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Liberia’s dual citizenship debacle: The voice of the people or the wants of elites?

Liberia held a referendum to vote on some proposed changes to the country’s constitution on December 8, 2020. Among the proposals was the issue of dual citizenship, change in the date of elections, and reduction in tenure of the President, Speaker, and Pro-Tempore of the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate.

The referendum resulted from a nationwide constitutional review process carried out by the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) of Liberia and headed by former Chief Justice of the Liberian Supreme Court, Cllr. Gloria Musa Scott.

The committee was established with the sole intent of reviewing the country’s 1986 constitution and making the necessary amendments where needed. However, according to the result of the referendum released by the National Elections Commission of Liberia (NEC), no proposition met the constitutional requirement of obtaining the requisite votes to be passed. Thus, all eight propositions, including the call for the acceptance of dual citizenship, were rejected during the referendum process.

Despite the overwhelming rejection of the referendum and, by implication, the dual citizenship, Liberians have witnessed the execution of the dual citizenship law, which has angered some citizens.

So how did a proposal rejected by the people of Liberia in a referendum find its way back into the law books of Liberia? DUBAWA explores how it happened, whether or not it was legal and what the lawmakers and other interest groups are saying about it.

The Amendment after Referendum

The constitution of Liberia in chapter 12, Article 91 of 1986, featuring amendments, stipulates how any article within the Liberian body can be amended.

“This Constitution may be amended whenever a proposal by either (1) two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature or (2) a petition submitted to the Legislature, by not fewer than 10,000 citizens which receives the concurrence of two-thirds of the membership of both Houses of the Legislature, is ratified by two-thirds of the registered voters, voting in a referendum conducted by the Elections Commission not sooner than one year after the action of the Legislature,” it states.

On July 19, 2022, both houses of the Legislature, the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate agreed to amend Chapter 20 of the Aliens Nationality Law of Liberia, as seen in this news report.

Before this amendment, the law stated that unless they have previously resided in Liberia, a child who is a citizen by virtue of the provisions should lose their citizenship. They must go before a Liberian consul and take the oath of allegiance to the Republic of Liberia, which is required of a petitioner for naturalisation, before attaining the age of 23 to be considered citizens.

Limitation of the Dual Citizenship Law

Article 4 of the Amendment Law states that Liberians with dual citizenship will be ineligible to hold any elected public office and ministerial positions like Defense Minister, Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and Minister of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP). It further states that any such person interested in contesting for an elected public office must renounce the citizenship of the other country at least one year before applying to the National Election Commission to be a candidate. 

So while the lawmakers may have followed due process in bringing back a Dual Citizens law that the citizens have overwhelmingly rejected through a referendum, the citizens appear not to be on the same wavelength. 

What motivated the lawmakers to pass this law?

DUBAWA spoke to the lawmakers from the ruling establishment and the opposition on what motivated them to pass a law the citizens had rejected. 

Montserrado County Senator and member of the opposition Liberty party, Abraham Darius Dillon, said that Dual Citizenship is in the country’s best interest and that every Liberian should support it. 

“When a Liberian citizen goes out of the country and acquires citizenship, they always come back to Liberia to invest by building homes in the country,” he stated.

He added that the law prior to the amendments was inconsistent with Liberia’s Supreme Law. Citing Article 2 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution, Dillon affirms that the government was right to amend the law.

The Liberian Constitution, in Article 2 of 1986, states, “Any laws, treaties, statutes, decrees, customs and regulations found to be inconsistent with it shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no legal effect. The Supreme Court, under its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.”

What do Liberians think about the law?

A Liberian journalist, and host of a popular radio talk show in the country, Weekie Brooks, is unsatisfied with the lawmakers’ conduct.   

Brooks, who is the host of the program “The Morning Ride” aired on Kool 91.9 FM and its official Facebook page on Monday, January 9, 2023, indicated that the legislature and executive branches of the Liberian government virtually overturned the results of the country’s 2020 National Referendum all by themselves without consulting the people who put them in Parliament.

 “There are decisions made by Librarians but most often overturned by the Executive and Legislative branches of government. People you sent to represent you should sometimes come back to consult you on some of their decisions. They do not care about you,” Mr Brooks stated. 

Following his outburst, DUBAWA decided to engage the views of a cross-section of Liberians on what they make of their lawmakers’ decision to bring back a law they, the citizens, had rejected.

The researcher visited the University of Liberia (UL) to engage lecturers and students on the bill.

Mr Kpanyoun Philip Wakocco, a demography lecturer, told DUBAWA he is in favour of the amended law by the legislature because it provides potential Liberians, who would otherwise have been denied,  an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the growth and development of the country. 

“I’m in favour of this Bill because this is a very good Bill. It is good because it will allow other Liberians outside of the country to contribute to nation-building and the country’s economy, Even though I am in favour of this Bill, I do not fully agree with the part that limits those dual citizens Liberians from holding certain governmental positions,” he said.

Felo Dennis, a student, told DUBAWA that the law is not in the best interest of the ordinary Liberian people. Dennis indicated that lawmakers make these kinds of laws to only benefit them and their children born outside the country.

“We pay them a huge sum, and they live in luxury. When their wives are pregnant, they take them outside the country to give birth. In return, those children become citizens of that country. They get a better education and live the best of life at our expense, and they, in return, come back to rule us because of the law they have passed,” Dennis said. 

DUBAWA also engaged the views of some petty traders. Ma Musu, who sells bitter balls and pepper, said that the law is only in the interest of the rich. 

“These people are only doing this for themselves and their families and friends,” she said.

Richard Massaley, another trader down Waterside market in central Monrovia and one of Liberia’s leading commercial hubs, told DUBAWA that the law is good and in the country’s and its people’s best interest. Massaley believes that the law will aid the country’s growth. 

“These very people are already contributing to the country’s economy through the remittances they send back home to family members. Why don’t we make them our citizens when they are Liberians?” he said.

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