Former President Goodluck Jonathan who is considering joining the All Progressives Congress to run for President is set to face a legal battle in the coming days, The PUNCH has learnt.
This is just as the Vice Chairman/Director of Public Affairs, Igbo Leadership Development Foundation, Dr. Law Mefor, says his group will be going to court to challenge Jonathan should he declare his intention to contest.
Mefor stated this as the Peoples Democratic Party members in the House of Representatives warned the ex-President against accepting offers of the APC and the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)
Explaining the stand of the ILDF, Mefor, who believes the next President should be from the South-East region, argued that Jonathan had been affected by the constitutional amendment and thus had no right to contest.
He said, “I have said it before and I’m saying it again. We will go to court to challenge it if Jonathan joins the presidential race.
“What my group, Igbo Leadership Development Foundation, would test in court is whether Jonathan can be sworn in as President of Nigeria a third time despite the express constitutional provision against it.
“We are just waiting for Jonathan to pick up a political party’s nomination form and the Igbo Leadership Development Foundation will approach a court of competent jurisdiction to challenge his qualification to stand this election. I have nothing personal against Jonathan. After all, I was in his media team in 2015 but we have to do things right as a nation under the law and not as a nation of impunity.”
Jonathan had, while addressing supporters last week, informed them that he was still consulting on whether to contest and asked them to “watch out”.
Sources also told The PUNCH that Jonathan had given the APC the condition that he would only join the party if the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), endorsed him and he was picked as a consensus candidate.
In a chat with The PUNCH, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said any party that picked Jonathan as its candidate risked being disqualified.
When asked what would happen if Jonathan emerged candidate, Falana stated, “Of course, their opponents will go to court to challenge the legal validity of his election. It will be too much of a risk without having a definitive pronouncement on this matter.”
The senior advocate maintained that Jonathan having been inaugurated as President twice could not be sworn in the third time.
Falana also noted that Section 137(3) of the constitution which was amended in 2018, states 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.
He argued that since Jonathan became President following the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, he would not be able to serve two more full terms.
The senior advocate said it would be very risky for any political party to pick Jonathan as a candidate as his candidacy could be annulled by a court.
A statement he later issued read in part, “It has been confirmed that former President Goodluck Jonathan has decided to join the APC for the purpose of contesting the 2023 presidential election. However, the former President is disqualified from contesting the election by virtue of 137 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
“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 than 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 four years and if a second term, another period of four years and not a day longer.”
He noted that in the case of Governor Rasheed Ladoja v INEC, the Supreme Court rejected the prayer of Ladoja for 11 months’ extension to cover the period he was kept out of office through an illegal impeachment.
Falana added that the Supreme Court rejected the prayer on the grounds that a governor was entitled to spend a maximum period of eight years or less and not more than eight years.
Supporting Falana’s position, the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria, through its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, advised Jonathan not to allow greedy politicians to push him into diminishing his international reputation.
Onwubiko said, “Falana’s legal opinion is the correct position of the law which does not allow an individual to spend more than the required number of years in a particular office.
“Falana had used adequate points in law and in fact that nullified any attempt by Jonathan to try to get into any political kind of contestation as President of this country. Jonathan had already spent five years as President. He can’t spend nine years because it is unconstitutional.”
Also speaking to The PUNCH, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Emeka Ngige, said Falana’s position was valid.
Ngige said, “I have not looked at the amendment to confirm what Falana said but I believe that he may be right because there was an amendment that was done when Buhari came into power. The amendment affected the eligibility of any person who has completed the tenure of another person. That person is deemed to have done his tenure.”
Ngige further said that morally it was wrong for Jonathan to contest the presidency as it would only lead him to further ridicule.
Attempts to get a response from Jonathan’s Spokesman, Ikechukwu Eze, proved abortive as his phone indicated that it was switched off.
Jonathan free to contest, constitution amended after he left office – SAN
But another senior advocate, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe, said Jonathan was free to contest since the constitution was amended after he had left office.
Adedipe also faulted the law, adding that it would not withstand a judicial challenge.
He said, “Constitutionally he can run, provided he can run, there is nothing stopping him from running.”
Reject APC’s offer, it’s offensive, disgraceful to all of us – PDP Reps
Responding to the controversy surrounding Jonathan’s purported ambition, members of the House of Representatives warned Jonathan against accepting any offer from the Presidency and the APC.
The lawmakers, who are members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, said the ex-president had been too ridiculed by the current Buhari regime.
Regardless of Jonathan being from the South-South geopolitical zone like them, some of the lawmakers said it was better for the ex-President to continue to enjoy goodwill.
Speaking with The PUNCH, a member of the House from Rivers State, Solomon Bob, stated that Jonathan would be “debasing himself” by accepting APC’s offer. He also noted that the Electoral Act 2022 might prevent the ex-president from contesting since he is not a member of the APC.
