President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday told a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja that, contrary to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, an incumbent president’s tenure of office can elongate beyond four or eight years.
The president made this known while responding to a suit filed by a Port Harcourt-based lawyer and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) card-carrying member, Henry Amadi, that Jonathan is no longer qualified to contest for 2015 presidency.
The ace lawyer maintained that Jonathan is no longer viable to contest in 2015 on the grounds that he would be spending more than the maximum two terms of four years each envisaged by the 1999 Constitution.
Ee said ‘’an incumbent president’s tenure of office can, by default, extend beyond four or eight years because a natural disaster makes it impossible for elections to be conducted or as required by section 135(1a) for his successor to take the oath of that office’’.
It would be recalled that a similarly suit was filed by a chieftain of the PDP, Mr Cyriacus Njoku, on March 20, 2012, before an Abuja High Court, asking the court to stop President Jonathan from contesting the election in 2015 on the grounds that he was already in his second term in office.
Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi had on November 13, 2012 delivered judgment in Njoku’s suit but subsequently adjourned the case indefinitely following his trip abroad.
The plaintiff asked 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.
He 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 would hoist illegality in the polity since the oath of allegiance and office he would take if he won would violate the two oaths of allegiance stipulated by the 1999 Constitution.
However, in the counter-affidavit filed on his behalf by Mr Ade Okeaya-Inneh (SAN), Jonathan said the court should declare itself as lacking jurisdiction to entertain Amadi’s suit, stressing that the plaintiff is an ordinary individual who doesn’t have the right to request the court to retard him from contesting the 2015 presidential election.
‘’Under public law, an ordinary or a citizen or a taxpayer without more will generally not have locus standi as a plaintiff. This is because such litigations concern public rights and duties which belong to and are owed by all members of the public including the plaintiff’’.
According to Jonathan, Amadi failed to disclose reasonable cause of action and that the plaintiff’s claim is hypothetical and academic.
Jonathan averred that he took the first oath of office on May 6, 2010, following the death of the former president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. ‘’The question that arises for determination is whether, having regard to the facts of this case, he is 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 went further to say 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 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.
‘’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 latter’’.
Meanwhile, presiding judge, Justice Adamu Bello adjourned to January 23, 2013, for parties in the matter to adopt their processes and argument.