The Chairman of the Body of Benchers (BoB), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) has described as unconstitutional, immoral and threat to the nation’s democracy the call by Robert Clarke (SAN) on President Muhammdau Buhari to extend his tenure on account of the nation’s security challenge.
Olanipekun, who currently heads the highest body of law experts in Nigeria (BoB), argued in a statement on Wednesday in Abuja that no provision in the Constitution supports Clarke’s proposition, noting that the only situation where election could be shifted is when the nation is at war with a foreign country as provided in Section 135(3).
The former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), contended that the current security challenge in the country could not be equated with war envisaged under Section 135(3) of the Constitution and urged President Buhari to resist every temptation to stay in power at the expiration of his tenure.
Olanipekun, who wondered why Clarke, who condemned ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s bid for third term, would turn around to advise President Buhari to engage in direct breach of the Constitution, said Buhari was not expected to deal with all the nation’s challenges before vacating office.
He said: “I am afraid, I cannot agree with the postulations and prognosis of my learned friend of the Inner Bar (Clarke) as, same, with much respect to him, are not constitutional, legal, legitimate, moral, democratic, acceptable, reasonable, or in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
“While it is glaring that Nigeria is bedeviled by a mountain of daunting challenges, including insecurity, this cannot be any justification for a call for PMB or any President, howsoever, to extend his tenure outside the constitutionally provided maximum period of eight years, as prescribed by the combined provisions of sections 135(2) and 137(1)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
“With further respect, the suggestion is a direct call to breach of the Constitution, as well as its spirit, tenor and letter. There is no gainsaying the fact that the end result of such a proposition would further compound the conundrum that we have steeped into and, plunge us to a latent state of anomie.
“It is quite disturbing, unfortunate, uncheering, and very worrisome that since 1999, Nigeria has been migrating from one problem to another, oscillating from one crisis to another; graduating from one degree of catastrophe to another; as a result of which the landscape has become a practicing pitch for all sorts of theories, ideologies, ideas, suggestions, prognosis and hypothesis, the last of which has just come from the respected Chief Robert Clarke, SAN.
“As stated earlier, this suggestion, if considered at all, how much being implemented, would no doubt aggravate our already compounded woes and terminate the survival of the present democratic adventure. It is apt to caution, applying the old adage: ‘ye deity, if you cannot improve or salvage my situation, leave me as you have met me.’
“To PMB, my honest, friendly, professional and civic advice is that he should treat this advice or any invitation to him to extend his tenure by a millisecond beyond 29th May, 2023, with a pinch of salt. It is in our collective interest if this proposition is nipped in the bud.
“In parenthesis, the President does not have the power to extend his tenure; no President has that power or vires to so do.
“The tenure was given to him by Nigerians and, as at the time of donating that tenure to him, the covenant between the donors and the donee was that in the first instance, it was for a term certain of four years; and upon renewal in 2019, it was for an extended term certain of four years; no more, no less!
“If, for example, as rightly surmised by Chief Robert Clarke, that Obasanjo did a ‘negative act’ by seeking a third term in office, wanting to goad the National Assembly into rubber stamping his unconstitutional bid, why then is the High Chief Clarke prompting PMB to follow the same illegal and undemocratic route?
“To my mind, this is a suggestion akin to advising PMB to embark on a third term bid or adventure like OBJ, who Chief Robert Clarke pointed out as having done a ‘negative act.’
“The celebrated case of Marwa V. Nyako (2012) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1296) 199 resolves all issues and doubts relating and pertaining to the certainty and sanctity of the eight-year maximum period permitted by the Constitution for a Chief Executive, either of the State or Federation,” Olanipekun said.
Recall that Robert Clarke called for a tenure elongation for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari to enable him to tackle the lingering insecurity before the 2023 general elections.
Onn Arise Television, he noted that the constitution allows the President to continue in office for six months if the atmosphere for elections is not conducive.
Clarke said the belief that the President cannot stay in office for more than eight years was erroneous.
“If the situation in which we are in now continues and it is impossible to vote in the 2023 election, the constitution says the President will inform the INEC.
“In view of all insurgencies, kidnappings, Boko Haram, I don’t think in these different areas of Nigeria, we can have a good election.
“I don’t see how what is happening today can be stopped within six months from today or before February next year when the elections will be held,” he said.
“The alternative is for Mr President to continue, allow the security watches to carry up the mopping up and Nigeria will become stable.”
Clarke insists without stability and security in the country, Nigeria is going nowhere because investors won’t come.
In response to Clarke’s call, the Presidency noted that though he may be sincere in his wish for the President to extend his term by six months, it categorically restated that the President will step down on May 29th, 2023, after serving two terms – as per the constitution.
In a statement by spokesman, Mr. Garba Shehu, the presidency added: “Having been the first recipient of a democratic transfer of power from an incumbent administration to an opposition candidate in Nigerian history, the President is committed to extending and entrenching democratic values across the country. He shall, in turn, hand the privilege of serving the people of Nigeria to whomever they choose through free, fair and credible elections.
“However, Chief Clarke is right to say that without security, Nigeria would not likely realise its true potential as a peaceful and prosperous nation. That is why it has been at the core of this administration. The results are there for all to see. Boko Haram terrorists have been forced back from controlling whole swathes of this country. Internally Displaced Persons are now returning to rebuild their communities. This achievement has been accomplished through the bravery and determination of the Nigerian armed forces and the fortitude of the people of our nation.
“New challenges have arisen and tackled in turn – whether it’s the National Livestock Transformation Plan to alleviate herder-farmer clashes, the elimination of the leadership of ISWAP, or new efforts to combat banditry. Till the last day of the administration, the security of the citizens shall remain the administration’s paramount concern. We shall finish the job. Yet, in any case, respect for the constitution and Nigerians’ democratic rights remains the best path to securing and then maintaining peace.
“Yet there are others, such as Chief Afe Babalola, (SAN), that believe elections should be suspended, with the current elected government replaced by an interim unelected administration. This, he claims, is necessary to create a new constitution for the people, made possible, paradoxically, by ignoring their democratic rights. Down that path lies crisis and instability.
“Instead, this administration proposes something entirely simpler: honouring the constitution and people’s right to decide.”