Edith CHUKU/Godwin AJOM
The 2023 presidential election is by the corner. Already, some of the top contenders have indicated the interest to run, while some are yet to make public, their intention to contest. But there is one person whose perceived ambition has become the talk of the town, even though the man himself has not said anything in that direction. He is a former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
Can he run? Can he not? Does not 1999 constitution, as a mended, bar him from contesting the election? Legal experts are divided on this. While some of them believe that he former president has the right to contest, others are of the view that the amended 1999 constitution effectively bars him from contesting.
Among those who believe that Jonathan cannot contest unless the constitution is further amended to accommodate him, is Ntufam Mba Ukweni, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN.
This is what he said: “To start with, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was not qualified to contest the 2015 elections by our constitution. But the people went to court and the court gave a different interpretation which till today, I don’t accept that interpretation.
“And I still don’t agree. You know, Jonathan was a running mate to late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and was vice president of this country and then unfortunately, very, very unfortunately to the entire country-I keep saying that if Yar’Adua had lived and continued with his policies, principally of observant of the rule of law, there would have been rectitude in the system by now.
“That is why I said, very, very unfortunately, Yar’Adua died. Jonathan took over and was sworn in as president of this country and he completed that term. I cannot remember precisely whether it was two years or more than two years, but he completed that term and then ran elections on his own and won. He won the election for four years added to Yar’Adua’s period. I was involved in the case; we called it the “tenure elongation matter”. My brother, Mr Paul Erokoro led me to represent our former governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, in the tenure elongation matter.
“In that case, the Supreme Court insisted that not one minute can be added for any person. There were about five governors involved in that matter. Up till today, I don’t understand that their interpretation, I don’t know. There were about five or seven governors in that case. What was the issue in that matter? These were governors whose elections were nullified, and they went back to contest and won and we, together with other lawyers, went to court and said the period they were not in office should not be counted as their tenure and the supreme court said no.
“That for instance like Cross River here, PDP was still in power. And that to accept our argument was to elongate their tenure. That was how it became a tenure elongation matter. So the Supreme Court did not agree; they said the tenure is four years, not one minute can be added unless they amend the constitution.
“That was the interpretation they gave. So those governors left. So when Jonathan indicated interest in 2015, some of us said with the interpretation given in the tenure elongation matter by the Supreme Court, Jonathan was not qualified to run.
“He has done two terms, for him to run in 2015, it meant he was going to be president for more than eight years. So the period he took from Yar’Adua’s period, will it be a dash to him that Nigerians love him too much for his handsomeness or intelligence?
“He took oath of office as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So the half tenure he inherited, was it a free gift, because at this time, Nigerians were already no longer comfortable that they lost their son who was supposed to be in office and that was why PDP failed in 2015, the arrangement was that power should return to the north.
“Had it been that PDP brought a candidate from the north, they would have won that election. They failed with Atiku in 2019 because it was later, if they brought Atiku in 2015, they would have won, Atiku would have won Buhari. So Jonathan is not qualified to run next year’s elections going by our constitution, unless they amend the constitution. That’s my position on this matter.”
Another lawyer, Mr Collins Boleigha, speaking from Yenagoa, however holds some interesting views, an admixture of legal and moral positions. He said “In June 2018, he’d signed into law a “Constitution Alteration Bill Number 16” that makes it unconstitutional for vice presidents and deputy governors who complete the first terms of deceased or impeached and removed presidents and governors to run for election twice”
“That law basically makes it illegal for Jonathan to seek another term as president. In fact, it was inspired by his 2015 presidential run after completing Umar Musa Yar’adua’s first term and running and winning a second term in 2011.”
When he was asked if the law could take a retroactive effect, he said “the stigma and spirit of the law, not the letters will be a moral (not legal)burden. I am not saying he shouldn’t contest for moral reasons. I am saying it will be thrown at him and a lot of cases challenging him will be a distraction
The choice is his considering all the variables, But can he contest? That was the next question. His response: “Yes, since the law is not retroactive.
But he shouldn’t forget the intendment of the law. As we say in law “the evil the law intends to cure and having originated same”