Source: Front Page Africa (Monrovia)
By A. Teage Jalloh, Esq., firstname.lastname@example.org, Contributing Writer
Some constitutional provisions are ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. One provision that is not ambiguous, however, is Article 28 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution which states, in relevant part, that “Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country.”
Notwithstanding this clear and straightforward language, particularly its narrowed renunciation clause, some have sought to expand it to other Liberians. Their argument misconstrues Article 28, as both the text of the 1986 Constitution and its draft show the following: (i) The Constitution recognizes a limited form of dual citizenship for a Liberian who acquires another citizenship by reason of his or her non-Liberian parent being a citizen of that country; (ii) The framers of the Constitution considered but rejected language that would have expanded Article 28’s renunciation clause to a Liberian who acquires the citizenship of another country by virtue of being born in that country; and (iii) because the Constitution provides for a government of enumerated powers, one cannot imagine something that is not in our written Constitution simply to take away or deny a right or privilege that he or she might not like.
We begin by noting that our present Constitution came into force on January 6, 1986, and that in recognition of persons who were already Liberian citizens prior to January 6, 1986, Article 27(a) of the Constitution states: “All persons who, on the coming into force of this Constitution were lawfully citizens of Liberia shall continue to be Liberian citizens.” We will later return to Article 27(a) to show why this group of citizens are unaffected by Article 28’s narrowed renunciation clause.
Moving to Article 28, its first clause declares: “Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia.” This language is clear: A person born anywhere in the world to at least one Liberian parent is a Liberian by birth. Moreover, because Article 27(a) already covers the citizenship of persons who were Liberian citizens prior to the coming into force of the 1986 Constitution, we can reasonably conclude that Article 28’s citizenship clause only applies to Liberians born on or after January 6, 1986, and that any prohibition therein will have to be applied forward as in keeping with the 1986 Constitution which further states in Article 21 that no “person shall be made subject to any law or punishment which was not in effect at the time of commission of an offense.”
If no Liberian can be made subject to any law or punishment that was not in effect at the time he or she acquired a foreign citizenship, especially Liberians whose citizenship are covered by Article 27(a), can those who seek to expand Article 28’s renunciation language honestly say that such Liberians are not enjoying dual citizenship by default? If such right is being enjoyed, why seek to deny others from enjoying it?
The second clause of Article 28, connected to the first clause by a semicolon, states as follows: “provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country.”