The UNHCR and ECOWAS recently signed an MoU to improve the protection environment for stateless persons.
While most people are conversant with words like internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and migrants, others do not have an idea of what it means to be stateless.
"Statelessness? I have never heard that word before. Do you mean people without states? How is that even possible? Everyone has a state. There is no such thing as statelessness," John Oladapo, a civil servant told Pulse correspondent in Abuja.
Just like Mr Oladapo, most people may not have come across that word neither are they aware of the consequences that come with being stateless.
The international legal definition of a stateless person is “one who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”.
Simply put, a stateless person does not have the nationality of any country.
Like Pierre, some people are born stateless, while others attain this status due to certain factors such as ethno-religious or gender-based discrimination; the emergence of new states (countries) and transfers of territory between existing States(as in the case of Bakassi Peninsula); and gaps in nationality laws.
The effects and consequences statelessness cannot be overemphasised.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there are at least 10 million people around the world who are denied the nationality of a state.
"As a result, they often aren’t allowed to go to school, see a doctor, get a job, open a bank account, buy a house, get married or even enjoy some of the rights that we take for granted", said Angele Dikongue-Antagana, the UNHCR representative to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
A recent study by the UN Refugee Agency reveals that there are about one million persons who are (or at risk of being) stateless.
“Here in Nigeria, it could become the situation of those who left the Bakassi Peninsula which has become the territory of Cameroon. Those who were living there claimed to be Nigerians.
"Those people, today, are displaced and they may find themselves in a situation where they may not be in a position to prove their legal links with their country Nigeria and may not also be able to prove such links with Cameroon which would expose them to being stateless,” she said.
To this end, UNHCR and ECOWAS signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Abuja on Wednesday, October 5, 2016, to improve the protection environment for stateless persons and others of concern and also ensure the full respect of their rights.
The UNHCR representative said: "Through the MoU signed today, UNHCR and the ECOWAS parliament will formalise their collaboration into a framework that would allow our organisations to better protect the rights of asylum-seekers, refugees, returnees, IDPs, stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness.
"We will work together to ensure the proper interpretation and application of relevant international, regional and national law', she added.
In his remarks, Honourable Moustapha Cisse Lo, speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament pledged the body's readiness to make legislations that would ensure the protection of the persons of concern.
The event featured presentations from various UNHCR representatives on their interventions in the region.
It also had in attendance lawmakers from Nigeria and other countries in the West African sub-region.