The history of citizenship dates back to 19th century. This period also witnessed the origin of nation-state. Before the 19th century, members of a nation believed that citizenship was for the privileged and few people in the society. These few individuals were the rich elites, educated, nobles and property owners. On the other hand, people of low class or who are socially and economically dependants like; women, children, slaves, etc were not regarded and recognized as citizens.

The 19th and 20th centuries thus witnessed important period when citizenship was extended to all categories of people in the society. The struggle for citizenship therefore revolved around the struggle for the extension of rights to all members of the community. Citizenship therefore is a special status that is given or accorded to individuals by the state where one resides or was born. Those that are not given this status are called aliens. An alien is a person that was not born in a country where he or she resides or not accorded with citizenship status.

A citizen is someone who enjoys full political rights in a state and in return performs certain duties to the state. A citizen therefore is a legal member of a state or community where he or she resides.


Acquisition of Citizenship

In the modern society, there are five main ways of acquiring citizenship, they are:

1) Citizenship by Birth: This is the situation whereby the parents of a person are natives in a country or a person born by citizens of a country. For example, a child born by Nigerian parents automatically becomes a Nigerian by birth. In Nigeria, we call those categories of citizens “sons and daughters of the soil.”

2) Citizenship by Registration or Marriage: This occurs when a non-citizen or alien becomes a citizen by marrying the citizen of another country. For example, if a Nigerian male marries a British woman, the woman automatically becomes a Nigerian citizen through registration or marriage; and vice versa for the man.

3) Citizenship by Nationalization: This happens when an alien or a foreigner becomes a citizen of another country having fulfilled and satisfied the countries conditions to acquire the citizen of that country as laid down by the Constitution of same country. It is a process by which an individual voluntarily changes his/her citizenship of a state to that of another in which he or she resides. Some of the basic conditions that an individual applying for citizenship from another country must meet are as follows:

  • Applicant must be an adult acceptable in the community.
  • Applicant must be of good character.
  • Applicant must swear an oath of allegiance.
  • Applicant must be able and must have been contributing to community and national development and growth.
  • Applicant must have been residing in a particular community in that country for a specified period of time.

4) Honourary Citizenship: From time to time, the government of a countries have been honouring distinguished or important person or eminent persons with the citizenship of their country. For example, iconic figures in Nigeria like Sir Ahmadu Bello, or Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo have been honoured with citizenship of other countries of the world. In 1996, the Nigerian contingent that went for Atlanta Olympic Games were all conferred with the citizenship of Atlanta (USA) for their excellent and brilliant performance in football.

5) Citizenship by Blood Ties or Descent: Citizenship of a country is also acquired through blood ties. This means that if a child was born in a particular community or country, he/she does not necessarily assume the status of citizenship of that country especially if the parents are aliens. Thus, one is a real citizen only if the parents and grand-parents were originally citizens of that particular community. These sets of individuals are often called natives i.e. sons and daughters of the soil.


Withdrawal of Citizenship

Withdrawal of citizenship simply means a situation whereby citizenship conferred on an individual particularly an alien is relinquished. This can happen if any of the following things occur;

  1. If the person upon whom citizenship is conferred is being jailed for more than three years within seven years of citizenship acquisition.
  2. If the person’s behaviour, actions, or a speech was considered disloyal to the country that conferred citizenship on him or her.
  3. If the person interact, act as a spy or assist the enemy of that country where he lives in times of war or leak the secret of the country to the enemy.
  4. If the person presents a false or fake documents or data about his or herself.
  5. If the person gives false oath of allegiance etc.


Who is a Citizen?

A citizen is an individual young or old member of a community in a particular country that enjoys the full legal status and rights where he or she lives or resides as written down in the constitution of that country. A citizen is also said to be someone who enjoys full political and social rights in a state and in return performs certain duties to the state and community where he or she resides. A citizen is a legal and constitutional member of a state or country where he / she live.

The opposite of a citizen is an alien or a foreigner. An alien is someone who is not a legal and constitutional member of a state or country where he or she lives or resides. Such a person only lives in that country with visa or other permits.


