The APC and Atiku Abubakar’s Citizenship: A Legal Strategy with Very Explosive Political Implications for Nigeria
By Priye S. Torulagha
The All Progressives Congress (APC) is the ruling political party in Nigeria today. It came into power after defeating the Peoples’ Democratic Party in 2015. However, its hold on power was severely tested in the 2019 presidential and general elections. Although, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the government’s commission responsible for conducting elections in Nigeria, declared incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP challenged the INEC result by going to the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal to do so.
Alhaji Abubakar insisted in his petition that he won the presidential election and not President Buhari whom the INEC declared as the winner. In furtherance of his argument, he tendered statistical evidence which supposedly originated from an INEC server. The data indicated that he won more votes (18,356,732) than President Buhari (16,741,430), hence, deserves to be the next president of Nigeria and not President Buhari whom the INEC announced on February 27, 2019 as having earned 15,191,847 votes compared to Abubakar’s 11, 262,978 votes (https://punchng.com/pdp-atiku-inecs-server-shows-we-beat-buhari-with-1-6-million-votes/).
As part of its effort to counter the claim by Alhaji Abubakar and the PDP that they won the presidential election, the APC insisted that the election tribunal should dismiss the case on the ground that Alhaji Abubakar is not a Nigerian by birth since he was born in Jeda, Northern Cameroon before the region was merged with Nigeria in 1961, following a United Nations plebiscite (http://saharareporters.com/2019/04/12/atiku-ineligible-contest-presidential-election-because-he-wasnt-born-nigerian-apc-tells). Despite the fact that the region automatically became part of Nigeria, starting in 1961, the APC maintained that Abubakar was born prior to the incorporation, hence, he is not qualified to be a Nigerian presidential candidate.
The APC’s refutation of Alhaji Abubakar’s Nigerian citizenship has ignited a firestorm of political reactions. The reason being that it is politically risky for a major national political party like APC which supposed to work for national integration to insist that a presidential candidate of the major opposition party is not a Nigerian but a foreigner since he was born in Cameroon and not in Nigeria.
The most puzzling aspect of the APC’s argument is that it was Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) who floated the idea before the presidential election of February 23, 2019 (https://dailypost.ng/2019/02/03/atiku-cameroon-nnamdi-kanu-tells-govt-way-stop-boycott-2019-election/). When he made the statement that Alhaji Abubakar is not a Nigerian by birth, most Nigerians, including the political elite, ignored the matter, perhaps, presuming that Mr. Kanu was simply being mischievous and wanted to throw mud on Nigeria. Then, suddenly, the APC adopted his idea and used it as a legal means to attempt to knock off the case about whether President Buhari actually won the election or not.
The APC declaration that Alhaji Abubakar is not a Nigerian by birth, has far reaching political implications which the leadership of the party might have not envisaged before publicly announcing its legal view on the matter. Indeed, the implications of the APC position are explosive and could even threaten the legitimacy and existence of Nigeria. The argument has the following explosive political implications:
First, as a major political party, by arguing that Alhaji Abubakar is not a Nigerian, the APC seems to create the impression that Alhaji Abubakar might have a strong case against President Buhari, hence, the tactical effort to divert attention from the crux of the case and focus more on the citizenship of the petitioner. It is a very smart legal maneuver since Nigerians are now discussing the nationality of Atiku and not whether he won the presidential election. While it is a smart legal tactics to turn the case around, the strategy is filled with political danger that is capable of threatening the very existence of Nigeria. Thus, instead of taking measures to unite Nigerians at a time in which the country is highly polarized, the APC is willing to add more dynamites to an increasingly explosive Nigerian polity.
Second, by declaring that Alhaji Abubakar is not a Nigerian by birth, even though he is a Nigerian and has spent most of his life in Nigeria, including serving as the Deputy Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs, a major member of the Action Congress and the PDP, the vice president of Nigeria, a major founder of the APC party and the presidential candidate of the PDP, the APC party is willing to say that he is not a Nigerian, in an attempt to knock off the case that he won the presidential election of February 23, 2019 and not President Buhari.
By so doing, the APC is indicating publicly that those Nigerians from the incorporated part of Adamawa, and other states who were born prior to the 1961 plebiscite are not full Nigerians. This is a slap on the face of millions of people who have lived as Nigerians in Nigeria.
Although, the Constitutions of 1979, and 1999 did not make reference to the citizenship issue, the 1963 Constitution made reference to the matter.
