Sunday, 14 September 2014
2015: Plot To Stop Jonathan Thickens
by Adesuwa Tsan, George Agba, Kunle Olasanmi and Sola Adebayo
Uncertain about the eligibility or otherwise of President Goodluck Jonathan to contest in 2015, some powerful politicians and groups in the country have assembled a team of lawyers to challenge him whenever he declares his intention to take a shot at the nation’s No. 1 job, LEADERSHIP Sunday has gathered.
The constitution provides that a president can only serve two terms, which President Goodluck has served already.
Checks by LEADERSHIP Sunday show that some top politicians are waiting for the president to declare to enable them embark on the legal battle, as any move in that direction now would amount to a wild goose chase.
Consequently, Jonathan is reportedly having serious thoughts over his 2015 re-election ambition because of the constitutional obstacles in his way. Lawyers across the country have also started debating the issue.
It was gathered that the president is presently scouting for a candidate from the northern part of the country he can trust, in the event that he failed to scale through the legal hurdle.
LEADERSHIP also gathered from sources close to Jonathan that he has been on the lookout for a northern candidate since it became obvious that declaring intention to run in the 2015 elections will be greeted by various lawsuits contesting his constitutional eligibility.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “There are two constitutional provisions that are in question. The first is section 135 (1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, which states that no president can take the oath of office of the president of Nigeria more than twice.
“You will recall that on May 6, 2010, President Jonathan was sworn in by Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu as the fifth president of Nigeria after the death of then president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Upon winning the presidential election in 2011, he was again sworn in and took the oath of office as the sixth president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This means he has been sworn in twice already, not as acting president but with full powers as commander-in-chief.”
Section 135 (1) & (2) of the Constitution provide thus:
“(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a person shall hold the office of President until – (a) his successor in office takes the oath of office; (b) he dies whilst holding such office; or (c) the date when his resignation from office takes effect; or (d) he otherwise ceases to hold office in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution. (2) Subject to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, the President shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four years commencing from the date, when – (a) in the case of a person first elected as President under this Constitution, he took the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of office; and (b) in any case, the person last elected to that office under this Constitution took the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of office but, for his death, has taken such oaths”.
According to the source, the president is aware that there are people who are patiently waiting for a declaration of intent to run for the office in 2015 before they proceed to the courts for interpretation of the section and, ultimately, to stop him.
Jonathan, he continued, has never been desperate to return in 2015 but for pressure from his kinsmen and other political associates who have been egging him on.
“Also, his aspiration is not based on his conviction but due to pressure from the south-south and, specifically, the Ijaw people. This is one of the reasons he has been postponing declaration for 2015.”
Jonathan is also said to be concerned that if he decides to take his chances and declare for 2015 and in the event that the courts deliver a verdict ruling him out of the race, the PDP may lose the presidency without a ready candidate in place as flag-bearer of the party.
The president, it was learnt, is also worried that his delayed declaration may also impede the 2015 transition in view of INEC’s demand for the list of each party’s candidates by October-November this year.
“The timetable released by INEC states that parties must submit the list of their candidates by November, latest, this year, and pegged presidential elections for February. From November to that date is roughly two months and Mr president is aware that there is really no time to go through the processes of a court case even if it is expedited. Another consideration he is making is that there may not be enough time for the party to get a flag-bearer if he is disqualified and this may lead to losing the presidency to the opposition,” the source added.
So far, Jonathan is yet to settle on any candidate; he is reportedly being careful with choosing a successor whom he can truly trust.
Groups forge legal trap, lawyers debate eligibility
Prominent lawyers in the country were however divided in their opinions on the eligibility of President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2015 presidential election.
While some said he is eligible to contest, others are of the view that his election into office again in 2015 will amount to a third term in office.
A senior advocate, Abubakar Malami, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that what Nigerians should be talking about now is the duration of the tenure of the president in office and not how many times he takes the oath of office.
According to him, if the president is elected again, he would have spent more than eight years in office against the provisions of the constitution.
“He is not eligible to contest because he would have been in the office for more than eight years. There is clear constitutional breach that has to be addressed,” Malami said.
A professor of law and a senior advocate, Chief Awa Kalu, disagreed with the views expressed by Malami. He said the period President Jonathan took over as acting president should not be seen as part of his first term in office. He said taking over as president is not about the number of times you take the oath of office but about the number of years you spend in office.
