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THE MISCONCEPTION OF THE SIERRA LEONE CITIZENSHIP (AMENDMENT) ACT 2006

Politics

THE MISCONCEPTION OF THE SIERRA LEONE CITIZENSHIP (AMENDMENT) ACT 2006

(First published In September 2012) -AUTHOR-ALHAJI AMADU DEEN TEJAN-SIE Esq., BARISTER AT LAW, FORMER AMBASSADOR OF SIERRA LEONE TO THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA AND THE GULF STATES.

The enactment of the Sierra Leone Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2006 is without doubt a laudable exercise and should be commended. It will certainly provide an opportunity for those of our compatriots who had left Sierra Leone for greener pastures to regain their citizenships and thus create the golden opportunity for them to participate and contribute meaningfully to the country’s socio /economic development. Without delving into the merits and demerits of the legislation, suffice it to say that the enactment was indeed a step in the right direction. Without being partisan, I honestly believe that former President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s administration should be commended for this enactment which I hasten to submit was timely and productive.

However it is certainly not a comprehensive legislation and has not regrettably covered the grey areas in the Citizenship Act of 1973. Notwithstanding, it would appear to have served the purpose for which it was intended by enabling Sierra Leoneans to obtain Dual Nationality which was not possible under the now repealed Section 10 of the Citizenship Act of 1973.

The purpose of this piece is basically to correct the serious misconception in certain quarters that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Act No. 11 of 2006 has now made it possible for our compatriots especially those coming from the Diaspora to contest both Parliamentary and Presidential elections. This, with the greatest respect is incorrect, given the Long Title of the Act, which essentially indicates the general purposes of the Act. It can also be legitimately used for the purpose of interpreting the Act as a whole and ascertaining its scope, while the Short Titles acts as a label of the Act. For ease of reference, the Long Title of the amended Act reads as follows: “Being an Act to amend the Sierra Leone Citizenship Act, 1973 so as to grant the right of dual citizenship and citizenship by birth directly through the mother”.

It is clear from the Long Title that the intention of Parliament is simply to provide the opportunity for Sierra Leoneans to obtain dual citizenship only. It should be stated unequivocally that the thrust of the Act is principally to amend Section 10 of the 1973 Act, which, had unfairly imposed a blanket prohibition on any Sierra Leonean adopting another citizenship other than the citizenship of Sierra Leone. Section 10 of the Citizenship Act of 1973 reads “No person shall have Sierra Leone citizenship and any other citizenship at one and at the same time”. Indeed it is this moratorium which has been addressed by repealing Section 10 and replacing it with Section 5 of the Sierra Leone Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2006. The new Section 5 states “A citizen of Sierra Leone may hold a citizenship of another country in addition to his citizenship of Sierra Leone”. The effect of the new Section 5 is to enable a Sierra Leonean to now possess dual citizenship which was not the case prior to the enactment of The Sierra Leone Citizenship Amendment Act of 2006.

The amended Act has not in any way repealed any other legislation apart from certain Sections of the 1973 Citizenship Act.

Notwithstanding the clarity of purpose and intention of the Amended Citizenship Act of 2006, there are serious misconceptions in certain quarters and among some Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora that the amended legislation has now enabled them to return home and participate fully in the country’s political process, such as contesting Parliamentary and Presidential Elections. It must be emphatically stated that the possession of a Dual Nationality or Dual Citizenship within the Citizenship Amended Act of 2006 does not ipso facto qualify a person to contest either a Parliamentary seat or vie for the Office of the President. Thus any person who is desirous of contesting a seat in Parliament or vying for the Office of the President must satisfy the requirements of the Electoral Laws of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 2002 especially Sections 4, 5 and 7, and above all Section 41(a) to (d) 75 and 76 of the provisions of the National Constitution Act No. 6 of 1991.  It is this misconception that has motivated me to dilate on the matter. The amended legislation has not in any way affected or repealed any section of the Sierra Leone Electoral Laws or any of the provision of the National Constitution Act No. 6 of 1991. The Constitution as it is well known is the fundamental, supreme and organic Law of the Country. Its importance cannot be underestimated. It establishes the organs of Government, the Institutions and apparatus of Government and defines the powers of the various organs of the State, scope of Governmental Sovereign Powers, and above all guarantees individual and Civil Liberties.

Section 75 of the National Constitution Act No. 6 stipulates the criteria for qualification to serve as a Member of Parliament by providing under Section 75 (a) (b) (c) & (d) the conditions under which a person can contest for a seat in our Parliament while Section 76 relates to the criteria for the disqualification of Members of Parliament. It is worth pointing out that the provisions of Section 75 are ipso facto subject to the Provisions of Section 76 of the National Constitution, Under Section 76 (1).

“No person shall be qualified for election as a ‘Member of Parliament’ if he is a Naturalized Citizen of Sierra Leone or is a citizen of a country other than Sierra Leone having become such citizen voluntarily or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country”. Section 76 (1) (b) to (h) and sub section 76 (2) to (5) contained other clauses relating to the disqualification criteria.

The qualifications for the election to the Office of the President are enshrined in Section 41 (a) to (d) as follows:

“No person shall be qualified for election as President unless he

  • Is a citizen of Sierra Leone
  • Is a member of a Political Party
  • Has attained the age of forty years and
  • Is otherwise qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament

Given the above exposition it is quite apparent that the possession of a dual Citizenship under Section 5 of the Citizenship (Amendment Act) does not confer the right on any Sierra Leonean to contest any Parliamentary seat or offer his or himself as a candidate for the Presidency without fully complying with the provisions of the Electoral Laws, and the provisions of our National Constitution.

A person with a dual citizenship may opt to renounce his or her acquired citizenship if he or she is really serious to participate in our political process, but the question is whether some of these potential candidates from the Diaspora will be willing to resort to this procedure, given the huge socio-economic disadvantages which will certainly emanate as a result of such a renunciation. The Parliamentary and Presidential Elections are scheduled for 2012, I hope my fellow compatriots who are deemed to return home and participate in the 2012 elections will endeavor to browse through both the Electoral Laws Act No. 6 of 2002 and the Provisions of our National Constitution Act No. 6 of 1991 before travelling to Freetown armed with the Sierra Leone Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Act No. 11 2006 as their legitimate instrument to participate or contest any of the elections.

I hasten to point out that those who may proceed to contest relying on the provisions of the amended Act stand the chance of being challenged in Court and may subsequently lose their seats in the event of a victory under Section 77 (1) © of our National Constitution.

Other options such as amending the restricted Sections in the Constitution, particularly Sections 41, 75, and 76 can be very instrumental in providing a level playing field to enable both naturalized and citizens with dual nationalities to effectively participated in the Country’s political process. Such amendments if, and when pursued, should be confined to the Membership of Parliament only and should not extend to the Office of the President. In this regard, we must be steadfast and should never allow either a naturalized citizen or a citizen with a dual nationality to vie for the Office of the President.

The Electoral Laws, Act No. 6 of 2002, can also be amended especially the areas touching on residency. The residency provision can be extended beyond the neighboring countries of Guinea and Liberia, and make it universal. These amendments if seriously pursed will remove the restrictions currently evident in both the Constitution and the Electoral Laws and thus create a level playing field for every citizen of Sierra Leone who may be desirous to contest for a seat in our Parliament.

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