PT State of the Race: Run, Jonathan run. Can he?

It is 301 days to the next Nigerian presidential election, and a month to the deadline for the nomination of candidates, but the most animated discussion in the country in the last few weeks has been whether the only president to lose reelection in the country can try again – on the ticket of the party that defeated him! Adding to the curiosity is the small matter that former President Goodluck Jonathan is not even a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Mr Jonathan was elected President in 2011 but lost to President Muhammadu Buhari of APC in 2015.

Rumours had been flying for months that the faceless “Aso Rock cabal” had asked Mr Jonathan to run for the APC flag. The rumour seemed far-fetched, until penultimate Friday when the former president received a group in his Abuja office, there to demand that he runs.

Members of the group had arrived in five large buses with placards bearing messages such as ‘Jonathan, Please Run’, ‘Jonathan, do the needful’, ‘Jonathan for 2023’, ‘Jonathan Declare Now’ and ‘Goodluck Please Come Back, We Love You’.

Mayor Samuel, who spoke for the group, said, “We were deceived and brainwashed by those who claimed they could do it in 2015. Now, we know better, under Jonathan the minimum wage could buy one or two bags of rice. What do we have today? We are begging President Jonathan to forgive us, we have realised our mistakes; we want him back to complete what he started.”

Addressing the group after a private meeting, Mr Jonathan said:

“Yes you are calling me to come and declare for the next election, I cannot tell if I’m declaring. The political process is ongoing, just watch out.”

Other groups later sprang up in some northern cities, one of them giving the former president one week to declare.

But not everyone in the ruling party finds the prospect of awarding Mr Jonathan their party’s presidential ticket appealing. On Monday, a group, Arewa Peoples’ Forum (APF), accused Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State of leading the plot to impose Mr Jonathan on the APC.

In a statement issued in Kaduna by its leader, Ishaku Ahmed, the group said: “Abusing his access to President Muhammadu Buhari and influence within the party, Governor Bagudu has acted without care for the sensitivity of the north and other Nigerians with his obsession with the idea that Mr. Goodluck Jonathan should waltz into the party and claim the biggest prize.”

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Other sources claimed Mr Bagudu and Yobe Governor, Mala Buni, who until March 26 was the interim chairman of the party, were working with the alleged cabal in mounting pressure on Mr Buhari to anoint Mr Jonathan as his preferred candidate, with Mr Buni, a first term governor, as his running mate.

Giving an update on the development on April 23, the day after the drama at Mr Jonathan’s office, The Punch newspaper reported that Mr Jonathan was waiting for assurances from President Buhari before taking the bait.

No, Jonathan cannot run

Even if any shenanigan should hand Mr Jonathan the ruling party’s ticket, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, warned that he is disqualified by the constitution from being president again.

Mr Falana said: “It has been confirmed that former president Goodluck Jonathan has decided to join the APC for the purpose of contesting the 2023 presidential election. However, the former president is disqualified from contesting the election by virtue of 137 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, which provides as follows:

“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.

“Some people have said that the amendment is not retrospective and therefore cannot apply to Dr. Jonathan. Assuming without conceding that the amendment is not retrospective it is submitted that under the current Constitution a President or Governor cannot spend more than two terms of eight years.

“In other words, the Constitution will not allow anyone to be in office for more than a cumulative period of 8 years. In Marwa v. Nyako (2012) 6 NWLR (Pt.1296) 199 at 387 the Supreme Court stated that Section 180 (1) and (2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has prescribed a single term of 4 years and if a second term, another period of 4 years and not a day longer.

Human rights activist, Femi Falana
Human rights activist, Femi Falana

“In the case of Governor Ladoja v INEC (2008)40 WRN 1 the Supreme Court rejected the prayer of Governor Ladoja for 11 months’ extension to cover the period he was kept out of office through illegal impeachment. The Supreme Court rejected the prayer on the ground that a Governor is entitled to spend a maximum period of eight years or less and not more than eight years.

