O. G. Chukkol, ACIArb (UK)
Kemi Adeosun, who served as Minister of Finance under President Muhammadu Buhari from November 11, 2015, to September 14, 2018, voluntarily resigned the position over an allegation of her non-participation in the National Youths Service Corps, NYSC scheme. She subsequently approached the Federal High Court Abuja, through her lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, to determine her eligibility or otherwise to participate in the NYSC scheme. The suit was marked FHC/ABJ/CS/303/2021 with the Attorney-General of the Federation as the Defendant.
This article aims at analyzing the decision of the Federal High Court, to see if it can stand in the light of our Constitutional jurisprudence, relevant laws and decided cases. To achieve this aim, the article shall first discuss Adeosun’s citizenship as at the time she graduated from the University in 1989 and her current citizenship status. Thereafter, her eligibility for NYSC will be analyzed and then conclusions will be reached as to whether the issue of her citizenship as at the time of graduation was relevant in the first place in determining her eligibility for NYSC.
Citizenship of Adeosun.
Immediately after deciding rightly that NYSC certificate is not a precondition for appointment as a minister, the next issue considered by the High Court was whether Kemi Adeosun was a Nigerian citizen as at 1989 when she graduated from the University in UK. The court took a position that Adeosun was not a Nigerian citizen, but a UK citizen. The court held thus:
“The plaintiff was born in London, United Kingdom which as a result, she became a Citizen of the U.K. She studied in the UK from the primary school up till the University level when she graduated at the age of 22 in 1989…. She was a citizen of the United Kingdom when she graduated from the University at the age of 22.”
How do we reconcile the above finding with Section 23(1)(c) of the 1979 Constitution? The section provides, “the following Persons are Citizens of Nigeria by birth, namely
(c) every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria “.
Since Kemi Adeosun’s parents were Nigerians, was it not logical and indeed the intendment of the drafters of the 1979 Constitution that she automatically became a Nigerian citizen?
Citizenship by birth was an issue in the recent case of Ahmed v Minister of Internal Affairs (2017) LPELR-CA/K/199/2014. What happened in this case was that following complaints against the Appellant’s activities by residents of Zaria Local Government in Kaduna State, the Security Agencies, on proof garnered by them that the Appellant, an Islamic Scholar, was not a citizen of Nigeria, effected his deportation to the Niger Republic. He filed an Originating Summons for a declaration that his deportation to Niger Republic was illegal and constituted a violation of his Fundamental Right to freedom of movement.
The action failed on the basis that none of his parents was a Nigerian. The court held thus:
“The Appellant claims that he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth, under Section 23 (1) (a) Supra. He has however not been able to prove that any of his parents or grandparents belong to a community indigenous to Nigeria.”
A careful perusal of Justice Taiwo’s judgment shows that he did not advance reasons to support his finding that Kemi Adeosun was a UK citizen. However, it appears his position was premised on Chief Olanipekun’s argument that Adeosun was not a citizen of Nigeria by operation of section 26 of the 1979 Constitution. The section prohibits dual citizenship. Thus, any citizen of Nigeria who acquired the citizenship of another country automatically forfeited Nigerian citizenship. This was so except such a person was a citizen by birth, and retained or renounced his other citizenship at the age of twenty-one or within one year of the coming into force of the 1979 Constitution.
In the light of the foregoing, Justice Taiwo’s decision is faultless and unassailable. Kemi Adeosun was not a Nigerian citizen as at 1989 when she graduated from the University by reason of section 26 of the 1979 Constitution.
Kemi Adeosun’s Current Citizenship Status.
The position under 1979 Constitution which prohibited dual citizenship has been altered by the 1999 Constitution. By virtue of section 25(1)(c) thereof, any person born outside Nigeria automatically becomes a Nigerian if either of his parents is a Nigerian. Thus, Kemi Adeosun is a Nigerian citizen by birth irrespective of the fact that she is also a UK citizen, since her parents are Nigerians. We would come back to why we discussed her current citizenship status shortly.
Eligibility of Adeosun register for NYSC.
Justice Taiwo also held that Adeosun was not eligible to go for NYSC because though she was 22 as at 1989 when she graduated from the University, she was a UK citizen. This position is correct because only Nigerians are eligible to go for NYSC. For example, Section 2(1) of NYSC Act provides,
“every NIGERIAN shall be under an obligation, unless exempted under subsection (2) of this section or section 17 of this Act, to make himself available for service for a continuous period of one year from the date specified in the call-up instrument served upon him.”
Since Adeosun wasn’t a Nigerian as at 1989, then Justice Taiwo was correct when he held that she was not under obligation to submit herself for NYSC then.
However, there are fundamental issues that cannot be dismissed with a wave of a hand. Justice Taiwo said “From the time she (Adeosun) graduated and moved to Nigeria sometime in 2003, she was already 36years old…. She was not eligible under the NYSC Act to serve in the National Youth Service Scheme. In fact, it would have been criminal offence if she had participated in the NYSC under any guise.”
The issues in the above statement by Hon. Justice Taiwo are as follows: now that Kemi Adeosun has become a Nigerian citizen by virtue of 1999 Constitution, is she under obligation to go for NYSC? If yes, is she not above the age bracket stipulated by law?
We have already settled that NYSC is for Nigerians only.
The implication is that she is now under obligation to serve. As to whether her current age is above the one stipulated by law, Section 2(2) of the NYSC Act says “a person shall not be called upon to serve in the service corps if, at the “date of his graduation” or obtaining his diploma or other professional qualification
(a) he is over the age of thirty.”
The implication of the above provision is that age for eligibility for NYSC is determined by age of graduation, not the time service is applied for. This means since Adeosun was 22 in 1989, she is under obligation to do NYSC even today.
No doubt Kemi Adeosun was not a Nigerian as at 1989 when she graduated from a university in UK. However, such argument is unnecessary because now that she is a Nigerian, she is under obligation to serve. The argument that she is now above 30 is of no moment because the age that is considered in calculation is her age during graduation (22) not her current age.
About the Author
OLIVER GIFT CHUKKOL is a Law student of Ahmadu Bello university, Zaria. He is a seasoned legal researcher and author.