By Ehichioya Ezomon
Since the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999, May 29 (of every four years) is earmarked for inauguration of a new President and the administration thereof.
But the May 29, 2023, change of baton between outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari and incoming President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is proving to be an exception.
The opposition is pulling out all the stops to abort the ceremonies for which the Buhari government has emplaced a transition mapout.
Dissatisfied with the declaration and return of Tinubu as winner of the February 25 presidential election, the opposition has moved from calls to cancel or annul the poll, or install an inerim civilian government or a Military regime.
Although the unconstitutional clamour has met with outrage and condemnations even across the political divide, the promoters and purveyors of the scheme to halt a Tinubu presidency aren’t relenting.
The next stage in their plot is a direct appeal to President Buhari, to adopt any excuse imaginable, to stop the handover to Tinubu.
If Buhari refuses to breach the amended 1999 Constitution, the Courts should then intervene, by compelling the President and/or National Assembly (NASS), to extend the government tenure by three months – in the first instance – until the filings at the Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC) against Tinubu’s declaration as President-elect are dispensed with.
The first option in the intrigues is to shift the goalpost in the middle of a game, by abridging the 180 days and 60 days for disposal of petitions and appeals at the PEPC and Supreme Court, respectively.
The second alternative is the urging of Buhari to unlawfully stop inauguration of Tinubu on account of series of allegations against his qualification for the office of President of Nigeria.
In this regard, the proponents want Buhari to invoke unknown laws to annul the February 25 poll, and the attendant declaration of Tinubu as President-elect.
A third option is for Buhari to write to the NASS, to invoke the “Doctrine of Necessity,” and extend his tenure that ends on May 29 by six months – in the first instance – to enable disposal of the petitions at the PEPC, or direct the conduct of a fresh presidential election.
To the uninformed, the “Doctrine of Necessity” is alien to the 1999 Constitution, as its invocation in 2010 was due to absence of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from office for months, without handing over to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan in acting capacity.
To avoid a total breakdown of law and order – as unelected and non-state actors had seized on the vacuum to want to run the affairs of State – the NASS stepped in and introduced the “Doctrine of Necessity,” to elevate Dr Jonathan to “Acting President.”
Jonathan later assumed the office of President when Yar’Adua died in 2010; and the NASS next amended the Constitution in 2011, mandating that the President shall handover power to the Vice President – as Acting President – whenever the President is out of the seat of power. (Section 145(1)(2)).
Going by section 135 of the Constitution, the President can only write to the NASS – to extend the tenure of the administration by six months, in the first instance – if the Federation is at war.
First, section 135(2) mandates that, “the President shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four years commencing from the date when–
(a) in the case of a person first elected as President under this Constitution, he took the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office…”
That means May 29, as Buhari’s first inaugurated on May 29, 2015, and again on May 29, 2019, in his two terms – of four years each – that end on May 29, 2023.
Second, section 135(3) states that, “If the Federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may by resolution extend the period of four years mentioned in subsection (2) of this section from time to time; but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any one time.”
Currently, the Federation isn’t at war; no insurrection across or in parts of the Nigerian territory; and the elections have been held, and a transition plan in place to handover to the new dispensation.
On what basis – other than mischiefmakers provoking instability in the country – will President Buhari ask the NASS, to invoke section 135(3) of the Constitution, to extend his government beyond May 29?
That will amount to institution of a “Third Term” regime – akin to a civilian interim government or a Military junta that most Nigerians have resoundingly rejected lately!
The same fate awaits the calls for the Appeal Court to extend the period of inauguration of a new government from May 29, which proponents argue isn’t sacrosanct, citing section 135(1)(a) of the Constitution.
Section 135(1) says that, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a person shall hold the office of President until–
(a) when his successor in office takes the oath of that office…”
Hence, agitators of a delayed inauguration of President-elect Tinubu urge the Appeal Court to order President Buhari to remain in office until when his successor takes the oath of that office – after the disposal of the petitions and appeals at the Appeal Court and Supreme Court, in that order.
If the Appeal Court orders such a “prohibitory injunction” – the likes requested by former candidate of Hope Democratic Party in the 2019 presidential election, Ambrose Albert Owuru – it’ll equate a “coup” in violation of section 1(2) and section 135(3) of the Constitution.
Owuru, a Lawyer, claims he’s adjudged the winner of the 2019 presidential poll, with his intended first term in office allegedly “usurped” by President Buhari.
On that score, he prays the Court of Appeal to prohibit President Buhari, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from inaugurating the 2023 President-elect on May 29, until his four-year-old petition is disposed of by the Supreme Court.
In a motion on notice marked CA/CV/259/2023, and filed at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, Owuru applies for “An order of prohibitory injunction compelling Buhari, AGF and INEC, their servants, agents and privies to preserve and give due cognizance and abstain from any further undertaking or engaging in any act of usurpation of (his) adjudged acquired Constitutional rights and mandate as winner of the 2019 presidential election.”
Will the Appeal Court be disposed to exercising jurisdiction over Owuru’s application – and other similar prayers – to suspend and/or cancel inauguration of President-elect Tinubu on May 29?
Until the Court affirms those prayers, the opposition members have only one avenue to retrieving their “stolen mandate” of February 25, and that’s to have faith in the Judiciary that they’ve subjected themselves to its arbitration.
They should pursue their petitions at the PEPC – and possibly at the Supreme Court – to a logical end. Any shortcut to gaining power is a recipe for chaos and anarchy that may spare none of the instigators of the impasse in the polity!
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria