Reactions as Onaiyekan kicks against Tinubu’s May 29 inauguration
For faulting the expected May 29 inauguration of President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Catholic Archbishop Emeritus John Cardinal Onaiyekan yesterday got knocks from eminent lawyers and All Progressives Congress (APC) stalwarts.
Cardinal Onaiyekan, 80, who spoke on a national television’s Breakfast time programme, described the plan to swear-in the president-elect before election cases are decided by the court as inappropriate.
The Archbishop Emeritus said: “I am one of those who have been saying that it does not make much sense to swear in people when they are still in court.
”I can’t understand; I am not a legal man or judge; it is a pity that it is taking too long for the court to make up their mind on this matter.
“The election is not yet over. There are cases in court that have not been disposed of. That is why we are in an anomalous situation; we have a declared President-elect whose result is being challenged, and the court is handling it.
“I am entitled to take the position that I am still waiting for the court to determine who won the election.”
Tinubu won the February 25 presidential election, defeating Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubabkar and Labour Party (LP) candidate Peter Obi, who are both in court along with three other political parties, challenging the outcome of the poll. The pre-hearing of the petitions will start on Monday.
Legal giants, immediate past Chairman, Body of Benchers (BoB), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Chairman, Council of Legal Education, Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), Olalekan Ojo (SAN), Festus Keyamo (SAN) and Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, chided the priest for his position.
The lawyers argued that the suggestion by Cardinal Onaiyekan is a recipe for a logjam, confusion and an illegality.
Olanipekun said: “If you don’t swear in Tinubu on May 29, who do you swear in? President Muhammadu Buhari cannot continue in office after May 29 because it will be illegal and unconstitutional.”
“The constitution is so clear on this. The position of the law is that if an election is conducted, under the constitution, a return is made, that return is deemed to be genuine, to be regular, lawful, legal and constitutional, under the Constitution and Electoral Act.
“Anybody who is not satisfied will go to the tribunal. The constitution says even assuming the tribunal of first instance decides against the returned candidate, that candidate shall be in office until his appeal is finally determined.
“I would not know the jurisprudence they are applying. But the grundnorm of our law is very clear. I don’t know why people are treating Tinubu’s election differently from what has been happening.
“In 1999, Obasanjo was declared the winner of the election. Olu Falae challenged him. The return was not cancelled. Obasanjo was sworn in while the election petition continued until after it was finally decided. It folded up at the Supreme Court.
“In 2003, Buhari challenged Obasanjo, Obasanjo was sworn-in on May 29, 2003. He continued in office until after the determination of the petition.
“In 2007, I was lead counsel to President Umaru Yar’Adua. His election was challenged by Buhari, Atiku and others. He was sworn in on May 29, 2007. He continued in office until all the election petitions were disposed of. Heaven did not fall and people did not say they should not be sworn in.”
Ngige, who also agreed that the cleric was wrong, said: “The view is his opinion. Instead of doing that now, it means you have to hold election, may be one year before the end of tenure. That is the only way it could be possible.
“If the election is held by May 29, 2022, so that if there is any dispute, it would be resolved. But it might look very awkward to conduct election because somebody may not survive in the one year of waiting.
“So, the only solution is for us to clean up our process of holding elections so that it will be litigation-free.
“In 2015 when Buhari won, Jonathan did not go to tribunal and Buhari was sworn in. So, the answer is to hold a free and fair election so that it will be litigation free.”
Ojo said: “It has never been the law that persons who have won elections as President-elect or governor-elect should not be sworn in until any petition against them has been determined. That is not the law.
“It accords with logic and common sense that there must never be a vacuum in governance.
“A person is entitled to enjoy his victory until that victory is set aside. Even where there is such a judgment (setting aside the victory), there are clear provisions in the Electoral Act that he must remain in office pending when the appeal is determined.
“It is an unnecessary argument that has been settled since 1979 when Chief Obafemi Awolowo challenged Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s presidential election victory up to the Supreme Court. It is not an issue to be debated. It has been settled by law and convention. Tinubu must be sworn in as President on May 29.”
Keyamo, a spokesman of the Tinubu campaign organisation, said in a tweet: “Why all the fuss now? It has always been our electoral template since 1999 for the declared winners to be sworn into office in order to avoid a vacuum and not to foist an unconstitutional contraption on the system whilst the cases are in court.”
“All issues raised against the victory of Tinubu in court now (whether it is 25 per cent votes in FCT(Federal Capital Territory) or the fake drug issue, etc), are not different from issues raised against previous presidents-elect because basically, the complaints have always been that the declared victor did not win the election fair and square or was not qualified to contest the election,
“No disqualifying issue against a candidate can be greater than other disqualifying issues since a single issue can decide a case against a President-elect,” he added.
The minister advised Onaiyekan to “consider stepping back from the deep and murky waters of politics.”
He said: “The embarrassment to the body of Christ is getting too much and no politician is worth dragging this dignified body into unnecessary political controversy. Is this too much to ask, Daddy?”
Also, Fani-Kayode, said Onaiyekan was trying to stop a moving train by opposing the inauguration of a duly announced President-elect.
He said: “Nobody can stop a moving train. Tinubu’s emergence as president-elect is the doing of the Lord and it is marvellous in our sight’
“To Cardinal John Onaiyekan and those that share his views that the swearing-in of our President-elect should be postponed until after the election tribunal has delivered its judgment, I say the following:
“The Nigerian people have spoken and the deep conspiracy to stop Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu from becoming President failed long ago.
“We are well past that stage and you cannot stop a moving train. Whether they like it or not, God-willing, the President-elect shall be sworn in on May 29th.”
The religious leader added that he had high hope that Nigeria would progress from its present state to where it ought to be.
He said: “I am 80, so, I am not going anywhere. I am still dreaming that before I go to paradise, I should see a better Nigeria and I believe it is possible.”
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