ABUJA – The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, yesterday, cleared the legal coast for President Goodluck Jonathan to seek for a re-election on March 28.
In an unanimous judgment Tuesday, a 5-man panel of Justices of the appellate court held that Jonathan is legally qualified to run for a second term in office.
The appellate court panel said the raging contention that under section 135(2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, President Jonathan is not eligible to partake in the forthcoming presidential election having already taken the oath of office and oath of allegiance for the office of the presidency twice, was not founded in law.
It maintained that the first oath Jonathan took on May 6, 2010, was only to enable him to complete the un-expired tenure of late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua as stipulated in Section 146(1) of the constitution, saying his first tenure as substantive President of Nigeria commenced on May 29, 2011, when he was administered the second oath of office.
Justice Abubakar Yahaya who delivered the lead judgment Tuesday, stressed that Jonathan has only been elected as President once, adding that for him to be disqualified from the impending poll, it must be proved that the initial oath he took in 2010 was a fallout out of an election.
Consequently, the appellate court, while dismissing the appeal that was lodged against President Jonathan by a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Cyriacus Njoku, affirmed a previous verdict that was delivered by trial Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the FCT High Court on March 1, 2013.
The panel held that Njoku’s appeal lacked in merit, even as it directed him to pay a cost of N50, 000, to both President Jonathan and the PDP, who he had cited as 1st and 2nd defendants in the suit.
According to Justice Yahaya, “Our constitution is the grand norm and it is sacrosanct. The 1999 constitution is the foundation upon which the democracy we practice is anchored. It is therefore a document that must be respected, appreciated and obeyed by all of us.
“The words of the constitution best conveys the mind of the framers. A court of law is bound to consider in its entirety, the relevant portions of the constitution in order to arrive at a logical conclusion.
“When relevant provisions are read together, the words used, if plain and unambiguous, must be given their clear meaning.
“In the instant appeal, it is not controverted that the oath the 1st Respondent took in 2007 as a result of the joint election he had with late President Yar’adua, was the oath for an elected Vice President as it was Yar’adua that took oath of presidency.
“On May 6, 2010 the 1st Respondent who was then the Vice President, took oath of presidency by virtue of section 146(1) of the constitution to complete the un-expired tenure of Yar’adua.
“Section 137(1)(b) disqualifies a person from standing for election for office of president if he had been elected into the office for two previous elections. So the operative word is election. The disqualification is to stop the person from participating in election again if he has been so elected twice.
“So the word election used in section 137(1) (b) of the 1999 constitution when given its ordinary grammatical meaning, connote a process where voting is employed to choose a person for the post of presidency.
“Primary election , nomination, voting, collating and announcement of result must of necessity take place. That is the mode prescribed in the constitution for the election of a president into office. This did not take place when the 1st Respondent took oath in 2010.
“Stepping in of the Vice President after the death of the President cannot be deemed an election, especially for the purpose of taking away a right that has been constitutionally vested.
“All the aforementioned processes, starting with party primaries, can be challenged in the court of law and if it succeed the outcome of an election annulled. However, if the Vice President succeeds a President that has died, such cannot be challenged in court as it is a constitutional requirement.
“The process that produced the 1st Respondent as President in 2010, was not an election as no single vote was cast.
This was dramatically different from what happened in 2011 when he was nominated, elected and declared winner. That was the first election he took and his first election as a President”, the court held.
The court said the case of Jonathan’s tenure was different from that of Marwa vs Nyako and the 5 Governors that were sacked by the Supreme Court, as the governors emerged through elections.
It observed that though former President Olusegun Obasanjo previously served as a Head of State in 1976, only the oath he took in 1999 and 2003 is recognised in the eyes of the law.
“As far as previous elections are an issue, the 1st defendant is not disqualified and consequently, he is qualified to stand election for the office of presidency”, the appellate court held.
It will be recalled that Njoku who is a registered member of the PDP in Zuba ward, Abuja, had earlier gone before the lower court, urging it to among other things, 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.”
Contending that Jonathan is constitutionally barred from contesting presidency in 2015, the plaintiff, prayed the 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.”
Even as 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.”
Besides, he beseeched the court for an order of injunction restraining President Jonathan from further contesting or attempting to vie for President after May 29, 2015 when his tenure shall by the Nigerian Constitution end.
As well as to issue an order of injunction restraining the PDP from further sponsoring or attempting to sponsor Jonathan as candidate for election to the office of the President in 2015, as well as make an order directing the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to refrain from accepting the name of the 1st defendant, Jonathan, should the party decide to sponsor him in the next presidential election.”