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The ways in which citizenship can be acquired in Nigeria
Christian B Denton
City Law Associates, Lagos
Since the dawn of man, people have been migrating from their place of origin to different settlements, settling there and becoming a part of the community. In the globalised world we live in today, many people move to different jurisdictions and acquire citizenship of the countries they have settled in. Sometimes, they visit another country with no intention of settling there but to give birth, in order for their offspring to acquire citizenship of the country.
According to Justice Wetson in Lavoie v Canada,‘citizenship is a juristic and political status in which an individual enjoys full, legally sanctioned membership in a state and owes full allegiance to it’. Citizenship is a status that is legally granted to an individual by a state which enables said individual to enjoy the privileges and responsibilities that comes with that status.
There are three ways in which citizenship is acquired in Nigeria. They are:
- citizenship by birth;
- citizenship by registration; and
- citizenship by naturalisation.
Citizenship by birth
- Individuals that are born in the territory of Nigeria after 1 October 1960 that have at least a parent or grandparent who belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to the geographical location known as Nigeria. Communities indigenous to Nigeria include Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani, Igbo, Kanuri, Erik, Urhobo, Kanuri, Erik, Ibibio, Itshekiri and many others. This subsection lays emphasis on the word ‘indigenous’ to Nigeria, which means that you must have blood ties to Nigeria.
- Individuals born outside of Nigeria whose parents or grandparents were or are citizens of Nigeria are eligible to apply for citizenship of Nigeria by birth. This subsection deals with citizenship by birth via descent.
It is important to note that under this section it is impossible for a person to claim Nigerian citizenship by birth if none of their parents nor grandparents were born in Nigeria. You must have blood ties in order to be a Nigerian citizen by birth.
Citizenship by registration
This category of citizenship is covered under Section 26 of the Nigerian Constitution. An individual could be issued a certificate of citizenship of Nigeria if they satisfy all of the following conditions:
- The person is of good character. The candidate requires two persons to testify before this statement; one of them should be a religious minister.
- The person expresses and shows a clear desire to be resident in the country. This can be done by fulfilling residency requirements necessary to qualify as a citizen.
- The oath of allegiance to Nigeria, which is provided by Schedule 7 to the Nigerian Constitution, has been administered on the person. The oath of allegiance is administered by a representative of the government in a citizenship ceremony.
The Nigerian Constitution also provides for the following individuals under Section 26(2) of the Constitution to be a Nigerian citizen by registration:
- A woman who is married to a man from Nigeria. The Constitution does not state the same for a man who is married a woman from Nigeria, due to the patriarchal nature of the society.
- Where the individual's grandparents are from Nigeria and the individual has grown to a capacity and approved age. This is strictly for those who are descended from Nigerian grandparents and wish to register themselves as citizens once they have attained the age of consent and are not mentally incapacitated.
Citizenship by naturalisation
Another means of citizenship in Nigeria is citizenship by naturalisation. Section 27 of the Constitution makes provision for this, provided certain requirements are met subject to Section 28 of the Constitution. If the person is confident that they meet the following requirements, a written application is then made to the President applying for a certificate of naturalisation. The requirements are as follows:
- The applicant must be of full age and capacity (aged 18 and above).
- The person is of good character. A minimum of two people are needed to testify to this statement; one of the parties should be a religious minister.
- The person must have shown a clear desire to be resident in the country and the person has to fulfil the residential requirements needed to become a citizen.
- The person should be capable of contributing to the wellbeing of Nigeria and its citizens – for example, the individual is a taxpayer and an actual member of society.
- The governor of the state of the host community where the person applying for citizenship wants to reside has to confirm the willingness of that community to accept that individual into their fold.
- The individual has been administered the oath of allegiance prescribed in Schedule 7 to the Constitution.
- The person must have lived in Nigeria continuously for a period of 15 years preceding the application date. A person who has lived continuously for a duration of 12 months in Nigeria, then over the next 20 years lived in Nigeria intermittently for periods totalling not less than 15 years can also apply if they fulfil the other requirements.
Section 28 of the Constitution makes it clear that a person who intends to acquire Nigerian citizenship by registration or by naturalisation must first renounce citizenship of other countries they may have acquired previously, except citizenship of a country acquired by birth. If a non-Nigerian wishes to be a citizen of Nigeria by registration or naturalisation, they must not retain any previous citizenships unless it was acquired by birth.
The Nigerian Constitution explicitly makes provisions for individuals that want to obtain Nigerian citizenship to do so through a well-laid-out procedure. Acquiring citizenship in Nigeria is less stressful than in other jurisdictions, where the requirements are much stricter and individuals have to go through many rigorous steps and invest a huge amount of money.
It should be noted, however, that the Nigerian Constitution forbids Nigerian citizens by registration and naturalisation to hold citizenship of another country other than their country of birth.