Bid For Another Jonathan Presidency Sparks Constitutional Debate

Goodluck Jonathan

Only the court can determine his eligibility - SANs * Former president’s silence fuels further speculations * It's all APC's plot to divert attention from faillings – PDP

-- Insinuations that President Muhammadu Buhari is secretly wooing his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) preparatory to drafting him into the 2023 presidential race, has ignited a constitutional debate, with political stakeholders and lawyers questioning Jonathan’s eligibility to contest for the office of the president.

Frequent meetings between Buhari and Jonathan as well as recent activities of the former president, which have seen him keeping a distance from the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) where he remains a card-carrying member, have been fueling speculations about his ambition.

This is even as attempts by governors of the APC to woo Jonathan to their party and the emergence of the campaign group, South-South Presidency 2023, had also raised the stakes as to which region will produce Nigeria’s next president.

In June 2018, President Buhari signed an amendment to the 1999 Constitution passed by the 8th National Assembly, limiting the number of terms a vice president or deputy governor who inherits the presidency or the governorship can seek re-election.

The amendments introduced in Sections 137 and 182 of the 1999 Constitution read: “137(3) – A person who was sworn-in as President to complete the term for which another person was elected as President shall not be elected to such office for more than a single term.

“182(3) – A person who was sworn-in as Governor to complete the term for which another person was elected as Governor shall not be elected to such office for more than a single term.”

The citation of the Fourth Alteration reads: “This Act may be cited as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No. 16) Act, 2017.”

Further complicating matters for Jonathan is a legal review of two previous Supreme Court judgments where section 285 on the time limits within which pre-election cases should be filed, decided and appealed against have been the subject of interpretation in the cases of Gusau v. APC (2019) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1670) 185 and Kusamotu v. A.P.C. (2019) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1670) 52.

In both cases, the Supreme Court interpreted the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution to be applicable to all pre-election cases that preceded the said Fourth Alteration, thereby making the alteration to be of retrospective (not prospective) effect.

In 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as president after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and would later take a second oath of office in 2011 after winning the presidential election. The former president again ran for president in 2015 but lost to President Buhari.

His eligibility to run in 2023 after the 2018 constitutional amendment is now an issue of debate among regional and political rivals for the presidency and prominent lawyers in the country.

Senior lawyers in the country, including and Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANS) and law professors, have said only the courts can decide whether the amended constitution is retroactive or applies to the former president.

They spoke based on the amendment to the 1999 Constitution which provides that vice presidents and deputy governors who served out the tenure of their principals can only seek re-election once.

According to them, the idea behind the law is to prevent them from having to stay in office for more than two terms.

A learned silk, Ahmed Raji (SAN), raised some questions on the issue, which he said will have to be determined by courts.

He cited the example of former Taraba State governor, Jolly Nyame; former Ogun State governor, Olusegun Osoba and former Yobe State governor, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, who were elected governors in 1992 but had their terms in office cut short due to military intervention in politics.

They were however cleared by the courts to contest the 1999 governorship election in their respective states and were elected governors.

Raji said, ”Was the law in place when Jonathan served. This issue will throw up arguments whether the law was in place when Jonathan was president. Definitely no; the law was not in place.

”Then the question to ask now is, does it have a retroactive effect? That is where we have to look at the wordings of the law; otherwise, when Jonathan left he already had a vested right to contest and can that right be taken away from him in future? These are the issues.

”The wordings of that law will now have to be looked at. You will recollect that when we came into this republic, Reverend Jolly Nyame was governor in 1992; same with Olusegun Osoba and Bukar Abba Ibrahim, but in 1999, they all contested twice and they served out their tenure.

”Ordinarily, after contesting in 1992, they should not have had the opportunity to contest more than once, but they served out their terms. What prevailed then is under a different constitution from what we have now.”

Also, a constitutional lawyer, Barrister Paul Omoluabi, agreed with Raji that the law should be tested in court, saying if nobody has gone to court to challenge it, the law will stand.

”If anybody has not gone to court to challenge it, then the law stands. If former President Jonathan presents himself to contest, then someone needs to go to court to challenge his eligibility to contest the election on the ground that it is against the provisions of the constitution.

”If, indeed, there is any such law someone should go to court to test the law on his eligibility but if there is no law like that, he would be free to contest because in the face of the law, he had contested only once”, Omoluabi said.

For his part, a professor of law at the Bayero University Kano, Auwalu Yadudu, said the reason for the law is to prevent them from going for a third term in office.

According to him, the law was borrowed from the 22nd amendment of the US constitution.

”The amendment was borrowed from the 22nd amendment to the United States of America’s Constitution. The 22nd amendment to the US Constitution bars the vice president from doing what is considered 3rd term if he had done one full term of four years and two years plus one day.

”I want to believe that is what they are borrowing. I think the idea behind the law is that they don’t want a Vice President or a Deputy Governor to do three terms in office”, he said.

Another professor of law, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), said until Jonathan comes out to declare his intention all the reports are still in the realm of speculation.

When reminded that there is no smoke without fire, he queried: ”When you have a volcanic eruption and there are smokes everywhere, do you see fire?

”Has Jonathan come out to say he is contesting. All that is being said about Jonathan contesting the next election is still in the realm of speculations. Until he comes out to declare his intention, that is when the law will be tested in court.”

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.

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.

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 SouthSouth to complete their tenure.”

It’s APC Plot To Divert Attention From Its Failings – PDP

But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said speculations of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC) is a ploy by the governing party to divert attention from their monumental failures.

National publicity secretary of PDP, Hon Debo Ologunagba, said the APC embarked on the propaganda of Jonathan’s defection with the hope of swaying Nigerians from focusing on their failures in the security and economic sectors.

Ologunagba said the APC has become distressed as a party and is hoping to glean off the democratic credentials of the former president.

He said it is unfortunate that in 2021, between January and December, 9,196 Nigerians were killed by terrorist and over 3857 kidnapped.

He stated: “Now that they (APC) are in trouble they will spin all sorts of story because they are used to propaganda. But we know that the former president is well respected and because he is a product of the PDP that believes in democratic principle. That is why in 2015 he allowed for peaceful transfer of power. That is the essence of democracy which endeared him to the whole world. That is why today you see him being appointed into united nation body as peacemaker and so on.

“So he has been a busy person for the good of humanity and that is one of the legacies of the PDP. They might want to spin up propaganda to distract Nigerians from their monumental failures. They can bring any issue or story to divert attention of Nigerians from the level of insecurity, collapsing economy and so on.

“For us, it is not beyond the APC whose stock in trade is to lie and push out propaganda to distract from the real issues.

“In 2021, between January and December, 9,196 Nigerians were killed by terrorists and over 3,857 were kidnapped, and this same government will lie to Nigerians. Over 70 percent of them that died are from the North.”

The PDP spokesman said the opposition party will remain focused on the challenges facing Nigerians.

“We know that in spite of party affiliations everybody must be on board and we are looking for that opportunity for all Nigerians to work with PDP to rescue Nigeria.

“For me, APC is under so much distress. They don’t have a National Working Committee because the contraption called caretaker committee is illegal. So today that party has no manager and that explains why Nigeria is in a rudderless situation,” he added.