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Goodluck Jonathan is constitutionally qualified to run for presidency

By Mike Ozekhome

Nigeria is a country of one major news item per day. At times, one scandal per day. The hot issue in the polity currently generating national ruckus, hoopla and bedlam is the presumed intention of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to run for the 2023 presidency. It does not matter that he has never himself confirmed to anyone, the swirling rumour about his purported planned defection from his opposition PDP party under which he was once elected President, to the ruling APC party. The discussants are prepared, as in now commonplace in Nigeria, to predict and to shave his hair in his absence.

I have carefully read the many arguments of those (I call them antagonists) who believe that Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is disqualified from contesting the 2023 presidential election. According to them, he had already done two terms of 4 years each and will thus be ineligible to contest for a third term. They cite the Fourth Alteration (No 16) Act, which was signed into an Act by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 11th of June, 2018. The section they are relying on is section 137(3) of the said Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution, which provides that “a person who was sworn in 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”.

The antagonists are dead wrong in their legal postulations
The truth of the matter is that the antagonists of Jonathan running in 2022, in their strange line of argument, are mainly relying on the above section 137(3). They have probably not adverted their minds to the provisions of sections 141 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended; and section 285(13) of the same Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the very Alteration they are relying on. More revealing is that these antagonists are probably not aware of an extant and subsisting Court of Appeal decision where Jonathan was frontally confronted and challenged before the 2015 presidential election, with the same ground of being ineligible to contest the said 2015 election, having allegedly been elected for two previous terms of office. The very section 137(3) being relied upon by the antagonists, was signed into law in 2018, three years after Jonathan had left office; and 7 years after he took the oath of President upon Yar’Adua’s demise. Can Jonathan be caught in the web of section 137(3) retrospectively? We shall see that anon.

The case of Jonathan running had been challenged in CYRIACUS NJOKU V GOODLUCK EBELE JONATHAN (2015) LPELR-244496 (CA). In that case, the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, held that President Goodluck Jonathan had only taken the oath of office once and therefore upheld his eligibility to contest the then Nigeria’s presidential election slated for March 28, 2015.

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The intermediate court held that the oath of office President Jonathan took in 2010 was merely to complete the “unexpired tenure” of late President Umar Yar’Adua, who had died while in office as President.

The appeal had been lodged before the court by one Cyriacus Njoku, who had challenged the ruling of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which on March 1, 2013, had dismissed the suit he filed to stop President Jonathan from contesting the 2015 polls.

In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Abubakar Yahaya, the full panel of the court unanimously held that President Jonathan had only spent one term in office as President, going by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

Recall that the then Vice President Jonathan had been empowered as Acting President on February 9, 2010, following a motion for operation of the “doctrine of necessity”, by the Senate, owing to the protracted stay of late President Umaru Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia on medical grounds.

When President Yar’Adua eventually died on May 5, 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as president to serve the unexpired residue of office of Yar’Adua. Jonathan was later elected President in 2011 for the first time, on his own merit, after he contested the election.

Mr. Njoku had contended in his suit that Jonathan had already taken the oath of office and allegiance twice and therefore, should be disqualified from contesting the 2015 election, as any victory he secured would amount to being sworn in thrice.

However, the Court of Appeal held that the oath that Jonathan took in 2010 was merely to complete the unexpired tenure of late Yar’ Adua; adding that by virtue of Section 135 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, Jonathan only took his first oath in May, 2011; and not May 5, 2010, when he succeeded late Yar’ Adua. The Court of Appeal further held that disqualification is through election, not oath taking.

The intermediate court’s luminous judgement read in part:
“In this appeal, it is not controverted by the appellant that the first oath taken by the first defendant (Jonathan) was the oath he took as the Vice President and not as President… But he took the oath in May 2010 to complete unexpired tenure of late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Section 37(1)(b) disqualifies a person from contesting for president if he had been elected twice. Disqualification is through election and not oath taking. Election is a process of choosing a person to occupy a position by voting. When election is given its literal meaning, it connotes when a voting is employed to choose a person for political office. This did not take place when Jonathan stepped into the shoes of his Principal who went to the great beyond. To say these things were done is to import words not used by the constitution.” Section 146(1) of the constitution cannot be deemed an election for a VP to step into the office of a President. Election involves conducting primaries by party, nomination, election and announcement of results. All these processes were not done. If a VP succeeds a President that dies, that cannot be challenged. It is a mode of stepping into the vacant office provided for by the constitution. When a President dies, the Vice President automatically becomes President as provided for by S130 (1)(2) of the 1999 constitution… It was not election that produced the first respondent in May 2010, the oath he took then was not an oath of elected President as provided for by Section 180 of the constitution. The process of election was followed in 2011. The oath of office taken in 2011 was the first oath taken by the first respondent as an elected President having fulfilled all the process of election.… Again, the succession of a Vice-President to the office of a President who died, in accordance with Section 146(1) of the 1999 Constitution, cannot be “deemed an election”, especially for the purpose of taking away a right that has been vested. As stated earlier, an election under the 1999 Constitution involves primaries, nominations, voting and declaration of results. That is the mode prescribed in electing a President, and once it is so prescribed, it must be followed, and no other method can be employed. All these processes can be challenged in a Court of law and if successful, the election would be annulled. But if a Vice-President succeeds a President who died, that cannot be challenged because it is a Constitutional provision, and the succession cannot be annulled. It is a mode of assumption to the office of the demised President, an ‘appointment’ by the Constitution, as it were, as no letter of appointment is necessary from anybody. The Vice-President automatically becomes the President, by virtue of his being the Vice-President. An example can be found in Section 130(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.” Per ABUBAKAR DATTI YAHAYA, JCA (Pp 40 – 41 Paras E – D)

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The Court of Appeal further upheld the decision of the lower court which had dismissed Mr. Njoku’s suit for lack of locus standi. It noted that “it is fundamental that where a party lacks locus, the court cannot assume jurisdiction….We agree with the lower court that the appellant has no locus to sue”.

On the question of the cause of action, the court held that the case of the appellant was “speculative and imaginary as none of the reliefs he sought accrued to him any benefit”.

Indeed, the Court of Appeal had awarded the sum of N50, 000 each as cost to the defendant, President Jonathan.

Did President Jonathan satisfy the provisions of the constitution and the electoral act when he succeded yar’adua in may, 2010?

For a candidate to be declared elected winner, he must have participated in all the stages of the election. These are the words of section 385(13) of the Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution and section 141 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended. They provide that “an election tribunal or court shall not under any circumstance declare any person a winner at an election in which such a person have not fully participated in all the stages of the said election”.

Surely, when President Jonathan in May, 2010 stepped into the shoes of late President Yar’Adua, he merely fulfilled constitutional provisions. He did not and could not have participated in all stages of the election such as to be deemed to have been a candidate. It was not an election, but the “doctrine of necessity”, that made him President. In the eye of the law therefore, Jonathan never contested any election. See the cases of MODIBBO V. MUSTAPHA USMAN & ORS (2020) NWLR (Pt 1712)470 (SC); OZOMGBACHI V. AMADI (2028) LPELR-45152 (SC); CPC V. OMBUGADU (2013) LPELR-21007 (SC); PDM & ANOR V. INEC (2020) 17 NWLR (Pt 1753) 303 (SC). (To be continued next week).

“Winning or losing of the election is less important than strengthening the country.” (Indira Gandhi)

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