By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—AGAINST the backdrop of speculations on his political ambition, President Goodluck Jonathan has declared before an Abuja High Court that he was yet to indicate or announce anywhere that he would contest for presidency in 2015. The president was responding to a suit asking the court to disqualify him from contesting the 2015 presidential election.
Jonathan who approached the court through his consortium of lawyers led by Chief Ade Okeaya-Inneh, SAN, described the suit which was filed against him by a chieftain of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Cyriacus Njoku, as frivolous and highly vexatious. He insisted that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, permits him to contest for not more than two terms of four years each. The president, therefore, asked the court to dismiss the suit against him.
Meantime, presiding Justice Mudashiru Onyangi has slated April 18 to hear Jonathan’s application for extension of time within which his lawyers can file his memorandum of appearance and counter affidavit in response to the plaintiff’s suit dated March 20.
Specifically, the plaintiff had gone before the high court, praying it to bar President Jonathan from contesting presidential election in 2015, contending that he was already completing his second term in office. The plaintiff said his decision to seek judicial interpretation regarding whether the incumbent President can present himself as a valid candidate in the next general election, was sequel to a declaration he said was made by President Jonathan in the first week of March 2012, to the effect that he is still serving his first term in office.
Consequently, Njoku urged the high court to determine whether, in the light of the express provisions of section 137(1) (b) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, President Jonathan can be administered the presidential oath of office thrice. Those joined in the suit were President Jonathan, the PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as 1st to 3rd defendants respectively.
Furthermore, the litigant, through his counsel, Mr. Osuagwu Ugochukwu, raised two questions for determination by the court. These are: “Whether Section 135(2) of the Constitution which specifies a period of four years in office for the President is only available or applicable to a person elected on the basis of an actual election or includes one in which a person assumes the position of President by operation of law as in the case of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Qualification for election
He is also asking “whether Section 137(1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution which provides that a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if he has been elected to such office at any two previous elections applies to the 1st Defendant who first took an oath of office as substantive President on May 6, 2010 and took a second oath of office as President on May 29, last year.”
Nevertheless, dismissing the suit as an academic exercise, President Jonathan, maintained that the plaintiff failed to disclose any reasonable cause of action.
In a 15-paragraphs counter affidavit that was deposed on his behalf by a counsel in the chambers of his lead counsel, Mr. Osahon Okeaya-Inneh, counsel to Jonathan averred that: “I am a counsel in the law firm of Ade Okeaya-Inneh and Co, counsel to the first defendant in this suit, by virtue of which I am conversant with the facts of this case. I have the consent and authority of the first defendant/respondent to depose to this affidavit.
“When my law firm was briefed by the first defendant to represent him in his action, I, together with Mr. Mattew Aikhionbare (senior special assistant to the President) and Dr. Reuben Abati (special adviser on media and publicity to the President) meticulously went through the 11-paragraph affidavit of the plaintiff in support of his originating summons.
“The first defendant is currently doing his first term of four years in office as the President of Nigeria as provided by the 1999 Constitution as amended. The first defendant status and position is formidably backed by the 1999 constitution. The constitution of Nigeria only makes provisions for a president to contest for not more than two terms of four years each. The constitution recognizes the Executive President’s tenure of office to be four years.
“I was informed by Dr. Reuben Abati on April 4, 2012 at about 5.30 pm in his office and I verily believe that. The first defendant has not indicated or announced anywhere whether in words or in writing that he will contest for the presidential elections to be conducted in 2015. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua contested and won the presidential elections conducted in 2007 for a one term of four years. He was the President from May 29, 2007 until sometime in May 2010 when he passed on. Yar’Adua’s four years was to end in 2011.”
Demise of late President Yar’Adua
Jonathan further told the court that on May 6, 2010, he was sworn in as the President after the demise of the late President Yar’Adua thereby completing Yar’Adua’s 12 months of the four years tenure, stressing that this is the first time he is coming to power as President of Nigeria through a conducted election wherein he was voted as the presidential candidate of his party, the PDP.
The President told the court that the plaintiff neither attached copies of his recent tax clearance certificate from the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, nor his PDP membership card as proof of who he claimed to be. Therefore, he beseeched the presiding judge to discountenance the suit as it was meant to make the court labour in futility over a suit that is purely an academic exercise.
Remarkably, this is the second time the plaintiff, Njoku is dragging President Jonathan to court with a view to thwarting his political ambitions. It will be recalled that he had in August 2010, attempted to stop the PDP from allowing Jonathan to participate in the PDP presidential primaries of January 2011.
Njoku, from Zuba Ward in Gwagwalada Area Council of Abuja and with PDP registration number 1622735, had previously urged the court to ask the PDP to respect its principle on zoning formula in line with Article 7. 2(c) of the party’s constitution. He had insisted that the declaration of Jonathan (third defendant) to contest the presidency on the PDP platform was contrary to Article7.2(c) of the 2009 Constitution of the PDP, as amended.
However, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Lawan Gummi dismissed the zoning suit, thus paving way for President Jonathan to emerge as the flag bearer of the party in the last general elections.