By Ochereome Nnanna
OUTSPOKEN Northern opinion leader, Dr Junaid Mohammed, surprised me last week when he called on President Goodluck Jonathan to declare if he would run again in 2015.
Is he one of our leaders who do not read the newspapers? GEJ has made it clear he would.
He has sent his attorneys, led by Ade Okeya-Inneh(SAN) to defend his right to contest following a suit by a Port Harcourt-based member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Henry Amadi challenging his eligibility.
Earlier on in March 2012 another PDP member based inAbuja, Cyriacus Njoku, had approached a High Court to determine whether the President was qualified. GEJ had also sent an attorney to press a “yes” answer for him.
If he were not interested why would he bother? What other signs does Mohammed need?
If Mohammed watches television (particularly the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA) he would have heard GEJ at the last presidential media chat say (correctly) that such a declaration at this time would simply destabilise governance.
But the question today is whether Jonathan is eligible to run in 2015. The cases are still in court but I will capitalise on my constitutional right to free speech to answer this question in the affirmative: Yes! Jonathan can, and will run.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) made it expressly clear at Section 137 (1-b) that a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if:
“He has been elected to such an office at any two previous elections…”
Did the election of GEJ under the Yar’Adua/Jonathan ticket amount to his being elected twice (in addition to his 2011 election under the Jonathan/Sambo ticket?).
If that were so, Atiku Abubakar would not be eligible to run for president in 2007 and 2011, having been elected along with President Olusegun Obasanjo for two previous terms.
You may argue that unlike Atiku, Jonthan had completed the remaining one and half years of the Yar’Adua/Jonathan term when Yar’ Adua took ill and later demised. That does not amount to his being “elected”, does it?
We borrowed our constitutional order from theUnited States of America. Luckily, theUSpolitical experience has provided a useful example of how the situation that President Jonathan finds himself in was handled.
Americadid not have a ceiling on the number of times a president could run for re-election. A number of presidents tried to run for a third term in office but failed for one reason or the other.
However, Franklin Roosevelt became the onlyUSpresident to be successfully elected more than twice (he actually won the presidency four times!). World War II inEuropenecessitated this.
But as soon as theRooseveltera came to a close a Bill was brought to amend the constitution limiting the terms of office of US presidents to two. It was eventually passed in March 1947. It is known as the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. It stipulates as follows:
“No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once”.
TheUSconstitution thus specifies what happens in case someone else completes a presidential term started by another person. Even at that, Jonathan would still have been eligible to run for two full terms because he was not in Yar’ Adua’s office for up to two years.
InAmerica, the John F. Kennedy/Lyndon B Johnson eras provided an opportunity to test the 22nd Amendment. Kennedy defeated Johnson at the 1960 primaries of the Democratic Party and picked Johnson as his Vice President. They won the election. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
Johnson completed his term and went on to stand for his party in 1964. In 1968 he stood for a second term but later opted out of the presidential race because the Vietnam War had so weakened his legitimacy that he performed miserably at theNew Hampshireprimaries of the Democratic Party.
Americans did not find it difficult to understand the spirit and letters of their constitution on term limits. Why do we find it so difficult to understand ours? The answer is very simple.
There is morality in American politics. There is no such thing in Nigerian politics. Even before the term limit was imposed by the 22nd Amendment, earlier presidents, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Munroe, voluntarily opted to go home after serving two terms.
It thus became a convention. Even when the convention was broken by some presidents later on, many of them (such as Johnson) bowed out on the moral grounds that their candidacy no longer enjoyed the legitimacy of the American people.
But here inNigeria, a sitting president will contest and “win” even when the whole country is totally fed up with him. Opting out of the race on moral grounds is unthinkable.
The poor chap will go to his grave with the stigma, and “his people” (ethnic group) will boo him at every public outing.
I am taken aback by the paranoia that political leaders from the North, such as Atiku Abubakar, Lawal Kaita, Ango Abdullahi, Junaid Mohammed and others have been exhibiting about President Jonathan’s political rights.
They have never given him a moment’s peace since Yar’Adua died. Left to some of them GEJ would have handed over to a Northerner after Yar’ Adua’s death!
This must stop. We must respect the political rights of one another. Anyone who feels strongly about unseating Jonathan should present his candidacy before Nigerians.
This orchestration of sectional calumny, which is reminiscent of the cowardly antics of a pack of hyenas when they come upon a lone wounded or pregnant lioness will never help us to build a united country.