Definition, Acquisition, Examples, Duties, Responsibilities, History and Theories of Citizenship

Definition, Acquisition, Examples,  Duties, Responsibilities, History and Theories of Citizenship

What is Citizenship?

The first thing that comes to mind is ‘who is a citizen’? A citizen or citizenship broadly is conceived as social contract valid for all in a political system based on the set of rights and obligations which a citizen is entitled to within a given state. In effect, citizenship could be regarded as the most privileged form of nationality, a broad term said to denote various relations between an individual and a state.

However, this relation does not necessarily confer political rights but do imply other privileges, especially protection abroad. In effect, a citizen is supposed to identify with the interests of the political community to which they belong even at the expense of their membership in families, professional or regional communities. This notion of citizenship creates a problem for federalism especially in a country like Nigeria. This is in the sense that the central object of federalism is “the extension and expansion of political space, autonomy and institutions to the benefit of geo-political units in a context in which the political community accepts that ethnic, religious and cultural differences exist and that their management would benefit from differential levels of governance (Ibrahim, 2003).

In this context, each participant enjoys a constitutionally protected membership in two polities, one regional and one central (Vernon, 1988). The implication of this is that citizens of a federal state will enjoy protection from two levels of government. This aspect of federalism has been pushed too far by political elites so much so that it has served to undermine the values of loyalty or served in engendering double loyalty.

On the other hand, citizenship as defined by international law denotes all persons whom a state is entitled to protect. This feature should, however, not be conceived as if a state may not protect aliens. The important thing to note, however, is that citizenship unexpectedly should confer equal access to a range of resources (like Civil Resources, Social Resources, Political Resources, and Economic Resources) so as to engender concomitant duties from the citizenry to the state.

However, collective identifications based on ethnicity, religion and sex which all play an important role in determining the collective shape of citizenry have continued to ensure many a citizen are left out or are only partially included in the institutionalization of notions of citizenship that is  equal access to a range of resources.

This brings to bear the fact that the actualization of the content of citizenship though different for various segments of society go beyond the establishment of formal democratic institutions.

In effect, it has been agreed by scholars that citizenship is not absolute i.e. something that you either have or not, rather what you may have more or less of, in terms of the various attributes of access and recognition.

Thus, for modern concept of citizenship, a significant divergence has been on the question of whether citizenship rights should be understood as individual entitlements only, or group and community rights. This shift in the content of citizenship over time not only border on changes occurring in society but rather on the fact that the attributes of citizenship have, however, neither been static nor uniform, or even limited in application exclusively to individuals as opposed to communities. This is in relation to central issues like the engendering of citizenship which include struggles for the expansion of the rights of women; the promotion of male-female equality that is the reconstitution of the public sphere to enhance the presence and participation of women which border on patriarchy or on notions of discrimination, the reform of family law; and the re-definition of the legal requirements for citizenship.


Acquisition of Citizenship (Ways to Acquired Citizenship)

Citizenship or membership is channeled through one authoritative agent, the state. Membership in state/ society and its social organizations occur in different modes and influence a person in diverse ways.

However, conditions for acquiring citizenship in any country so as to be granted the privileges of natural-born citizens are through registration and naturalization.

Specifically, in the Nigerian Constitution of 1979 and 1999(stated in Chapter 11) citizenship can be acquired through three basic processes:

(1) By Birth: This means

(a) Every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grand-parents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria.

(b) Every person born in Nigeria after the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grand -parents is a citizen of Nigeria.

(c) Every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.

(2) By Registration: This second category includes those to be registered by the president through relevant public agencies.

(3) By Naturalization: This category involves those who naturalize.

Here, the membership of a state is determined by the legal classification of inhabitants within states as citizens and noncitizens. For the non-citizens that is immigrants the state institutes certain citizenship policies or membership policies which regulate admission to citizenship in a state which have absolute authority to include or exclude persons as members of state. This differentiates inhabitants which are regarded by the governing regime as the state’s subjects, and those that are not so much so that although inhabitants of a given state are residents, an only citizen, that is residents that have citizenship are able to participate politically in voicing legitimate demands, forming rules and enforcing these upon all members within society, including non citizens.


Entitlements of Citizenship

It is expected that the consolidation of nation-states within fixed territorial boundaries and the institutionalization of participatory mass democracy would confer equal access to a range of resources. The ranges of resources at the state’s disposal according to (Marshall, 1965, Brubaker, 1992, Davis, 1994) are:

1. Civil Resources: These are entitlements such as legal protection and access to the courts of law

2. Social Resources: Here, the state is expected to provide welfare, education and health services

3. Political Resources: These include voting and political representation to ensure equality of all citizenry.

4. Economic Resources: These include the use of land and water as well as the right of permanent abode.

Specifically, in a concrete political system like Nigeria, the convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Nigerian 1999 constitution chapter iv stipulates the guarantee of human rights especially political and civil liberties.