Third, by taking such a risky legal position, the APC is indirectly encouraging the incorporated Adamawans to rejoin Cameroon or seek independence since their status in Nigeria is not legally clear. Therefore, will the ruling APC administration allow the incorporated region to seek independence if it so desired?
Fourth, since the APC agrees with Mazi Kanu that Allhaji Atiku Abubakar is not a Nigerian, this means that Mr. Kanu is a very credible source of information and not merely a propagandist for Biafran secession. If this is the case, then, it is assumable that Mr. Kanu and IPOB’s assertions about Nigeria are generally correct.
Fifth, by agreeing with Mr. Kanu that Alhaji Abubakar is not a Nigerian, the APC also agrees with the idea that, perhaps, current President Muhammadu Buhari is an impostor from Sudan. The reason is that Mr. Kanu had repeatedly stated that Maj. Gen. Buhari died in 2017 and was replaced by Jubril al Sudani from Sudan. In fact, IPOB has already made a statement to the effect that in due course, Mr. Kanu’s assertion about an impostor serving as President Buhari will come to pass, just as the APC has accepted the view that Alhaji Atiku is not a Nigerian by birth (https://dailypost.ng/2019/04/14/ipob-reacts-apcs-claim-atiku-not-nigerian/).
Sixth, by agreeing with the idea that Alhaji Abubakar is not a Nigerian, the APC has tremendously contributed to the credibility of Mazi Kanu and the IPOB. This means that an increasing number of Nigerians are now more likely to believe whatever Mr. Kanu and IPOB say about Nigeria than before. This further means that many Nigerians are now going to believe the story that President Buhari is actually Jubril al Sudani and not Gen. Buhari. So, inadvertently, APC has created a political mine field that is going to create more problems about the legitimacy of President Buhari. Consequently, it is not surprising that Mazi Kanu has suggested to Alhaji Abubakar to ask President Buhari to do a DNA test in order to prove his true identity and nationality (https://www.vanguardngr.com/2019/04/nnamdi-kanu-to-atiku-ask-buhari-to-go-for-a-dna-test/).
The Federal Government and the detractors of Mazi Kanu are no longer going to find it easy to dismiss whatever the IPOB leader says about Nigeria since the ruling party agrees with him on Atiku Abubakar’s citizenship status. In other words, the investigative capability and credibility of IPOB researchers have been greatly enhanced.
Seventh, by agreeing with Mazi Kanu and the IPOB, the organization can make the argument that the Republic of Biafra is needed because Nigeria had deNigerianized a large segment of the Southeast population when it proscribed the organization and its members. Logically, proscription of IPOB is tantamount to deNigerianization just as the APC is attempting to deNigeria Atiku Abubakar. Having denationalized IPOB, the members have no where else to go but seek separation from Nigeria where their natural rights can be protected.
Eighth, it is obvious that the APC is toying with the national security of Nigeria by making an assertion that could raise the political temperature beyond control. It should be recalled that in late 1979, during the reign of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the issue of nationality was used as a political strategy against Shugaba Abdurrahman Darma, who was a major opposition political figure and the NPN was afraid of his popularity (https://allafrica.com/stories/201004230493.html). He was deNigerianized and deported to Chad in 1980 by the NPN government of President Shehu Shagari. Again, a similar situation took place in Ivory Coast (Cote Ivory) when the ruling party at the time, under the leadership of President Laurent Gbagbo, insisted that Alassane Outtara, a major opposition presidential candidate, could not participate in the presidential election of 2000 because his mother was not born in Ivory Coast (http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/04/12/ivory.coast.atrocities/index.html). The refusal to allow him to participate led Ivorian troops from the northern part of the country to rebel. This eventually resulted in a bloody civil war. Similarly, in Gabon, the issue of paternity became a hot political debate before Ali Bongo Ondimba, the adopted son of the late President Omar Bongo eventually succeeded in becoming the president of the country.
The fact that a Nigerian ruling political party is using the issue of citizenship in an attempt to deprive another Nigerian the opportunity to address his grievances by arguing that he is not a Nigerian, means that African politicians do not learn from history. It also shows the degree to which African politicians are willing to go to remain in power, regardless of the danger to the national security of the country.
