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Court On Jonathan's 2015 Ambition

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President Goodluck Jonathan's 2015 presidential ambition appears to have received a judicial endorsement when a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided over by Hon. Justice Mudashiru, held that Dr Court On Jonathan's 2015 Ambition

President Goodluck Jonathan's 2015 presidential ambition appears to have received a judicial endorsement when a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided over by Hon. Justice Mudashiru, held that Dr Goodluck Jonathan could still aspire for another term in office come 2015, notwithstanding the previous two Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office already taken by him. The judgement appears to have created more confusions than it tended to solve.

A brief background of the case will suffice here. It will be recalled that one Chike Emeka, a memeber of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), had dragged Mr President to the Court, sometimes last year, seeking for the judicial declaration that he (Goodluck Jonathan) is presently serving out his second term in office and thereby will not be qualified for another term in office come 2015, having taken both the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office twice as required by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The plaintiff supported his argument on the ground that Dr Goodluck Jonathan took his first Oath of Office and Oath of Allegiance in 2010 following the death of President Umaru Musa Ya' Adua and again in 2011 after winning that year's presidential election. The plaintiff also relied on Sections 135 and 137 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). As widely reported on the media, the Judge refused this argument in his judgement. The judge held that the 2010 Oaths taken by Dr Goodluck Jonathan were as a result of the Doctrine of Necessity, propounded by the Senate in the heat of the crisis created by the long absence of president Yar' Adua which eventually paved way for him (Goodluck Jonathan) to become the president, and therefore, could not disqualify Mr President from seeking another term in office. His Lordship was equally of the view that the Section 135 of the Constitution are only applicable to an "elected" president and not to someone who assumed office as President Goodluck Jonathan did in 2010.

Yet in another breadth, the Judge held that the court had been stripped off jurisdiction to entertain the suit since Mr Emeka (the Plaintiff) lacked the locus standi to institute the matter in the first place. The court equally went on to say that the Plaintiff had not also established any cause of action that would warrant it to hear the matter. The reason being that Mr President himself has not declared his intention for the 2015 election, and therefore the action was speculative in nature. In the light of the foregoing, Goodluck Jonathan could still aspire for another term in office come 2015, notwithstanding the previous two Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office already taken by him. The judgement appears to have created more confusions than it tended to solve.

A brief background of the case will suffice here. It will be recalled that one Chike Emeka, a memeber of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), had dragged Mr President to the Court, sometimes last year, seeking for the judicial declaration that he (Goodluck Jonathan) is presently serving out his second term in office and thereby will not be qualified for another term in office come 2015, having taken both the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office twice as required by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The plaintiff supported his argument on the ground that Dr Goodluck Jonathan took his first Oath of Office and Oath of Allegiance in 2010 following the death of President Umaru Musa Ya' Adua and again in 2011 after winning that year's presidential election. The plaintiff also relied on Sections 135 and 137 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). As widely reported on the media, the Judge refused this argument in his judgement. The judge held that the 2010 Oaths taken by Dr Goodluck Jonathan were as a result of the Doctrine of Necessity, propounded by the Senate in the heat of the crisis created by the long absence of president Yar' Adua which eventually paved way for him (Goodluck Jonathan) to become the president, and therefore, could not disqualify Mr President from seeking another term in office. His Lordship was equally of the view that the Section 135 of the Constitution are only applicable to an "elected" president and not to someone who assumed office as President Goodluck Jonathan did in 2010.

Yet in another breadth, the Judge held that the court had been stripped off jurisdiction to entertain the suit since Mr Emeka (the Plaintiff) lacked the locus standi to institute the matter in the first place. The court equally went on to say that the Plaintiff had not also established any cause of action that would warrant it to hear the matter. The reason being that Mr President himself has not declared his intention for the 2015 election, and therefore the action was speculative in nature. In the light of the foregoing, the Judge struck out the suit.

Without the risk of sounding partisan and disrespectful, I hold alternative views on some of the issues raised by His Lordship here. First is the issue of Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office . With greatest respect, the Judge failed to answer the question on the number of times the Oaths should be taken by a president, which by an extension, is a yardstick used to determine the tenure of Office of a President. If His Lordship had done so, he would have found out that, with the combined effects of Section 135 (2) and Section 137 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the intentions of the drafters of the Constitution never intended to allow one individual take the Oath beyond two times, however the circumstance. The court could have applied the Mischief Cannon of interpretation. That could have cured the absurdity thrown up by this ugly scenario. Because by this judgement (if it not appealed or if the Appellate courts upheld the judgement) the implication is that, if President Goodluck Jonathan contests and wins the 2015 election, will not only be taking the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office three times, he would have as well succeeded in in spending ten years as president in office, contrary to the eight years allowed by our Constitution. The decision of the court that the provisions of the Constitution on Oath taking is applicable to only "elected" president, under the circumstance is very hard to swallow. It is a trite law that the Vice President, under our law, has a joint tickets with the president in any election. This best explains why the Supreme Court, in AGF v Atiku & Ors (2007) II SC p60, refused to allow the purported removal of the then Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Their Lordships maintained that both VP and President "swim and sink" together by the virtue of their joint election. Thus, it cannot be said that Jonathan's emergence after the demise of Umaru Yar'Adua as the president was completely not out of election, given the above Supreme Court decision. Instead of the narrow interpretation applied to the above sections of the Constitution by the court, it could have as well adopted the similar principle of Doctrine of Necessity used by the Senate to clear the road for Mr President to determine the issue

Second, is the Locus Standi issue raised by the Judge. That equally is confusing. The court said that the Plaintiff did not have locus standi and yet it went ahead to give judgement on the substantive suit. It trite that once the issue of locus could not be established, the court is automatically stripped off any form of jurisdiction to delve into the suit. The questions to be asked here are : (1) would the court decision on the suit have been different if the Plaintiff had locus standi? (2) would the court's interpretation of the said Sections 135 and 137 have been different if the the Plaintiff had established a cause of action (that is if the Plaintiff had shown that Mr President has declared his intention to contest the 2015 election)? I think His Lordship shouldn't have gave decision on the main suit since he had held that the Plaintiff neither had locus nor established a cause of action.

By and large, therefore, it is my candid view that the interest of justice is better served when the laws are not interpreted in such a way as to give an individual(s) undue advantage far above the interest of the larger citizenry: for it cannot be sustained, by any stretch of argument, that the I999 Constitution (as amended) provides for the tenure of the Office of the President beyond eight years.

Okoro Gabriel

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Articles by Okoro Gabriel Bryne