Stephen Ukandu, News/Features Editor
The speculated ambition of former President Goodluck Jonathan to join the 2023 presidential race may have suffered a major setback as Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, has insisted that the former president is not constitutionally qualified to contest for the number one office again.
According to the legal luminary, the 2018 amendment to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has disqualified Jonathan from re-contesting for the office of the president.
Falana who made the observation while featuring on a national television interview declared: “That amendment rules out Jonathan on the ground that he was sworn to complete the term of the late President Yar’ Adua and then went on to win another term in 2011.”
The Senate had in 2017 passed a Bill to amend the Constitution, and the House of Representatives then followed up in October by giving its concurrence to the same Bill.
The amendment later became an Act following a presidential assent by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 11, 2018.
According to Falana, “that Act is now referred to as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (4th alteration, No.16) Act, of 2017 and altered section 137 of the Nigerian Constitution by inserting a new sub section.. . section 137 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“It provides as follows: A person who was sworn-in 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.”
He argued that Jonathan, having been sworn-in to complete the tenure of the late President Yar’ Adua who died in office; and having been elected thereafter, for a period of four years that ended in 2015, can no longer contest in 2023.”
“He is now constitutionally barred”, Falana said.
Falana further argued that the interpretation of the Supreme Court on the matter was that “nobody can spend more than eight years in office cumulatively as President or Governor.”
He maintained that Jonathan having been sworn in twice as President, “he is now ineligible to contest for the office.”
Asked what legal remedy that was left for the former President to actualise his rumoured ambition, Falana said it would be too risky for any political party to field Jonathan in 2023.
“If any party fields him (Jonathan), it will be too much a risk as their opponent will simply go to court to seek his disqualification.”
Falana said that the position of the Constitution on the matter was not a legal opinion that could simply be brushed aside.
On the argument that Jonathan’s previous tenures before the law came into effect should not be calculated against him, Falana said, Supreme Court earlier judgments were to the contrary.
“People are saying the law will only take effect when it was made in 2017. I would have been persuaded to go along with that argument but in the case of Toyin Obayori and Musa, Toyin Obayori and PDP, the Supreme Court held that the 4th alteration number 21 of the 2017 affected the pre-election suits that were filed in 2015.
“The appellant filed his pre-election cases in 2015; this law came into force three years later and we tried to convince the court that the law cannot be retrospective, and the Supreme Court said no.
“In this case, since petition was not filed within 14 days, they are deemed to be illegal, and therefore, appeals arising from them are a nullity.
“The other point is that there are decisions of the Supreme Court on that too. In the case of Ladoja and INEC; and Marwa and Yako; the Supreme Court held that you cannot spend more than a cumulative of eight years in office, it may be less but not more, even by one day.
“The position of the Supreme Court is the law of the land interpreting the constitution”.
Asked why he thought the argument against Jonathan’s ambition was stronger now than in 2019 when he contested for the same office, Falana said: “The argument was also canvased then but it was not taken seriously.”
“I think it is stronger now because people want to ensure we operate under the rule of law”, he added.
Ikengaonline reports that angry reactions have trailed the calls by various individuals and groups for Jonathan to join the 2023 presidential race.
The Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, had flayed Jonathan for even contemplating to run for the exalted office again.
Some critics dismiss those clamouring for Jonathan’s return as political jobbers interested in how much they could milk from the former president.
Meanwhile, a recent survey of 15 presidential aspirants placed Jonathan on the 14th position after Justice Minister Abubakar Malami who is last on the table, while Peter Obi came first, with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo coming a distant second.