By Amos Dunia, a Public Affairs analyst, journalist
With a stroke of a pen, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of Abuja High Court in a landmark judicial pronouncement declared thus: "The order of injunction against the first defendant (President Goodluck Jonathan) contesting in 2015 is refused.
"The application for an order restraining the second defendant, PDP, from sponsoring him is refused and dismissed. Likewise, application for an order directing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to accept Jonathan if sponsored by the second defendant in 2015 is also dismissed and refused."
Accordingly, Justice Oniyangi ruled that going by the express provision of Section 137(1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, President Jonathan is eligible to contest for the presidency in 2015. With the ruling, all ambiguities over the eligibility or otherwise on the way to President Jonathan's second term in office and qualification to contest the 2015 presidential election were laid to rest. Before the court ruling, the road leading to 2015 general elections looked soaked with palpable anxiety, fear, tension and worries.
In spite of all these, President Jonathan remains calm and refused to be dragged into the controversies of 2015, insisting that it was too early in the life of the administration to start talking about 2015.
Be that as it may, the pursuit by majority of Nigerians from all walks of life and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to get the people's President to declare his interest for 2015 continue to increase in momentum just as the day grew into days, weeks, months and years. Pointedly, the leadership of the party equally declared that it is determined to sponsor Jonathan if he so desire to contest the 2015 presidential elections.
The issues before the court for adjudication over the eligibility of the President were as interesting as they also looked complex, but with judicial wisdom, Oniyangi dissected them one after the other and by the time he was done, the plaintiff was convinced beyond reasonable doubt and within the ambit of the law, satisfied.
First, Justice Oniyangi, ruled that President Jonathan is currently on his first term of four years, adding that in that wise, if he (Jonathan) so wishes, he can seek from his political party or any other party, the sponsorship to contest in the 2015 presidential election.
The trial judge noted that in the eyes of the law, President Jonathan's tenure commenced on May 29, 2011, as he only assumed office as President in 2010 as a result of the demise of late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who contested and won the 2007 presidential election.
Taking a critical look at Section 137 of the 1999 constitution as amended, Oniyangi stressed that the germane issues for determination were, whether the death of late President Yar'Adua and the swearing-in of President Jonathan to complete the tenure, remains a four-year tenure? He then asked, "Did the first defendant (Jonathan) contest the presidency for the first time in 2011? Was he ever declared and sworn-in as president in 2007? Was he the presidential candidate of the PDP in 2007?"
Oniyangi then went further to explain saying, "The distinguishing factor is that after the election of Yar'Adua, there was no election or bye-election upon which Jonathan became president but was asked to assume the position. I will like to borrow the word that was used by the legislature then, 'Doctrine of Necessity'. He was not elected into the position but was asked to assume the position.
"Having exhausted that tenure, he sought and obtained the ticket of the party to contest for the presidency in 2011.
"Consequently, it is my considered view that the first defendant is on his first tenure of four years. It therefore follows that if he so wishes, he can seek from his party to contest for presidential election in 2015. He is running his first tenure and can aspire to seek for nomination like any other Nigerian to contest in 2015," he so ruled.
The court further declared that Section 137, applies only when a candidate is elected and not when he assumes the office like in the case of President Jonathan, adding that in this particular instance, the section applies to when Jonathan was elected as President and not when he took oath of office on May 6, 2010.He further ruled, "I therefore hold that the tenure of office of the first defendant (Jonathan) did not begin on May 6, 2010 but May 29, 2011.
"The constitution is clear that no person shall take oath of allegiance and oath of office prescribed in the seventh schedule of the constitution more than twice except on special circumstance as witnessed in the demise of Yar'Adua."
As a way of putting a final seal on the matter, the court while upholding preliminary objections filed against the suit by both Jonathan and the PDP, held that the plaintiff Mr. Cyriacus Njoku, who is also a chieftain of the PDP lacked the locus-standi to institute the action, just as he noted that the matter was pre-mature considering that Jonathan was yet to declare his intention to run for the election in 2015.
In the wisdom of the court, the provisions of Section 87 of the Electoral Act, clearly stated that only a political party has the exclusive powers to nominate or pick candidates to sponsor in any given election, a decision, he noted was a domestic affair of political parties which no court had the powers to determine.
"The plaintiff lacks locus standi and the suit is accordingly struck out," Justice Oniyangi ffirmed. But, even as President Jonathan is yet to declare his intention, his party, the PDP may have commenced a subtle preparation for his second term in office owing to his transformation agenda that is already yielding results in the various sectors of the nation's economy, namely; Aviation, Power, Agriculture, Infrastructural development, provision of water, Education etc.
Significantly, the leadership of the party has declared that it is not in any way afraid to drum support for the president owing to the good work he is carrying out and it was based on this premise that the National Chairman of PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur warned opposition parties in the country to understand that the party is fully on ground and would defeat whatever strategy they bring into play.
He said, "With a repackaged PDP, the implication is that it will enable us to effectively mobilise our members ahead of the 2015 general elections and win. We have the capacity and we have done it before and there is the track record to show for it. Most of the people in APC now are original members of the PDP and I can assure that we have commenced talks to bring them back to where they originally belonged, which is the PDP.
"They are coming back, because some of them have told me that their aspirations may not be met in the APC because of the burning ambitions of some individual members. They don't want a party that is being run like a cult. They are gradually commencing a return to the PDP, because the PDP is the only national party in Nigeria.
"Similarly, the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, who is known to be one of the most effective organizers and mobilisers of our time, said during the inauguration of the 'PDP Women in power' calendar 2013 in Abuja, that even if 100 parties ganged up against the PDP, they will not be in a position to muster the required strength to oust the ruling party.
"Owing to his humble and amiable disposition, President Jonathan has maintained a studied silence and sincerity of purpose by refusing to be dragged in the 2015 race for now in fulfillment of his promise not to overheat the polity and thereby distract his attention from the marvelous works he is carrying out for the overall good of the country, particularly with regards to the greater future he is developing for the youths which is one of his major preoccupations.
"To put it in its proper context, it would not be out of place to state unequivocally that without mincing words, that when and if President Jonathan decides to declare his interest into the race for 2015, there would be no stopping him from clinching the presidential seat, as his support base, is gaining wider acceptability in spite the fuss by the so-called oppositon parties ganging up in the name of merger."