Duties and Responsibilities of Citizenship

Citizenship to Aristotle implies the capacity to assume responsibility (such as participation in holding office) in the polis (State). This responsibility effectively distinguishes the citizen from non-citizens. Some duties and responsibilities expected from citizenship are:

(a) Allegiance: Citizenship is a form of relationship between an individual and a state in which an individual owes loyalty, commitment to the state and in turn is entitled to protection by the state. It is pertinent to state, however, that though this protection is extended to the aliens, most at times the accompanying responsibility is denied or at times extended partially to aliens and other non-citizens residing in any given country.

(b) Tax Obligation: Citizens (as well as aliens) of a state are under obligation/duty to pay taxes, royalties because the revenue generated will be ploughed in the provision of social infrastructure and basic amenities.

(c) Military Service: One of the obligatory responsibilities of the citizens to the state (for example Israel) is that of offering to serve and protect the integrity of the state through the uniformed institutions and organizations such as the police and the military/armed forces. However, in Nigeria it is not compulsory to serve the military or police. It is important to mention that even aliens enter military and police in some countries.


History of Citizenship 

Many thinkers point to the concept of citizenship beginning in the early city states of ancient Greece, although others see it as primarily a modern phenomenon dating back only a few hundred years and, for humanity that the concept of citizenship arose with the first laws. Polis meant both the political assembly of the city-state as well as the entire society.

Citizenship concept has generally been identified as a western phenomenon. There is a general view that citizenship in ancient times was a simpler relation than modern forms of citizenship, although this view has come under scrutiny. The relation of citizenship has not been a fixed or static relation, but constantly changed within each society, and that according to one view, citizenship might "really have worked" only at select periods during certain times, such as when the Athenian politician solon made reforms in the early Athenian state.

Slavery permitted slave-owners to have substantial free time, and enabled participation in public life. Polis citizenship was marked by exclusivity. Inequality of status was widespread; citizens had a higher status than non-citizens, such as women, slaves, and resident foreigners. 

The first form of citizenship was based on the way people lived in the ancient Greek times, in small-scale organic communities of the polis. Citizenship was not seen as a separate activity from the private life of the individual person, in the sense that there was not a distinction between public and private life. 

The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected into one's everyday life in the polis. These small-scale organic communities were generally seen as a new development in world history, in contrast to the established ancient civilizations of Egypt or Persia, or the hunter-gatherer bands elsewhere. From the viewpoint of the ancient Greeks, a person's public life was not separated from their private life, and Greeks did not distinguish between the two worlds according to the modern western conception.

The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected with everyday life. To be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community, which Aristotle famously expressed: To take no part in the running of the community's affairs is to be either a beast or a god. This form of citizenship was based on obligations of citizens towards the community, rather than rights given to the citizens of the community. This was not a problem because they all had a strong affinity with the polis; their own destiny and the destiny of the community were strongly linked. Also, citizens of the polis saw obligations to the community as an opportunity to be virtuous; it was a source of honor and respect. In Athens, citizens were both ruler and ruled, important political and judicial offices were rotated and all citizens had the right to speak and vote in the political assembly.

Roman ideas

In the Roman Empire, citizenship expanded from small-scale communities to the entirety of the empire. Romans realized that granting citizenship to people from all over the empire legitimized Roman rule over conquered areas. Roman citizenship was no longer a status of political agency, as it had been reduced to a judicial safeguard and the expression of rule and law. Rome carried forth Greek ideas of citizenship such as the principles of equality under the law, civic participation in government, and notions that no one citizen should have too much power for too long, but Rome offered relatively generous terms to its captives, including chances for lesser forms of citizenship. If Greek citizenship was emancipation from the world of things, the Roman sense increasingly reflected the fact that citizens could act upon material things as well as other citizens, in the sense of buying or selling property, possessions, titles, goods. 

Roman citizenship reflected a struggle between the upper-class aristocratic interests against the lower-order working groups known as the working-class class. A citizen came to be understood as a person free to act by law, free to ask and expect the law's protection, a citizen of such and such a legal community, of such and such a legal standing in that community. Citizenship meant having rights to have possessions, immunities, expectations, which were available in many kinds and degrees, available or unavailable to many kinds of person for many kinds of reason. The law itself was a kind of bond uniting people. Roman citizenship was more impersonal, universal, multiform, having different degrees and applications.

