In this interview, Stanley Damabide, a Yenagoa based lawyer, based his mind on the eligibility or otherwise of Dr Goodluck Jonathan contesting the 2023 presidential election.
We are looking at the eligibility of former president to contest in 2023. We will like you to speak from the constitution’s point of view. Will he be eligible to contest based on the amendment of the constitution and the fact that he has taken an oath of office twice? Is that argument correct, is it tenable?
Firstly, we must not loss sight of the fact that with the current displays of our court, no one can opinionate excellently on any legal issue in Nigeria until the court makes a pronouncement on it, particularly the Supreme Court. And so, whatever I’m going to say, which is the best of my opinion anyway, is not something that is 100 per cent guaranteed as per what the court will pronounce on or say assuming the matter gets to court which is not unlikely, given the kind of politics we play in this part of the world. But going forward, first, the constitution will not have a retroactive effect. It is gonna take effect from the date of amendment and previous Acts and actions, activities will very likely not be judged by the constitution, as acts preceding the coming into life of the constitution will ordinarily not be subjected to its judgment and all that.
So, going forward I think that intendment of the law is that no one should serve more than two terms, and so the big question is, has he served more than the required full term? I don’t think so, because firstly, what he did was to complete the tenure of a then serving president, So if you restitute him to that, what you’ll be doing automatically is that, you will say having served less than eight years for example, the fact that he served out an existing tenure should also count for him. I’m not so sure that that will be the construction of the Supreme Court, assuming the matter goes to court.
So for now, one full term remains for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to serve out in my opinion, even though he has taken the oath of office twice, firstly because he took oath of office to serve out an existing term and that’s just it. And like I said earlier, the constitution amended that was in existence, and said no one should take oath of office twice cannot have a retroactive effect, it has to be proactive. And so, I think that there is substantial opening and base for Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to run a second time.
So, in other words, since this election is coming up in 2023, it means the amendment is taking a retroactive effect?
Well, any law that is made retroactively, most times are always struck down by the court, because for example, if to clap your hands wasn’t an offence in 2021 and you now make a law in 2023 to say clapping is an offence, retroactively, I cannot be said to have committed an offence. It is simple principle of statutory interpretation, that laws are made to take effect from the day they are passed or signed into law.
Do you see this issue more of a political issue than a legal issue?
I think it’s both, equally. It is as political as it is legal, this is one clear setting or scenario where the law and politics get infused and kind of inseparable.
Firstly, I think Nigerians don’t want or the lawmakers don’t want a situation where people can use unwholesome means to continue to be in power even when opportunities have not been given for others that have not been tested to kind of try it. But again, is it gonna serve some political interest? Clearly, because whether you like it or not, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan especially with the performance of President Buhari, has proved to be someone that Nigerians may well have stuck with. And so his political capital is not zero, In essence, if he offers himself, it will unsettle the chances of some persons. So it will serve the political interest of some persons if he stepped out of the race. And so from that angle also, you can say it has political undertone
So, is that to say that there are people who are afraid of Goodluck and that is why they are bringing up this issue of constitutional impediment?
Yes, that is not unlikely, given what he’s been able to prove what he can do in leadership. It’s not unlikely and besides let’s not forget that the APC led National Assembly is a little bit divided also as per choice of who should succeed President Buhari. So the faction perhaps, that is not supportive of his return, could want to profit from this amendment and so that is not unlikely.
If you were to choose amongst the people that have either indicated interest or are suspected to be nursing the ambition-Tinubu, Atiku, Amaechi, Osinbajo- who would you go for?
Clearly, I think the cap fits Professor Yemi Osibanjo. He is the kind of leader I think we need at this stage, a man who doesn’t have packages around him, who to a large extent, can be said to have been perfect and especially trusted.
I remember the interregnum that was created, leadership wise, when President Buhari had to be out of the country, that was when we saw the leadership capacity of Osinbajo. That was when efforts were made to stabilize the naira, that was when you know, a Daura could not be allowed to mess up the National Assemble even though they were perceived to have been fighting against the interest of the executive. That’s the kind of leadership I think we need at this stage, a man who is not hungry for material gains, who is largely contented. I think it’s the best, even though, if you look at those that are at the forefront, he seems to be a little bit far behind. But I think he will be the best for Nigeria.
So, if you put Osibanjo and Goodluck, who would you choose?
I’ll choose Osibanjo straight away, for the good of this country, not for any reason or sentiments. I’m an Ijaw man like Jonathan but I know that a better Nigeria will even be better for Ijaws as well as their neighbours, and I think that’s what we should be looking out for, not selfish interest.