Chief Obasanjo’s 18-page letter to President Goodluck Jonathan is so well known that it deserves no preambles here. In discussing this topic, I find myself in a state of discomfiture because the two principal actors in the ACT are people I hold in esteem. Both are my political idols. Even now, in spite of everything, I hold the opinion that Chief Matthew Okikiola Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo is the only statesman standing in the political horizon in Nigeria. It has always been my belief that aside the Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obasanjo is the other Nigerian whose belief in a united and indissoluble Nigeria is cast in concrete. On the other hand, President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan is also an emerging statesman who in spite of real or perceived shortcomings should be allowed to complete his second tenure which is scheduled to commence on 29TH MAY, 2015 and end on 29th May, 2019.So, you now see that I am between and betwixt because both personalities are men in whom I am well pleased. Perhaps, my only area of concern whether the Constitution, in its present form, allows President Jonathan or any other future President to occupy the office of President for a period exceeding 8 years. If President Jonathan serves out his second tenure on May 29, 2019, he would have served a total of nine (9) years plus as President. This appears to be incompatible and incongruous with the stipulation of the Nigerian Constitution which pegs the maximum tenure of the Presidency or Governorship at eight years. Since I am not an Attorney at Law but a media professional, I appeal to the members of the Bar and even the Bench to shed more light in this area so that we can find our way out of the maze. Recall that when President Jonathan became President on May, 6th.2010, in the aftermath of the death of President Musa Umaru Yar’Adua, he served out the balance of about 12 months which was the residue of Yar’Adua’s tenure. On the 29 May, 2011, he commenced his First Term as an elected President and this first tenure ends on May 29th, 2015. By May 29th, 2019 when he serves out his second tenure (i.e. if he wins the 2015 poll); he would have served a total of about nine (9) years instead of a total of eight years which is enshrined in the Constitution. This is a researchable topic for our lawyers, especially the constitutional lawyers. Can we please hear from them?
But even as we wait for a feedback from our attorneys at Law, I make bold to state that this is not a difficult task to resolve, if we take a look at how similar problems were handled in the United States through the invocation of the “Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution” which sets a clear tenure limit for the office of President of the United States. Congress passed the Amendment on March 21, 1947 and it was ratified by the requisite number of States on February 27, 1951.Part of the Amendment reads:”No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no one who has held the office of President, or acted as President for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office the President more than once…..”. This legislation, if applied on President Jonathan, means that since the residue of Yar’Adua’s tenure which he served out was below two years, he is qualified to run a second term which will expire in 2019. This amendment was introduced because some U.S Presidents made attempts to serve more than two terms. In fact, in the 1944 election in U.S, President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt won a fourth term but suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died in office in 1945. So, this was a wake up call on the Congress to find a way to checkmate the excesses of some U.S Presidents who were in a desperate search of tenure elongation .Please note that prior to this legislation, there was no fixed tenure for the President of U.S.It was President George Washington’s decision not to seek a third term that encouraged the Congress to fix a tenure limit to the Presidency in U.S.
As a result of the stipulations of the Twenty-Second Amendment to the U.S Constitution, every scintilla of doubt on the tenure of a U.S President, whether he is a serving President or a Vice President who becomes a President, are clarified in order to achieve a seamless succession plan in case of any eventuality. So, today in the United States, a President can only be elected to serve a maximum of two terms of eight (8) years. The Amendment states that where an elected President leaves office before exhausting his tenure, a Vice President who completes his tenure as President through the order of succession, is allowed to serve a maximum of ten(10) years, if the residue of the former President’s tenure is below two years. If, however, the residue of tenure is above two years, such a President can only serve one term of four years and no further. If we domesticate this Law to our own political milieu, it means that President Jonathan is eminently qualified to seek a second tenure which will expire on May 29th, 2019.This is because DR Goodluck Jonathan emerged President of Nigeria on 6th May, 2010 in the aftermath of the death of the then President,Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. So, President Jonathan completed the remaining tenure of the late President- a period of one year and three weeks. Under the U.S 12th Amendment, he is qualified to serve a maximum tenure of 10 years. So, I am appealing to the National Assembly to set the machinery for our own home-grown variant of the United States Twenty Second Amendment in order to facilitate a seamless succession plan, should contingencies eventuate a change in the Presidency. Such contingencies include the abridgement of a presidential tenure as a result of impeachment, incapacity, resignation or death.
It is not about President Jonathan who hails from a hamlet, Otuoke, in Bayelsa State, a Goodluck Jonathan who even went to school without shoes; it’s about the need to create strong and enduring democratic institution in our country and the need to guard against avoidable bickering and recrimination in the future when the need for a change in the apex of power arises. The future beneficiary may be an Okoro, an Adebayo, a Buhari or even an Ekpenyong.There is an urgent need to strike while the iron is red hot in order to shed the light so that others, especially posterity, may find their way out of the maze of interminable crises which will trail future succession plans. In the second part of this viewpoint, I will do an x-ray on how the various Vice Presidents in the U.S succeeded the eight presidents who died while serving as President. Records show that eight U.S Presidents have died while in office; four died through assassination while another four died through natural causes and even one swiftly resigned in a frantic bid to escape the guillotine of impeachment. Those will be discussed in the Part 2 of this analysis.
It is my appeal that the Senate President, Senator Ekweremadu and Hon Emeka Ihedioha, should take judicial notice of this critical amendment with a view to domesticating it in the ongoing Constitution Amendment. Once this is done, President Jonathan can run for a second term without any constitutional impediments on his way. Senator Ekweremadu and Hon Emeka Ihedioha are the Chairmen of the Committees on Constitution Amendment in the Senate and the Federal House of Representatives respectively. They also double as Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives respectively. (To be continued).