Association of 
Nigerian Scholars 
for Dialogue

Dual Citizenship in Nigerian Constitution
Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC
117 Pebble Creek Road
Columbia, SC 29223


1. It is currently legal in Nigeria to hold dual citizenship (also referred to as dual-nationality). This policy was approved in the early nineties by General Ibrahim Babangida who was then then Head of State, after an exhaustive investigation and committee recommendation. When this policy was enacted into law by way of decree, thousands of Nigerians resident abroad became dual citizens or "came out of the closet." Some prominent Nigerian athletes were in this category.

2. Abrogating the policy now, after it has been in effect for six years, will cause untold hardship and very severe social consequences. It reimposes a restrictive immigration policy that undercuts the development strategy suggested by the Vision 2010 committee - one that should be "people centred, broad-based, self-reliant, market-oriented, highly competitive and private sector driven with the government as the proactive enabler. At all times, the well being of all the people should be the overriding purpose of governance and the economy."

3. To begin with, a Nigerian who holds US and Nigerian passports, for example, would have to decide which one to return. If he/she returns the Nigerian passport, Nigeria loses a citizen and his/her link to his/her family becomes more distant and bureaucratic. His/her children born abroad into an advanced economic and technological society will lose their right to Nigerian citizenship and become more distant [as if it is not hard enough already]. Citizenship (for self and family) is something many Nigerians who are based abroad for economic reasons cherish extremely strongly and emotionally.

4. Such an outcome would violate not only the principles of citizenship of Nigeria's constituent ethnic nations but also breach the principles of citizenship that are practiced in Great Britain, the European nation that colonized Nigeria and whose legal usages inform Nigerian jurisprudence. One can be a citizen by birth, naturalization or parentage. Children of inter-ethnic marriages in Nigeria are considered citizens of both their maternal and paternal ethnic groups, even though patrilineal considerations dictate inheritance rights in most cases. Children of 'same-ethnic' marriages retain their ethnic identity and recognition no matter how long they stay away in a foreign land. In pre-colonial Benin, for example, families who spent decades as traders in Akure, Ijebu, Lagos or far-away Portugal, always retained the right to return to their family homes in Benin, even if they had changed their names. Similar principles apply to other ethnic groups in the country. In the event of death of a parent, for example, customary law recognizes the children and their role in funeral rites no matter what passport they are holding. Primordial family ties, ranking and land-tenure rights do not change simply because of passports. Similarly, in British passports, there is a clause that states that 'acquisition of a foreign nationality or citizenship by a British national does not imply loss of British nationality'. If neither the laws of the imperial nation-state, from whose colonization Nigeria acquired its jurisprudence, nor customs of the ethnic entities that currently comprise Nigeria consider dual-citizenship as illegal, why should the Nigerian state design a constitution that is at variance with these traditions?

5. It is important to point out that the process of going from 'green card' to 'passport' is not reversible. If any affected Nigerian women or men were to return their US passports, they would not be entitled to get their permanent resident visas (green cards) back. The immediate consequence would be deportation. Affected individuals would be placed on a 'security list'. Those who have security clearance because of sensitive jobs in academia, US industry and government (e.g., NASA) will lose such clearance. Those in academics will also lose certain Government grants for research and may be removed from certain administrative positions. Those in business who need to make quick international trips to sign business deals without the hassle of visas and airport harassment will lose their edge. Both the US and Nigeria would lose out ultimately.

6. There are thousands of Nigerians (possibly well over a million)  in this category, holding important positions in foreign countries that could be of great benefit to the country if the Nigerian Government knows how to harness its opportunities. Only recently, the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C., for example, began the process of collating the number of Nigerian professionals in the United States, including what they are doing and how they might be of benefit in helping Nigeria out of its short and long term problems. General Abdulsalam Abubakar himself seems to be very sensitive to this matter and has appealed to Nigerians abroad to bring their expertise and money to bear on the development of the country. Making dual citizenship illegal will contradict the Head of State's intent and send the wrong message.

7. Many individuals who were educated in Nigeria under the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th National Development plans are in this situation. They have gone on to acquire more education and know-how and remain in tune with developments in advanced countries at little cost to Nigeria which still retains the right to tax them and demand military service if necessary - rights that would be lost if they stopped being citizens of Nigeria. There are also economic benefits of reverse investment of precious foreign exchange into the Nigerian economy, officially and unofficially by well endowed Nigerians holding dual citizenship. If the threatened constitutional clause is allowed, such Nigerians would then become limited by laws that govern 'foreign' investment in the country at a time when the country actually needs all the assistance it can get. Would it not be better in the long run to have dual-citizen participation in joint ventures rather than outright management by foreigners?

8. Another aspect that is not appreciated enough is the potential utility of dual citizenship as a tool to appeal to the West African diaspora abroad, particularly those who left our shores captives against their will. Just as an example, in the 17th and 18th centuries, Bonny alone was shipping up to 20,000 slaves abroad annually. Why do we not have a 'law of return' that allows those who are so inclined to take national interest in our country and others in the ECOWAS subregion? Such a policy exists in the Scandinavian countries and in Israel, among others. A foreigner with provable Finnish roots, for example, need only stay six months as a resident to qualify for citizenship under the law of return. Japanese emigrants in Peru and other Latin American countries have similar provisions. Is there any doubt what the benefits to Japan are to have a Japanese descendant as President of Peru today? If a Nigerian descendant were to become Vice-President of the USA in the future, would we not want to exploit those ties for our economic benefit? Such an outcome would be a foreign policy bonanza.

9. It cannot be over-emphasized that the impact of 'foreign-based' dual-citizen Nigerians can be harnessed in political, technologic, socio-cultural, economic, ecologic, environmental and sporting arenas. Their role in sports is self explanatory. If the proposed changes were in effect during the World Cup, for example, most players in the Nigerian team would not have been able to play for Nigeria. The same goes for the Olympics. Many Third World countries have come to see the advantages of dual-ditizenship and have, therefore, approved it as a matter of national policy. Mexico, a country which shares many similarities with Nigeria, is one prominent example.

10. Based on the concerns discussed above, it is my respectful recommendation to the honorable Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee (CDCC) that dual-citizenship should continue to remain legal in the 1999 Nigerian constitution. To de-legalize it (as suggested in the Sani Abacha draft Constitution) would be a big mistake.

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