Citizenship by registration in Nigeria and the struggle for gender equality

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Babatunde Christian Denton
The City Law Associates, Lagos


Citizenship is the legal link between an individual and a state or territory as a result of which the individual is entitled to certain protections, rights and is subject to certain reciprocal obligations and allegiance.[1] What this means is that as an individual, there is a relationship between you and the state/country, which entitles you to certain privileges and obligations which come with being a citizen of the state.

The issue of Nigerian citizenship is a constitutional concern, which is clearly specified under Chapter 3 of the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Chapter 3 of the Constitution has 8 sections (sections 25-32) dedicated to citizenship. The constitution of Nigeria is the most prominent of all laws of the land. Section 1(1) of the 1999 constitution states that:

‘(1) This Constitution is supreme and its provision shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

(2) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

(3) If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.’[2]

As this section states, the Constitution is supreme and cannot be challenged. It is above ethnicity, religion, organisations and individuals.

Now that citizenship has been defined, it is also crucial to give a detail analysis of citizenship by registration, as that is the subject of this article. Citizenship by registration is one of the three categories of citizenship in Nigeria. The other two are citizenship by birth and citizenship by naturalisation.[3]

Citizenship by registration is a type of citizenship given to a person who marries someone in a particular country because marriage entails registration. What this means is that when an individual gets married to another person, they often have to register their marriage in order to make it official and legally binding before the laws of the land. As a result of the said marriage, the individual married to the citizen of the country also becomes a citizen by registration.

The provisions of section 26 of the 1999 Constitution explain that an individual who is not Nigerian by birth can become a citizen of Nigeria by registration. An individual can apply to become a Nigerian citizen by registration if they satisfy these conditions:

  • The person is of good character (this statement should be testified by two people, and one of them should be a religious minister).
  • This person expresses and shows a clear intention of his inclination/desire/wish to be domiciled in Nigeria.
  • This person has subscribed to the oath of allegiance to Nigeria, which is provided by the seventh schedule of the Nigerian Constitution.[4]

Looking at the first point, ‘good character’ means that the person is a law-abiding citizen who has not breached any of the laws of the land.

The second point refers to the foreigner’s intention to be a permanent resident of Nigeria. This can be achieved by being a member of a religious organisation, cultural organisation, paying taxes to the Nigerian government and having a secure job or business.

Once the foreign national has established the first two points of the Act, he/she will plead an oath of allegiance at the citizenship ceremony in order to be registered as a citizen of Nigeria.

The Oath reads as follows:

‘I, […] do solemnly swear/affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that I will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’[5]

The second part of section 26 of the amended constitution deals with the classes of persons who are qualified to apply for citizenship by registration. There are only two classes of persons eligible for this category of citizenship, and which are:

‘(2). The provision of this section shall apply to –

(a). any woman who is or has been married to a citizen of Nigeria; or

(b). every person of full age and capacity born outside Nigeria and of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria.’[6]

The first class of person of section 26(2) is the very subject matter of the proposed Bill. It specifically states that only foreign women who are eligible for Nigerian citizenship by registration via their Nigerian husbands.[7] A foreign man who marries a Nigerian woman cannot become a Nigerian citizen but a foreign woman who is married to a Nigerian man can become one. Nigeria is a patriarchal society that favours men. This rule supports this.

The second class of person in this section (s 26 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)) refers to any person of full age and capacity that is born outside Nigeria and has a grandparent who is a Nigerian. In some countries, this category of persons is known as citizens by descent. The applicant must be 18 or older (the age of consent in Nigeria) before applying for Nigerian citizenship by registration.

The controversial nature of Bill 36

Several gender-related bills were proposed. They included Bill No 36 ‘an act to alter the provision of Chapter III of the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to ‘provide for Citizenship by Marriage; and for related matters’; Bill No 35 to ‘provide for special seats for women in the National and state House of Assembly’; Bill No 37 to ‘provide for affirmative action for women in political party administration’; and Bill No 68 which was to give women a quota in the federal and state executive councils or ministerial and commissionership seats. These, and a couple of other bills failed to pass. However, following protests and political pressure against the action of the National Assembly, the National Assembly rescinded its rejection of the Bill 36 five days later.

As previously stated, the objective of the Bill was to amend section 26 of the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which asserts that only foreign women married to Nigerian men are entitled to Nigerian citizenship.[8] The Bill was supposed to enable foreign spouses of Nigerian women become citizens.

There were many reasons why the Bill struggled. Many members of the House of Representatives were unhappy with the Bill. The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives (Mr Idris Wase) called for more clarification on the Bill. He asserted that even within Nigeria, there are differences in culture regarding rights of spouses.

