THE DUAL CITIZENSHIP DEBACLEJanuary 31, 2018
The recent debacle over the qualification of citizens of Sierra Leone to be elected to serve as members of parliament, ministers and deputy ministers or even the presidency have opened a can of worms into the effectiveness of our immigration department and its policies and the laws regulating immigration and citizenship in Sierra Leone. The laws on citizenship have existed since the independence constitution of 1961.
There then followed legislation in the form of the Non-Citizens (Registration, Immigration and Expulsion) Act, 1965 which made provisions for those who are non-citizens. Citizenship of Sierra Leone was provided for under subsection (3) of section 1 of the 1961 constitution. Two further constitutions followed in 1971 and 1978 which has existed until the current 1991 constitution was enacted.
Following the enactment of the 1971 republican constitution, Parliament thought it fit to enact a specific law on citizenship for Sierra Leone, which was the Citizenship Act 1973, which repealed the Sierra Leone Nationality and Citizenship Act 1962. This law provides a number of key provisions as set out below:
- Citizenship by birth
- Dual citizenship and loss of citizenship
- Commonwealth and foreign citizenship
- Renewal of previous citizenship
- Renunciation and deprivation of citizenship
In 2006, the Government of Sierra Leone considered the position unsatisfactory with regard to citizens of Sierra Leone who also held citizenship of a foreign country. It therefore enacted the Sierra Leone citizenship (Amendment) Act 2006. A number of provisions of the existing 1973 were amended as follows:
Sections: 2, 9, 10, 16, 19 by the insertion of a new s19A, 22 by the insertion of a new 22A Sections 6, 11 and 23 were repealed.
The key provision in these amendments is section 5 of the 2006 amendment Act which repeals section 10 of the 1973 Act. It provides:
“A citizen of Sierra Leone may hold a citizenship of another country in addition to his citizenship of Sierra Leone”
Further, the new section 19A provides: Where any citizen of Sierra Leone, being of full age and capacity, has at any time
(a) acquired the citizenship of any foreign country
(i) by birth; or
(ii) by any voluntary or formal act; or
(b) done any act or thing the sole or primary purpose of which or the effect of which was or is to acquire the citizenship of a foreign country, and that person ceased to be a Sierra Leonean citizen by reason thereof, he may, if he so wishes resume his Sierra Leonean citizenship.”
A key provision in the 1973 Act survives the amendments in the 2006 Act. Section 15 is one such provision which provides:
- Renunciation of citizenship
(1) Where any citizen of Sierra Leone who is of full age and capacity makes a declaration renouncing his citizenship of Sierra Leone, the Minister shall, if he is satisfied that the person is, or on ceasing to be a citizen of Sierra Leone, will become-
(a)a citizen of a Commonwealth country, or of the Republic of Ireland; or
(b)a national of a foreign country,
cause the declaration to be registered, and thereupon that person shall cease to be a citizen of Sierra Leone:
Provided that the Minister may withhold registration of such declaration if he is satisfied-
(i) That the person is ordinarily resident in Sierra Leone; or
(ii) That the person has acquired such rights or interest in Sierra Leone as the Minister considers to be inconsistent with an alien nationality; or
(iii) That the registration would otherwise be contrary to the public good.
(2) For the purposes of this section, any woman who is or has been married shall be deemed to be of full age, and of full capacity if she is not of unsound mind.
In these circumstances it appears that where a citizen of Sierra Leone loses his citizenship with the resultant requirement to resume, the obvious question to ask is how does one resume his citizenship. The wording of section 19A of the 2006 Amendment appears to confirm that resumption of citizenship is voluntary on the part of the individual who had lost his citizenship. However, it appears that the immigration department has not been proactive in applying the provisions of section 15 of the 1973 Act. Section 10 of the 1973 Act prohibited the holding of dual citizenship. Section 11 confirmed the loss of such citizenship where the person has attained the age of 21. Where citizens of Sierra Leone renounce their citizenship, it is for the minister (after having been notified by the Immigration Department) to cause that declaration to be registered and thereupon the person shall cease to be a citizen of Sierra Leone. In a situation where no declaration is made in Sierra Leone does the foreign declaration of renunciation made abroad effective in Sierra Leone? It appears that may not be the case. However, since the amendment in 2006, it appears that a citizen merely has to resume his citizenship by application for a Sierra Leone passport. This is far from satisfactory. The Immigration Department must take the lead in addressing issues of citizenship. At present we have a situation where the laws on citizenship are far from clear. What is however clear is having lost one’s citizenship by voluntary renunciation, a procedure needs to be followed. Where the procedure as set out in Section 15 of the 1973 Act appears not to have been followed, it is questionable as to whether the citizenship has been lost at all. The provisions of the 1973 Act and the 2006 need to be read as being in conflict with the constitution if the constitutional provision is to override it. Where one renounces their citizenship of another country, they need to provide clear evidence of renunciation. It may be that in so far as this election is concerned, every candidate needs to sign a declaration to the effect that they do not hold dual citizenship before election date.