Monrovia - Justices at the Supreme Court of Liberia recently heard argument on a landmark case that could have widespread implications for all Liberians who are citizens of other countries applying for Liberian passports.
The Court may consider whether the Liberians should have dual citizenship while they are living in other countries.
A full bench heard the arguments of the Alvin Teage Jalloh, a man Liberian born and naturalized US citizen versus Liberian government.
Alvin Teage Jalloh was represented by and thru his attorney Jerome Korkoya of City of Monrovia Versus Olubanke King Akerele, Minister of Foreign Affairs (former), Christiana Tah, Attorney General, Minster of Justice (former) and Milton Nathaniel Barnes, Liberia’s Ambassador to the U.S (former) in the action petition in Re: Constitutionality of sections 22.1 &22.2 of the Alien and Nationality Act.
The case was brought following a decision by the Consular officer to refuse a passport to Mr. Jalloh who lives in the US.
In the petition, Mr, Jalloh argued that he was born March 23, 1975 in Bopolu, Gbarpolu to two Liberian citizens and acquired his Liberian citizenship at birth.
He says after fleeing the consequences of the brutal civil war in Liberia, he acquired a U.S citizenship in accordance with the naturalization law of the U.S.
He challenged section 22.1 (subsections A, B, C, D) and section 22.2 of the alien and nationality act of Liberia.
Chapter 22 of the Alien and Nationality Law of Liberia prohibits Liberian citizens from taking other nationalities or engaging in certain acts in foreign countries like joining the armed forces or voting in elections.
The Alien and Nationality Law came into effect on May 15, 1973 with amendments on May 9, 1974. This statute also draws inspiration from Article 28 of the constitution which states in relevant parts that “No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality.”
The law is clear at section 22.1 that “...A person who is a citizen of Liberia whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his citizenship...” by deliberately or consciously performing certain acts like naturalizing in a foreign country; pledging allegiance to a foreign country or a part of a foreign country; joining the armed services of a foreign country without the prior approval of the President of Liberia; voting in a political or sovereignty election in a foreign state or territory; and making a formal renunciation of Liberian nationality.
Subsection 22.2 goes on to explain that no one can lose his or her citizenship by government action. Someone can lose their Liberian citizenship solely from the performance of one or more of the acts listed in section 22.1. It states that “The loss of citizenship under section 22.1 of this title shall result solely from the performance by a citizen of the acts or fulfilment of the conditions specified in such section and without the institution by the Government of any proceedings to nullify or cancel such citizenship.”
Jalloh in his petition says the Liberian government enforcement of the sections are unconstitutional.
“Specifically, the self-executing language of section 22.2 directs automatic deprivation of Liberian citizenship without a hearing and a judgment as mandated by the due process clause of Article 20(a).
He continued: “When a Liberian citizen becomes a naturalized citizen of a foreign country, votes in a foreign election, or serves in the armed forces of a foreign country without prior approval from the president of Liberia.”
Jalloh requested the Court to declare the challenged provisions (sections) unconstitutional and bar the Government from enforcing the sections.
Jalloh said he has the legal standing to challenge the Constitution because he is affected by the self-executing statutes.
“I have been prejudiced by the Government of Liberia’s action to give effect to the challenged statutes, my rights to Liberian citizenship including my constitutional right to enter Liberia at any time, are being infringed upon.”
“And moreover the Government admission that the challenged statutes deprived me of my Liberian citizenship also supports my standing to maintain this petition, “It cannot be denied that one who is prejudiced or threatened by the enforcement of an act of the legislature may questions its constitutionality,” he says.
Jalloh is represented by National Election Commission Chairman Jerome Korkoya who has also been sued at the lower court (Civil Law Court) on having a U.S passport and presiding as chair of the Elections commission.
On May 3, a notice of additional counsel was given to the high court adding Cllr. Seward Cooper as additional counsel to Cllr. Korkoya.
The petitioner said the sections are inconsistent with Article 20 (A) of the constitution, were repealed by Article 95(A) of the 1986 Constitution.
“The Government of Liberia cannot deprive me or any other Liberian of their natural born Liberian citizenship without his expressed consent, or without first proving intent to give up such citizenship.”
He said a Liberian will always be a Liberian as supported by the Liberian constitution requesting the high court to strike sections from the constitution.
Responding to the petition, the Liberian Government said Jalloh alleged that he is a natural born Liberian citizen but failed to prove that both his parents are indeed Liberian citizens hailing from Bopolu.
Additionally, the state requested the court to declare the sections are consistent with the constitution of the Republic of Liberia.
That the framers of the constitution (1986) or any law did not intend to grant Liberian citizenship to any person who possess with another citizenship.
The state: “Declare that neither the constitution of Liberia (1986) nor any law currently in force in Liberia requires that the Government of Liberia inquire whether a Liberian citizen who takes up another citizenship has the intent to retain his/her Liberian citizenship, prior to his/ her deprivation of citizenship.”
Meanwhile, the court has reserved ruling and may rule in the handling down of its opinion.