He gave an example of the Idoma tribe of Benue State. According to Idoma culture, an Idoma woman can only be buried in her homeland. In other words, if her spouse is from another part of Nigeria, she could not be buried in her spouse’s homeland which is often the norm. Other tribes in the country have different cultures regarding the right of spouses, which were incompatible with the Bill.

In the Igbo tribe, women are still culturally forbidden from inheriting property, although a Supreme Court judgment recently overturned this, the practice still subsists. This would affect their foreign spouses who could be denied the right to their wives’ inheritance if they predecease them.

The Deputy Speaker was concerned about the conferment of automatic citizenship on foreigners based on marriage. He felt that Nigerian citizenship should be protected at all costs. However, on the other hand, foreigners who have complied with the provisions of Section 26 of the Constitution and have lived in Nigeria for a certain number of years should be entitled to Nigerian citizenship just like any other progressive society.

Another Representative, Ndudi Elumelu, raised concerns as to the merit of the proposed Bill. In his own opinion, such a Bill could bestow rights such as the right to vote and to run for office on foreigners. Technically speaking, this should not be a problem as foreigners who have resided in the country for a long period and have legally naturalised/registered as citizens should be entitled to such rights.

Impact on gender equality in Nigeria

Bill 36, together with other gender equality bills were attempting to rectify Nigeria’s massive gender imbalance issue. Currently, only seven out of 109 senators, and 22 of the 360 members of the House of Representatives are women. All the governors of Nigeria’s 36 states are male. Yet, women comprised of 47 per cent of registered voters during the last general election in 2019.

It is also interesting to note that as of February 2022, Nigeria was ranked 184 out of 187 countries in the Inter-Parliamentary Union global ranking of women in national parliament. It stands to reason that women’s rights advocates in Nigeria are sick of the country’s poor ranking and desire parity with their contemporaries in other African states. Consequently, there were protests when the bill, alongside others was initially rejected.[9] Various advocacy groups came together and mounted overwhelming pressure on the National Assembly which ultimately rescinded its rejection of Bill 36, but letting its rejection of the other bills stand.[10]

The problem is that a large percentage of the population in Nigeria view women as second-class citizens due to the country’s patriarchal nature. Even the women agree with this sentiment. According to a 2015 survey by the British Department for International Development, in Nigeria, 94 per cent of men and 91 per cent of women agree that a woman’s primary role is to ‘take care of the home’.


Citizenship by registration in Nigeria, as it stands, is very biased towards the female gender. The recent decision by the Nigerian House of Representatives to rescind its rejection of Bill 36 offers a glimmer of hope to women’s rights activists who have spent years campaigning for gender equality in Nigeria. The issue of culture and religion has also made it difficult for those who create laws in the country to allow male spouses of Nigerian women to obtain citizenship through their wives. Nevertheless, continuous pressure on the legislators should yield positive results and a change in policy.

[1] Definition of 'citizenship', The Free Dictionary, https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/citizenship accessed 28 September 2022.

[2] Section 1 of The Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

[3] Definition of Citizenship and Citizens, Nigerian Scholars, https://nigerianscholars.com/tutorials/citizenship-and-rights/summary-of-citizenship-and-rights accessed 28 September 2022.

[4] Section 26 (1) of The Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

[5] Seventh Schedule, The Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

[6] Section 26 (2) (a) (b) of The Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

[7] Unini Chioma, ‘Citizen By Marriage Is Discriminatory And Against Nigerian Women’ The Nigerian Lawyer, 14 September 2020 https://thenigerialawyer.com/citizen-by-marriage-is-discriminatory-and-against-nigerian-women accessed 28 September 2022.

[8] Bakare Majeed ‘Constitution Amendment: Reps committee adopts bill seeking to confer citizenship on foreigners married to Nigerian women’, Premium Times Nigeria 28 January 2022 www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/508328-constitution-amendment-reps-committee-adopts-bill-seeking-to-confer-citizenship-on-foreigners-married-to-nigerian-women.html accessed 28 September 2022.

[9] Ope Adetayoi ‘Nigerian women protest parliament rejection of pro-equality bills’ Aljazeera, 2 March 2022 www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/2/nigerian-women-protest-parliament-rejection-of-pro-equality-bills accessed 28 September 2022.

[10] Ope Adetayo and Eromo Egbejule ‘Nigerian parliament rescinds decision on gender equality bills’ Aljazeera, 8 March 2022 www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/8/nigerian-parliament-rescinds-decision-on accessed 28 September 2022.