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The Plot, the calculations

AKANI ALAKA writes on the ongoing plot to draft former President Goodluck Jonathan into the 2023 presidential race.

As it is, those determined to drag former President Goodluck Jonathan into the 2023 presidential race are not ready to give up yet.
Buoyed by the failure of the former university lecturer to outrightly reject the call that he should try to make another attempt to return to Aso Rock during a visit to his office some weeks ago by members of a group which described itself as Youths Network for Nigeria Union (YNNU), more groups and associations of different hues are springing up in different parts of the country daily with the sole objective of convincing Jonathan to join the race to replace President Muhammadu Buhari.

Jonathan had told members of YNNU who stormed his office in the Maitama area of Abuja in four buses and posters calling him to join the presidential race that he would soon make his decision on their request known.
Jonathan said: “I cannot declare because some processes are still ongoing. Yes, you are calling me to come and declare for the next election. I cannot tell you I’m declaring, the political process is ongoing. Just watch out.”
But the former president’s supporters are not ready to just stay on the sidelines while they await his decision. The advocates believe that the best platform for the former president to actualize his return bid to Aso Rock is the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.

READ ALS: Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s return to power in 2023 gathers steam, meets S’South leaders

With the presidential primary of the party less than a month away and the sale of forms for those willing to contest the presidency on its platform soon to end, supporters of the former governor of Bayelsa had raised the agitations many notches higher in the past few days.


For one, there were reports of colourful  Jonathan for 2023 posters flooding the streets of Kano last Friday, just as a YNNU has again given the former president a one-week ultimatum to join the APC and purchase the expression of interest and nomination forms for the 2023 elections.


YNNU’s chairman, Ibrahim Saiki told journalists that the group has written a letter to Jonathan asking him to register and obtain the APC membership card at Otuoke Ward in Bayelsa and obtain its presidential expression of interest and nomination forms for the 2023 presidential election.


He added that the group is now giving the former president a seven-day ultimatum which begins after Ramadan to heed the call to indicate his interest in the 2023 presidential election.
According to him, if Jonathan fails to accede to the request, members of the group will storm and occupy his Abuja office and remain there until he makes a decision.


He claimed over 20,000 of the more than 500,000-strong members of the group across the nation have indicated interest to participate in the occupation of Jonathan’s office. The pro-Jonathan group had also held a rally in Suleja, Niger State, to put pressure on Jonathan to join the presidential race.

Why We Want Jonathan
The groups and individuals had anchored their demand on the failure of the Buhari administration to fulfil its electoral promise on security, economy and fighting corruption when it was elected.
According to them, the failure of the Buhari administration is making Jonathan’s era which terminated in 2015 look like a ‘golden era for Nigerians.’


They also argued that the former President would unite Nigerians and that he had the experience to hit the ground running if elected.
A group which described itself as  ‘Goodluck Consensus’,  for example, said Jonathan had what it would take to unify the country.
Speaking during a rally in Port Harcourt, the Convener and Coordinator of the group, Dume Wellington said the call on Jonathan to join the presidential race was because “he is a non-tribalistic leader who puts the citizenry’s interest at heart”.


He also noted that two other presidential aspirants have vowed to jettison their presidential ambitions and support the ex-President should he decide to contest.
Another group, The Nationalists Movement (TNM) said Nigeria needs Jonathan badly enough for the two major political parties to adopt him as their consensus 2023 presidential candidate.


Speaking after a meeting with King A. J. Turner, the Obigbo Mikimiki of Opume kingdom and an associate of the former president, the national coordinator, Engr. Abidde Robinson said Jonathan had acquired the requisite experience, especially, for the period he had been out of government to identify things that needed to be done differently, to quickly achieve the expected results of rebuilding Nigeria. “Jonathan’s outstanding record and landmark achievements remain a bold footprint on the sands of time,” he said.


He added that Nigerians need a popular leader like Jonathan with a track record of integrity and statesmanship to bridge the north-south alliance in 2023.


