Atiku Abubakar: a Nigerian by referendum?

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By Chris Akiri

THE raging controversy, ineptly distilled in the ever-busy brewery of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 23, 2019 presidential election, is a Nigerian, ‘not by birth but by referendum’, is needless and diversionary. The allegation is one of the responses to the PDP’s petition filed against the trio of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC at the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal that Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate and his party, the APC, had ‘stolen’ his (Atiku’s) mandate. According to this weird allegation, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who has made more socio-economic, cultural and political contributions to the development of Nigeria than most Nigerian politicians (dead or alive), was ineligible to contest the presidential election, in the first place.   

Listen to the APC’s legal team at the Tribunal:

“Recall that in 1961, a plebiscite organized by the United Nations was held in the British controlled part of Cameroon (British Northern and British Southern Cameroons). The referendum was to choose between joining a self-governing Nigeria or re-unification with sovereign Cameroon. On February 12, 1961, the results of the plebiscite were released and British Northern Cameroons joined Nigeria while the southern part voted for re-union with the Republic of Cameroon. Our dear Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946 in Jeda situated in the then British Northern Cameroon. He was born a Cameroonian. Atiku is a Cameroonian citizen by birth and became a Nigerian by referendum…(and) section 131(a) of the 1999 Constitution clearly states that ‘a person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President of Nigeria if he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth…’” (without more).

We do know, from history, that Atiku Abubakar’s father, Mallam Garba Abubakar, was of Sokoto provenance, while his mother, Aisha, Garba’s second wife, was from Jada, in Adamawa Province of the old Northern Cameroon, now in Adamawa State of Nigeria. Section 25 (1) (c) of the 1999 Constitution (as altered) provides that every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria is a bona fide Nigerian. The ludicrous thing about this allegation is that the respondents have completely veered away from the pith and marrow of the case before the Tribunal onto an extraneous path. When Nigerian politicians find themselves in a cu-de-sac, they are wont to intuit strange stratagems to extricate themselves from the trammels of their self-inflicted problems.

Thus, when the late President of Nigeria’s Second Republic, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and his team were confronted with a sharp-witted and charismatic political opponent, Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman, a co-founder of the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP) and whose activities they feared were deleterious to the survival of their party, they wove spurious allegations of non-citizenship against him, declared him a prohibited immigrant and deported him to Chad vi et armis. Suffice it to say that the High Court in Maiduguri, the Court of Appeal in Kaduna and the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Shugaba Darman and awarded damages against the Shagari Administration. Today, Shugaba Darman v. The Minister of Internal Affairs & Ors. (1980) (a cause celebre) is the law against such bare-faced chicanery.

Assuming, without conceding, that Atiku Abubakar is “a Nigerian by referendum, not by birth”, as alleged by the APC legal team, shall we imagine that the plebiscite of 1961 robbed all the citizens of the former British trust territory of Northern Cameroon of their birthrights for choosing to become part of Nigeria? If so, why did Nigeria and its 1999 Constitution allow Atiku Abubakar, a prominent midwife of the Fourth Republic,  to become Vice President and Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007 in spite of section 131 (a) of the Constitution? The entire country and the grundnorm of the Nigerian legal system slept on their rights against the popular Latin maxim, vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt (the law aids those who are vigilant, not those who sleep upon their rights)? Is dawn just breaking? the Urhoboman and the Yorubaman would ask.

ALSO READ: 3 reasons that make Nigerians wonder whether Atiku hacked INEC servers

Atiku Abubakar was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada in the then Northern Cameroon. Assuming, again, without conceding, that Atiku’s father was not from Sokoto Emirate, after the plebiscite of 1961, when British Northern Cameroon plumbed to be part of Nigeria, he surely acquired all the rights and privileges of a Nigerian. The section 131 (a) on which the APC team disingenuously leans its case, is in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, drafted as Decree No. 24 on the 5th of May, 1999, thirty-eight years after Atiku and his mother became Nigerian citizens, with all the rights, privileges and duties appurtenant to the citizenship of Nigeria!

Section 36 (8) of this same Constitution warns against retrospectivity when it provides that:

“No person shall be held to guilty of a criminal offence (read, including civil matters) on account of an act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for any criminal offence heavier than the penalty in force at the time the offence was committed.”

Between 2008 and 2012, several American racial bigots questioned the presidential eligibility of Barack Obama who, they claimed, was not a “natural born” citizen of America. It didn’t matter if one of his parents was a US citizen. The scores of litigants against Obama claimed that he was born in Kenya; others that he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, before it became an American State. The US Judiciary (from County Courts to the Supreme Court) fulminated against the controversy generated by conspiracy theorists, “who would have us derail the democratic process by invalidating a candidate whom millions of people voted for and who underwent excessive vetting during one of the most hotly contested presidential primaries in living memory”. Accordingly, the US Supreme Court ruled that the case of the roaring jingoists was “frivolous and not worthy of discussion.”    

Let us imagine (without conceding) that a person born in a British trusteeship in Northern Cameroon) in November, 1946 (fourteen years to Nigeria’s Independence), who became a Nigerian citizen in 1961, is unqualified to be President of Nigeria, could we have cited section 131 (a) of the 1999 Constitution (if it existed then) against the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as being ineligible to contest for the President of Nigeria because he was a Nigerian by amalgamation? Dr. Azikiwe was born in November 1904, at Zungeru, a town that was in a country that was yet to be called Nigeria until 1914, when the North and South of this country were consolidated. Using the APC analogy, would it be correct to bedaub the following political stalwarts as Nigerians by amalgamation, not by birth? Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and former Premier of Northern Nigeria, born in 1910 in Rabah, in Sokoto Emirate (four years before that Emirate became part of a united Nigeria) and Obafemi Awolowo, born in 1909 at Ikenne, in Oduduwaland, a country in West Africa, five years before his place of birth became Nigeria in 1914, when Lord Dealtry Frederick Lugard amalgamated the two Protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria?

The two Protectorates in Nigeria, like the eleven trust territories (including Northern Cameroon) under the administration of the United Nations Trusteeship Council, were administered as an entity (same country) with the same rules. It is, therefore, uncalled for to separate the corporate identity of a British Protectorate from that of a British Trust Territory.     

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