By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — As insinuation over his possible intention to seek re-election in 2015 mounts, President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, told a Federal High Court in Abuja that contrary to the provision of the 1999 constitution, the tenure of an incumbent president can extend beyond four or eight years.
President Jonathan, who adduced the argument while responding to a fresh suit seeking to bar him from vying for presidency in 2015, maintained that those who were contesting his possible bid in the next presidential election, had failed to canvass any valid reason why he cannot contest.
The fresh suit was filed against him by a Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner, Henry Amadi, who is equally a card carrying member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The plaintiff is contending that Jonathan is not eligible to contest in 2015 on the grounds that by so doing he would be spending more than the maximum period of two terms of four years envisaged by the 1999 constitution.
The suit is similar to the previous one filed by another member of the PDP, Mr Cyriacus Njoku, on March 20, 2012 before an Abuja High Court, which is equally seeking to stop Jonathan from contesting in 2015 on the premise that he is already in his second term in office.
Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi had earlier slated November 13, 2012 to deliver judgment on Njoku’s suit but subsequently adjourned indefinitely following his trip abroad.
Meanwhile, in the instant suit, Amadi named Jonathan and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as defendants.
The plaintiff is asking 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 2015.
Amadi also asked the court to direct INEC not to accept Jonathan’s nomination as candidate of the PDP by 2015 because by so doing, Jonathan will hoist illegality in the polity since the oath of allegiance and office he will take if he wins will violate the two oaths of allegiance and office stipulated by the 1999 constitution.
Plaintiff lacks locus —Jonathan
However, in a counter-affidavit filed on his behalf by Mr Ade Okeaya-Inneh (SAN), Jonathan maintained that the court should divest itself of the jurisdiction to entertain the suit, arguing that the plaintiff lacks the locus to request court to stop him from contesting 2015 presidential election.
Jonathan said Amadi failed to disclose reasonable cause of action and that the plaintiff’s claim was hypothetical and academic.
Jonathan averred that he took the first oath of office on May 6, 2010 following the death of erstwhile President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
He said: ‘’The question that arises for determination is whether, having regard to the facts of this case, is he in his first or second term? In other words, given that the constitution prescribes a maximum of two terms 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 latter. 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 argued 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.
He maintained: “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.”