The ruling of a Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State that the former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, is eligible to contest the 2023 presidential election is not in the plaintiffs’ prayers, SaharaReporters has gathered.
Justice Isa Hamma Dashen had on Friday in a judgement held that Jonathan’s right to vie for the office of president again cannot be stopped by any retroactive law.
The suit marked FHC/YNG/CS/86/2022 was filed by Andy Solomon and Idibiye Abraham as first and second plaintiffs. It listed Jonathan, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as first, second, and third defendants respectively.
But the APC and the INEC did not have any legal representations in the matter, which SaharaReporters learnt was a deliberate move by the party and the electoral body.
Solomon and Abraham had approached the court through their counsel, Egbuwabi Seigha and Timi Robinson, seeking the disqualification of Jonathan from the 2023 presidential polls.
They argued that by virtue of the introduction of Section 137 sub-sections 1(b) and 3 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended, the former president was no longer eligible to vie for the office of the president because he had taken an oath to that office on two previous occasions.
“In the suit filed on May 17, 2022, the plaintiffs seek the determination of the following questions to wit:
“Whether in view of the provisions of Sections 137(1)(b) AND (3) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as altered) and the fact that the 1st defendant had earlier been sworn in as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2010 and 2015 respectively, the 1st defendant is qualified to contest for the office of the President of Nigeria in the 2023 General Elections to be organised by the 3rd defendant.
“If the answer to (1) above is the negative, then whether the 2nd defendant is entitled to field the 1st defendant as its presidential candidate in the 2023 general elections
“Whether the 3rd defendant is entitled to disqualify the 1st defendant from contesting and/or from being presented as the 2nd defendant presidential candidate in the 2023 general elections.
“Following the determination of the above questions, the plaintiff seeks the following reliefs:
“A declaration that in view of provisions of Section 137(1)(b) and (3) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as altered) and the fact that the 1st defendant had earlier been sworn in as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2010 and 2015 respectively, the 1st defendant is disqualified from contesting for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2023 general elections.
“A declaration that the 2nd defendant is entitled to disqualify the 1st from participating in its primary elections or any other selection process(es) for the determination of the 2nd defendant’s presidential candidate for the 2023 general elections.
“A declaration that the 3rd defendant is entitled to disqualify the 1st defendant from contesting and/or from being presented as a candidate for the election into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Delivering judgement on the matter on Friday, Justice Dashen dismissed the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs and ruled that Jonathan is eligible to contest the forthcoming 2023 presidential election on the grounds that he had only been elected into the office once in 2011.
The ruling was however not among the prayers requested by the plaintiffs.
According to the judge, the 2007 general elections produced the late Umaru Yar’Adua as president and not Jonathan, stressing that Section 137 could not have a retroactive effect to stop him from contesting the forthcoming presidential polls.
He also ruled that there was no presidential election conducted in the country in 2010 and Jonathan could not be deemed to have been sworn into the office of the president that year.
He said that Section 137, which came into effect on June 7, 2018, following the fourth alteration to the constitution, “cannot apply retrospectively except the legislature in clear terms expressly stated their intention for it to be so.”
The judge rationalized that if Jonathan had won his re-election bid in the 2015 general polls, in which he lost to the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, he would have been inaugurated as president without any legal impediment.
He said, “In my opinion, the position being propounded by the first defendant (that he is eligible to contest) is tenable. It is the duty of the plaintiffs to direct this court where the legislature stated that the provisions of Section 137 sub-section 3 of the Constitution are to apply.
“I, therefore, find the arguments of the first defendant that he has only been elected into the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria only once and in the year 2011, not only irresistible but established, and I so hold.
“In law, he who asserts must prove. I find that the plaintiffs have not discharged the burden of proof placed on them by law. I, therefore, find merit in the argument of the first defendant that the introduction of Section 137 of the Constitution does not affect his right to contest for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2023 general elections.
“Before the year 2015 when the first defendant lost his re-election bid into the office of President, the restriction by Section 137 sub-section 3 was not in existence. If he had won the 2015 general elections, he would have been sworn in for the third time without any legal impediment.
“The first defendant acquired his right to contest for the office of President immediately after his term as president on May 29, 2015. Clearly, it is incontrovertible that the first defendant’s right to contest and be sworn in as president was vested in him on May 29, 2015, and I so hold.”
Dashen further held, “I declare that the provision of 137 sub-section 3 of the Constitution acquired the force of law with effect from 7th June 2018, and as such does not have retrospective application.
“I also declare that the first defendant is not disqualified by the provision of Section 137 sub-section 3 of the Constitution from contesting for election into the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2023 general elections.
“Consequently, I enter judgment for the first defendant, and all the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs in their originating summons dated 16 May 2022 and filed on 17 May 2022 are all hereby dismissed.”
He, however, ruled against the argument of the lawyer to Jonathan, Eric Omare, that the plaintiffs had no locus standi to challenge the former president’s eligibility in a court of law.