President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday told an Abuja High Court hearing a suit against his alleged 2015 re-election bid that his stay in office could legally go beyond eight years under certain conditions.
Jonathan was responding in a suit asking the court to declare him ineligible to run for re-election because that would extend his tenure beyond the maximum eight years provided by the constitution, given that he took over as President in May 2010 after the death of then-President Yar’Adua.
The case was filed by Peoples Democratic Party presidential aspirant, Mr Cyriacus Njoku, on March 20 seeking the determination of section 135 (2) and 137 (1) of the Constitution which limit presidential tenure to maximum of two terms of four years each.
Njoku is asking the court to determine whether in spite of these provisions President Jonathan can seek re-election and take a third oath of office having already taken oaths twice, first on May 6, 2010 after Yar’Adua’s death and then on May 29, 2011 after the general elections.
Yesterday, while arguing the substantive motion, counsel to Njoku, Mr Ugochukwu Osuagwu, cited the Supreme Court decision in January on General Buba Marwa and INEC where it held that no elected person can stay in office beyond an initial term of four years. This was the ruling that affected the tenure of the five governors who won re-run elections in 2008.
But counsel to Jonathan, Mr Kenechukwu Nomeh, who represented Mr Ade Okeaya-Inneh (SAN), argued that under section 315 (3) of the constitution, a president could stay in office for additional time beyond his tenure in certain circumstances.
“The tenure of occupant of an office can be extended by the National Assembly for six months in following conditions: when the nation is at war and in situation of death of the occupant of the office which applies to President Jonathan,” he said.
Also citing the decision of the Supreme Court on Ojukwu and Obasanjo in 2004, Nomeh argued that section 137 (1) (d) contemplated a “person elected into office twice” not by appointment into same office though both entails oath taking.
He urged the court to dismiss the suit for being incompetent and premature.
Also in its counter affidavit, the PDP represented by Mr I. C. Paul argued that under section 137 of the constitution, Jonathan was only elected once into office in April 2011 and still “has the right to contest for a fresh term if he so wishes.”
Earlier, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi overruled an objection by Jonathan and the PDP that a certain newspaper publication is not a sufficient cause of action. The publication in question, marked Exhibit VRA 1, is the Punch newspaper of March 16, 2012, which contained a statement credited to the Jonathan’s spokesman Reuben Abati alluding to the President’s intention to seek re-election.
Oniyangi also upheld the submission of Mr Njoku that the suit being a constitutional matter, he needed not show evidence of sufficient interest as locus standi to institute the action.
He fixed judgement for October 18, considering that the annual vacation of the FCT High Court begins on August 6.