In Liberia, the Question of Citizenship Requires a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ Answer

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Over the last few weeks, uncertainty has grown over the citizenship status of National Elections Commission (NEC) chairman Cllr. Jerome G. Korkoya. Human rights lawyer Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe first raised the point that if Korkoya holds a US passport while serving as chairman of the NEC, then he has committed “Perjury.” Qualifying this, Cllr. Gongloe stated that the New Elections Law of Liberia forbids anyone who is not a Liberian citizen from serving as chairman of the NEC.

As the argument ensues, a number of reports claimed that the NEC chairman allegedly voted in the United States from 2008 onward. The issue has also reached the attention of the Liberian Senate, who vetted Korkoya for the job. However, the Senate seems rather unsure whether it has the fortitude or cause to investigate him, or whether it should pass the buck to anyone in the public who would then take the matter to the Judiciary.

In fact, the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) came out last week to state that it has a concrete prima facie evidence to prove that Korkoya is a US citizen; and that if he does not resign, the party will take him to court. Meanwhile, on April 28 it was reported in this paper and other local dailies that Korkoya sued two newspapers and an individual for libel.

Since this argument was ignited about Korkoya’s alleged dual citizenship, he is yet to come out to clearly state his status – whether or not he holds a US passport, or is a US citizen. When asked whether or not he is a US citizen, Korkoya has consistently responded, “I am a Liberian.”

Note how he does not even mention the word “citizen” in his response! He does not say he is a Liberian citizen, he simply says he is a Liberian.

Cllr. Korkoya understands clearly, being the astute lawyer that he is, that no one asked him whether he is a Liberian or not. In the face of plausible allegation that he may have naturalized and voted in another country, the question of whether he is a citizen of the United States of America requires a simple “yes” or “no” response. After all, the Liberian Constitution is rather explicit on the issue of citizenship.

Article 28 of the Liberian Constitution states: “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.”

Although we are not constitutional lawyers or the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution, this portion by understanding leaves no room for dual citizenship.

Also in section 21.2 of the Aliens and Nationality Law of Liberia, it is stated that “Any alien eligible for naturalization who desires to become a citizen of Liberia shall, as a prerequisite, appear in person before the clerk of the Circuit Court in the county in which such alien resides and sign a declaration of his intention to become a citizen of the Republic of Liberia and to renounce his former nationality when the oath of allegiance is administered. The declarant shall give his name, place and date of birth, present and former nationalities, if any, occupation, marital status, present address, last foreign residence, and all information pertaining to his entrance to Liberia. A person who has filed a declaration of intention may, in the discretion of the President be given three months free lodging at the expense of the Government.”

Again, this law compels anyone holding citizenship of another country to renounce in court that citizenship if he/she wants to gain Liberian citizenship. For now, the law remains the law and is binding on all until it is repealed by referendum. So, if NEC chairman Jerome George Korkoya holds a US passport and has not made a public renouncement of his US citizenship in the Circuit Court in Montserrado County, then he has breached the law. However, remaining silent is his constitutional right, and the burden of proof lies with the accuser.

Since Korkoya has already initiated legal proceedings against those who have reportedly libeled his good name and character; concomitantly, let the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) also take Korkoya to court as it has threatened to do – and as Korkoya himself has challenged any who claim they have evidence of his foreign citizenship. That is, if the Senate will not promptly probe the matter to establish the truth.

If Cllr. Korkoya cannot answer the question to satisfy the constitutional mandate of his position as NEC chairman, he should see it necessary to step aside.

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