Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s eligibility to run for president in 2023 has now sparked a constitutional debate ENigeria Newspaper reports.
Insinuations that President Muhammadu Buhari is secretly seducing Goodluck Jonathan to join the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in order to draft him into the 2023 presidential election have sparked a constitutional debate, with political stakeholders and lawyers questioning Jonathan’s eligibility to run for president.
Buhari’s frequent contacts with Jonathan, as well as Jonathan’s recent activities, which have seen him separate himself from the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), of which he is still a card-carrying member, have fueled suspicion about his aspirations.
The establishment of the campaign group, South-South Presidency 2023, and attempts by APC governors to attract Jonathan to their party have further elevated the stakes as to which area will deliver Nigeria’s next president.
President Buhari approved an amendment to the 1999 Constitution passed by the 8th National Assembly in June 2018, restricting the number of periods a vice president or deputy governor can seek re-election after inheriting the presidency or governorship.
“137(3) – A person who was sworn-in as President to finish the term for which another person was elected as President shall not be elected to such office for more than a single term,” the revisions to Sections 137 and 182 of the 1999 Constitution read.
“182(3) – A person who was sworn in as Governor to finish the period for which another person was elected shall not be elected to that office for more than one term.”
“This Act may be quoted as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No. 16) Act, 2017.” says the citation for the Fourth Alteration.
A legal review of two previous Supreme Court judgments in which section 285 on the time limits within which pre-election cases should be filed, decided, and appealed against was the subject of interpretation in the cases of Gusau v. APC (2019) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1670) 185 and Kusamotu v. APC (2019) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1670) 52 further complicates matters for Jonathan.
In both decisions, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution applied to all pre-election cases that occurred before the Fourth Amendment, making the change retrospective (rather than prospective).
After President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died in 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as president, and he would later take a second oath of office after winning the presidential election in 2011. In 2015, the former president stood for president again, but was defeated by President Buhari.
His ability to run for president in 2023 following the 2018 constitutional amendment is currently being debated by regional and political opponents for the position, as well as top lawyers in the country.
Only the courts can judge whether the modified constitution is retroactive or applies to the former president, according to senior constitutional lawyers in the country, including Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANS) and law academics.
They spoke based on a 1999 Constitution amendment that states that vice presidents and deputy governors who served out their leaders’ terms can only run for re-election once.
According to them, the purpose of the law is to prevent them from serving more than two terms in office.
Ahmed Raji (SAN), a learned silk, raised certain doubts about the matter, which he indicated would have to be decided by the courts.
He highlighted former Taraba State governor Jolly Nyame, former Ogun State governor Olusegun Osoba, and former Yobe State governor Bukar Abba Ibrahim as examples of governors who were elected in 1992 but had their tenure cut short owing to military meddling in politics.
They were, however, cleared by the courts to run for governor in their respective states in 1999, and they were elected governors.
“Was the statute in effect when Jonathan served?” Raji wondered. This question will elicit debate over whether the statute existed when Jonathan was president. No, because the law was not in existence.
“Does it, then, have a retroactive effect?” says the author. That is where the wordings of the law come into play; otherwise, Jonathan had a vested right to contest when he departed, and can that right be taken away from him in the future? These are the problems.
The text of the law will now be scrutinized. You will recall that when we first came into this country in 1992, Reverend Jolly Nyame was governor, as were Olusegun Osoba and Bukar Abba Ibrahim, but they all campaigned for governor twice in 1999 and finished their tenure.
“Normally, after contesting in 1992, they should not have been allowed to contest again, but they completed their mandates.” What was in effect back then was governed by a different constitution than what we have now.”
Barrister Paul Omoluabi, a constitutional lawyer, agreed with Raji that the law should be put to the test in court, adding that if no one has gone to court to oppose it, the law will stand.
“If no one has taken the law to court to dispute it, the law stands.” If former President Jonathan decides to run, someone will have to take him to court to challenge his ability to run on the grounds that it violates the constitution’s provisions.
“If there is such a legislation, someone should go to court to test the law on his eligibility, but if there isn’t, he would be free to contest because he had only contested once in the face of the law,” Omoluabi added.
Auwalu Yadudu, a law lecturer at Bayero University Kano, explained that the rule was enacted to prohibit them from seeking a third term.
According to him, the statute was based on the US constitution’s 22nd amendment.
“The amendment was based on the United States of America’s Constitution’s 22nd amendment. The US Constitution’s 22nd amendment prevents the vice president from serving a third term if he has already served one full term of four years and two years plus one day.
“I’d like to think that’s what they’re borrowing.” “I believe the intent of the law is to prevent a Vice President or Deputy Governor from serving three terms in office,” he explained.
Another professor of law, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), said till Jonathan comes out to proclaim his intention all the reports are still in the realm of speculation.
When informed that there is no smoke without fire, he asked, “Do you see fire when there is a volcanic explosion and there are smokes everywhere?” Has Jonathan declared that he will run for office? All of the talk about Jonathan running for president in the next election is still speculative. The legislation will not be tested in court until he comes out and declares his intention.”
Former President Jonathan and his associates under the aegis of the group, South-South Presidency, 2023, however maintained a deafening silence over the issue of his eligibility following the alteration to Sections 137 and 182 of the 1999 Constitution.
While messages sent to Ikechukwhu EZE, the media aide to the former president, were not answered at the time of writing this report, the message sent to Jonathan’s political associate and convener of the South-South Presidency 2023, Chief Dikivie Ikhiogha, was also not answered.
ENigeria Newspaper reports that in his recent media campaign for the group, Ikhiogha said though the South-South for Presidency, 2023 campaign was not about former President Jonathan or the emergence of a presidential candidate from the region, in a specific political party,” the country owes the South-South people a four-year tenure following the abrupt termination of Jonathan’s tenure, which is supposed to be eight years.”
Ikhiogha, in his position, said Nigeria’s president in 2023 must come from the South South zone in order to “balance the political equation” of the country.
According to him, Jonathan, the first person from the South South to be elected president of Nigeria, was unable to win a second term in 2015. He was defeated by the current president, Muhammadu Buhari.
ENigeria Newspaper reports that Ikhiogha also pointed out that the South-South for Presidency 2023 is an advocacy group formed with the purpose of letting the country know that it is the turn of the South South to produce the next president based on the fact that the zone was pushed out of power in 2015.
He noted: “Nobody allowed the South-South to complete our tenure. It is a clear injustice to the region. And for fair play, justice and peace, we should be given a chance to complete our tenure.
All region had in the past joined together to agitate for rotational presidency and we are saying that if the position of presidency is zoned to the southern region by any political party, it should be micro-zoned to the South-South based on the fact that the South-West has gotten their tenure of eight years and another eight years as vice president,
“Yes, the South-East has not tasted, but the South-South only had a tenure, and a tenure is not a full rotation given to candidates. Buhari is completing his eight years. What offense did we commit that we should not be given our full tenure of eight years? The nation owes us four years. In the nation today, there is suspicion among regions and zones.
Amidst all these, the only solution is for the nation to allow South-South to complete their tenure.”
Story by Leadership and ENigeria Newspapers