Middle Ages

During the European Middle Ages, citizenship was usually associated with cities and towns and applied mainly to middle class folk. Titles such as burghergrand burgher and middle-class denoted political affiliation and identity in relation to a particular locality, as well as membership in a mercantile or trading class; thus, individuals of respectable means and socioeconomic status were interchangeable with citizens.

During this era, members of the dignity had a range of privileges above commoners, though political upheavals and reforms, beginning most prominently with the French Revolution, abolished privileges and created an egalitarian concept of citizenship.


During the renaissance, people transitioned from being subjects of a king or queen to being citizens of a city and later to a nation. Each city had its own law, courts, and independent administration. And being a citizen often meant being subject to the city's law in addition to having power in some instances to help choose officials. City dwellers that had fought alongside nobles in battles to defend their cities were no longer content with having a subordinate social status, but demanded a greater role in the form of citizenship. Membership in guilds was an indirect form of citizenship in that it helped their members succeed financially. The rise of citizenship was linked to the rise of republicanism, according to one account, since independent citizens meant that kings had less power. Citizenship became an idealized, almost abstract, concept, and did not signify a submissive relation with a lord or count, but rather indicated the bond between a person and the state in the rather abstract sense of having right and duties.

Modern times

The modern idea of citizenship still respects the idea of political participation, but it is usually done through elaborate systems of political representation at a distance such as representative democracy. Modern citizenship is much more passive; action is delegated to others; citizenship is often a constraint on acting, not an impetus to act. Nevertheless, citizens are usually aware of their obligations to authorities, and are aware that these bonds often limit what they can do.

United States

From 1790 until the mid-twentieth century, United States Law used racial criteria to establish citizenship rights and regulate who was eligible to become a naturalized citizen.  The naturalization Act of 1790, the first law in U.S. history to establish rules for citizenship and naturalization, barred citizenship to all people who were not of European descent, stating that any alien being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof.

Under early U.S. laws, African Americans were not eligible for citizenship. In 1857, these laws were upheld in the US Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sandford, which ruled that a free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a 'citizen' within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and that the special rights and immunities guaranteed to citizens do not apply to them.

It was not until the abolition of slavery following the American Civil War that African Americans were granted citizenship rights. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified on July 9, 1868, stated that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. Two years later, the Naturalization Act of 1870 would extend the right to become a naturalized citizen to include aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.

Despite the gains made by African Americans after the Civil War, Native Americans, Asians, and others not considered "free white persons" were still denied the ability to become citizens. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act explicitly denied naturalization rights to all people of Chinese origin, while subsequent acts passed by the US Congress, such as laws in 1906, 1917, and 1924, would include clauses that denied immigration and naturalization rights to people based on broadly defined racial categories. Supreme Court cases such as Ozawa v. United States (1922) and  U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), would later clarify the meaning of the phrase free white persons, ruling that ethnically Japanese, Indian, and other non-European people were not "white persons", and were therefore ineligible for naturalization under U.S. law.

Native Americans were not granted full US citizenship until the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924. However, even well into the 1960s some state laws prevented Native Americans from exercising their full rights as citizens, such as the right to vote. In 1962, New Mexico became the last state to enfranchise Native Americans.

It was not until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that the racial and gender restrictions for naturalization were explicitly abolished. However, the act still contained restrictions regarding who was eligible for US citizenship, and retained a national quota system which limited the number of visas given to immigrants based on their national origin, to be fixed at a rate of one-sixth of one percent of each nationality's population in the United States in 1920. It was not until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that these immigration quota systems were drastically altered in favor of a less discriminatory system.

Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics

The 1918 constitution of revolutionary Russia granted citizenship to any foreigners who were living within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, so long as they were engaged in work and [belonged] to the working class. It recognized the equal rights of all citizens, irrespective of their racial or national connections and declared oppression of any minority group or race to be contrary to the fundamental laws of the Republic. The 1918 constitution also established the right to vote and be elected to soviets for both men and women irrespective of religion, nationality, domicile, etc. Who shall have completed their eighteenth year by the day of election? The later constitutions of the USSR would grant universal Soviet citizenship to the citizens of all member republics in concord with the principles of non-discrimination laid out in the original 1918 constitution of Russia.

