The minister of works and housing, Babatunde Fashola, says the Nigerian constitution permits President-elect Bola Tinubu to have dual citizenship.
After Mr Tinubu’s Guinean diplomatic passport surfaced on social media, internet users went into a frenzy over how the president-elect of Africa’s largest economy lied to the nation’s electoral commission while under oath.
“I know he carries a Nigerian passport. I don’t know about dual citizenship. I know he resided abroad when he went into exile,” stated Mr Fashola, a former Lagos governor, on Channels TV Sunday.
He added, “I don’t know if they gave him American citizenship. What does that have to do with the results of the election? The last time I checked, I think the Nigerian constitution allows you to have dual citizenship. Doesn’t it?”
The dual citizenship dimension, which has caused Mr Tinubu to trend for hours on Twitter, would likely dominate public chatter amid the ongoing election petition trial because of potential legal actions that would be instituted over constitutional violations.
Section 137 (1)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution says a person will not be qualified to be president if “he has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria.”
Nonetheless, courts have repeatedly interpreted that section of the Constitution as inapplicable to a Nigerian-born or a citizen born to either a Nigerian parent or both parents.
Federal courts interpreted the Constitution as forbidding from becoming governor or president only people who were born to foreign parents, naturalised as Nigerians and then obtained citizenship of a third country other than Nigeria and their original country of birth.
Bukola Saraki was a two-term governor in Kwara state despite carrying British citizenship and went on to serve as Senate President.
But the charge of perjury still looms over Mr Tinubu, who, in his form EC-9 — application for the presidency —, told the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that he never obtained citizenship of another country.
Mr Tinubu ticked “NO” in response to “Have you voluntarily acquired citizenship of any other country” posed by INEC in the form. He also appended his signature on the form swearing that the information given on the form was “correct, true and to the best of my knowledge.”
While it may not be an issue that Mr Tinubu, who was born in Nigeria, carries dual nationality, he is expected to fight to extricate himself of perjury charges that would likely be brought against him.
Mr Tinubu faced a similar legal conundrum shortly after he was elected governor of Lagos in 1999. He had made false claims about attending primary and secondary schools without presenting any evidence of such. He also claimed to have attended the University of Chicago, which also turned out false.
However, he was not charged because he was already a serving governor and had constitutional immunity from criminal prosecution. He also claimed at the time that he did not knowingly make false claims on the INEC document, saying it was filled out on his behalf by his political ally Tokunbo Afikuyomi.
Mr Afikuyomi publicly admitted filling the forms for Mr Tinubu, saying he merely assumed his principal attended the schools.