The Nigerian Citizenship Status

In Nigeria, like any other country, rules are set to guide the affairs of its people and its relations with the rest of the world. To bring about a sense of order and nationality, the Nigerian constitution provides principally for the means by which the Nigerian citizenship can be acquired.

Citizenship as defined by Justice Wetson in Lovoie v Canada, is a juristic and political status in which an individual enjoys full legally sanctioned membership in a state and owes full allegiance to it. It allows the individual to enjoy the privileges and responsibility that comes with the status.

Going by set rules, there are three ways by which a person becomes a Nigerian citizen. They are;

  1. By birth
  2. By registration
  3. By naturalization

By birth;

Section 25 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) categorizes citizenship by birth into the period before independence and the period after independence, the independence period being October 1960. Going by the constitution, a person born in Nigeria before independence either of whose parents or grandparents are Nigerians will be considered a citizen of Nigeria.

For the period after independence, persons born in Nigeria or outside Nigeria either of whose parents or grandparents are Nigerians will be qualified as a citizen of Nigeria. The latter position of the Nigerian constitution which is wider than the former seeks to accommodate more persons into the citizenship umbrella giving a sense of flexibility to its democracy.

By Registration

The process of acquiring a Nigerian citizenship by registration is divided into two parts subsequently discussed.


This is the first method of acquiring citizenship by registration. The provision of the law as regards acquiring citizenship by marriage is quite limited. The constitution provides that a woman who is or has been married to a citizen of Nigeria will qualify to be a citizen of the country by registration. Taking a look at Section 26(a) of the constitution ‘a person to whom the provision of this section apply maybe registered as a citizen of Nigeria if the president is satisfied that…’

This provision points out the fact that marriage in itself to a Nigerian citizen is not automatic citizenship for their spouse.  A person who is or has been married to a Nigerian will be required by law to apply to the president to become a citizen, thus his or her citizenship is subject to the approval of the President of Nigeria. This provision begs the question as to uniformity in the constitution as the law only makes mention of a woman’s marriage when being interpreted strictu sensu, thus it shall not be deemed applicable where a man is married or has been married to Nigerian woman.


Going by Section 26 of the constitution, a person who was not born in Nigeria whose parents are not Nigerian citizens can be registered as a Nigerian. The requirement for citizenship by registration to take place is principally the consent obtained from the President. The consent can be obtained when certain criteria are in place. They are;

1. He must be of good character

2. He has shown clear intention of his desire to be domiciled in Nigeria

3. He has taken the Oath of Allegiance prescribed by the 7th schedule of the Constitution.

The persons that qualify for registration are persons of full age and capacity born outside Nigeria, any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria and of course as earlier mentioned any woman who is or who has been married to a citizen of Nigeria.

By naturalization;

This applies to persons who do not have any personal affiliation to Nigeria but desire to be citizens of Nigeria. Section 27 of the Constitution applies to them. They are required to apply to the president for a certificate of naturalization. Section 27(2) of the constitution provides that

‘No person shall be qualified to apply for the grant of a certificate or naturalization unless he satisfies the president that-

  1. He is a person of full age and capacity.
  2. He is a person of good character.
  3. He has shown clear intention of his desire to be domiciled in Nigeria.
  4. He is in the opinion of the governor of the stte to which he proposes to be resident, acceptable to the local community.
  5. He is a person who has made or who is capable of making useful contribution to the advancement of Nigeria.
  6. He has taken the Oath of Allegiance
  7. He had resided in Nigeria for a period of 5 years, aggregately or continuously.

It is not however clear if the applicant will have to fulfill all or some of the afore-stated requirement before he or she can be granted the certificate of naturalization.

The Nigerian dream

The American dream, the term which is the prototype for which the term ‘the Nigerian dream’ is being coined is an idea by which equality of opportunities is made available to every American allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved. According to James Truslow Adams in 1931,’life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth’

After the Second World War, the idea behind the American dream was packaged and transmitted to other nations of the world to buy into. This includes Britain, China, Russia and other world powers. Although not in accordance with the American democracy, other countries have been led to create versions of this famous ideology to foster equality, unity, and growth amongst its people. Rosenberg has called the overseas version of the American dream a liberal developmentalism. Coined from the bestselling book in 1931, “Epic of America”, a term that can be likened to a jar of candy allowed by the storekeeper to only be sold to children is undeniably an advantage that comes with the American green card.

Translating the concept of the American dream to its Nigerian counterpart, the Nigerian dream seems like an utopian picture being painted by the Preamble to the Nigerian Constitution. The last paragraph of the Preamble states that ‘… and to provide for a constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom, equality and justice and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people…’

This means invariably that the government is to protect the right of every Nigerian citizen and to guide their path to economic prosperity. Your destiny not to be determined by caste, religion, gender or cultural background but the law is to protect your right to pursue better life. 

A glance at the picture being painted by the Preamble will without any doubt create a sense of identification and ideal of the Nigerian dream. A dream that is to cater for the entirety of the Nigerian people, the status of a citizenship that should be celebrated. However, the current of affairs in Nigeria begs the question as to whether the Green passport Nigerian dream is nightmare that we want to wake up from or a sweet dream just being threatened.

Faced with a threatened democracy and a recurring history of fraudulent Nigerians marring the image of Nigeria to the international community, Nigerians have been forced to keep our once noble passports in our back pockets and go in search to acquire the status of citizenship in other countries. This should not be the case, it is right to say that the responsibility to change the narrative is a collective effort and should not be left alone to theory.


About Udolisa, Sophia Chinazo

UDOLISA, Sophia Chinazo, a Graduate of the University of Uyo is a Nigerian Writer/Lawyer/Content Creator. She is currently an Associate at Opal Law Office and a member of the Chartered Institute of Conciliators and Mediators. Her areas of interest are in Alternative Dispute Resolution,Commercial/Corporate Practice,Labour and Fintech. She is passionate about creating awareness on legal issues and questions that people may have thus her drive in creating content for that purpose".