From GODWIN TSA, Abuja
Few days after President Goodluck Jonathan said he was undecided on his candidature for the 2015 presidential race, the president yesterday told a Federal High Court that contrary to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, an incumbent president’s tenure of office can extend beyond four or eight years.
Jonathan was responding to suit filed by a Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) card-carrying member, Henry Amadi, that he (Jonathan) was no longer qualified to contest in 2015.
The plaintiff argued that allowing Jonathan to contest in 2015 would amount to extending his tenure beyond the maximum period of two terms of four years envisaged by the 1999 Constitution.
A similar suit was filed by another chieftain of the PDP, Mr. Cyriacus Njoku, who asked an Abuja High Court to stop President Jonathan from contesting the presidential election in 2015 on the grounds that he was already in his second term in office.
Judgment was yet to be entered in the said suit by the presiding Judge, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi, long after he had earlier fixed November 13, 2012 date before adjourning the case sine dine (indefinitely) following his trip abroad.
In the present suit, the plaintiff joined Jonathan and the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) as co-defendants.
He specifically asked the court to stop Jonathan from putting himself forward or participating as candidate for election to the office of the president at the end of his current term of office in 2012. Amadi also asked the court to direct INEC not to accept Jonathan’s nomination as candidate of the PDP in 2015, saying by so doing, Jonathan would hoist illegality in the polity since the oath of allegiance and office he would take if he won would violate the two oaths of allegiance and office stipulated by the 1999 Constitution.
But in the counter-affidavit filed on his behalf by Mr. Ade Okeaya-Inneh (SAN), Jonathan said court should decline jurisdiction to entertain the case on the grounds that the plaintiff was an ordinary individual who was not qualified to request court to stop him from contesting 2015 presidential election. President Jonathan contended that the plaintiff failed to disclose reasonable cause of action and that his claim before the court was hypothetical and academic. Jonathan averred that he took the first oath of office on May 6, 2010 following the death of former president Umaru Musa Yar’adua.
“The question that arises for determination is whether, having regard to the facts of this case, he is in his first or second term. In other words, given that the constitution prescribes a maximum of two-term of four years each totalling a maximum of eight years as president, is he eligible to run for re-election in 2015? “If yes, that would mean that, if he wins, he would be in office for a period of more than eight years.
On the other hand, if the answer is no, that would mean that he, for no fault of his, would be constrained to serve for a period of less than eight years. “Given that between May 6, 2010 and May 28, 2011 he held office for the unexpired term of office of Yar’adua following the death of the later. Does the constitution contemplate that the period of about one year and three weeks would constitute his first term, a period of less than half of the constitutionally prescribed period of four years.’’
Okeaya-Inneh went further to say that, “in resolving this issue, the court is invited to make a determination whether the period of May 6, 2010 to May 28, 2011 wherein Jonathan occupied the office of the president can, in law, be regarded as one term of office and relevance of the oath of office Jonathan took on May 6, 2010 in computing the tenure of office of Jonathan in line with Sections 135 (1) and (2), 137 (1)(b), 140 (1) and (2) and 146(1) of the 1999 Constitution.’
He argued that it was better with the political situation of Nigeria for Jonathan to spend nine years in office than to spend less than eight years. “This approach is also consistent with the time honoured canon of interpretation to the effect that if confronted with two interpretations, one of which would abridge a person’s right and another which would maintain or enhance a person’s rights, the former constitution yields to the later.’’