up “and deny them the right to run for the office of the president or even that of governor of Taraba state and here we are today.
As at today, the areas affected include some parts of Cross Rivers state, four Local Governments in Adamawa, five in Taraba and about six in Borno states. They were the places where the United Nations conducted the plebiscite in 1961 and opted to be part of Nigeria while southern Cameroon voted to remain in Cameroon.
Section 10 of the 1963 constitution clearly defined and recognized citizenship by plebiscite and accorded them all rights and privileges as citizens by birth under “Special Provisions as to Northern Cameroons”. The section states thus: “For the purpose of determining the status of persons connected with the part of Northern Nigeria which was not included in the Federation on the thirty-first day of May, 1961, the foregoing provisions of this Chapter and subsection (3) of section 17 of this Constitution shall have effect as if –
(a) for any reference to a particular date where there were substituted a reference to the last day of the period of eight months beginning with the day next following that date; and
(b) for any reference to the former Colony or Protectorate of Nigeria (other than the second reference in section 7) there were substituted a reference to the part aforesaid; and
(c) that other reference included a reference to the part aforesaid.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall prejudice the status of any person who is or may become a citizen of Nigeria apart from that subsection.
Regrettably, APC is blinded by its quest for political power and is playing dangerous politics with such a sensitive issue, not minding the grave consequences and the inherent dangers it portends. Unwittingly, what the ruling party seeks to do may open a gateway for dismemberment of Nigeria and secession of the Trust Territory from Nigeria. Under the United Nations Charter, any plebiscite that is conducted must be duly registered with the UN for it to be recognized. Unfortunately, the 1961 plebiscite was never registered which legally and technically rendered it invalid.
If the courts rule in favour of the APC and shuts out Atiku, it will surely lead to agitations for secession from citizens of the affected areas and with the Ambazonia crisis in the English speaking Southern Cameroon raging, it will only be a matter of time before they align and join forces to chart a common future for themselves. APC is playing with wild fire.
Hassan, is the Special Adviser on Media & Public Affairs to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and can be reached on twitter via @turakies