Ninth, by using the status of citizenship to question Atiku Abubakar’s nationality, the APC has opened a can of political and legal worms which necessitate the questioning of the citizenship of President Muhammadu Buhari too. There are some Nigerians who believe that President Buhari was actually born in the city of Maradi, a Hausa-Fulani community which is affiliated with Katsina but is located in Niger Republic and not in Nigeria proper. Those who espouse this view say that although Maradi is part of an emirate located in Nigeria, the town is actually in Niger. Thus, if Atiku Abubakar is required to explain his citizenship status, then, President Buhari too might be compelled to explain whether he was actually born in Nigeria or Niger Republic.
Tenth, the APC has inadvertently unleashed an explosive dynamite on the legitimacy of Nigeria itself. Why?
a. Nigeria was created by a foreign power through military aggression. As a result, various ethnic groups were forced to embrace Nigeria without their consent. This is why many indigenous groups, including elements in the Southeast, South-South and Southwest are demanding separation from the forced contraption known as Nigeria. Even after more than a hundred years of the forced incorporation, various ethnic groups in the territory now known as Nigeria have not been allowed to freely express their political wish through a referendum or a national conference, regarding whether they want to remain in Nigeria or go their separate ways.
b. The APC legal view that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is not a Nigerian by birth, has brought to the fore the question of who is actually a Nigerian. Just as the party indirectly insists that any Nigerian from Adamawa State who was born in Cameroon prior to the incorporation of Northern Cameroon cannot run for the presidency, for the sake of argument, Nigerians from the South-South can argue that they are the only authentic Nigerians because the Nigerian project started with the establishment of the Oil Rivers Protectorate in 1885 before it was renamed Niger Coast Protectorate in 1893 by the British colonial authorities (https://www.britannica.com/place/Oil-Rivers).
c. Alternatively, Southern Nigerians (South-South, South-East and Southwest)) can argue legally that they are the original Nigerians because the Southern Protectorate had nothing to do with the Northern Protectorate, hence, the citizens of Northern Nigeria cannot serve as presidents of Nigeria.
d. Similarly, Northern Nigerians can argue that they are not part of Nigeria because the Northern Protectorate had nothing in common with Southern Nigeria, hence, deserves to be a separate country.
f. North Central Nigerians can argue that they have nothing in common with the Islamic North since they fought against the institutionalization of the Islamic Caliphate in the 19th century during the jihad of Othman Dan Fodio. As a result, they need their own territorial space to avoid being killed by Islamic militants who pretend to be herdsmen and bandits.
g. Ancestralists and Christians can argue that since they did not sign a compact for the creation of Nigeria, they want to go their separate ways, as a result of being deNigerianized through the unrestrained killings of their members in a state that is not capable of ensuring their safety. It should be noted that thousands of citizens have been killed in the last four years without the government acting proactively to stop the killings
Eleventh, indigenous ethnic groups, picking up from the APC, could argue fervently that only Nigerians with indigenous ethnic origins should run for the presidency of the country because they are indigenous to the territorial area known as Nigeria. On the other hand, they can argue that Nigerians from settler backgrounds should not run for the presidency because they originated from ethnic groups that are not indigenous to the territorial area known as Nigeria. This kind of argument can really tear the country apart, considering the tension that is already going on in the country.
Twelfth, Nigerians from indigenous ethnic groups can also make the argument that Nigerians from settler backgrounds who occupy national security and high level positions should vacate the positions since they are a threat to the national security of the country due to the doubt about their loyalty to Nigeria. There is no doubt that there are some high level government officials whose citizenship is questionable due to their settler backgrounds.
Thirteenth, as part of the debate concerning the relationship between indigenous and settler groups, indigenous Nigerians can further make the argument that the Federal Government under APC leadership is not doing enough to curtail herdsmen and militia attacks because they are sympathetic to settler elements while being antagonistic to indigenous Nigerians.
Fourteenth, indigenous Nigerians are also capable of arguing that it is illegal for political and military elites from settler groups to rule over indigenous Nigerians who are the actual owners of the territory which constitutes Nigeria.
Fifteenth, some Nigerians might even question the authenticity of the Nigerian state since the Islamic Caliphate of Sokoto operates like a state within a state. In some circumstances, the caliphate seems to have a greater influence on Nigerian internal and international policies than the Nigerian state, thereby, violating the rights of Nigerians who are not part of the caliphate.
Sixteenth, Nigerians who hold allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate of Sokoto could be persuaded to argue that they are the true owners of the Nigerian state since the British Government handed over Nigeria to the leadership of the Sokoto Caliphate before granting independence in 1960. In this case, the exponents of this view can argue that only Moslems should serve as the presidents of the country.
