* Tension as Supreme Court decides in 48 hours
By Soni Daniel, Ikechukwu Nnochiri and Erunke Joseph
Tension is mounting at the Presidency and the core North over the court case challenging the eligibility of President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2015 presidential election.
Competent sources said, last night, that the Presidency was worried that the case could upset its political permutations should the Supreme Court rule against Jonathan running in the election.
The main headache of the Presidency is that if the apex court rules that its principal could not run in 2015, it would be difficult for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to organise another National Convention to elect another candidate to meet the deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said to be December 18, two days after the hearing.
The case was said to have been on the radar of presidential minders believed to have also made contacts to know how the case could go and the justices to sit on it.
Meanwhile, Jonathan’s opponents, particularly from the core North, it was learnt, were expectant that the case would be decided against the president having taken the oath of office twice for the office.
Sunday Vanguard gathered from judicial sources that top officials of the Supreme Court were aware of the heightened interest in the case, slated for hearing on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 and were working hard to block undue access to the case file.
The heightened tension, according to the sources, manifested in unceasing enquiries over the composition of the panellists to hear the crucial matter.
Although the case was filed during the tenure of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Aloma Mukthar, the sources said there had been intense pressure on the current CJN, who took over about two weeks ago, to reconstitute the panel.
Those in support of Jonathan were said to be rooting for a justice sympathetic to his cause to head the panel while those who want the president disqualified from running in the 2015 election, favoured a neutral and fearless arbiter to preside over the case.
A top judicial official confirmed that the CJN was yet to re-constitute the panel to hear the case at the close of work on Friday even though he was aware that the case had been slated for hearing on Tuesday.
The official said it was normal in a very crucial judicial matter of that nature for the CJN to interfere in the composition of the panellists to ensure that justice is delivered to all the parties concerned.
He said: “The eligibility case filed by some persons against President Jonathan is a serious matter, which the CJN has taken notice of and the normal process of setting up the panel, a few hours to the hearing, will be done.
“As at the close of work at the weekend, no panel had been raised by the CJN and we believe that, because of the sensitive nature of the matter and the interest it has generated, the CJN will empanel a team to handle it at the right time.
“This is not the first time such a case is coming before the Supreme Court and there is an established procedure for dealing with such matters.
“In a case of this nature, the CJN might want to put in neutral justices in the panel taking into consideration where they come from, their maturity, objectivity, and how they have handled similar critical assignments in the past.
A northern politician from Kano State, who has been campaigning against Jonathan’s presidency, said he was hopeful that Jonathan would lose the case and return power to the North, ”where the presidency is supposed to be following the death of Umaru Yar’Adua.”
But a PDP governor, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, last night, expressed optimism that the president had the right to run for second term, having merely completed the tenure of the late president before seeking a fresh mandate in accordance with the Constitution of Nigeria.
“Obviously, I don’t think there is anything to worry about as far as this case is concerned,” the governor said. ”There is no law that says that Jonathan should not run in 2015 and that is it”.
The anxiety over the case follows the declaration by INEC that the different parties must submit to it the names of their candidates for the 2015 elections in the shortest possible time as stipulated by the law.
The commission said, last night, that it was awaiting the parties to forward to it lists of candidates and their running mates where necessary.
But it said it will only recognize candidates that emerged from primaries supervised by its officials, warning politicians who conducted parallel party primaries not to approach it with any list. Mr Kayode Idowu, Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who spoke in a telephone interview with Sunday Vanguard, said the electoral law was clear on the time frame, and asked all parties to rectify their problems where necessary with a view to forwarding their candidates to the electoral body.
It will be recalled that the Supreme Court had okayed the appeal filed before it by a chieftain of the PDP, from Adamawa State, Dr. Umar Ardo, for hearing on a day Jonathan insisted he was legally qualified to contest the 2015 presidential election.
The president, through his lawyer, Mr. Ade Okeaya-Inneh, SAN, told the court that he had cited legal authorities backing his re-election bid.
He argued that Ardo had no case against him, insisting that he is permitted by the 1999 Constitution to go for a second tenure in office.
Ardo is, through his lawyer, Dr. A. Amuda Kannike, praying the court to stop Jonathan.
He is further challenging the refusal of the Abuja Division of the Appeal Court to join him as a party in the suit that was originally filed against the president by another member of the PDP, Mr. Cyriacus Njoku.
He contended that the outcome of that case will personally affect him since the PDP had adopted Jonathan as its sole candidate for the 2015 presidential poll.
However, a three-man panel of the Appeal Court declined to join him as a party to the suit, describing him as a meddlesome interloper.
The court branded him a “busy body”, saying he lacked locus standi to challenge the judgement that was delivered by Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the FCT High Court on March 1, 2013, which declared Jonathan legally fit to contest for second term next year.
In an unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal panel, led by Justice Abubakar Yahaya, ordered Ardo to pay N50,000 costs to the president and the PDP.
The court held that Ardo’s application was completely devoid of any merit.
Meanwhile, Jonathan challenged the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court where Ardo lodged an appeal to set aside that decision of the appellate court which he said was flawless.
He further contended that Ardo was not a party before the High Court and did not show any good ground on why he should be joined at the Appeal Court.
Jonathan noted that whereas the main appeal by Njoku was filed on April 16, 2013, Ardo waited till September 23 to apply with a view to be allowed to seek his disqualification from participating in the 2015 election.
Njoku, a member of the PDP in Zuba Ward, Abuja, had, in his appeal, insisted that the lower court misinterpreted the law to favour Jonathan, even as he urged the court to go ahead and determine “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.”
Arguing that Jonathan is constitutionally barred from contesting the presidency in 2015, the plaintiff prayed the court to determine “whether Section 137(1) (b) of the 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 first defendant, who first took an oath of office as substantive President on May 6, 2010 and took a second oath as President on May 29, 2011.”
He is also seeking a declaration that ‘the president’s tenure of office began on May 6, 2010 when his first term began and his two terms shall end on May 29, 2015 after taking his second oath of office on May 29, 2011; and by virtue of Section 136 (1) (b) of the Constitution, no person (including the first defendant) shall take the oath of allegiance and the oath of office prescribed to in the Seventh Schedule to this Constitution more than twice.
He further asked the court for an order of injunction restraining president Jonathan from further contesting or attempting to vie for president after May 29, 2015 when his tenure shall by the Nigerian Constitution end.