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Babangida: Jonathan Must Go by 2015

Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, Tuesday opened what may become a subject of legal fireworks, declaring that President Goodluck Jonathan is constitutionally barred from seeking another term in office by 2015 if he wins the forthcoming presidential election.

In a statement denying reports that he had struck a deal with Jonathan ahead of the general election, Babangida said the president’s promise of doing only one term and quitting in 2015 was unnecessary because he would be “statute-barred” from running at that time.
“It should be understood that the idea being sold out that President Jonathan would serve one term as a precondition for getting the Northern support is non-applicable.

“By law, if President Goodluck Jonathan gets re-elected, he would be statute-barred from contesting in 2015 having been sworn in twice,” the statement, issued by his spokesman, Prince Kassim Afegbua, declared.
Although the statement did not quote a specific provision in the constitution, Babangida is believed to be referring to Section 137 which states: “(1) A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if… (b) he has been elected to such office at any two previous elections.”

But prominent lawyers have picked holes in Babangida’s claim, pointing out that the constitution is specific about election into office and not swearing-in.

Jonathan, then vice-president, was sworn in as president in May 2010 after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
If Jonathan wins the April presidential poll, he will be sworn in as president for the second time, but he will only have contested for the position of president once.

Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), faulted Babangida’s position, saying it was not the position of the law.

Olanipekun said because Jonathan had not been elected into office before, he has the constitutional right to contest the 2015 presidential election.

He warned against misinterpreting the constitution, saying the emphasis of the constitution is when the person had been elected and not sworn into office.

The former NBA boss said what Jonathan was currently doing was to serve out the tenure of the late Yar’Adua which could not be counted for him.

He said the first term of President Jonathan would begin to count the moment he is sworn on May 29, 2011 if he wins the presidential election.

“There is no law that bars President Jonathan from contesting the 2015 election if he so desires. He has the right to contest again in 2015 if he so desires and the nation wants him back in office. Let us stop to misinterpret the constitution. The intention of the framers of the constitution is ‘if elected’. It is on May 29, 2011 that President Jonathan’s first term would begin to run,” he said.
Another former President of the NBA, OCJ Okocha (SAN), wondered if Babangida is a lawyer to be interpreting the constitution.
Okocha equally warned the former military president to desist from comments that are the exclusive preserve of the courts.
He noted that what should preoccupy Nigerians at this moment is how to conduct peaceful and credible elections.
“Is Babangida a lawyer? He should not make comments that are reserved for the courts. What should be uppermost in the mind and that of other Nigerians should be how to conduct a free and fair elections,” he said.

On his part, Chief Felix Fagbohungbe (SAN) described the statement credited to Babangida as a mistake, adding that Jonathan before now had not contested for an elective presidential office in the country, apart from the one that he would partake in come April.
Fagbohungbe corroborated the views of Olanipekun, saying the intention of the framers of the constitution is when a person is elected.

Another eminent lawyer, Yusuf Ali (SAN), said because President Jonathan had promised that he would quit power by 2015, Nigerians should not debate whether or not he could contest in 2015 but should let him be a man of his words.
“He told the world that he would not contest again in 2015. Why not let him be a man of his words instead of this debate?” he asked.
However, another former NBA President, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), said the debate would really be “an interesting issue” as the time goes on.

Agbakoba though stated that he does not have a clear answer to the debate, added that the issue should ultimately be reserved for the courts to decide.

Meanwhile, Babangida has emphatically denied claims that he has struck a deal with President Jonathan along with the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) to support his quest to remain in office.

Babangida also stated that he still believes in the principles of zoning which led to the setting up of the NPLF, stating however that he is open to dialogue.

The statement issued by Afegbua read: “We have been inundated with telephone calls and text messages from our numerous supporters nationwide over the news report that indicated that a deal had been sealed between President Goodluck Jonathan and former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. On behalf of General Ibrahim Babangida, GCFR, I wish to state that up till this date, Tuesday, 22nd February, 2011, no deal has been sealed.”

Babangida confirmed that there were overtures by the Jonathan/Sambo Campaigns to the NPLF “but that is not to suggest that a deal has been struck”.

The statement further said: “There is a clear distinction between General Ibrahim Babangida as a private citizen and the Northern Political Leaders Forum led by Mallam Adamu Ciroma. This distinction must be properly understood each time the media try to draw its conclusions. It should also be noted that General IBB has access to Mr. President and can engage him anytime in the interest of the country.

“Expectedly, any Presidential Candidate should ordinarily reach out to those he feels could enrich his campaigns and support base. It is a usual democratic and electoral practice that is not peculiar to us in Nigeria. It is also expected that when such a candidate is reaching out, certain convincing reasons would be advanced to woo his potential supporters.

“While it is not out of place for President Jonathan to reach out to people he feels could enrich his campaigns, it is out of place for the media to run into premature conclusion that a deal has been struck as if the object of political participation is to appropriate the collective destinies of Nigeria in naira and kobo. General Ibrahim Babangida is not a dealer.

“He has never been a dealer and he does not intend to be one. He is a distinguished elder statesman who is not persuaded by pecuniary benefits but a leader who is genuinely concerned about the development, unity and stability of the country.

“General Ibrahim Babangida’s understanding of the dynamics of democracy is that rule of law, collective bargaining and constructive engagement should prevail in a manner that puts the national interest far and above personal interest. He still believes in the principles and philosophy of zoning which prompted the setting up of the Northern Political Leaders Forum in the first place.”


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