Ending era of illegal political defection
AKEEM NAFIU writes that lawyers are pushing for an end to political prostitution by politicians who take delight in circumventing the law guiding movement from one political party to another as provided for in Section 68 (1) of the Constitution
“Cross-carpeting is as old as Nigerian politics. Regrettably, it is immoral and illegal. However, because there is neither credibility nor morality in our polity, politicians do not have qualms about hobnobbing with the different political platforms in pursuit of their selfish interests”, one of them said.
Another one said: “Under no circumstance can a person sponsored and elected through a particular political party decamp to another political party unless as provided under Section 68 (1) (g) where there is a division or faction in the former political party or a merger of that former party with other party or parties”.
The above quotes were part of submissions by some senior lawyers while expressing their concerns over the unabated cases of decampment by politicians. The lawyers spoke on the heels of a court’s judgement which sack Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State alongside his Deputy, Kelechi Igwe and 15 lawmakers of the State House of Assembly over their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja had Tuesday last week declared Umahi, Igwe and the lawmakers’ seats vacant while delivering judgement in a suit filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to challenge their defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Umahi and his Deputy had in November 2020 defected from the PDP on whose platform they were elected into office in 2015 and 2019 to the APC. 15 lawmakers of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly later followed suit. Dissatisfied, the PDP sued Umahi and Igwe, in one suit, and the 15 lawmakers in another suit.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were joined as respondents in the two suits. In his judgement, Justice Inyang agreed with the PDP that by defecting from the party on which they were sponsored and elected, they had resigned or deemed to have resigned from office. The judge held that votes in any election in Nigeria are for political parties, and not candidates.
He consequently declared the seats of the governor, his deputy, and those of the 15 lawmakers vacant, and asked them to vacate their offices immediately. He also ordered INEC to receive names of candidates from the PDP to replace Umahi and Igwe. “It would be constitutionally wrong for a person who was not sponsored by one political party, to defect and become a member of another political party before the expiration of the period he was elected.
“The Constitution is put in jeopardy when the will of the electorate who voted for a political party can be brazenly merchandised by candidates without consequence.
“The APC cannot govern Ebonyi State through the 3rd and 4th defendants (Umahi and Igwe), when it did not win the election that produced them. Having defected to another party, they cannot hold onto the votes of the plaintiff (PDP) to remain in office.
Their continued occupation of office is in breach of the provisions of Section 179 (2) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution.
“The PDP is entitled to submit to INEC, the names of candidates to replace the 3rd and 4th defendants for the purposes of utilising the lawful votes cast in favour of the PDP at the March 9, 2019 governorship poll. “An order is hereby made directing INEC to immediately declare the persons nominated to it by the PDP as governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State. This is the judgement of the court”, Justice Ekwo held. The governor and his deputy have since appealed the judgement.
Ayade and Mattawale’s defection
Two defections that are also worthy of note are those of Governors Ben Ayade of Cross-River and Bello Matawalle of Zamfara States. Reason: Like Governor Umahi, they came into office on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before dumpling the party for the All Progressives Congress (APC). The defection of Governor Ben Ayade from PDP to APC came six months after a similar occurrence in Ebonyi.
Ayade announced his departure from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on May 20, 2021, while hosting six APC governors who visited him in Calabar. Speaking during the defection, Ayade said: “We need to join hands with President Buhari in his determination to enhance the fortunes of the country. I need all governors to similarly join me and understand my decision to join the APC. “We need to work ahead with the president for the future and unity of Nigeria. We all need to sit at the same dining table with Mr President to save Nigeria.
“It is my responsibility to bring back Cross River to the centre in order to enhance her fortunes. I therefore formally declare myself a member and leader of APC in Cross River State”. Less than one month after Governor Ayade’s defection, his Zamfara State counterpart, Bello Matawalle, also decamped from PDP to APC.
He announced his defection late in the evening of June 29, 2021, at the Gusau Trade Fair Complex during an event attended by APC governors, ministers and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha. Matawalle’s Deputy, Mahdi Aliyu, however refused to follow his boss to the APC.
This resulted in a frosty relationship between them. Aliyu, son of a former Minister of Defence, Ali Gusau, was subsequently impeached by the Zamfara State House of Assembly. Matawalle was declared Zamfara governor on May 24, 2019, following the disqualification of all the APC candidates in the state in the general election of that year by the Supreme Court over the party’s failure to conduct valid primaries.
APC had secured a landslide victory at the polls by winning the presidential, governorship and all the federal and state legislative seats while PDP candidates trailed in second position. However, the apex court in its verdict, ordered the Independent
National Electoral Commission to cancel the votes secured by the APC in all the elections and decide the new winners from the remaining valid votes.
Some senior lawyers have in the meantime cautioned politicians against illegal defection from one political party to another.
The lawyers while speaking on the issue at the weekend urged political parties to set legal machinery in motion to instill sanity and legality within their parties. Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Biodun Layonu, emphasised the need for political parties to enforce laws regarding cross-carpeting. Layonu said: “This is an overflogged and well-settled matter.
The courts have in so many occasions interfered. It all depend on the political institutions to decide on enforcing the laws regarding cross-carpeting. Experience and past events have shown that enforcement of the law will boils down to the political party that has the majority.
“The laws guiding cross-carpeting are there and politicians are also aware of this, but what we are faced with is a situation where political institutions decide to enforce the laws at their whims and caprices. This is not an ideal situation, but that is what we are faced with.
