Can NEC Verify Candidates’ Citizenship?

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The issue that candidates who are seeking the highest office of the land must not be any of those who hold on to other citizenships has reared its head again as a prelate wants candidates to make declaration of their citizenship before embarking on their quest in the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections.

Chapter IV of the 1986 Liberian Constitution Article 28 says “Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the Person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country. No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality.” Chapter 22, Section 22.1 of the
Alien and Nationality Law of 1974 specifically spelt out situations under which both natural born and naturalized Liberians may lose their citizenship. The provisions of Section 22.1 of the Alien and Nationality Law effectively reinforced the ban on dual citizenship.

Rev. Kortu Brown, organizing chairperson of the Community Crime Watch Initiative and bishop of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church, has raised the issued in a statement recently indicating that Liberians are still interested in the issue, and therefore, it cannot be swept under the carpet. While the country is still unsure how to handle the double citizenship issue with campaigners from the Liberian Diaspora calling for Liberians at home to make changes in the constitution, it would seem that the government and election authorities would have to handle the matter with some amount of sensitivity.

Rev. Brown, who believes that what has worked for other democratic countries may not work for Liberia, even though many Diaspora Liberians may not agree with him, insists that it borders on “loyalty to Liberia.”

“The problem with dual citizenship in Liberia is that we see most Liberians with dual or double citizenships unable to stay in the country once they do not have a government job,” he said without offering any direct specifics to support his claim. Although Diaspora Liberians insist that “the need for dual citizenship is to ensure that they are accorded with the same benefits that are accorded Liberians at home since they are always Liberians whether they hold other national identities or not.”

Rev. Brown raises what he describes as the negative impact that dual nationals have on the country and states by making reference to the Bible, that, “one cannot serve two masters,” which Diaspora Liberians feel is like blowing the case wide from the fact. Said Emmanuel
Wettee, chairman of the All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship, “The fight for dual citizenship is to enable Liberians who reside abroad the same privileges that Liberians at home enjoy as against the 1974 Alien and Nationality Law that says ‘a native Liberian loses his citizenship automatically upon taking on another country’s citizenship.”

The fight is far from over because many prominent Liberians are caught in the web, holding dual citizenships and yet working in the government despite the law that says otherwise. Officials at the National Elections Commission (NEC) are yet to take a bold position on the issue that there are Liberians with dual citizenship, who work with a great deal of loyalty in the current government cannot be denied.

Many may recall when Senator George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) was confronted with a similar issue for holding a French passport and being a French citizen, which he acquired that enabled him to play football for many years in Europe; then of course, there is Robert Sirleaf, son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is reported to be a United States citizen.

Rev. Brown gave an example to buttress his point in his statement: “For example, we know for a fact that most Liberians who hold American citizenship are more loyal to that country than their country of birth, which has stalled the forward moment of the country.”

Rev. Brown did not offer any proof just by simply saying that, “we know for a fact,” which deserves to be treated with an amount of simplicity. But many Diaspora Liberians have spoken of their love for their homeland, and making remittances to relatives and others in the millions of the United States dollars. “If that is not loyalty to our country, then what is it?” said a young Liberian who supports Dual Citizenship.

Many Liberians who favour dual citizenship point to Liberia’s neighbors that allow their citizens to hold other nationalities that have afforded them opportunities in seeking medical help, education as well as business opportunities abroad as they are treated as neighbours and not foreigners.

“All we need to do is to draft legislation to ensure that like in the United States where citizens who are not born in the country are barred from contesting for president, we can also do a thing like that,” said a recent graduate from university who aspires to travel abroad to further her education. It makes sense to admit that both groups that are in favour and against Dual Citizenship seems to offer the best option for Liberia’s development and therefore there is a need for a middle ground, because the issue is not going away.

Rev. Brown in his statement, said he was pleased last week to read in a couple of local dailies the release of the ‘Voter Registration Regulations’ and ‘Candidate Nomination Regulations’ by the NEC and under Article 13 of the Candidate Nomination Regulations entitled:

‘CHALLENGE TO THE PROVISIONAL LIST OF CANDIDATES,’ Section 1 and 2 that ‘an independent candidate, political party, coalition, alliance or any qualified voter may challenge the eligibility of candidates included in the Provisional List after the list is published,’ and ‘the following constitutes grounds for challenges, if the candidate: (a) Is not a Liberian citizen; (b) Had dual citizenship; (c) Has not reached the constitutionally required age to be nominated; or (d) Has not satisfied the domiciliary requirement mandated by the Liberian Constitution and the Elections Law; (e) Has not satisfied requirements of the Elections Law or other laws of Liberia.’” But the interesting question is: how does one know that a candidate possesses a dual nationality? Many observers think that with the wave of exposure of the world and Liberians to every part of the world, an individual’s character and commitment should be more of a concern than an attempt to find out if he holds another country’s citizenship in a global world whose forward march no one is able to prevent.

Though few bad apples spoil the rest and it is a fact that if commitment to national duty must be the yardstick to judge potential candidates, said Emmanuel Wettee, then of course Liberians at home should also judge the commitment of members of the House of
Representatives and the Senate who may possess only Liberian citizenship and examine their loyalty to the people they serve.

“Is it not true that at one time an American ambassador refused to give visas to several members of the House when they chose to travel to the United States instead of visiting their constituencies during their Agricultural break?” Wetee asked.

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