“It is not in dispute that Dr. Jonathan became the President of Nigeria in 2010 following the sudden death of President Umoru Yar’Adua. He later contested and won the 2011 presidential election. Having spent five years in office as President, Dr. Jonathan is disqualified from contesting the 2023 presidential election. The reason is that if he wins the election, he will spend an additional term of four years. It means that he would spend a cumulative period of 9 years as President of Nigeria in utter breach of Section 137 of the Constitution which provides for a maximum two terms of eight years.”

Yes, he can

But an organisation, the Law and Order Group, challenged Mr Falana’s assertion. In a statement by its coordinator, Aliyu Mohammed, the group said: “We wish to categorically state that the said statement is erroneous and misconceived. In the first place, the 4th 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 on June 7, 2018.

“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 June 7, 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 be applicable to rights, events or duties which accrued or occurred before then. The case of Modu vs. FRN (2015) LPELR 4047 is very apt.

“Again, it is not in dispute that Jonathan contested the presidential election in 2015 on the basis of the right which accrued to him. It follows, therefore, Jonathan has the right to contest the forthcoming presidential election on the platform of any of the registered political parties in Nigeria.” 

“As we all know, Jonathan left office since 2015. The oaths of office which he took were taken prior to 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 Jonathan on May 6, 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 Jonathan is the one he took on May 29, 2011.

“Again, it is not in dispute that Jonathan contested the presidential election in 2015 on the basis of the right which accrued to him. It follows, therefore, Jonathan has the right to contest the forthcoming presidential election on the platform of any of the registered political parties in Nigeria.”

“Any contrary position will be manifestly inconsistent with the provision of the Constitution which grants him the right to contest for any elective office in Nigeria.”

Why Jonathan?

Many will be wondering what those behind the plot find enticing about a Jonathan candidature.

The former president has not been active in partisan politics since he left office at the end of May 2015. He has not been attending the events of the PDP, the party on which platform he was deputy governor, governor, vice president and acting president before his 2011 election as president.

His public activities since he left office consist of international assignments attracted to him by his status as a president who lost an election conducted by his government and handed over peacefully, a rare feat in Africa.

Perhaps also because of his aloofness, Mr Jonathan is not influential in the politics of his home Bayelsa State.

In 2019, the PDP lost the governorship election until the Supreme Court awarded the party the diadem over an infraction committed by the running mate to the candidate of the victorious APC. However, it remains unclear whether an alleged disrespect to him by the governor at the time, Seriake Dickson, had a bearing on the surprise loss of the PDP in that election.

The APC is also weak in Mr Jonathan’s South-South zone, the only region where it does not run a state.

Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi
Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi.

The most prominent leader of the party in the zone is the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. He has not been Mr Jonathan’s friend since 2014 when the then president refused to recognise the election of Mr Amaechi, the then Rivers State governor as the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum.

Mr Amaechi was later in the train of PDP governors and lawmakers who defected to the newly formed APC, a big factor in the party’s unprecedented defeat at the general elections the following year.

To complicate the plot, Mr Amaechi is also running for president and is said to fancy himself as the potential winner of the coveted title of President Buhari’s preferred candidate.

To participate in the party’s primary, Mr Jonathan has until Friday to pick the expression of interest and nomination forms at a price of N100 million.

But first, he has to join the party that came to power by demonising him and his government in 2014-15; and then obtain a waiver as a new member to run for election in the party.

 PDP Screening

The PDP seems to have gone furthest in the processes for the nomination of candidates for the general elections. On Friday, a committee headed by a former Senate President, David Mark, conducted screening for the 17 presidential aspirants who bought the party’s N40 million expression of interest and nomination forms. At the end of the exercise, Mr Mark said the committee disqualified two of the aspirants. However, he did not name who they are and how they fell short of requirements.

The aspirants who presented themselves for the screening at the PDP headquarters in Abuja are the party’s candidate at the 2019 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, two former Senate Presidents, Bukola Saraki and Pius Anyim; former governor of Anambra State and Mr Abubakar’s running mate in 2019, Peter Obi, as well as Bauchi and Sokoto State governors, Bala Mohammed and Aminu Tambuwal.

