The Federal High Court, on Friday, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, said former President Goodluck Jonathan can run for president in 2023.
The judge, Isa Dashen, while delivering a judgement, on Friday, held that Mr Jonathan’s right to vie for the presidency a second time cannot be stopped by any retroactive law.
There have been intense political debates over Mr Jonathan’s eligibility to run for the presidency a second time, after he was defeated at the polls in 2015 by the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, when Mr Jonathan sought to be reelected.
Joining the debate in April, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, said the former president cannot contest in the 2023 presidential election, citing constitutional provisions barring the ex-president from seeking re-election.
Mr Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) said in a statement in response to growing calls on Mr Jonathan to throw his hat into the ring ahead of the 2023 election.
He said Mr Jonathan, who was Nigerian president between 2010 and 2015, would breach constitutional term limits of two terms of eight years if he runs for the presidency and wins again.
Mr Falana recalled that Mr Jonathan became the President of Nigeria in 2010 following the sudden death of President Umaru Yar’adua, and later contested and won the 2011 presidential election.
Mr Jonathan spent five years in office as president which would make it nine years in office if he contests and wins again, Mr Falana said.
“Dr. Jonathan is disqualified from contesting the 2023 presidential election. The reason is that if he wins the election he will spend an additional term of four years.
“It means that he would spend a cumulative period of nine years as President of Nigeria in utter breach of Section 137 of the Constitution which provides for a maximum two terms of eight years,” Mr Falana said.
The senior lawyer also said that by virtue of section 137 (3) of the Nigerian constitution, Mr Jonathan cannot seek a re-election to the office of the president having completed the tenure of the late President Umaru Yar’adua and sworn in again for a full four-year term in 2011 upon winning the presidential election in his own name.
“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 section 137(3) of the constitution cited by Mr Falana reads.
The National Assembly had introduced the constitutional provision via the Fourth Alteration No 16 Act 2017 which President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law on June 4, 2018.
Mr Falana faulted the argument that the constitutional provision signed into law in 2018 cannot retroactively apply to Mr Jonathan who had left office after his failed reelection bid in 2015.
Mr Jonathan lost the keenly contested election to Mr Buhari.
Faulting the argument that Mr Jonathan is exempted from the effect of section 137 (3) of the Nigerian constitution, Mr Falana referenced the failed bid of former Governor of Oyo State, Rasheed Ladoja, to seek an extension of his tenure to cover for the time he was kept out of office through illegal impeachment.
Mr Falana recalled that the Supreme Court rejected Mr Ladoja’s prayer on the grounds that a governor was only entitled to spend a maximum period of eight years or less and not more than 8 years.
He said: “Some people have said that the amendment is not retrospective and therefore cannot apply to Dr. Jonathan.
“Assuming without conceding that the amendment is not retrospective it is submitted that under the current Constitution a president or governor cannot spend more that two terms of eight years.
“In other words, the Constitution will not allow anyone to be in office for more than a cumulative period of eight years.
“In Marwa v. Nyako (2012) 6 NWLR (Pt.1296) 199 at 387 the Supreme Court stated that Section 180 (1) and (2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has prescribed a single term of 4 years and if a second term, another period of 4 years and not a day longer.
“In the case of Gov. Ladoja v INEC (2008)40 WRN 1 the Supreme Court rejected the prayer of Governor Ladoja for 11 months’ extension to cover the period he was kept out of office through illegal impeachment,” he said.
Calls on Jonathan to run
Mr Jonathan’s silence over months-long speculations about his plan to run for the 2023 election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party that ousted him from office in 2015, gave rise to the growing calls on him to join the race for the next year’s presidential election.
The speculation became rife after he hosted a delegation of the leadership of the APC led by the party’s then caretaker chairman, Mai Mala Buni, last year.
Mr Jonathan has yet to announce his defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party on whose platform he he became the vice president in 2007, and and later the president. But he has scarcely identified with the party’s activities since losing his second term bid to Mr Buhari of the APC in 2015.
Mr Jonathan responded publicly for the first time to the growing calls on him to make another shot at the presidency when his committee of friends and some youth from different parts of the country visited him at his Foundation Office in Maitama, Abuja, on Friday.
But his response to the calls was non-committal.
“Yes, you are calling me to come and declare for the 2023 presidency, yes I can’t tell you are declaring, that the political process is ongoing, just watch out.
“But the key role you must play is to pray that Nigeria gets a president that will carry the young people along and work very hard to see that some of the country’s problems raised are dealt with,” the ex-president had said.
His lack of clarity on the issue which many believe confirms that he is testing the waters for the presidential bid, continues to encourage many groups to mount pressure on him to run.
One of such political groups, Citizens Network for Peace and Development in Nigeria (CNPD) Citizens Network for Peace and Development in Nigeria (CNPD), said in a statement on Monday that anything short of a Goodluck Jonathan ticket would cause the APC to lose the 2023 presidential election.
The group advised the APC leadership to use the former president – whom it described as the “best man” – for the job of retaining power in 2023.
Media reports also speculated that he would soon announce his defection to the APC to enable him to pick the party’s nomination form.
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