PRESIDENCY 2015: SUIT AGAINST JONATHAN BEGINS JUNE 21
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA - Following the inability of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to amicably resolve issues surrounding the eligibility of President Goodluck Jonathan to seek re-election in 2015, an Abuja High Court, yesterday, fixed June 21 to begin hearing on the matter.
Justice Mudashiru Onyangi okayed full-blown hearing on the case after he was informed, yesterday, that the planned out-of-court settlement of the case failed.
President Goodluck Jonathan
It will be recalled that the plaintiff, Mr Cyriacus Njoku, who is a member of the PDP, had on April 18, sought time to explore the possibilities of settling the matter without recourse to the court, a request that made the trial judge to adjourn the case till yesterday to receive a report of settlement from the parties.
However, when the case was called up yesterday, counsel to the plaintiff, Mr Ugochukwu Osuagwu, told the court that the out-of-court settlement deal crumbled.
Consequently, by consent of all the parties, the case was fixed for hearing, even as Justice Onyangi ordered the respondents to ensure that they filed the necessary processes before the adjourned date.
The court added that the substantive suit and preliminary objections raised against it by the respondents would be heard on the same date.
Specifically, the plaintiff had gone before the high court, praying it to bar President Jonathan from contesting presidential election in 2015, contending that he is already completing his second term in office.
He said his decision to seek judicial interpretation regarding whether the incumbent president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can present himself as a valid candidate in the next general election, was sequel to a declaration he said was made by President Jonathan in the first week of March 2012, to the effect that he is still serving his first term in office.
Consequently, he urged the high court to determine whether in the light of the express provisions of section 137(1) (b) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, president Jonathan can be administered thepresidential Oath of Office thrice.
Those joined in the suit were President Jonathan, the PDP, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as 1stto 3rd defendants respectively.
Moreover, he has asked the court to 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.
As well as, '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.'
Besides, he sought 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.
Even as he beseeched the court for an order of injunction restraining the PDP from further sponsoring or attempting to sponsor the first defendant as candidate for election to the office of the President in the 2015; and an order directing the third defendant, INEC, from accepting the name of the first defendant where sponsored by his party again to run for president in the 2015 presidential election to be supervised and conducted by the third defendant (INEC).
Though President Jonathan earlier challenged the suit which he branded 'frivolous and highly vexatious,' the PDP, through its national legal adviser, Mr. Victor Kwon, canvassed reasons why the case should be dismissed in its entirety.
In its preliminary objection, PDP queried the locus-standi of the plaintiff to seek such reliefs against Jonathan, saying 'the interest the plaintiff claims in bringing this suit is one which he shares with millions of other members of the 2nd defendant in all geopolitical zones of the country.'
In an affidavit deposed to by one Nanchang Ndam, the party argued that: 'neither the PDP nor any political party has started selling or issuing nomination forms for the 2015 presidential elections and the plaintiff has not bought or obtained any such form from the second defendant or any other political party.
'Contrary to the depositions in paragraphs 4, 7 and 8 of the said affidavit, the first defendant will only be completing his first term of office as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in May 2015.
'The first defendant has contested election as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria only once, and that is at the April 2011 general election.
'If the first the defendant vies for President in 2015, the plaintiff and other eligible Nigerians would not be denied the opportunity of taking a shot at the presidency in 2015 as they would join the first defendant in the contest whether within the auspices of the second defendant or on the platform of other political parties.
'Contrary to the depositions of paragraph 3 of the said affidavit, the third defendant (INEC) has not given notice of poll for the 2015 general elections and so nominations have not opened for those seeking to contest the office of President in the election.
'It is only in 2014 or thereabouts when the third defendant (INEC) gives notice of poll enabling political parties, including the PDP, to nominate their candidates for the presidential elections that it would be known whether the plaintiff or the first defendant would vie for President in 2015. It is in the interest of justice to grant this preliminary objection,' the party added.
Nevertheless, before the court could commence hearing on the matter, the plaintiff, re-approached the court, saying the PDP ward in in Zuba, Gwagwalada Area Council of Abuja, where he is registered, persuaded him to discontinue further hearing on the case.
He however told the court that he would not hesitate to re-activate the case should the negotiation process fail. Meanwhile, President Jonathan had described the plaintiff as a joker, insisting that he was confident that the matter would be dismissed as grossly lacking in merit.
Jonathan who challenged the suit through his consortium of lawyers led by Chief Ade Okeaya-Inneh, SAN, insisted that the 1999 constitution, as amended, permits him to contest for not more than two terms of 4-years each.
The president, in a15-paragraph counter affidavit that was deposed on his behalf by a counsel in the chambers of his lead counsel, said he was yet to indicate or announce anywhere that he would contest for presidency in 2015.
In the said counter affidavit, 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 P resident 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.
The President told the court that 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 asked the presiding judge to discountenance the suit as it was meant to make the court labour in futility over a suit that is purely an academic exercise.
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.