Distinctions between Citizens and Aliens

The following are some of the differences or distinctions between citizens and non-citizens or aliens:

  1. Citizens are the real owners of the community and their country while aliens are residing in the country with residential permits. Citizens are sons and daughters of the country. They have right to vote and be voted for, and they enjoy all other civic rights without being restricted. Hence, as the citizens abide by the laws, the aliens must also abide by the rules and regulations of the country.
  2. Citizens cannot be sent out of their country but aliens can be sent out or repatriated. Citizens according to the law of the country of his/ her birth have the rights to work and be employer of labour in his /her country but the aliens must obtain a work permit to allow them have access to work. Again, aliens are disallowed to own certain properties in the country for security reasons.
  3. Citizens are expected to be loyal and patriotic to their country; aliens may not be so committed. It is a responsibility of the citizens to show loyalty to their country; they are expected to defend the country in the time of war. Citizens should be loyal by not leaking the countries secret to outsiders, but the aliens are not so loyal and may even refuse to defend country in case of war.
  4. Citizens owe allegiance to their country while aliens do not, for example an alien may refuse to defend the country in case of war.
  5. Citizens look at their country as their permanent home, even when they are in a foreign land; they have the hope of coming back home. The aliens on the other hand look at the country where they reside as a temporal or temporary residence or home.
  6. Citizens have constitutional rights while aliens may be restricted.


Duties and Obligations of Citizens

Duties and obligations of citizens are usually the responsibilities that the citizens owe to their state and to themselves for peace and harmony to reign supreme in the state. The citizens enjoy rights and privileges as written in the constitution. In return, citizens must accept certain duties from the state where he / she resides.

  1. Citizens must pay their taxes and other levies such as water bills, PHCN bills, toll duties etc. as at when due. Citizens must not evade tax and other lawful levies.
  2. Citizens must vote for a credible candidate in times of election and must not be involved in election malpractices such as; rigging, thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes, multiple registration, violence etc. imbibed by some citizens particularly in Nigeria. During elections, the government should endeavour to protect the citizens particularly in the times of danger.
  3. Citizens must obey lawful and constituted authority. The constituted authorities include: parents, teachers, school heads, school prefects, community heads, clergy, men and women and the police.
  4. Citizens must be loyal and patriotic to his / her country.
  5. Citizens must help protect public properties such as: public toilets, roads, public ornaments and decorations, pipe-borne water, electric facilities, crude-oil pipe lines etc.
  6. Citizens must be ready to defend and pay a supreme sacrifice for his / her country when the need arises.
  7. The national symbols must be kept intact and should not be mutilated or destroyed. Money and other national symbols should be respected by citizens and non-citizens; it should not be abused.
  8. Citizens must assist the government to make the country governable and peaceful for all. For instance, citizens should cooperate and assist the police with information to fight and control criminal activities.



This is the desire to work and struggle for the sovereignty of one’s country. This desire is usually against an internal or external force whose interest is having political, socio-cultural and economic control of another group of people or another country. Thus, nationalism is an idea that seeks to work against external control. Its aim is to bring control of one’s own destiny into one’s hands and not in the hands of others. Nationalism is the struggle against oppression, colonization, foreign rule and economic dominations.

Pictures of some nationalist leaders in Nigeria can be found on the Nigerian currencies. For example: Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahamadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa and others.


Roles of Nationalist Leaders

  1. The Nigerian nationalist leaders like Hebert Macaulay, Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello etc. helped to put an end to the reign of colonial masters in Nigeria.
  2. The nationalist leaders helped Nigeria to gain political freedom from the British Colonial rule that lasted for over one hundred years. Despite their political, ethnic and socio-cultural backgrounds, they united and cooperated to achieve a common goal, i.e. gain political and economic freedom for Nigeria.
  3. The roles of the nationalist leaders go beyond working towards political freedom; they also helped to train the leaders that took the mantle of leadership after them. Knowing fully well that education is the bedrock of national development, the leaders through their agitation and awareness creation influenced the colonial masters through various educational reforms and policies; they established higher institutions for capacity and institutional building of the nation.
  4. Through awareness creation and mobilization on radio, workshops, television programmes, newspapers etc ., the participation of the people in decision making became wide and more open.
  5. The formation of political parties enhanced the participation and involvement of the people in politics. The first political party in Nigeria was NNDP- Nigeria National Democratic Party. It was formed by Herbert Macaulay in 1922. Through party formation people now have the right to vote and be voted for.


The Major Roles of Nationalist Leaders

  1. They helped in the eventual termination of colonial rule.
  2. They helped to achieve political freedom and self-government (independence).
  3. They helped in the training of emerging Nigerian Leaders.
  4. Their activities enhanced the educational development of Nigeria. For example, Yaba College of Technology and University of Ibadan were established due to their demand.
  5. They enhanced the participation of people in politics and decision making process of their communities.
  6. They helped in the formation of political parties. For example, NNDP, NCNC, AG, NPC etc.
  7. The Nationalist leaders drew various developmental plans in their countries to encourage rapid growth and development.

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