By Igbokwe Ifeanyichukwu
There have been widespread speculation and rumours in political circles and in the social media space, that ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, who presided over Nigeria’s affairs from 2010 to 2015, could run for president again in the 2023 elections.
According to the rumour mill, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been wooing Jonathan to headline their presidential tickets ahead of the vote.
As it turns out, however, Jonathan cannot run for the office of president anymore in Nigeria because he is now legally and constitutionally barred from doing so.
On June 8, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law a bill that limits a Vice-President or Deputy Governor who completes the terms of their principals, from seeking re-election to the position of the President or Governor more than once.
Recall that Jonathan became President in 2010 following the death of Umaru Musa Yar’adua.
After Yar’adua died on May 5, 2010, Jonathan was sworn in as President. He completed Yar’adua’s term and then ran for President in 2011 to commence his own fresh term of 4 years.
Jonathan’s first term elapsed in 2015 and he lost a re-election battle to Muhammadu Buhari in the same year.
The Fourth Alteration which Buhari signed in 2018 amends Sections 137 and 182 of the Constitution; and disqualifies a person who was sworn-in as President or Governor to complete the term of the elected President or Governor, from being elected to the same office for more than a single term.
The amendments introduced read as follows:
“137(3) – A person who was sworn-in as President to complete the term for which another person was elected as President, shall not be elected to such office for more than a single term.”
“182(3) – A person who was sworn-in as Governor to complete the term for which another person was elected as Governor shall not be elected to such office for more than a single term.”
The clear objective of these amendments is to ensure that where a Vice President succeeds the President, and where a Deputy Governor succeeds a Governor, he cannot contest for that office more than once.
The law says: “sworn in” and “no more than a single term.”
Going by the wordings of the law, if a Vice President serves out one week, or even one day to complete his principal’s term like Jonathan did, it is counted as term spent. He can now contest for and serve only one more term in that capacity.
The citation of the Fourth Alteration reads: “This Act may be cited as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No. 16) Act, 2017.”
This begs the question: Will the provisions of the alteration apply to persons who have served in the stated capacities prior to the passage of the law?
In other words, could the provision be interpreted to mean that any person who has, before the passage of the law, taken the oath as President once can only contest for and serve in the office of the President one more time; and whoever has taken the oath twice is barred from contesting for the office? Could that be the intent of this amendment?
The provisions of the Fourth Alteration, as they relate to pre-election matters (Section 285 – on the time limits within which pre-election cases should be filed, decided and appealed against), have been the subject of interpretation by the Supreme Court in the cases of Gusau v. APC (2019) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1670) 185 and Kusamotu v. A.P.C. (2019) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1670) 52.
In both cases, the Supreme Court interpreted the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution to be applicable to all pre-election cases that preceded the said Fourth Alteration, thereby making the alteration be of retrospective (not prospective) effect.
The Constitution is the grundnorm and foundation of the Nigerian Legal System and the basic law upon which other laws and subsidiary legislations are based and invariably derive their validity, and the Supreme Court is the apex court of the land.
The provisions of the Constitution and the interpretation of the Fourth Alteration by the Supreme Court are clear on the limitation of the rights of a person who has served in the stated capacities prior to the passage of the law.
From the foregoing, one can clearly deduce that Jonathan, 64, cannot run for the Office of President again in Nigeria.
Which explains why the man himself has looked unbothered as the rumour mill continues to spew his name as a likely presidential candidate in the next elections.