President Goodluck Jonathan has told a Federal High Court that contrary to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, an incumbent president’s tenure in office can extend beyond four or eight years.
The president, who last Sunday said it was too early to discuss 2015 presidential election, disclosed this in response to a suit filed by a Port Harcourt-based lawyer and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member, Henry Amadi, who wants the court to declare that Mr Jonathan was no longer qualified to contest in 2015.
The plaintiff argued that allowing Mr Jonathan to contest in 2015 would amount to extending his tenure beyond the maximum period of two terms of four years envisaged by the 1999 Constitution.
A similar suit was filed by another member of the PDP, Cyriacus Njoku, who asked an Abuja High Court to stop Mr Jonathan from contesting the presidential election in 2015 on the grounds that he was already in his second term in office.
Judgment was yet to be entered in the said suit by the presiding Judge, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi, long after he had earlier fixed November 13, 2012 date before adjourning the case sine dine (indefinitely) following his trip abroad.
In the present suit, the plaintiff joined Mr Jonathan and the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) as co-defendants.
He specifically asked the court to stop Mr 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.
Mr Amadi also asked the court to direct INEC not to accept Mr Jonathan’s nomination as candidate of the PDP in 2015, saying by so doing, the president 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 and office stipulated by the 1999 Constitution.
But in the counter-affidavit filed on his behalf by Ade Okeaya-Inneh, President Jonathan asked the court to decline jurisdiction to entertain the case on the grounds that the plaintiff was an ordinary individual who was not qualified to request court to stop him from contesting 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 all members of the public including the plaintiff,” the president’s lawyer said.
The president contended that the plaintiff failed to disclose reasonable cause of action and that his claim before the court was hypothetical and academic. Mr Jonathan averred that he took the first oath of office on May 6, 2010 following the death of 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-term 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 later. 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.’’
Mr Okeaya-Inneh further said: “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. “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.’’
Meanwhile, Justice Adamu Bello adjourned to 23 January 2013, for parties in the matter to adopt their processes and argument. He also granted the applications made by lawyers to Mr Jonathan and INEC to extend time within which to file their counter-affidavit and preliminary objections to the suit filed by lawyer to the plaintiff.