‘We want our full citizenship right’ – Nasser Ayoub
A popular business entrepreneur and philanthropist has broken his silence on the issue of nationality prejudice in Sierra Leone. Nasser Ayoub (in photo), who was born in Sefadu, Kono district in 1971 to Dr. Soko Tamba, said he is among hundreds of other Sierra Leoneans who have suffered discrimination since birth and therefore called on the authorities to put an end to all forms of racial discrimination.
“I am a third generation Sierra Leonean, my grandfather was born here, my father was born here and I was born here too in Sefadu, Kono which makes me a Sierra Leonean but the only crime I have committed for not getting my full citizenship right is my skin colour,’’ Ayoub said in an exclusive interview with this press.
According to Ayoub, he cannot hold a Sierra Leonean passport at the moment nor can he hold any top office. He said Sierra Leone is the only country they know as home but that the authorities are yet to accept them as citizens. “We have faced discrimination in every sphere – sports, politics, business; and it is high time our leaders take a second look at our laws. We want to blend with our people, we want to feel part of the decision making process, we want to acquire properties, we want to contribute to tourism, we want to develop the economy, we want to call this place home, but the country’s existing laws put a barrier against us to achieving all of these,” he said, adding that “most people think I am a Lebanese but I am not. In fact, I hold a British passport [through duration of stay] and at the same time can also acquire a dual citizenship just like Ministers, Members of Parliament, and even former Heads of State”.
However, Ayoub revealed that there are many ways he could have used to acquire Sierra Leonean citizenship and passport, but that he has decided to do that through the legal channel. “We all know that over 90% of foreigners who are holders of Sierra Leone passports got it through the illegal means. The sole reason for them to acquire these passports is for them not to pay the normal amounts for running their businesses here and thereby denying the government of badly needed revenue. This channel will continue to thrive until and unless government legitimises the process,” he observed.
He recommended the formation of a committee that will get rid of all passports acquired through the illegal means. He said he is willing to dedicate his service to that end.
Ayoub said an amendment of the 1991 Constitution on citizenship right is overdue. He said Sierra Leone is perhaps the only country in the world that still maintains the word “Negro” in its law books. “What constitutes a citizen?” Ayoub enquired. He said the worldwide acceptable standards of gaining citizenship is in three forms: that is through citizenship by birth citing the United States of America as an example, citizenship by the duration of stay in a country for example the UK, and by naturalisation. He said ones colour should not deprive him from his citizenship rights.
Ayoub, who has established several successful businesses that employ more than 100 Sierra Leoneans including a hotel and a radio station, said racial discrimination also affects the economy and especially the development of the tourism sector. He said according to the laws of Sierra Leone, people who are considered as foreigners cannot buy properties including land. He said foreign investors do not feel secured in Sierra Leone. He said in The Gambia for example one can purchase land and establish a 5-star hotel there without the authorities questioning your eligibility for citizenship, which according to him, is the contrary in Sierra Leone. He said in Sierra Leone, foreigners are forced to get things the illegal way by offering bribes.
Ayoub expressed disappointment at the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sierra Leone. He said the issue of racial discrimination has attracted lots of interest both inside and outside of Sierra Leone, including Amnesty International and the US embassy in their annual global reports on rights issue. He said the HRC should be championing this course but has not done the least. He said they are about to form an association of which he called “Sierra Leoneans Without Identity” and that they are ready to dialogue with government on the issue of citizenship.
Pressure continues to mount for the 1991 constitution to be reviewed. In fact the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made series of recommendations of changes that should be made in the constitution, many of which it categorised as ‘imperative recommendations’ – meaning they are required to be carried out immediately.
A Constitutional Review Committee report which was published in 2007 stated that the 1991 Constitution, unlike the original 1961 Constitution at the time of Independence, makes no mention of citizenship. The Constitutional Review Committee proposes a new section on citizenship, which details with the different ways in which people can become citizens. The Committee suggests that the Sierra Leone Constitution should provide that people can become full citizens regardless of the colour of their skin or their racial origin and that naturalised citizens should have the same rights as other citizens, except that they could not become President.
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