Seventeenth, the Hausas could be persuaded by circumstances to say that they have been deNigerianized to seek a separate state for themselves. This is buttressed by the fact that they are not allowed to serve as emirs under the caliphate system in Nigeria, even though they are the true indigenous owners of some of the territories which constitute the Sokoto Caliphate. Indeed, the Hausas seem to be the most colonized indigenous group in Nigeria. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not protecting their natural right to be leaders of their own territory.
Eighteenth, the Fulanis can argue that they are being deNigerianized by the fact that their primary means of economic sustenance is being destroyed by rustlers while they are being blamed for all the killings that are going on in the country.
Twentieth, the citizens of the oil region can easily argue legally that the various acts that were enacted by various military regimes to nationalize petroleum and gas resources are illegal because Nigerians were not allowed to debate in a constitutional manner before the acts were enacted arbitrarily in violations of their political and economic rights to the resources in their territory.
They could demonstrate the arbitrariness of the acts and the constitutional infringement upon their rights by showing that while Nigerians in other region where solid minerals are found are allowed to explore those minerals (as demonstrated in Zamfara State), the citizens of the oil region are not allowed to do so. Thus, oil and gas are totally nationalized while solid minerals are not. This means that citizens in regions where solid minerals are found can obtain mining licenses to explore and generate income to take care of their families while citizens of the oil region cannot obtain licenses to explore and feed their families. This is a violation of their constitutional right because it encourages discrimination.
They could even argue that they are being deNigerianized and strangulated to death through biochemical poisoning as oil and gas exploration and gas flaring pollute the oil region beyond repair.
Twenty-first, Nigerians from the Southeast, Southwest, South-South and the Middle Belt can argue that they have been deNigerianized by security policies which enabled the Nigerian military to occupy their regions and violate their rights through unnecessary military exercises code-named as Crocodile Smile 1, II and III, Python Dance 1, II, and III while the military is not directed to occupy regions where people are actually being killed on daily basis. Due to the military occupation and the threat to their lives, they can legally argue for separation if the military occupation continues.
Twenty-second, indigenous Nigerians whose territories are divided into different countries can argue fervently that their natural rights to have contiguous territories are violated due to the arbitrary nature of the boundaries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin. As a result, the members of those ethnic groups are capable of arguing for separation so that they can form new countries that ensures their territorial integrity without being split into different countries.
Twenty-third, the APC which is trying to deNigerianize Alhaji Abubakar could spur other Nigerians to raise the argument that the 1999 Constitution is illegal because it was enacted by the military. Since the military was responsible for its enactment, it was arbitrarily imposed on Nigerians. Consequently, it should not be used as a basis for determining the constitutionality of Nigerians. A national conference or a referendum is needed to update the constitutionality and legitimacy of the country.
Indeed, for Nigeria to operate smoothly, the groups which constitute the country must be allowed to freely determine the nature of the country through a referendum or national conference.
Twenty-fourth, the APC legal argument has raised the consciousness of Nigerians on the issue of citizenship, nationality and the nature of the Nigerian state. As a result, Nigerians are now more likely to pay attention to who is actually a Nigerian and who is not a Nigerian. It is not surprising that the PDP responded to the APC ‘s questioning of Atiku Abubakar’s citizenship by doubting the patriotism or citizenship of some Nigerians who seem to have a greater affection for interests of other countries than Nigerians. The PDP cited the fact that when Maj. Gen. Buhari was a military head of state, he actually recommended a citizen of Niger Republic (Idi Omaro) for consideration as the Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) instead of Nigeria’s Dr. Peter Onu in 1985. Likewise, the PDP noted that President Buhari wants to build a railway line from Nigeria to Niger Republic instead of building and improving public transportation system in Nigeria. The party also noted that citizens of Niger Republic actually visited Nigeria to campaign for President Buhari’s reelection even though they are not Nigerians (https://www.vanguardngr.com/2019/04/apcs-claim-on-atikus-cameroonian-citizenship-diversionary-pdp/). This raises the issue of who is actually a Nigerian. Can foreign citizens campaign for a presidential candidate in Nigeria? Should a Nigerian head of state be more loyal to a foreign country than to Nigeria?
