A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja will on 17 December deliver judgement on whether Ben Murray Bruce, having sworn an oath of allegiance to the United States of America, is qualified to occupy the office of a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Justice Abdul Kafarati, the trial judge, in originating summons filed by one of the contestants in the Bayelsa East Senatorial District election, Anthony George Ikoli, has been asked to determine whether a man with a dual citizenship, who swore to an oath repudiating his citizenship of the country of birth can aspire to become a Senator of the same country, particularly Nigeria under section 66 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The suit is capable of determining the fate of several Nigerians that has voluntarily acquired citizenship of other countries. It particularly took to task sections 28(1) of the constitution which states thus: “Subject to other provisions of this section, a person shall forfeit forthwith his Nigerian citizenship if, not being a citizen of Nigeria by birth, he acquires or retains the citizenship or nationality of a country, other than Nigeria, of which he is not a citizen by birth”.
Also before the court is the “Naturalization oath of allegiance to the United States of America,” which states thus: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereign, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
Gavel International had exclusively reported in June that the dual citizenship of Mr Murray Bruce may become a subject of litigation. George – Ikoli has approached the Court to determine the issue of Bruce’s dual citizenship and the naturalization oath of allegiance he swore to the US. George- Ikoli is the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Bayelsa State. He is also the grandson of foremost nationalist, Ernest Ikoli, and the immediate past Attorney General of the state under the governorship of Timipre Sylva. The leadership of the PDP at the state had allegedly prevailed upon other candidates to step down for Bruce on account of his closeness to President Goodluck Jonathan.
In a 15 paragraph affidavit deposed to by George-Ikoli, he alleged that after the primary elections at which he came second, he undertook an independent investigation of the entire process leading to the primaries and discovered that the first defendant had disclosed in the affidavit he deposed to in INEC form C.F 001 that he had voluntarily acquired the citizenship of the United States of America and owes allegiance to that country. He therefore asked the court to declare that the candidature of the first defendant suffers legal disability, and therefore an order disqualifying him from contesting forth coming Bayelsa East Senatorial District elections. The suit which was filed on 20 March is yet to be assigned to a judge.
However, in a counter affidavit in opposition to the originating summons, Ben Bruce averred that “I am a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by birth and still remain one despite being naturalized in the United States of America. He further averred that “no interest of the plaintiff and any of the defendants have been endangered by my being declared winner of the election and returned as the senator-elect for Bayelsa East Senatorial District”. Also, in a preliminary objection filed by his lawyer, Bayo Ojo, the defendants stated that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit and that the “suit as constituted does not disclose any course of action, nay, reasonable cause of action against the first defendant. In his address, Chief Ojo argued that the combined reading of both sections 28, and 66 of the constitution is to the effect that a “Nigerian citizen (other than a Nigerian citizen by birth) who acquires or retains citizenship of another country (of which he is not a citizen by birth) is disqualified from contesting for the office of Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Any other interpretation will defeat the intention of the lawmakers and will bring about manifest absurdity.” But lawyer to George-Ikoli, Dele Adesina, insisted that the plaintiff have raised “very concrete, serious, and fundamental constitutional issues bothering on the interpretation of the provisions of the constitution”.