By Kenneth Ikonne
Anyone arguing that Atiku is not qualified to run for president on the ground that the place of his birth, Jidda, was not part of Nigeria at the time of Atiku’s birth in 1946 should go and carefully read section 25(1)(C) of the Constitution. Section 25(1) provides as follows:
“The following persons are citizens of Nigeria by birth, namely –
C. every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.”
Note that section 25(1)(C) uses the word “is” instead of “was” or “were”.
So, assuming either of Atiku’s parents was alive in 1961 when Jidda, their village, became a part of Nigeria by plebiscite, that parent became Nigerian, and their offspring, though born outside Nigeria, became automatically Nigerian by birth. And if in the contemplation of the subsection Atiku as at 1961 or any other time had become a “Nigerian by birth”, would the subsequent death of his parents take away a status Atiku had already acquired?
Section 25(1)(C) must be given a purposive construction. In other words, what the subsection is telling you is that if Nigeria grants citizenship by naturalization to a Lebanese, all his children, though born outside Nigeria, are automatically Nigerian “citizens by birth!” And those children would not cease being “citizens by birth” even after the death of their parents.
The correct interpretation of the subsection is that while Atiku’s parents may arguably not have qualified to contest the Nigerian presidency, not being citizens by birth, however, any child of theirs, whether born in Nigeria or outside of Nigeria, is a citizen by birth, within the contemplation of section 25(1)(C) of the Constitution, and is thus eminently qualified to run for the highest office in the land. To hold otherwise is to do grave violence to the spirit and intent of the subsection.
Kenneth Ikonne is a Nigerian Attorney based in Abuja.