Twenty-fifth, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must follow the rule of law by adhering to court decisions concerning evidentiary materials dealing with election cases. The reason is that if INEC refuses to tender materials that have been requested by Atiku Abubakar and the PDP, it would create the impression that it actually rigged the presidential election in favor of President Buhari and the APC. Such a view is capable of tarnishing the legitimacy of President Buhari’s second term in the eyes of Nigerians and members of the international community.
President Buhari cannot afford to be viewed by the international community as having stolen an electoral victory from Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Such perception is capable of driving away potential foreign investors who might not want to be associated with an administration which remains in power through a stolen electoral mandate. Thus, INEC is obligated to follow the rule of law and avoid acting suspiciously as if it actually rigged the presidential election for President Buhari.
Twenty-sixth, although they have a legal right to deploy any acceptable legal tactics to neutralize the argument made by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the PDP that INEC rigged the election to favor President Buhari, both the APC and INEC need to stop using diversionary legal tactics and focus on the crux of the case which is that President Buhari did not win a majority of the votes during the presidential election of February 23, 2019. The reason is that the more they deploy diversionary tactics to offset the case, the more they create the impression that they actually worked together to rig the election. In other words, if they have nothing to hide, then, they should face the case squarely by arguing against the merit of the case, rather than use unrelated issues to becloud the trial process. They need to do a better job in clearing the air about the matter, so that President Buhari can focus his energy in tackling the complex problems facing the country.
Twenty-seventh, this case shows that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar cannot be easily intimidated into submission. Ordinarily, many Nigerian politicians would have given up in challenging the result of an election, considering the overwhelming capacity of this administration and the APC to use the resources of state to cower people to shut up or quit fighting. In other words, this administration has finally met its match in the person of Atiku. He was the chief Custom Officer at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport when the issue of the 53 boxes filled with American dollars took place during the military regime of Maj. Gen. Buhari. He was a senior member of the PDP that ruled Nigeria for more than a decade. He actually served as a vice president of Nigeria during the presidency of Chief//Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. He was one of the individuals who broke away from the PDP to establish the APC party. He was a senior member of the APC and is alleged to have contributed greatly towards the electoral campaign of Maj. Gen. Buhari. He left the APC to rejoin the PDP and eventually emerged as the presidential candidate of the party. Thus, Alhaji Abubakar is very knowledgeable about the ins and outs of Nigeria and cannot be easily pushed around by the president, the APC and INEC.
Twenty-eighth, based on implication #27 above, the argument that Atiku Abubakar is not a Nigerian by birth is counteracted by the fact that no one or government agency brought the issue up for decades. Even the APC allowed him to be a founding member of the party, as well as encouraged him to donate money to the organization until he left to rejoin the PDP before announcing to the entire world that he is not a Nigerian by birth.
Twenty-ninth, this case is going to beam a searchlight on the judicial and political systems in Nigeria. Consequently, the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal must demonstrate clearly to the entire world that it is not a kangaroo court in any shape or form. The judges must make decisions based on the merit of the case, as stipulated by law and not be blindfolded by political pressure arising from any quarter. The members of the tribunal must stand tall to defend the integrity of Nigeria’s judiciary. In other words, the tribunal has a responsibility to ensure that democracy thrives in Nigeria.
Thirtieth, this case has the potential of determining whether Nigerians have a right to elect their political leaders or have their leaders chosen for them by self-serving political cliques. The outcome of the case could either strengthen the democratic system or lead to political chaos.
Although the aforementioned possibilities are mere projections of what could happen after the APC unleashed a political firestorm challenging the citizenship of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. The APC argument makes sense legally but it could ignite all kinds of arguments challenging the legitimacy of Nigeria and the right of citizenship in the country. The reason is that it opens up a can of political worms that is capable of generating heated debates about who is truly a Nigerian and who is not, to the point of threatening the very existence of Nigeria.
Indeed, the issue of who is a Nigerian and who is not a Nigeria and who is an indigenous Nigerian and who is a settler Nigerian are a reflection of the bastardized colonial origin of the country. The issue is prevalent throughout the African continent due to the colonial origin of most African states. As a result, restructuring is needed through a national referendum or a conference to resolve the colonial problem.
A restructuring of Nigeria is absolutely needed because Britain did not get any permission from the indigenous ethnic groups which own the territory that it arbitrarily seized through wars of aggression to create Nigeria. Therefore, it amounts to self-mockery for Nigerians to question their nationality in a state that was created arbitrarily by a foreign power.