A former Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mohammed Adoke, has said a former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun could not be said to remain a Nigerian citizen, having earlier forfeited her citizenship.
Under the 1963 constitution, which was in force in 1967 when Mrs Adeosun was born, a person born to Nigerian parents in a foreign country, was allowed to enjoy dual citizenship up till when he or she clocked 21.
At 21 the person must renounce the citizenship of the foreign country or would forfeit his or her Nigerian citizenship.
The law remained the same under the 1979 constitution which was in force when Mrs Adeosun graduated from the university at the age of 22 in 1989.’
But Mrs Adeosun, born in the U.K., did not renounce her British citizenship when she clocked 21, therefore forfeiting her Nigerian citizenship at the time.
“From my reading and understanding of the sections of the Constitution, it is my finding that the plaintiff not being a citizen of Nigeria in 1989 when she graduated from the University of East London, London, United Kingdom, was not eligible to participate in the National Youth Service Scheme,” Federal High Court ruled last week.
The judge agreed with Mrs Adeosun’s lawyer that she only regained her Nigerian citizenship when the 1999 constitution came into force.
He added that she was already 36 by the time she returned to Nigeria in 2003 and was no longer eligible to participate in the NYSC scheme having crossed the age limit of 30 as of then.
But when PREMIUM TIMES sought his comment on the matter, Mr Adoke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), argued that having lost her Nigerian citizenship when she was 21 by not renouncing her U.K. citizenship as expected under the 1979 constitution, Mrs Adeosun could not automatically regain her Nigerian citizenship under the 1999 constitution without going through any process.
“How did she regain her citizenship? Was that citizenship regained, without going through a process? Can you regain something that has been forfeited? And even if we say so, does it mean it is as of right or she has to go through a process to regain her citizenship?
“So she has to tell us at what point she regained her citizenship and what step she took, to become a Nigerian citizen after she has lost her citizenship. The issue is not as simple as they are making it look.
“Some schools of thought will tell you that she is no longer a Nigerian citizen as of the time of the 1999 constitution came into operation.
“She forfeited her citizenship, and you cannot backdate that law. If she wants to become a Nigerian citizen, she has to become a Nigerian citizen by a process.”
He said citizenship “cannot be dormant which you can reactivate”, adding, “There is nothing like dormant citizenship”.
This, he said, raises the question of her being appointed to be a minister or a commissioner when she was not a Nigerian.
He added, “Because people want to help her, they are also being intellectually dubious by not going into the provisions of our law critically.
“So, if she says she has become a citizen of Nigerian, at what point did she become a Nigerian citizen, and what was the process she went through to become a Nigerian citizen. This is a germane question she needs to be asked.
Mr Adoke also said he would have filed forgery-related charges against Mrs Adeosun over her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate scandal if he was in office as the country’s chief law officer.
Mr Adoke told PREMIUM TIMES that the July 7 judgment obtained by Mrs Adeosun did not clear her of the NYSC certificate forgery scandal that saw to her exit from office in September 2018.
Mrs Adeosun claimed to have been vindicated after Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja delivered a judgement on her non-participation in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.
In the judgment delivered on July 7, 2021, the court ruled that Mrs Adeosun could not have participated in the scheme due to her forfeited citizenship at the time of her graduation from a United Kingdom university in 1989.
It added that the Nigerian constitution, under which she regained her citizenship in 1999, did not require a person to possess the NYSC certificate to be appointed a minister.
The judgment cleared Mrs Adeosun of liability for not participating in mandatory national youth service, but not for her submission of a forged exemption certificate, which she presented for her ministerial appointment in 2015, Mr Adoke said.
The ex-AGF said the issue was not about her eligibility to participate in the NYSC scheme but about an alleged forgery that she owned up to in her resignation letter.
“By her own admission, in her letter of resignation, she did admit that unknown to her that the letter of exemption given to her or procured for her was later discovered to be forged. And I think that settles the matter.
“Having taken ownership and having presented that document as part of her credentials, I think she has admitted to a forgery. And I do not think the issue is whether or not the constitution requires that, to be appointed as a minister, you need an NYSC certificate. The issue is forgery simpliciter,” Mr Adoke said.
The former justice minister maintained that the issue of Mrs Adeosun’s eligibility to participate in the NYSC scheme “is beside the point”.
“Having submitted and claimed ownership of that document, she has acted in a manner that is injurious to the provisions of the law and run afoul of the law,” Mr Adoke said. “If I were the Attorney-General, I would have asked the DPP (Director of Public Prosecution) to charge her to court.”
Asked if he could have acted to the contrary even if the prevailing political authorities at the time are not in support of her prosecution, Mr Adoke said, “Don’t forget that there is no time limit to crime. So, if one political climate favours that she should not be prosecuted, another climate can reopen the matter.”
A PREMIUM TIMES report in July 2018, had revealed that Mrs Adeosun presented a forged exemption certificate of the NYSC to be appointed minister in 2015.
The report revealed that the former minister, born to Nigerian parents in the United Kingdom, where she also schooled and graduated in 1989 at 22, had skipped the national youth service mandatory for Nigerian graduates who are under age 30.
In 2011, she presented a forged NYSC certificate purporting to exempt her from the national youth service to the Ogun State House of Assembly to be appointed the commission for finance of the state.
She also presented the forged document to the State Security Service (SSS) and the Nigerian senate to be appointed minister in 2015.
Following the PREMIUM TIMES report exposing the scandal in July 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari administration set up a team to investigate the scandal.
The team, led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, confirmed the forgery.
This led to Mrs Adeosun’s resignation on September 14, 2014.
She admitted in her resignation letter that the NYSC exemption certificate was forged but claimed she only got to know of it after the PREMIUM TIMES report exposing the scam.
However, almost three years after she resigned from office on September 14, 2018, the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled on July 7 that she needed not to present an NYSC certificate to be appointed minister.
Although the judge did not review the allegation that she submitted a forged NYSC exemption certificate, Mrs Adeosun said, in her reaction, that the “ruling vindicates me after a very traumatic spell”.
‘She was not persecuted’
The former AGF also faulted the impression being given by Mrs Adeosun that she was being persecuted.
He said, the former finance minister, having admitted to the forgery in her resignation letter, “she should have shown some kind of penitence, rather than coming from the point of view as if she has been unduly persecuted.”
He added, “The issue of why she was pressured to resign from office has nothing to do with whether or not she met the requirement of being appointed a minister under the constitution other than that she produced or exhibited a letter of exemption from the NYSC, exempting her from participating on the account of the fact that she was not eligible to participate.”
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