The eligibility of President Goodluck Jonathan to seek re-election in 2015 could demand another “doctrine of necessity” for it to sail through. The hastily cobbled together Constitution of 1999 would appear not to have foreseen that a president could die while in office, or even impeached or incapacitated. However, the intention of its drafters to limit the president to a maximum of 8 years in office is hardly in doubt.
The 1999 Constitution recommends two terms of 4 years each, and stipulates that the oath of office to the coveted office of president cannot be taken more than twice – something that must be worrying for Jonathan who would have been president for less than 6 years by 2015, but has already been sworn into office twice.
The somehow desperate argument conjured in support of the future ambition of Jonathan, even by supposedly informed lawyers, is that since he was not the one elected as president in 2007, the oath of office he took in 2010 to complete what would have been the first term of the late president, Umaru Yar’Adua, should not count in his favour.
I counter that argument by asking if that oath of office should still not have counted had Jonathan ascended the presidency much earlier, for it is reasonably foreseeable that a president could be dead, even immediately after he or she had been sworn into office.
President Goodluck Jonathan realises the dilemma confronting his ambition, hence his contention that it would be better to be president for 9 years than 8 years. Had the Nigerian constitution borrowed from the American prescriptions in presidential succession politics, the dilemma facing Jonathan would not have been there.
Were he to be in a position to contest the presidency in 2015, a successful Jonathan would not only have taken the oath of office thrice, but would also have been president for 9 years by 2019. It would be interesting to know how the 1999 constitution would be negotiated.
Following the 22nd amendment which limited the American president to two terms in office, its drafters made provision for a president who could be taking over from one who was unable to complete his or her term of office.
The maximum number of years one can be president of the United States of America was pegged at 10. This means the eligibility of a succeeding president to seek re-election, after he or she might have won a term of their own, would always depend on when he or she ascended into the presidency.
Lyndon Johnson, who ascended the American presidency in a circumstance similar to that of our own President Goodluck Jonathan, was eminently qualified to seek re-election in 1968, not least because another 4 years in office would mean he was president for only 9 years.
Johnson succeeded the assassinated John Kennedy in 1963, won an election of his own in 1964, but chose not seek re-election in 1968 for personal reasons. Of course, taking over from a president who did not complete his or her tenure could, in the American context, also mean that a succeeding president was limited to barely 6 years in office. It is always a matter of how far the presidency of one has advanced before another took over.
Aside from the constitutional clog in the ambition of Goodluck Jonathan, there is this temptation for one to believe he might have actually agreed with others that he would not be seeking re-election in 2015. One is tempted to subscribe to this view on the evidence of the controversy surrounding his candidacy in the 2011 election.
With the contention over zoning or no zoning in the PDP, those who canvassed support for Jonathan said he was completing the mandate he jointly held with the late Umaru Yar’Adua.
Even when the veracity of that argument could easily have been debunked, it was one argument in political expediency that has now become a moral burden for Goodluck Jonathan.
*Anthony Akinola writes from Oxford.
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