Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Presidency 2015 - Court Determines Jonathan's Eligibility Today

Abuja — An Abuja High Court sitting at Maitama, will today, determine whether President Goodluck Jonathan is eligible or not to contest Presidency in 2015.

It was an aggrieved member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Cyriacus Njoku, that approached the court, asking it 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."

Likewise, a seven-man panel of Justices of the Supreme Court has fixed December 14, to deliver judgment on another suit seeking to nullify the April 16 general election that brought President Jonathan to power.

The suit was filed before the apex court by the National Democratic Party, NDP, which is alleging that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, violated several provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010. The party contended that the second timetable the electoral body used for the general election was illegal, null and void.

Meantime, in his suit, Cyriacus who said he intended to vie for the Presidency in 2015, is also urging the high 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 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.

Meanwhile, both President Jonathan and the PDP, in separate preliminary objections they filed against the suit, described it as "frivolous and highly vexatious," saying it ought to be dismissed in its entirety as grossly lacking in merit.

They contended that the plaintiff failed to disclose any reasonable cause of action that precipitated the suit, insisting that Jonathan is currently doing his first term of four years in office as the President of Nigeria as provided by the 1999 constitution as amended.

According to the PDP, "President Jonathan's status and position is formidably backed by the 1999 constitution. The constitution of Nigeria only makes provisions for a president to contest for not more than two terms of four years each. The constitution recognizes the President's tenure of office to be four years."

PDP further maintained that Jonathan had not indicated or announced anywhere whether in words or in writing that he would contest for the presidential election in 2015, adding that the plaintiff lacked the locus-standi to seek for such declarative orders against Jonathan.

Similarly, Jonathan, through his consortium of lawyers led by Chief Ade Okeaya-Inneh, SAN, maintained that the 1999 constitution, as amended, permits him to contest for not more than two terms of 4-years each.

In a15-paragraph counter affidavit that was deposed on his behalf by a lawyer, Mr Osahon Okeaya-Inneh, Jonathan said he was yet to indicate or announce anywhere that he would contest for presidency in 2015, just as he dismissed the suit as an academic exercise.

In the counter affidavit entered against the suit, counsel to Jonathan averred: "I am a counsel in the law firm of Ade Okeaya-Inneh and Co. Counsel to the 1st defendant in this suit, by virtue of which I am conversant with the facts of this case

"I have the consent and authority of the 1stdefendant/respondent to depose to this affidavit

"When my law firm was briefed by the 1stdefendant to represent him in his action, I, together with Mr Mattew Aikhionbare (senior special assistant to the President) and Dr Reuben Abati (special adviser on media and publicity to the President) meticulously went through the 11-paragraph affidavit of the plaintiff in support of his originating summons.

"The 1st defendant is currently doing his first term of 4 years in office as the president of Nigeria as provided by the 1999 constitution as amended. The 1st defendant status and position is formidably backed by the 1999 constitution.

"The constitution of Nigeria only makes provisions for a president to contest for not more than 2 terms of 4 years each. The constitution recognizes the Executive President's tenure of office to be 4 years.

"I was informed by Dr Reuben Abati on the April 4, 2012 at about 5.30 pm in his office and I verily believe that. 'The 1stdefendant has not indicated or announced anywhere whether in words or in writing that he will contest for the presidential elections to be conducted in 2015.

"The Late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua contested and won the presidential elections conducted in 2007 for a one term of four years. He was the president from May 29, 2007 until sometime in May 2010 when he passed on. Yar'Adua's four years was to end in 2011."

Jonathan further told the court that on May 6, 2010, he was sworn in as the president after the demise of the Late President Yar'Adua thereby completing Yara'Adua's 12 months of the 4 years tenure, stressing that this is the first time he is coming to power as the president of Nigeria through a conducted election wherein he was voted as the presidential candidate of his party, the PDP.

He said the plaintiff neither attached copies of his recent tax clearance certificate from the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, nor his PDP membership card as proof of who he claimed to be.

Therefore, he beseeched the presiding Justice Mudashiru Onyangi to terminate hearing on the suit he said was meant to make the court labour in futility.

Remarkably, this is the second time the plaintiff, Njoku is dragging President Jonathan to court with a view to thwarting his political ambitions.

It will be recalled that he had in August 2010, attempted to stop the PDP from allowing Jonathan to participate in the PDP presidential primaries of January 2011.

Njoku, from Zuba Ward in Gwagwalada Area Council of Abuja and with PDP registration number 1622735, had previously urged the court to ask the PDP to respect its principle on zoning formula in line with Article 7. 2(c) of the party's constitution.

He had insisted that the declaration of Jonathan (third defendant) to contest the presidency on the PDP platform was contrary to Article7.2(c) of the 2009 Constitution of the PDP, as amended.

However, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Lawan Gummi dismissed the zoning suit, thus paving way for President Jonathan to emerge as the flag bearer of the party in the last general elections.

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