Liberia: Lawmakers Debate “Contentious Citizenship”Amendment

The Liberian House of Representatives was a scene of confusion on the amendment of certain clauses in the Liberian Constitution especially a particular clause which restricts citizenship to people of non-negro descent.

Members of Parliament in Liberia

Members of Parliament in Liberia

Weeks following President George M. Weah’s call for the removal of a “racist” clause in the West African nation’s Constitution which restricts citizenship and acquisition of property to only blacks, a member of the House has summited two bills to Plenary for amendment by that body.
President Weah in his State of the Nation address on January 29, 2018 said the clause was unnecessary, racist and inappropriate. The Liberian President pledged to remove the law that prevents foreigners especially those of non negro descent from owning properties especially land.

A representative from the sub-political division of Grand Kru County J. Fonati Koffa, in his petition to Plenary of the House, said the purpose of the amendment of the Constitution of Liberia is necessary to allow non-citizens especially people of non-negro descent residing in Liberia to own properties with certain restrictions.

Cllr. Koffa, the House Chairman on Judiciary, informed his colleagues that the Republic of Liberia was founded by freed slaves from America for the purpose of creating an enclave for Africans and peoples of African descent to survive and prosper.

The resolution calling for the amendment of citizenship provision of the Constitution of the Republic was presented to Members of the 54th Legislature in its 8th day sitting of the 1st session by the Chairman on Judiciary Committee.

The document received stiff resistance on the floor from some members of the House who vehemently protested that the amendment of the Constitution to open up Liberia’s citizenship to people of other races is not in the best interest of the people of Liberia though no further reason was given by the protesting lawmakers.

Arguments over the draft legislation was stalled by the protesting lawmakers and as a result, the instruments were sent to committee room for further discussion before putting it before Plenary for decision.

As the argument ensued in the House, the bills were seized by the  House Speaker, Bhofal Chambers who said discussion will continue on the two instruments when the proper steps are taken to correct some of the missteps in submitting the bills.

Liberia Capirol Building

Liberia Capitol Building

Several lawmakers whose names were attached to copy of the bill as co-sponsors called for the removal of their names because, according to them, they weren’t aware of their names been placed as signatories to the bill.

In an effort to lay the argument to rest, Bomi County Representative Edwin Snowe called for a motion to identify signatories/Sponsors of the Bills which was granted by the presiding officer.
Rep. Snowe wanted to know those who sponsored and co-sponsored the bills but Rep. Crayton Duncan of Sinoe County in open session, called for the removal of his name as Co-sponsor claiming that he wasn’t aware of his name being placed on the document.

In a Resolution read by the Chief Clerk of the House, the lawmakers said Liberia is a part of the global village and increasingly interdependent as the world is striving to harmonize race, ethnicity, religion and national origin.

Buttressing President Weah’s decision to remove the clause in the Constitution that restricts people of non-negro descent, Cllr. Koffa said Article 22 of the Constitution needs to reflect the new international realities so that Liberia can truly become a competitive and prosperous global partner.

Article 91 of the Organic Law of the state allows an amendment of the Liberia Constitution by two-thirds of both Houses of the Legislature and ratified by two thirds of registered voters in a national referendum.

Flag of Liberia

Flag of Liberia

The Bills which caused a stir in the Chamber of the House on Thursday was later placed before Plenary for discussion after an executive session that lasted for nearly an hour. During the discussion, some representatives continue with the argument that the decision to remove the clause was too early.

President Weah, before recommending the removal of the clauses, disclosed that citizenship is an inalienable right of all natural born Liberians which cannot be taken away by judicial decree or other state action, provided however, that any natural born Liberian citizen may relinquish such right by making a former declaration of renunciation in the Republic in a court of competent jurisdiction or overseas before a consular officer.



Meanwhile, after heated argument the resolution to amend certain provisions of the
Constitution of Liberia, especially on Property and Citizenship rights was accepted and sent to the Committee on Judiciary, Claims and Petition, Lands, Mines and Energy and Ways, Means and Finance for review before returning it to plenary.

At the same time, some members of the House have called on the Grand Kru County lawmaker to recuse himself from discussing the two bills due to his position as Chairman on Judiciary of the House of Representatives.

Lincoln Barcon Reporting from Monrovia, Liberia