Also screened were River State Governor Nyesom Wike; newspaper publisher, Dele Momodu; former banker, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen; a pharmacist, Sam Ohabunwa; Akwa Ibom State Governor, Emmanuel Udom and the only woman among them, Olivia Tariela.

The others are former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose; a lawyer, Charles Okwudili; Chikwendu Kalu and Cosmos Ndukwe.

APC N100 million forms

The APC began selling its own forms during the week.

On Friday, associates of one of the aspirants, Bola Tinubu, picked the forms for the former Lagos State governor who was away in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj.

A former Imo State governor and senator representing Imo West, Rochas Okorocha; Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, and Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, are among the aspirants who have also picked the APC forms.


Bola Ahmed Tinubu [PHOTO CREDIT: @officialABAT]
Bola Ahmed Tinubu [PHOTO CREDIT: @officialABAT]

Those who have declared their interest and are expected to pick their forms in the coming days include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Mr Amaechi; Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi; former Abia State Governor and Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Kalu; and a former Senate President, Ken Nnamani. Mr Nnamani announced his bid in Abuja on Friday. Except Mr Bello of Kogi, all the aspirants are from southern zones.

What does Oshiomhole want?

A former National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, caused a stir during the week when it was reported that he would be declaring to run for president in Abuja on Friday. Prior to that, it had been reported that he was running for the Senate.

However, moments before the “upgrade” event began, Mr Oshiomhole’s media aide, Victor Oshioke, said it was postponed indefinitely.

“We are deeply sorry for the inconveniences this unavoidable postponement may have caused numerous supporters of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole across the country,” he said.

The former Edo State governor would further add to the drama when he told Vanguard newspapers that the news of his presidential declaration had been a mistake.

Adams Oshiomhole, former APC National Chairman.
Adams Oshiomhole, former APC National Chairman.

Mr Oshiomhole’s sudden “upgrade” to the presidential race had raised speculations of brinkmanship, given his close association with Mr Tinubu who had declared his own intention in January.


The prickly issue of power shift to the southern part of Nigeria through zoning is off the front burner of the two major parties. While southern politicians and groups have been clamouring for the shift, counter voices are getting louder in the North.

The APC seemed to have accepted it, with Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai in February saying leaders of the party had agreed the two regions to swap national party offices they were holding at the time.

The emergence of Abdullahi Adamu in March as National Chairman in an all-northern field of aspirants corroborated Mr El-Rufai’s claim. The current composition of the party’s field of presidential aspirants – mostly all southerners, further strengthened it.

That was until Friday when Mr Adamu said the party was yet to take a decision on zoning for the elections.

The PDP, which set up a committee to advise it on the issue, has since locked up the report of the committee in a drawer. Instead, it has sold its presidential forms to aspirants from every zone and screened all of them.


Eight of the 17 aspirants screened on Friday are from the South East, three from the South South and one from the South West. The others are three from the North East and one each from the North West and North Central.

Lobbying continues

In the past week, top PDP aspirants like Messrs Abubakar, Saraki and Anyim met with members and leaders of the party to sell their candidature.

Mr Abubakar met with the National Working Committee at the party’s secretariat to sell his candidature to the members. He assured party leaders of securing 11 million votes at the 2023 general election if given the ticket at the primary. He describes himself as the unifier and pledged to unify the country, revive the economy, devolve powers and tackle insecurity in the country.

Recall that supporters of Mr Tinubu of the APC had also boasted that they would secure 14 million votes for the presidential hopeful in the South west alone.

In a similar message, Pius Anyim said he is the most qualified to get the party’s presidential ticket and rule the country.

Bukola Saraki [PHOTO CREDIT: @bukola.saraki ]
Bukola Saraki [PHOTO CREDIT: @bukola.saraki ]

On his part, Mr Saraki visited delegates in Kwara and Delta states to preach similar messages of hope and ability to heal the ills in the country.

The only female presidential candidate, Diana Tariela, however wants the party to zone the ticket to the women, because men have been ruling the country for over 60 years.

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