Being a Nigerian is something that we need to value more than ever. But we have always placed humankind above homeland. We are internationalists, first and foremost, without ceasing to be patriots. And our people’s overwhelming support for dual citizenship is not only a source of pride for us but a greater privilege than ever to be Nigerian. Love of homeland, mother, isn’t ridiculous love of the land or of the grass under our plants; it is invisible hatred of those who oppress it, eternal animosity towards those who attack it. We have very great esteem – not for the land, this isn’t love of the land – and love for our people who live in this land.
Most worldwide immigration laws require citizenship by birth; citizenship by descent; and citizenship by naturalization. But in 1981, the British broke ranks and introduced the law of citizenship by parentage. Under this law, any person born by one or two British parents is a British citizen. Under the parentage-based citizenship system, the person’s place of birth does not determine his citizenship. For example, a person born anywhere in Britain is not a British citizen, unless his father or mother or both are British citizens. But if he were born in Britain or elsewhere by one British parent, he is a British citizen. The U. S has also adopted the parentage-based citizenship law. Under this law, any person born overseas by an American citizen and a foreign national, he is an American citizen. The law is designed to accommodate U. S. soldiers and other Americans serving overseas.
In the case of Nigeria, the only condition required for citizenship is for a person to be born by one or two Nigerian parents, regardless of the place of birth. That is, if a person were born in Nigeria, he is not a citizen unless one or two parents are Nigerians. On the question of multiple citizenship, the parentage-based citizenship system does not want to know how many citizenships a person holds and how he obtains them; it only wants to know whether the person’s father or mother or both are Nigerians. And citizenship should be revoked only when a person applies in writing to abandon his Nigerian identity; or when he collaborates with foreign forces and takes up arms against Nigeria.
For us, homeland means the people, and we have tremendous, ever-growing admiration for our people, because our people constantly improve. Sometime back, our people would have never supported or called for the idea of dual citizenship. Dual citizenship is becoming more common in our increasingly interconnected global economy. Many countries are now seeing the advantages of dual citizenship and are liberalizing their citizenship laws – India, the Philippines and Mexico are recent examples.
It has the advantages of broadening our country’s economic base by promoting trade and investment between the dual citizens’ respective countries. And it would appear to be a waste of time to prohibit dual citizenship because so many of our people are today dual citizens. But the government doesn’t know it and has no means to know and to stop it. So why try to stop the unstoppable?
Of course, opponents of dual citizenship have their arguments. They say it is dangerous for Nigeria because it can lead to conflicting dual loyalties. This is not true. This overblown fear is based on two misconceptions: first, that those with dual citizenship represent misplaced loyalties that are bad for Nigeria, and second, that their ties to the countries of birth are something new. But in reality, dual citizenship benefits Nigeria by helping to promote our country’s interests around the globe. It promotes Nigeria’s understanding of and connections to the world, to our own benefit economically and politically, and removes practical obstacles to naturalization.
I am adding my less articulate voice to these two clarion calls for change, in part because after much consideration of my own circumstance, I would not personally avail myself of dual citizenship were it offered. Having the option of dual citizenship would be a good change for Nigeria, and for many thousands of her children, however it wouldn’t affect me much one way or the other here on the other side of the world. The economic benefits would be significant, while the electoral risk would be quite small given the relatively small numbers and widely divergent politics of potential voters in the Diaspora.
In many advanced democracies – like the United States – those who travel at public expense cannot get away so lightly. Legislators in particular have to make their travel expenses available for public scrutiny. They have to say who is picking the tab even of their hotel bills when they are on foreign tours. In Britain recently, MPs were forced to pay back money they had illegally spent from the public purse for what were strictly private matters.
Complaints related to forged as well as doctored passports have been heard for quite some years now. One would have thought the matter had been taken care of by now and Nigeria’s citizens could be assured of a system that would not place them in any embarrassing situation abroad. Unfortunately, reports from our embassy in Lisbon, more specifically from the ambassador, speak of the tenuous state in which many of our citizens that travel abroad in search of employment land often themselves. They either have in their possession passports that are essentially not theirs or have entered the host countries on visas that clearly do not suit their status or overall intentions. In other words, what is happening in such cases is the growth of a condition where it is not merely individuals but an entire nation, ours that is, and a whole government, again ours, which are being pushed into a vulnerable state. There can hardly be any denying that such a situation can only put the country s diplomatic missions abroad in a state of consternation, especially since the host governments make it a point to consult the missions every time they detect wrongdoing on the part of our citizens.