This issue cuts across all political parties and it is left for them to enforce the laws regardless of whose ox is gored”. Another silk, Mr. Kunle Adegoke, also spoke on the need to enforce laws guiding defection by politicians. “The law is definitely not silent on cross-carpeting. It is not encouraged but allowed in certain circumstances.
Where a political party on which platform a public officer is elected has become so polarized as to become impossible to refer to it as a single entity, the Constitution allows a politician to defect from such political party to another. “However, mere wrangling or division at the local level may not suffice. It has to be deep division at the national level which has polarized or factionalised the party beyond being recognized as a single entity.
This was the rule as laid down in FEDECO v. Goni, where the Supreme Court upheld the defection of Alhaji Mohammed Goni from Great Nigeria Peoples’ Party to Unity Party of Nigeria in 1983 due to the total breakdown and factionalisation of his erstwhile political party in which the party had been devided into two at the national level.
“Thus, where there is such a division, a political office holder can decamp. But the situation that is prevalent nowadays in which politicians like prostitutes flirt with any party in power will not qualify for such right to decamp. Most of the decamping cases will definitely be nullified by the court if they are challenged”, Adegoke said.
A senior lawyer, Dr. Fassy Yusuf, while noting that cross-carpeting has for long been part of Nigeria’s politics, described it as immoral and illegal. Yusuf said: “Cross-carpeting is as old as Nigeria’s politics.
Regrettably, it is immoral and illegal. However, because there is neither credibility nor morality in our polity, politicians do not have qualms about hobnobbing with the different political platforms in pursuit of their selfish interests.
“Most politicians lack selfidentity and have no moral right to institute legal actions for the removal of cross-carpeters as they are birds of the same feather flocking together.
“The law is very clear and unambiguous, unless there is a division within a political party, cross-carpeting is outlawed. It is up to political parties to set legal machinery in motion to instill sanity and legality within their parties”.
A former National President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, decried political parties’ failure to impose requisite sanction on members who engage in flirtatious behaviour.
“By Sections 221 and 222 of the 1999 Constitution, independent candidature is unconstitutional for any electoral contest. Thus, the only vehicle by which a candidate can be elected into a political office in Nigeria is through a political party.
“Secondly, under no circumstance can a person sponsored and elected through a particular political party decamp to another political party unless as provided under Section 68 (1) (g) of the Constitution, where there is a division or faction in the former political party or a merger of that former party with other party or parties.
“But by far more than the foregoing constitutional provisions on this matter is the complete absence of party ideology and focus of present party politics in Nigeria.
There are no ideological boundaries or identities to which current politicians can be held and the led are so weakened that such flirtatious behaviour attract no sanctions even to their electoral fortunes and opportunities. “In the same vein, even the political parties are so weak and disoriented that they literally play no role in what used to be party discipline.
The combined effect of these two factors is that the law remains an ass or circumvented in the management of the affairs of the parties and their members”, Ugwummadu said. A rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, linked illegal defection to lack of party discipline, moral decadence and proven integrity. Akingbolu said:
“The law is not silent on the issue of cross-carpeting by politicians, however, there are criteria to be met before any political office holder elected to a post can legally cross-carpet and this is that such person is only allowed to cross-carpet if there is a faction in the political party under which he was elected.
“The faction referred to here is not the kind of artificial or pseudo faction that are more often than not, created artificially to excuse the flaws and instability of politicians in terms of integrity and uprightness to stand for and with the ideologies of their political party which brought them to power.
“In other words, the party must have been fragmented or factionalised to the extent that at least, two groups have emerged with different leaders laying claims to the leadership of the party. That means also that the kind of faction recognised by the Constitution is not a faction that occurs in a party hierarchy where they have more than one leader.
“Therefore, where there is no faction as recognised by the law, any purported defection or crosscarpetting is illegal and has its own consequences. Where a po litical office holder cross-carpets illegally, the consequence is that he has lost its seat automatically without any much ado.
The provision of the law is self executory and needs no pronouncement of court. Unfortunately, in our own country, illegality has almost taken the front seat to control the affairs of the state.
“The Supreme Court has interpreted this provision of the law on defection and declared such step as non-congenial to the mandate given to the executive political office holder concerned. I submit also that lack of party discipline, moral decadence and lack of proven integrity account for the unbridled passion and brazen zeal with which our politicians crosscarpet at will without decorum and conscience”.
Mr. Ige Asemudara also decried the alarming rate at which politicians engage in act of decampment saying it is unhealthy for the polity. “Cross-carpeting is actually a feature of bourgeois democracy. It is acceptable in all places where that brand of democracy is being practiced. However, it is not as alarming as it is in Nigeria.
Even the capitalist democracies have different wings within their ideological block as represented by the various political parties but in Nigeria, it is one big hall of shame. No block, no wing, no ideology, no holds barred. “In terms of law, our law does not make provision for dealing with persons who hold executive positions on a particular political platform and then decamp. That is why governors do it without questioning.
However, the law prohibits members of the various legislative houses who have been voted on the platform of a political party from cross-carpeting to another party unless there is a major crisis in his party leading to such decamping by members.
“It is unfortunate though that the law hasn’t worked in Nigeria. I do not know of any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate or a State House of Assembly who has been made to lose his seat for jumping ship for no good legal reason. So, we must get back to the drawing board on how to review our laws to address these issues”, Asemudara said.