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Like Atiku, Like Shugaba Darman

                              
“If you laid all of our laws end to end, there would be no end.” – Mark Twain It has been widely acclaimed by many Nigerian legal luminaries, erudite scholars and pundits that we have adequate or more than enough laws to address all of our contemporary challenges. Virtually, there is no aspect of human endeavor that is not covered by laws, except for emerging fields and dynamics of time. In the last few weeks, Nigeria’s version of the infamous Barack Obama birther scandal broke out on the political scene. However, unlike that of the United States, our own variant was not propounded and promoted by right wing and white supremacist conspiracy theorists. Ours came from very unexpected quarters, from the mainstream as opposed to fringe elements of society. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), filed its defense at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, arguing that the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who is challenging the election of President Muhammadu Buhari, is not a Nigerian citizen by birth. The party contended that the Trust Territory where Atiku was born, only became part of Nigeria in 1961 after the United Nations plebiscite. APC therefore claimed that Atiku was not qualified to stand election for the office of the president and that his case at the tribunal is statute barred. The ruling party centered its argument on the provisions of sections 131 and 25 of the 1999 constitution which are reproduced herein under: (131) “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth.” (25) Section states that: “(1a-d) 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. In my earlier article titled, “Like Atiku, like Shugaba Darman” last week, I referred to a constitutional alteration bill which was sponsored by Hon Barrister Ibrahim Tukur El-Sudi, a former Attorney General of Taraba state, in the 7th Assembly. Unsuccessfully, he sought to provide for the inclusion of citizenship by plebiscite in the 1999 constitution which, according to him, was omitted in both the 1979 and 1999 documents, even though it was captured in the 1963 constitution. Barrister El-Sudi who represented the affected areas in the House of Representatives and is a lawyer with about 30 years post call experience, was worried that his people may face challenges in the future. Significantly, the bill scaled through all legislative processes in both the Senate and House of Representatives, including public hearings which were conducted in all the 360 Federal Constituencies, 109 Senatorial Districts and was capped with a national public hearing at the National Assembly. In the same vein, the bill was also transmitted to the 36 States Houses of Assembly and was subjected to scrutiny at that level, where more than 24 out of 36 state assemblies voted to pass it. In retrospect and in the light of new facts, there was no need for El-Sudi’s proposed amendment in the first place. Specifically, the present constitution has provided for it already. I got to know this through El-Sudi himself. After reading APC’s court filings and my earlier article, he revisited the matter. By El-Sudi’s own account, he sequestered himself, dusted off his law books and the 1979 and 1999 constitutions and read them from cover to cover. In the end, he found the needle in the haystack and he immediately telephoned to intimate me of his discovery. According to El-Sudi, his fears and those of people from the affected area were misplaced as they have been allayed by the framers of the 1979 and 1999 constitutions. In particular, a clause which adequately captured the issue that affects citizenship by plebiscite has taken care of whatever misgivings they had nursed. El-Sudi said that if he had known of the existence of the said clause, he wouldn’t have sponsored the bill because it has now turned out to be a mere academic exercise. Indeed, contrary to our earlier postulations, it has now emerged that there is no lacuna in both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions as to the citizenship of the people of the Trust Territory. Specifically, section 268 of the 1979 constitution under “Transitional Provisions and Savings”, succinctly addressed the issue. The section read thus: “Notwithstanding the provisions of Chapter III of this Constitution but subject to section 26 thereof, any person who became a citizen of Nigeria by birth, registration or naturalisation under the provisions of any other Constitution shall continue to be a citizen of Nigeria under this Constitution.” Similarly, the 1999 constitution being almost the exact replica (copy and paste) of the 1979 constitution, provided the same clause in section 309, also under the same heading of “Transitional Provisions and Savings”. The section states thus: “Notwithstanding the provisions of Chapter III of this Constitution but subject to section 28 thereof, any person who became a citizen of Nigeria by birth, registration or naturalisation under the provisions of any other Constitution shall continue to be a citizen of Nigeria under this Constitution.” Given the above, it is now clear that APC’s reply or argument before the Election Petition Tribunal that Atiku Abubakar is not qualified to run for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is dead-on-arrival because it is borne out of ignorance. As former Justice of the US Supreme Court Louis Brandeis said, “Behind every argument is someone’s ignorance”. In any case, ignorance is not an excuse in law, more so in a landmark case like this one which is about retrieving the mandate of Nigerians. – Hassan is the Special Adviser (Media & Public Affairs) to the Speaker of the House of Representatives

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