Increasingly, Nigerian politicians on either side of the political divide have one foot here and the other in some other country; for an emergence escape in case he is declared -WANTED! The Opposition has several of its front-liners with their immediate families abroad running two homes all year round. As our spectators at the April 2010 “nigeria4betterrule” forum says the US has already written to some asking if they are interested in pursuing their citizenship and at least one of them has already taken steps to re-consider his citizenship status in the US.
Notwithstanding all this, is the question as to what signals are sent to the ordinary citizen when its political leaders have only one foot in their native land, and their families are sent abroad to further their nests. Questions have been justifiably raised whether it is even proper for people who have dual-citizenship to sit in Cabinet – or hope to sit in a future Cabinet and to decide on the state policy of one nation. One day, the concept of national sovereignty may be a thing of the past; but that day is not today, yet. The US has for so long, used Nigeria as a soft target (unlike a puppet state) to test its ‘leverage’ in world political dynamics. Historically, too, when Nigeria nationalized the American oil companies back in the 1960s, the US imposed sanctions on Nigeria in the 1990s, but did not do so for other countries.
Let there be no mistake about the fact that there happen to be airports around the world where Nigeria passports can sometimes lead to a rather irritating kind of scrutiny on the part of immigration. For an arriving Ibinabo whose surname remains Onome; it is an unexpected situation, one that he or she cannot do anything about. It is a situation that has been brought about by the numerous instances of how our passports are forged or tampered with by unscrupulous elements at the passport office in Lagos as well as in some of our missions abroad. It should have been for the ministry o
f home to crack down on the ring, or rings, involved in the whole scam.
Just how serious the situation is can be deciphered from a recent this government statement asking all our citizens staying in South Korea without valid documents to return home before the Seoul authorities cracked down on them. When one adds to that the many difficulties which our citizens, either through design or the duplicity of others, have lately faced in Malaysia, we have a pretty composite picture of the huge fraud that has been going on in the passport industry. But so far we have not heard of any action in the passports and immigration department against the officials and employees involved in such scandals. As for our embassies and high commissions abroad, there have been fairly regular reports of how corrupt elements in the consular sections enrich themselves through assisting in the fraudulent activities of some of our people when in fact they should have taken strong measures against their illegal acts. Low level officers at the mission consular wings have been known to pursue affluent lifestyles through their dark deeds and yet nothing could be done about such corruption because of the strong political links they maintain on home ground in Lagos.
Nigeria, though critical, is indeed looking forward to a good-governance which would be pro-poor, pro-transparency and people-friendly. We thought this being the last chance of the present government and perhaps also of the current administration, the performance of the Acting President; Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, would be properly assessed. We expected that the repositioning would clearly indicate the implementation strategy of this government goal so that MDGs are achieved on schedule. In particular, the people of Nigeria hoped to know from an experienced economic planner the impediment on our way out of politics, the perception of challenges of the economy, especially the pervasive corruption that is eating Nigeria vitals. Nigerians will not tolerate yet another unrealistic, pro-rich and non-transparent administration with enough rooms for corruption, particularly in development part of it.
Conservative members of the security lobby may be harder to convince. Old soldiers, those who, “have faded away,” understandably may have associated Diasporas with revolutions and invasions, because all too often Diasporas populations are participants in such violence, victims and perpetrators alike. Such emotional associations can be misleading however, much like dismissing all metal edged tools as dangerous weapons, and thus missing out on the benefits of scalpels and combine harvesters. The Nigerian Diaspora does not in my experience display any of the characteristics of revolutionary exiles bent on capturing power by force or otherwise. The only real consensus opinion that I can detect is that everyone who speaks up wants to help “Back Home” as much as they are able, and most are already doing so in their own fashion and by their own means.
It should not surprise us if one of these days foreign governments actually decide that Nigeria’ s citizens will not be allowed into their territory on employment because of the bad passport and visa-related record of a few. We can do nothing if these governments detect forged or doctored documents in the possession of our citizens. Lest that horrible moment come to pass, it should be for our government to step in firmly and exercise its political and moral authority against the bad apples in its passport basket.