Can a man with a dual citizenship aspire to become a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? This is the hurdle that the Chairman of Silverbird group, Ben Murray Bruce may have to cross before his dream of becoming a Nigerian senator as his possessing an American citizenship has become his Achilles heel.
Bruce contested and won the primaries of the Bayelsa East Senatorial district under the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). Known to be very close to President Goodluck Jonathan, many believed that this closeness gave him an advantage over another contestant, Chief Anthony George- Ikoli SAN. Ikoli is the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Bayelsa State. He is also the grandson of foremost nationalist, Ernest Ikoli. George –Ikoli is the immediate past Attorney General of the state under the governorship of Timipre Sylva.
In the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Form C.F 001 filled by Bruce, he was asked whether he changed his nationality in the past and his reply was “No”. However, when he was asked if he voluntarily acquired citizenship of another country, he replied: “Yes. United States of America”.
But Section 66(1) of the Nigerian Constitution says “No person shall be qualified for election to the Senate or the House of Representatives if subject to the provisions of section 28 of this Constitution, he has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria or, except in such cases as may be prescribed by the National Assembly, has made a declaration of allegiance to such a country”.
Furthermore, section 337 (a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the American Code of Federal Regulations, section 337(1) makes it compulsory for anyone who intends to acquire American citizenship to “renounce and abjure” allegiance to any other state. Such person must do this under oath in a public ceremony to be conducted by the office of the Attorney General of the United States of America.
The naturalization oath of Allegiance to the United State of America read 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 sovereignty, of whom I have heretofore been 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 law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God”.
Ben-Bruce carries an American citizenship with a valid American passport number 422149524. His name on the passport reads Benedict Murray Bruce. The argument that has ensued is, if voted in as a Nigerian Senator, will he be acting in the interest of Nigeria which by virtue of his being an American citizen, he has renounced and abjured? In the alternative, can he aspire to become a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by virtue of section 66(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, having voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country other than Nigeria?
These are issues Nigerian courts may have to determine soon as his main challenger, George-Ikoli may soon approach the courts to seek remedy.