Nigerian children at risk as UN declares 750,000 stateless in West Africa, WACSOF warns

The West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) has said that Nigerian children maybe exposed to statelessness if appropriate measures were not taken to domesticate the two statelessness conventions, ratified in April 2011.

According a statement issued by the Acting General Secretary of WACSOF, Auwal Ibrahim Musa, it noted that “statelessness in Nigeria is not always well understood and the very nature of the phenomenon makes it difficult to assess its scope and magnitude.”

The statement explained that “the United Nations (UN) describes statelessness as a situation in which an individual is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its laws.

“Such a person is said to be invisible, without an identity and deprived of his or her fundamental human rights. More than 10 million people worldwide are in this situation with more than 750,000 of them found in West Africa. With the growing rate of statelessness, if no global action is taken, it would pose a great danger to us all, as some of these stateless persons could become targets of terrorist groups and used as mercenaries”.

Musa further said “Preliminary analysis shows that risk of statelessness include failure to register birth of children; failure to provide safeguards for children who are abandoned or persons who want to relinquish their nationality; failure to provide safeguards for children born to parents of different nationalities among others.

Speaking further on Nigeria, he said “the two statelessness conventions, ratified in April 2011, are yet to be domesticated and legislative reforms are still pending. There is a need to bring all stakeholders together to support the strengthening of legal framework, improve institutional capacity and take practical steps to reduce risks of statelessness. The role of partnership between government entities and civil society organisations must be further strengthened.

He said that in the Nigerian context, civil society actors function to reduce the gap between national approaches and local realities. They must be able to represent and convey the aspirations of these most vulnerable segments of society, in this case, stateless persons, including women and children, by providing credible, objective analysis of their needs, while taking heed of the limits of existing policy frameworks.

“In its bid to end statelessness in Nigeria, the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) with support from The United Nations High Commission on Refugees is launching a project “Reducing risk of Statelessness in Nigeria through research, advocacy and empowerment/sensitization of National authorities, Civil Society Organizations and other stakeholders to support efforts towards the reduction of risks/situations of statelessness in Nigeria through evidenced based advocacy and multi stakeholder sensitization/awareness.

“We strongly believe that, Nigeria with her diplomatic weight can play a great role in the reduction and prevention of statelessness across the West Africa sub-region, hence the choice to begin this project in Nigeria. We want Nigeria to lead the campaign to restore the nationality of stateless persons and improve national laws to end statelessness in West Africa.

“The project will kick-start with a study on the scope of statelessness in Nigeria and development of a national plan of action to end statelessness in the country”, he added.

He stated that after the project, it is expected that “Practical actions to be taken by all relevant actors to support the Nigerian Government to domesticate and implement measures to guarantee the right to a nationality for anyone with relevant link to Nigeria within the context of existing legal instruments identified; identified organisations and stakeholders (including relevant government agencies and international partners) which have increased understanding of the scope of statelessness, rights to a nationality and access to information on level of risks in relation to losing their nationality and /or how to acquire citizenship if they are affected.”