Bob said, “It would be the most irresponsible and reprehensible thing for President Jonathan to contemplate it. When I watched the interview where he was saying that people should watch out, I felt especially offended. That will show the whole world that Nigeria is not a serious country, where one person can be President on the platform of the PDP today and defect to another platform tomorrow.
“It is reprehensible, it is morally abhorrent. It is not something that anybody can think about. That it was thought about, for me, is totally offensive. And it will disgrace all of us.”
Also, the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Toby Okechukwu (Enugu), noted that it would be Jonathan’s personal choice to make on the offer.
He said, “It is a personal decision but I know it is meant to rubbish him. The idea is to bring him up to be helpless. What structure does he have? What inputs has he made?”
In the same vein, Tajudeen Yusuf (Kogi) recalled that several Nigerians who were recalled to power were demystified.
Yusuf said, “What has changed between now and the narrative that was propagated in 2015? For the APC, it is known that they are power mongers who ran down this country just for power; who lied stupidly and concocted funny things against this country just to attain power. Now that you are bereft of ideas, you are going to bring back the same man.
“As for Jonathan, if I were to advise him, ‘no, no, no’ would be my counsel to him. God has elevated him. When he lost the election, God further glorified him internationally. As a statesman, by now, Jonathan should be the one matters are brought to in the PDP.”
In his submission, Ben Igbakpa (Delta) said, “If it is real, if I had the opportunity to have advised Mr. President, it would be that he should continue to enjoy the goodwill he is enjoying all over the world; that he should not spend that goodwill on the altar of the presidency. He should just sit back, enjoy himself and enjoy the diplomatic work that he is doing all over Africa and the world.”
However, Nicholas Ossai (Delta) stated that Jonathan had the right to join any party and contest any public office. He also noted that a choice could be positive or negative, which could make or mar someone’s image in the public.
Jonathan not qualified – Osinbajo, Tinubu groups
However, Ekiti State Leader, Osinbajo Grassroots Organisation, Femi Adeleye, said Jonathan having been inaugurated twice as president was not qualified to contest for APC presidential ticket as he could not be sworn in the third time.
Adeleye, therefore, said Jonathan would not scale the screening process if he joined the APC.
The OGO leader said, “If he (Jonathan) wants to join APC, he can join APC. He is not coming to contest. The law has precluded him from contesting. So he cannot contest the presidential election again. The law court will stop him.
“The party will accept anybody that comes to join the party. Even when you obtain a nomination form, there will still be screening for aspirants, the party has a legal adviser who will look at the law and those who are not qualified will be screened out. If you obtain a form and you are not qualified, you will be screened out.”
Also, the Coordinator of Tinubu Support Organisation in Ekiti State, Gabriel Babalola, said the former president could not reap where he had not sown.
“There is no law that is against Goodluck Jonathan’s coming to contest, he has only contested and won the presidential election once for a four-year tenure. I don’t even see Jonathan coming to our party and making waves. He has not been in our party, he has never joined our party and all the aspirants have been working,” Babalola added.
Reacting to the development, the apex Igbo Socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said Jonathan would be seen as a man lacking in integrity should he accept to contest the Presidency on the APC platform.
The National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Alex Ogbonnia, said, “Ohanaeze is not talking about the constitution. Our own stand is that he has no morality. Former President Goodluck Jonathan doesn’t possess civic virtue. He doesn’t’ seems to possess civic virtue. He doesn’t understand the meaning of reciprocity.”
Fielding Jonathan will put APC in a precarious situation – Groups
Speaking to The PUNCH, the Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy, Dare-Ariyo Atoye, stated that it was the Supreme Court that could determine Jonathan’s eligibility.
He said, “The controversy ranging now over the issue of eligibility of Jonathan to contest in 2023 will have to be decided by the Supreme Court. It is going to put the APC in a precarious situation because if the APC gives Jonathan the ticket and he probably becomes the President of the country and his mandate is challenged, it will now be left for the Supreme Court to decide whether Jonathan was eligible.
“Jonathan could also be a serious problem for the APC if he’s fielded as the candidate of the party. Between the time he becomes the candidate of the party, don’t forget that between May 29 or May 30 when the presidential primaries of the APC are going to be conducted and February 2023, that is more than six months, which is sufficient enough to either sustain or nullify the candidacy of Jonathan in case the Supreme Court interprets Section 123 or otherwise, or supports the argument as canvassed by Femi Falana.”
But the Special Assistant to the Ebonyi State Governor on Media and Publicity, Mr. Francis Nwaze, said the state Governor, Dave Umahi, was in the presidential race for himself, and not for anybody.
He stated this in a telephone interview with our one of correspondents in Abakaliki, on Thursday.
He said, “Governor David Umahi is not contesting for anybody. I want to let you know that he (Umahi) has made mention of this.”