There was also the prophetic angle to the battle to drag Jonathan to the presidential race with a cleric, Felix Aluko of the Resurrected Assembly (GROM) assuring the former president that he would return to Aso Rock in 2023 if he joins the presidential race on the platform of APC. Aluko said Jonathan’s chapter with his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was closed and that God had opened another chapter for him with the ruling party.
“God said that Jonathan should not listen to detractors but should move out from their crowd and follow His counsel,” the cleric said.

Jonathan’s Romance With PDP
Indeed, with the conclusion of the screening of aspirants for presidential aspirants on the platform of PDP last Friday, Jonathan’s former platform on which he became the deputy governor and governor of Bayelsa State may have closed if he ever contemplated running on it for a possible return to Aso Rock.


Jonathan was also Nigerian president from 2010 to 2015 and vice president of Nigeria from 2007 to 2010 on the platform of PDP.  The rumours that the former president may be contemplating joining the APC began following his regular visits to Buhari at Aso Rock presidential villa as an envoy of ECOWAS to some of the troubled spots in the sub-region.


The former president’s aide had dismissed the speculation, arguing that the visit of his boss to his successor had to do with consultations about the assignments he is handling for ECOWAS.
But some analysts said the chemistry between Jonathan and Buhari as displayed in photographs usually circulated after the visits indicated that there was more to it.


President Buhari had also continued to heap praises on his predecessor for the sportsmanship he displayed by conceding victory to him in the 2015 general election, even before the official announcement of his victory by INEC.
The speculations were also given further vent when some APC members visited Jonathan in his Bayelsa home during the state’s governorship election about two years ago.


Some APC governors, led by the former acting national chairman of the party, Governor Mai Malam Buni had also visited Jonathan in his Abuja home.
The perennial absence of the former president from events organized by the PDP in recent years was another reason being cited by those who claim that he is looking toward the ruling party.


But the former President had also said his absence from events organized by PDP was as a result of his involvement in the running of a new foundation which did not allow for partisanship.
However, the former president had continued his romance with the APC to the chagrin of some leaders from the Southern part of the country.


Mr. Abdullahi Jalo, a lawyer who defected from APC to PDP confirmed in an interview with a national newspaper that members of the ruling party were wooing the former president.

Why North Wants Jonathan

The Jonathan for 2023 gambit is being championed by two governors from the North of the country for their selfish interest and the interest of their region.

One of the governors is said to be eyeing the possibility of being the running mate to Jonathan if the former president can navigate the landmines and get the APC ticket.
Also, the governors and others in their camp were reportedly attracted to Jonathan because he cannot constitutionally do another eight years again, having served his first term between 2011 and 2015. So, Jonathan would have to yield the presidency to the North after his tenure in 2027.


Thus, Jonathan is the North’s strategy to return to power in 2027. The Northern desperation to quickly regain power is said to be anchored on the claim that by the end of 2023, the North would have spent 10 years in power while the south had already spent 14 years.


“It is a plot aimed at undercutting the agitations for zoning of the presidency to the South, especially in the ruling of APC,” said an analyst.

Legal Hurdles
However, the plot to draft Jonathan into the 2023 race has also become a matter of legal contentions. Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana had insisted that the former president is constitutionally barred from running for the office again, according to section 137(3) of the constitution.
Section 137(3) of the fourth alteration to the 1999 constitution reads: “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”.


The Senior Advocate of Nigeria said Jonathan would spend a cumulative period of nine years as president if he contests and wins the 2023 presidential election.
According to the senior lawyer, a person is constitutionally allowed to spend two terms of eight years as president.
However, a socio-political group under the platform of the Law & Order Group faulted Falana’s submissions.


The group in a statement entitled: “Former President Goodluck Jonathan is Qualified to Contest for the Office of the President of Nigeria in the 2023 General Election”, signed by its Coordinator, Aliyu Mohammed, said the fourth Alteration to the Constitution which introduced Section 137(3) was signed into law as part of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) by President Muhammadu Buhari in June 2018 while Jonathan was president between 2011 and 2015.


“The said Section 137 (3) contains a commencement date which is the date it was signed into law. Thus, the provisions of Section 137(3) of the 1999 Constitution (4th Alteration) became operative on the 7th of June, 2018 and not any time before that date.


