Nigeria 2023: Goodluck Jonathan to consider joining APC

By Akin Irede
Posted on Friday, 10 September 2021 13:06

Nigeria’s former President, Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday, May 28, 2015. (AP Photo)

Amid reports of his plans to defect to the All Progressives Congress (APC), former President Goodluck Jonathan has legal hurdles he must scale in the race for the 2023 presidency.

On 1 September, Yemi Akinwonmi, the acting national chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), led party officials to the residence of former President Goodluck Jonathan, with the sole aim of convincing him not to join All Progressives Congress, the ruling party, which has been trying to convince him to do so.

Earlier in February, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, who is the chairman of the PDP’s national reconciliation and strategy committee, had also visited Jonathan, pleading with him not to leave the party.

The PDP’s fears are not misplaced, seeing as it has lost three governors and at least four senators to the APC in the last 10 months. The opposition party, which is currently fighting a civil war, is very much aware that the APC has the wherewithal to snatch almost anyone from its fold.

However, two close associates of Jonathan tell The Africa Report that the PDP’s entreaties may be a little too late, as the former president is expected to make up his mind in the coming days, and is likely to move to the APC because the party might just hand him the presidential ticket on a silver platter.

“There is a general consensus that power should return to the south in 2023, but some northern elements feel it should be thrown open. A Jonathan presidency will ensure that the south retains power for just four years and then return power to the north because Jonathan has already done a first term.

He should not reap where he has not sown. It will be a slap on the faces of all of us who have been working hard for the party…

“Jonathan is being lured with a presidential ticket. He will be sold as a candidate who will unite a country, which has been seriously polarised along religious and ethnic lines since Buhari took over in 2015. He will be like a compromise candidate [who] will be accepted generally,” says an associate of the former president.

Another APC politician tells The Africa Report that President Muhammadu Buhari seems to have taken a liking to Jonathan because of his decision to concede defeat in the 2015 election even before the final result was announced.

‘Buhari believes Jonathan can be trusted with power’

Jonathan visited Buhari at the presidential villa at least five times between 2020 and 2021, a record for a former president. He is currently in Mali as the ECOWAS special envoy leading the sub-regional body’s mediation.

Buhari believes Jonathan can be trusted with power. For one, he knows that Jonathan is not vindictive. The PDP will also not be able to rubbish Jonathan as a political opponent. He will even get support from some PDP members and his presence in the APC will encourage more PDP members to join,” says another associate of the former president.

However, a politician within APC leader, Bola Tinubu’s camp, says bringing Jonathan into the party and handing him the ticket would be strongly opposed. “We’ve been hearing about […] Jonathan coming to the APC. He is welcome but if the plan is to give him the presidential ticket, it will fail woefully. He should not reap where he has not sown. It will be a slap on the faces of all of us who have been working hard for the party if Jonathan is handed the ticket.

“Already we are challenging the legitimacy of the APC caretaker committee in court because Buni and his clique should not be allowed to run the party as they wish,” he says.

Jonathan warms up to the APC

Jonathan’s sympathy for the APC first became glaring in 2019 when he secretly supported the candidacy of David Lyon, the APC’s governorship candidate, in his home state of Bayelsa. Lyon went ahead to win the election and Jonathan was visited by key APC leaders who thanked him for the role he played. The Supreme Court later snatched victory from the APC over a technicality that had nothing to do with the elections but the qualification of Lyon’s running mate.

Reports indicate that Jonathan is close to making a final decision on whether to contest the presidential election of 2023 and whether to join the APC. This comes after several months of political calculations and pressure from several interest groups.

“Jonathan currently has one leg in the APC. He just needs to make that final step,” a relative of the ex-president says. “The PDP’s plan to zone its presidential ticket to the north is also not helping matters.”

Legal challenges

Besides the political issues, Jonathan still has legal challenges in his way due to a new constitutional provision which makes it illegal for vice presidents who succeed their principals to serve more than a term.

Prior to his defeat in 2015, Jonathan had to scale a similar hurdle before being allowed to contest. Having been elected as vice president in 2007, he assumed office in 2010 after the death of his principal, President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Jonathan, who hails from the minority Ijaw tribe in the southern part of Nigeria, had come under intense pressure from northerners not to contest in the upcoming 2011 election as doing so would upset the zoning agreement in the PDP which had envisaged rotation of power between the north and south every eight years. Yar’Adua’s death barely three years into his first tenure had altered the arrangement and Jonathan’s ascension had thrown a spanner in the works.

To the chagrin of the north, Jonathan contested the 2011 election and convincingly won in the south, securing 16 out of its 17 states but losing 12 out of the 19 northern states. Ahead of the 2015 election, Jonathan was again preparing to contest, a move which was rejected by many northerners. A legal argument as to whether Jonathan would be inaugurated as president also ensued and the matter was taken to court for interpretation. Both the Federal High Court and the Appeal Court ruled at different times that indeed Jonathan was qualified to contest.

“After the death of Umaru Yar’Adua, there was no election or by-election.  President Jonathan was merely asked to assume the office of the president in line with doctrine of necessity. He was not elected as the president but was made to assume office by virtue of Yar’Adua’s death. Having exhausted the late president’s tenure, he sought for his party’s ticket and ran for the office of the president successfully in the 2011 general election. He is therefore currently serving his first tenure of office and if he so wishes, he is eligible to further seek his party’s ticket through the party’s primary election and to run for office in 2015,” the Appeal Court ruled.

Can Jonathan run in the 2023 polls?

After Jonathan’s defeat in 2015, an argument on whether a vice president who completes the tenure of a president should be restricted to having only one extra term or should be allowed to serve two full terms. Eventually, in 2018, President Buhari signed a constitutional amendment which would allow a vice president who completes the term of his principal to serve only one full term. To this effect, it remains unclear if Jonathan could be affected by this new law, or not, given his antecedent.

Law Mefor, vice chairman of the Project Nigerian President of South East Extraction (Project -NIPSEE), who believes the next president should be from the south-east region, argues that Jonathan has been affected by the constitutional amendment and thus has no right to contest.

Mefor says he will go to court to stop Jonathan from contesting the moment he declares his intention to do so. “I wanted to go to court last year when I heard about Jonathan’s plans to contest but those close to him assured me that he would not contest so I shelved the plan. However, the moment he does otherwise, I will be in court,” he tells The Africa Report.

[…] support groups are expected to begin politicking soon, even though Jonathan […] has refused to state whether he will be contesting or not.

However, a senior advocate, Ifedayo Adedipe, who is also a lawyer to Jonathan’s wife Patience, says the constitutional amendment was deliberately directed at the former president; but argues that the law cannot have a retroactive effect.

“Jonathan had already become president before the constitutional amendment. So, the law can only affect future vice presidents. When the time comes, if he wants to contest, he has every right to do so,” Adedipe says.

Jonathan’s spokesperson, Ikechukwu Eze, did not respond to repeated calls from us. However, support groups are expected to begin politicking soon, even though Jonathan – just like other hopefuls – has refused to state whether he will be contesting or not; but should he decide to contest, the ball is in his court.

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