Nazi Germany

The German variant of twentieth century fascism, classified inhabitants of the country into three main hierarchical categories, each of which would have different rights in relation to the state: citizens, subjects, and aliens. The first category, citizens, was to possess full civic rights and responsibilities. Citizenship was conferred only on males of German or so-called "Aryan” heritage who had completed military service, and could be revoked at any time by the state. The Reich Citizenship Law of 1935 established racial criteria for citizenship in the German Reich, and because of this law Jews and others who could not prove German racial heritage" were stripped of their citizenship.

The second category, subjects, referred to all others who were born within the nation's boundaries who did not fit the racial criteria for citizenship. Subjects would have no voting rights, could not hold any position within the state, and possessed none of the other rights and civic responsibilities conferred on citizens. All women were to be conferred subject status upon birth, and could only obtain "citizen" status if they worked independently or if they married a German citizen 

Theories of Citizenship

Many theorists suggest that there are two opposing conceptions of citizenship: an economic one, and a political information, Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and duties. In this sense, citizenship was described as a bundle of rights - primarily, political participation in the life of the community, the right to vote, and the right to receive certain protection from the community, as well as obligations. Citizenship is seen by most scholars as culture specific, in the sense that the meaning of the term varies considerably from culture to culture, and over time.  For example, there is a cultural politics of citizenship which could be called "people ship".

How citizenship is understood depends on the person making the determination. The relation of citizenship has never been fixed or static, but constantly changes within each society. While citizenship has varied considerably throughout history and within societies over time, there are some common elements but they vary considerably as well. As a bond, citizenship extends beyond basic kinship ties to unite people of different genetic backgrounds. It usually signifies membership in a political body. It is often based on, or was a result of, some form of military service or expectation of future service. It usually involves some form of political participation, but this can vary from token acts to active service in government.

Citizenship is a status in society. It is an ideal state as well. It generally describes a person with legal rights within a given political order. It almost always has an element of exclusion, meaning that some people are not citizens, and that this distinction can sometimes be very important, or not important, depending on a particular society.

Citizenship as a concept is generally hard to isolate intellectually and compare with related political notions, since it relates to many other aspects of society such as the family, military service, the individual, freedom, religion, ideas of right and wrong, ethnicity, and patterns for how a person should behave in society. When there are many different groups within a nation, citizenship may be the only real bond which unites everybody as equals without discrimination. It is a "broad bond" linking "a person with the state" and gives people a universal identity as a legal member of a specific nation.

Modern citizenship has often been looked at as two competing underlying ideas:

1. The liberal-individualist or sometimes liberal conception of citizenship suggests that citizens should have entitlements necessary for human dignity. It assumes people act for the purpose of enlightened self-interest. According to this viewpoint, citizens are sovereign, morally autonomous beings with duties to pay taxes, obey the law, engage in business transactions, and defend the nation if it comes under attack, but are essentially passive politically, and their primary focus is on economic betterment. This idea began to appear around the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and became stronger over time, according to one view. According to this formulation, the state exists for the benefit of citizens and has an obligation to respect and protect the rights of citizens, including civil rights and political rights. It was later that so-called social rights became part of the obligation for the state.

2. The civic-republican or sometimes classical or civic humanist conception of citizenship emphasizes man's political nature, and sees citizenship as an active process, not a passive state or legal marker. It is relatively more concerned that government will interfere with popular places to practice citizenship in the public sphere. Citizenship means being active in government affairs. 

According to one view, most people today live as citizens according to the liberal-individualist conception but wished they lived more according to the civic-republican ideal. An ideal citizen is one who exhibits good civic behavior. Free citizens and a republic government are mutually interrelated. Citizenship suggested a commitment to duty and civic virtue.

Scholars suggest that the concept of citizenship contains many unresolved issues, sometimes called tensions, existing within the relation, that continue to reflect uncertainty about what citizenship is supposed to mean. Some unresolved issues regarding citizenship include questions about what is the proper balance between duties and right. Another is a question about what is the proper balance between political citizenship versus social citizenship. Some thinkers see benefits with people being absent from public affairs, since too much participation such as revolution can be destructive, yet too little participation such as total apathy can be problematic as well.

Citizenship can be seen as a special elite status, and it can also be seen as a democratizing force and something that everybody has the concept can include both senses. According to sociologist Arthur Stinchcombe, citizenship is based on the extent that a person can control one's own destiny within the group in the sense of being able to influence the government of the group. One last distinction within citizenship is the so-called consent descent distinction, and this issue addresses whether citizenship is a fundamental matter determined by a person choosing to belong to a particular nation by their consent or is citizenship a matter of where a person was born that is, by their descent.


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