2015: Fight to stop President Jonathan re-election shift to court of appeal
The legal battle to stop President Goodluck Jonathan from re-election has shifted to the Court of Appeal, where a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Cyriacus Njoku is challenging his eligibility to contest for the presidency in 2015.
The appeal is against the judgment of an Abuja High Court, which held that going by the express provision of Section 137 (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), President Jonathan is eligible to run for the highest political office in the country.
Jonathan’s political platform- PDP had already indicated that it would sponsor him in 2015.
Dissatisfied with the judgment of the lower court, the appellant, Njoku, through his legal representatives, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla and Ugochukwu Osuagwu are seeking an order of the Court of Appeal setting it aside and granting all their reliefs.
The appeal, premised on five grounds is specifically asking the appellate court to stop Jonathan from further contesting or attempting to vie for the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria after May 29, 2015, when his tenure would end.
The appellant further asked the court to restrain the PDP from further sponsoring or attempting to sponsor Jonathan as a candidate for election to the office of the President in the 2015 presidential election after the expiration of his two terms on May 29, 2015.
In addition, he prayed the court to direct the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from accepting Jonathan’s name as the presidential candidate of the PDP for the 2015 polls.
In the submissions of the appellant’s lawyers, Justice Oniyangi erred in law by holding that their client did not possess the requisite locus standi to institute the case, when there were incontrovertible affidavit evidence that he is a card carrying member of the PDP and interested in contesting for the Presidency.
The lawyers further submitted that the trial judge erred in law when he held that the provision of Section 37 (1) (b) of the constitution, which provides that a person shall not be qualified for election to be elected to such office at any two previous elections does not apply to the case of their client.
Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi in the said judgment now on appeal held that President Jonathan is currently on his first term of four years, stressing that “if he so wishes, he can seek from his political party or any other party, the sponsorship to contest in the 2015 presidential election.
The court further held that in the eyes of the law, Jonathan’s tenure commenced on May 29, 2011, saying he only assumed the presidential seat in 2010 following the demise of his boss, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who it said duly contested and won the 2007 presidential election.
In its interpretation of Section 37(1) (b) of the constitution, the court, insisted that the germane issues for determination were “whether the death of Yar’Adua and swearing-in of Jonathan to complete the tenure, remains four-year tenure? Did the first defendant (Jonathan) contest presidency the first time in 2001? Was he ever declared and sworn-in as president in 2007? Was he the presidential candidate of the PDP in 2007?”
Justice Oniyangi further maintained that “the distinguishing factor is that after the election of Yar’Adua, there was no election or bye-election upon which Jonathan became president. He was merely asked to assume the position. I will like to borrow the word that was used by the legislature then, doctrine of necessity.
“He was not elected into the position but was asked to assume the position. Having exhausted that tenure, he sought and obtained the ticket of the party to contest for presidency in 2011.
“Consequently, it is my considered view that the first defendant is on his first tenure of four years. It, therefore, follows that if he so wishes, he can seek from his party to contest for presidential election in 2015. Let me put it on record to guide against any mischief; this court is not saying that he is the automatic candidate of the PDP or any party, but that he could seek for the sponsorship of his political party or any other party of his choice to vie for the position.
“He is running his first tenure and can aspire to seek for nomination like any other Nigerian to contest in 2015. I do not see how such right can affect the plaintiff in anyway. When that time comes, the plaintiff can also seek alongside other aspirants to vie for presidency subject to nomination by his party,” he added.
The court equally held that Section 137 applies only when someone is elected and not when such person assumes the office like in the instant case. “In the case of Jonathan, the section applies to when he was elected as president, by implication, when he took oath of office on May 29, 2011.
“I, therefore, hold that the tenure of office of the first defendant did not begin on May 6, 2010 but May 29, 2011. The constitution was clear that no person shall take oath of allegiance and oath of office prescribed in the seventh schedule of the constitution more than twice except on special circumstance as witnessed in the demise of Yar’Adua. Thus, the order of injunction against the first defendant contesting in 2015 is refused.”