“The law is settled beyond controversy or dispute that a law does not take effect retroactively. Again, it is the law that, where a piece of legislation sets out a specific commencement date, as in the case of Section 137 (3), all rights, duties, obligations and interests created or intended to be created or imposed by that law will not apply to rights, events or duties which accrued or occurred before then,” the group said.


“As we all know, former president Jonathan left office in 2015. The oaths of office that he took were taken before the enactment of Section 137(3). In a case decided by the Court of Appeal in 2015, the Court rightly held that the oath of office sworn to by former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on the 6th of May, 2010 cannot be taken into account in the interpretation of Section 137(1) of the Constitution.


“It follows, therefore, that the only oath of office sworn by the former President Goodluck Jonathan is the one he took on the 29th of May, 2011”, the group said.
In the same vein, Mike Ozekhome, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights activist said it would be “grossly unfair” to deny Jonathan the right to contest for the 2023 presidency when the county’s extant laws and court decisions permit him.


“The truth of the matter is that the antagonists of Jonathan running in 2023, in their strange line of argument, are mainly relying on the above section 137(3),” Ozekhome said.
“They have probably not adverted their minds to sections 141 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, and section 285(13) of the same fourth alteration to the 1999 constitution, as amended, which they are relying on.


“More revealing is that these antagonists are probably not aware of an extant and subsisting court of appeal decision where Jonathan was frontally confronted and challenged before the 2015 presidential election, on the same ground of being ineligible to contest the said 2015 election, having allegedly been elected for two previous terms of office.
“The section 137(3) being relied upon by the antagonists was signed into law in 2018, three years after Jonathan had left office. Can he be caught in its web retrospectively?


“It is clear that those deliberately misinterpreting the clear position of the law may be baying for Jonathan’s blood, possibly as a potential candidate who may subvert the chances of their preferred candidates.
“I do not view issues from such a narrow ad hominem prism and blurred binoculars. It will be grossly unfair, unconstitutional, unconscionable and inequitable to deny Jonathan the right to contest the 2023 presidential election when our extant laws and appellate court decisions permit him to.


“The question of whether Jonathan really needs to subject his glittering and internationally acclaimed reputation and credentials to the muddy waters of a fresh competition with persons, some of whom were his appointees as president, is another matter altogether.
“Only him, and not the present state of the laws in Nigeria, can answer that question and decide his fate. But, as regards his eligibility to contest, Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan is pre-eminently constitutionally, morally and legally qualified to contest the 2023 presidential election.”

Waiting For Buhari’s Anointing
Aside from the constitutional and possible legal hurdle, Jonathan will also compete for the APC ticket with other chieftains of the party including former Lagos governor Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Rotimi Amaechi, Kayode Fayemi, Emeka Nwajiuba, Yahaya Bello, Ibikunle Amosun and others on the still-growing list of aspirants for the party’s ticket.


But Jonathan is said to be insisting on being anointed as the consensus candidate of the party by the president.
While this may be a way of avoiding a gruelling battle with APC chieftains who seemed determined to throw everything into the battle for delegates at the presidential primary, analysts said the party may not survive such willy-nilly imposition.
President Buhari has also not indicated that he is ready to go that route.

Against Good Thinking

Even then, the possibility of Jonathan winning the election even if he got the ticket easily is doubtful. For one, the APC seems to have fallen out of favour with Nigerians, given its performance in office in the past seven years.
Analysts said the ex-president will lose political popularity and goodwill if he joins the APC. Hence, a former national chairman of the PDP, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, said Jonathan would destroy whatever is left of his integrity if he takes the bait being offered to him by the ruling party: “Personally, my advice to President Goodluck Jonathan is that no matter how much he’s being wooed to join APC, whatever is left of his integrity as a former president of Nigeria will disappear the day he joins APC.”

Also, Jonathan’s entrance into the presidential race will run against the ongoing demand for the 2023 presidency by the Southeast.
Even more, as noted by an analyst, how would members of APC campaign for Jonathan who they have repeatedly pummeled as the source of everything wrong with Nigeria since 2015?