By Douglas Anele
In my estimation, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former military President, Ibrahim Babangida and President Goodluck Jonathan are three of the luckiest prominent Nigerians alive today. For one thing, they came from very humble backgrounds and rose to occupy the highest political office in the country, not because they really merited it but because in human affairs the seemingly improbable oftentimes becomes a genuine possibility. Obasanjo, as commander of the Third Marine Division of the Nigerian army, played a decisive role in the closing moments of the civil war by capturing Radio Biafra and broadcasting a message calling on Biafran soldiers to put down their weapons. He succeeded late Murtala Mohammed as military head of state in February 1976. Obasanjo made history by becoming the first military head of state to hand over power to a democratically elected President.
In a very interesting twist of fate, upon release from prison in 1998, he contested and won the presidential elections of February 1999 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to become the first Nigerian to rule the country both as a soldier and civilian. Obasanjo was President from May 29, 1999 to May 28, 2007.
Babangida, like Obasanjo, fought on the federal side during the Biafran war. He came into public consciousness on August 27, 1985 after he took over the reins of power in a military coup that removed Muhammadu Buhari from office. Babangida’s most important economic and political programmes, the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and the Transition to Civil Rule Programme, were unsuccessful. Babangida survived a military coup in April 1990 when Major Gideon Orkar and his cohorts unsuccessfully attempted to excise Northern Nigeria from the rest of the country. About three years later, he succumbed to pressure and “stepped aside” after annulling results of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
President Goodluck Jonathan was a trained animal scientist who worked as a lecturer before becoming deputy governor of Bayelsa State under Diepriye Alameyeseigha. Jonathan’s ascendance to the pinnacle of political power was so meteoric that his supporters with the proclivity of seeing divine intervention in everything publicly proclaimed that the name “Goodluck” portends providentially ordained greatness for the bearer of that name. His emergence as substantive President months after the demise of Umar Musa Yar’Adua marked a paradigm-shift with respect to the geo-ethnic balance of power in Nigeria, because he is the first person from the south-south geopolitical zone to become President, although a few hard-core members of the Northern establishment tried unsuccessfully to stop him.
President Jonathan consolidated his hold on political power by winning the 2011 presidential elections. Now, after months of shilly-shallying, he has finally declared his intention to seek a second term of office in 2015. Expectedly, the declaration has elicited mixed reactions from Nigerians. The PDP had already declared Jonathan their sole presidential candidate even before he announced his intention to contest, while the leadership of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), in a desperate move for political relevance and survival, stated publicly that the party would support him. But chieftains of the main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), believe that the ambition of President Jonathan to remain in office beyond the end of May 2015 is a huge mistake. In addition, Ben Nwabueze, a noted constitutional lawyer, on several occasions persuasively argued that Jonathan should not seek re-election.
Now, before deciding whether President Jonathan should or should not seek a second term of office, certain things must be considered thoroughly first. To begin with, the question of eligibility must be addressed, given the objection that Mr. President is ineligible to contest because, if he wins, that would be tantamount to having a third term of office, which would bring the number of years he would serve as President to nine, ending in 2019. This situation apparently conflicts with argument that any elected President shares a joint ticket with the Vice-President, and the constitutional provision 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.
To determine whether President Jonathan is qualified or not to contest next year’s elections, it is necessary to ascertain what precisely the 1999 constitution stipulates concerning the qualification, tenure and disqualification for the office of President. Section 131 of the constitution indentified four criteria a person must meet to qualify to be elected President, namely, citizenship, age (forty and above), membership of a registered political party, and educational qualifications (school certificate or its equivalent), which I consider too low. Clearly, President Jonathan meets all these criteria.
Regarding the issue of tenure, section 135 subsection 2 affirms that, subject to the provisions of subsection 1 of the same section, the President shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four years after taking the oaths of allegiance and of office. Of course, as stated in section 137 subsection 1(b), a person who has been elected to the office of President at any two previous elections cannot vie for that position. Now, the fundamental question is, could Jonathan be deemed to have been elected twice, after taking the oaths of office in 2010 to complete late Yar’Adua’s tenure and in 2011 when he contested and won?
I am not a constitutional lawyer, but anyone who searches the 1999 constitution for a straightforward and clear answer to the question above will be disappointed. For instance, sections 141 and 142 that deal with the establishment of the office and nomination and election of the Vice-President, respectively, create the impression that the offices of President and Vice-President are inseparable, in which case Jonathan, by completing the joint ticket he won with his late boss, could be construed as having done his first term of office. However, based on the provisions of sections 143 and 144 stipulating conditions for the removal or incapacity of the President and Vice-President, it is very clear that the two positions are distinct, which implies that the fate that befalls the occupier of one office does not automatically befall the other. Section 148 is more explicit on this point: it avers that “The President may, in his discretion, assign to the Vice-President or any Minister of the Government of the Federation responsibility for any business of the Government of the Federation, including the administration of any department of government.” Therefore, although the constitution stipulates a joint ticket for the President and the Vice-President, it makes it clear that the President is in charge and that the Vice-President serves at his pleasure.
To be concluded.