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Opinions Thu, 20 Jun 2013

Is there a lawyer in the house? Help me out

Ok where are the lawyers? Let's talk constitution; you know; the part that says if you become a citizen of another country, then you are no longer a Ghanaian.... It never sat well with me. I have tried many times to wrap my head around it and have never been able to. How can the government take one's citizenship away from him/her without cause? How can that be?

Too many of us have given the government a pass with the excuse that you can have dual citizenship. Yes, you can, but you have to apply for it. If someone can give you citizenship, he can take it away from you too. Others may say parliament passed a constitution and referendum approved it; hogwash.

Assuming that many of those who are most affected are those who have traveled the world, got educated well and have maybe become politically astute, who benefits from taking away these people's citizenship from them? How about politicians who may feel they can't compete with influx of politically astute Ghanaians coming back home to participate in politics? If this is not so, I do not think anyone has explained well how taking away benefits from Ghanaians born in Ghana and of Ghanaian parents benefits Ghana. Until it is explained to me, I will continue to believe that the reason is purely to protect politicians who maybe shaking in their boots for the thought of competing with a well rounded Ghanaian coming from outside Ghana. If politics is their concern, there are better ways to handle it in a better way than to take away people's citizenship.

Whatever the reason may be, I am appalled that Ghanaians will take this abomination in stride. That constitution was a shabbily done job. If you want to write a constitution that takes away people's birthright, you should do it with tremendous care. While I am proud of Ghana and Ghanaians of all stripes, I cannot say that we are the most literate bunch well schooled in the matters in constitution that we cannot be manipulated by a charismatic politician.

Aside from this, at the time of the referendum, I was a Ghanaian no matter where I lived. You would think the government would go the extra mile to give me a chance to have my say. I did not get to vote in that referendum and I imagine many like me didn't get to vote either.

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Matters of constitution should never be so casual. Britain is still a constitutional monarchy. Whatever that mean, we all know that technically, the word of the queen is the law of Britain whether practiced or not. Most countries claiming to be democratic often look to the United States as a model of their democracy and Ghana doesn't seem to be any different. Changing the constitution in the United States is not an easy feat. First, congress (meaning the House of Representatives and the Senate) has to pass the constitution. Following that, two thirds of the States have to pass the constitution before it is adopted. Notice that in the end, many, many more people, elected to represent the people, who should be schooled in matters of constitution, get a vote before US constitution can be changed or amended; far cry from our parliament and a referendum to pass a constitution.

Moving away from the 1992 Constitution, I remember a constitution committee traveling around to do a study for an amendment to the constitution. I remember they presented their report to President Atta Mills in the December before he passed. He never released the report for public discussion. President Mahama took over from President Mills and never found it necessary to release that report. We have since had an election and a President in place. We are still awaiting the report from the constitution committee. I wonder if there will ever be a public discussion of the report before it gets anywhere if it will get anywhere at all.

As of now, I have assumed that I am not a Ghanaian citizen any longer because of news reports and an immigration officer stopping me at the airport and telling me that I am not a citizen and I do not have a visa and thus no permission to enter Ghana. The constitution, as it stands, besides saying that you are no longer a Ghanaian if you become a citizen of another country, says that you do not lose your Ghanaian citizenship if the citizenship of another country is a result of a marriage to a native of that country. This is an ambiguity that an immigration officer at Kotoka International Airport is not going to resolve for you. I have not see anywhere the discussion of this point nor have I seen this ambiguity resolved in government.

Besides the above, I became a citizen of the country that I am a citizen of long before the constitution took my Ghanaian citizenship away from me, if in fact it has been taken away from me. I would think fairness would dictate that I'd be given a chance to declare if I want to forgo my Ghanaian citizenship. Those who drafted the constitution, those who passed it and those who enforce it did not see any more than wanting to pass a constitution. These matters deserve a little more careful an approach than they were given.

For those who want to know, if a US embassy finds out that an American citizen has become a citizen of another country, they ask the person if it is his/her intention to give up his/her US citizenship. If the person says no, he/she remains an American citizen. If the person says yes, then he/she is advised on how to go about giving up the US citizenship.

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In this age of "Think Tanks" popping up everywhere in Ghana, is there no "Think Tank" in Ghana that would take the course of this issue and put the government's feet to the fire? Is there no lawyer in Ghana who would be bold enough to make the government prove the need for taking people's birthright from them? Is there no lawyer in Ghana who thinks that the Supreme Court of Ghana should have a chance to set precedence on whether the government can take a Ghanaian's birthright from him or her? Are these arguments I am making here not valid enough to test in court? Come on Lawyers. At any rate, I think it is worth the discussion.

I will end with this. The first time my oldest daughter went to Ghana and visited Cape Coast castle, they told her that there was a price rate for a Ghanaian and a price rate for foreigners. My daughter refused to pay the price for foreigners and therefore did not go into the castle. She told me that it wasn't the money. She said if she agreed to pay the rate for foreigners, then she was agreeing that she was not a Ghanaian. She said she felt as Ghanaian as anyone of those people there. I was proud of her.

6:15 in the evening and an hour and a half after work, I am a little tired. I am not much interested in proof reading this opinion article so good or bad, I will take my licks from the English Majors. I just hope I make sense to those who care.

Tony Pobee-Mensah

Columnist: Pobee-Mensah, Tony