On his part, Mr Ahmed Raji, another senior advocate who was cautious in his approach to the issue, did not reach any conclusion.
Mr Raji said section 137(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution is the appropriate section that should be applied in dealing with the issue.
He said the question to ask is whether he has been elected twice into office.
“He was sworn into office in 2010 after the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The swearing-in does not amount to an election.
“In 2012, in the case of Governor Nyako and four other governors, the Supreme Court said nobody can spend more than eight years in office cumulatively. How is the Supreme Court going to resolve this issue?” he asked.
Lagos lawyer Mr Festus Keyamo said the constitution is silent on the kind of problem we are having now.
According to him, what the constitution anticipates is a person who has been elected and not a person who has not taken the oath of office twice.
Efforts by this paper to get the Presidency to react to this development did not yield results. Attempts by our correspondent to reach the special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, on phone proved futile as his mobile phone numbers could not go through. Even text messages and e-mail sent to him to confirm whether the president was having second thoughts about running and whether it was true that he is searching for a successor were not replied.
The message sent to him by our correspondent reads thus: “Good evening sir. There is a report in my office for tomorrow’s (today’s) publication that some powerful interests in the country’s political circle are about to file a suit to challenge and stop the president from contesting the 2015 presidential election on the ground that he has already taken 2 oaths of office as president as stated in section 135 (1) and (2) of the constitution. Because of this, they said the president is likely to shelve his ambition and is searching for a credible northern candidate. Is the presidency aware of this?”
But Abati had, a few weeks ago, spoken to LEADERSHIP in an exclusive interview on whether, with the House of Reps caucus of the PDP and some other groups coming to ask him to do so, the president was thinking of declaring his ambition soon.
He said he had no information on this, and no authorisation to make a categorical statement on the president’s 2015 presidential ambition.
The presidential spokesman said: “I don’t have any information on that as at this moment, and I have no authorization to make any categorical statement, but you know that in a political situation such as we are in — it is not just members of the House of Representatives and some other groups who have been commending President Jonathan for his sterling performance, for his quality leadership, for his visionary leadership, for the success of his transformation agenda and for the purpose-driven government that he has provided. And the commendation is in order.
“But in terms of declaring for 2015, President Jonathan has responded to this question on many occasions in the recent past and he has said that when the time comes, it will be his responsibility to address Nigerians on what his choice, his decision, in the matter is. So, people should just wait for him to do so at his own time and not play games with what is clearly a simple matter. It is like a wedding proposal: You do or you do not? Yes, I do…”
It is an exercise in futility – NACOJSP
The National Coalition for Jonathan and Sambo Presidency (NACOJSP), has described the attempt to stop President Goodluck Jonathan through the Supreme Court, as an exercise in futility.
NACOJSP said the issue of eligibility of Jonathan to seek re-election in the 2015 presidential election has been settled by courts of competent jurisdictions, adding that those planning to approach the Supreme Court to revisit the matter, were merely “wasting their time to re-open a settled case.”
The National Secretary of the Baord of Trustees of NACOJSP, Dr. Benjamin Irikefe, in his reaction yesterday night, said such action would be tantamount to a waste of judicial process. Irikefe expressed optimism that the Supreme Court would waste no time in dismissing such case, which he described as a “frivolous and handiwork of desperate political jobbers.”
He said various courts of competent jurisdiction, which had earlier tried similar cases, had pronounced that Jonathan was eligible and qualified to run.
“The issue of eligibility of President Goodluck Jonathan to seek re-election in 2015 is a settled matter. Any attempt to re-open the case is an exercise in futility. This case was dead and buried but some desperate and failed politicians are trying to exhume it for self-seeking motives.”
“This case had been listed and tried by many courts which have returned the same judgement that President Jonathan is very eligible and qualified to seek fresh mandate of Nigerians in 2015.
“Let them go to Supreme Court to waste thier time because the case would be dismissed with ignominy as a waste of judicial process. Let those opposed to Jonathan go to the polls with him to test their popularity rather than seeking to manipulate the judiciary. This will only be an opportunity for the Supreme Court to re-affirm the judgements of the various lower courts that President is not disallowed by the constitution to seek another four-year mandate of Nigerians.
“This is not a new thing but the latest gang-up will also fail as usual because President Goodluck Jonathan has intimidating support base nationwide that would make his re-election in 2015 a mere formality,” Irikefe added.