By Shola Abayomi.
The Ondo State Election Petitions Tribunal, on July 31, 2019, nullified the election of Ikengboju Gboluga, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representing Okitipupa/Irele Federal Constituency of Ondo State for having dual citizenship.
Mr Gboluga was declared ineligible to contest the 2019 National Assembly polls, having admitted in his INEC Form CF001 that he had “voluntarily acquired the citizenship of the United Kingdom” and had sworn allegiance to the UK.
The ruling by the tribunal was predicated upon Section 66 of the 1999 Constitution which states that, “No person shall be qualified for election to the Senate or the House of Representatives if: (a) 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 of allegiance to such a country.”
The Sunday PUNCH reports that of the 109 senators in the 9th Senate, four had so far admitted in their INEC forms on oath that they had voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country. The figures could however be much higher, as most of the senators are believed to either have the UK or US citizenship through naturalisation.
The four senators who have admitted to voluntarily acquiring the citizenship of another country include: Senate President Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North), Sen. Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti-Central), Sen. Teslim Folarin (Oyo Central) and Sen. Ibrahim Bomai (Yobe South).
Senator Opeyemi Bamidele had earlier admitted to have acquired US citizenship and sworn allegiance to the country because he was granted political asylum in the United States.
The Senate President, Lawan, had also in his form acknowledged voluntarily acquiring the citizenship of another country and sworn allegiance to the same country. He, however declined revealing the country in his form, even though INEC rules demand disclosure of the country.
Senators Folarin of Oyo Central and Bomai of Yobe-South both admitted to voluntarily acquiring citizenship of the UK and Antigua and Barbuda respectively.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, also disclosed in his INEC form that he had acquired the citizenship of the United States.
The oath of allegiance for all persons who voluntarily acquire US citizenship, states that a person must pledge 100 per cent loyalty to the United States.
Speaking on the nullification of the Ondo State lawmaker, Ikengboju Gboluga’s election for acquiring dual citizenship, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Wahab Shittu, who spoke to Sunday Punch said: “The first thing to say is that our courts are not Father Christmas; they don’t make an order unless someone asks for it. If there are members of the National Assembly who hold dual citizenship, we cannot condemn them because their cases have not been tested in court. No one has invoked the jurisdiction of the court to challenge them.
“As for the Ondo lawmaker, who was sacked on the basis of dual citizenship, the question is: Is the decision of the tribunal consistent with constitutional provisions? My answer is yes. The lawmaker cannot hold such office while he has allegiance to another country.
“But we cannot on that basis generally condemn members of the National Assembly until the jurisdiction of the court is invoked.”
Another lawyer, Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) berated the ruling by the tribunal.
“The tribunal is clearly wrong; the tribunal got it all mixed up. You cannot say because a man naturalises, he ceases to be a Nigerian. That decision may be correct if the man in question renounces his Nigerian citizenship upon naturalising. I don’t want to go into details because the case is already on appeal”, he said.
It remains uncertain the trajectory of the Appeal Court ruling on the matter. Nonetheless, Senator Ahmad Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila appear momentarily unperturbed but will monitor the case quite closely.