N ext year’s general election is already prompting a high degree of defections by politicians. Some political gladiators have disembarked from their political boats to join others as often as they have reasons to. This has resulted in the moving in and out of political parties by politicians who are well-formed in character and competence to help make governance exceedingly successful and others, who fall short of the requisite attributes, and can hardly draw a line between their pockets and the public till. It is disturbing that politics, which is regarded as a platform for service, has been whittled down in content and quality with politicians ready to embark on a defection spree at the drop of a pin.
We recall that one of the most talked-about defections in the history of Nigeria’s party politics occurred in 1952 at the Western Nigeria Assembly, Ibadan, when some members of the National Council for Nigerian Cameroons (NCNC) renounced their membership of the latter to that of the Action Group (AG). That singular act known as ‘carpet crossing’, at that time, as the defecting lawmakers crossed the carpet demarcating their former party and the new one to relocate to their new seating positions as newlyadmitted members of the AG. The carpet-crossing whittled down the parliamentary majority of the NCNC and denied it the opportunity of producing the Majority Leader and Leader of Government Business.
The latter eventually got upgraded to the post of premier, afterwards. Following the resolve of the English- speaking Cameroonians to exit from the Eastern Region, and be integrated into the Republic of Cameroon, the NCNC metamorphosed into the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). Some members of the AG had defected to the United People’s Party (UPP) and the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP).
The latter shared the same name and acronym with Nigeria’s first political party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), founded in 1923, by an accomplished nationalist Mr. Herbert Samuel Heelas Macaulay. The defection drums continued to be beating resulting in some members of the NCNC leaving for the United Nigeria Independence Party (UNIP).
Acknowledged, the defection started during the nationalist struggle and got extended to the First, Second and Third Republics, the act was far being a norm. This could be attributed, in part, to the marked ideological differences of the political parties. This helped a great deal in making some nationalists as well as political gladiators in the First, Second and Third Republics not to be reasonably enthusiastic about defection. The strong ideological walls separating political parties during the nationalist struggle as well as in the First, Second and Third Republics do not appear to be standing any longer in the Fourth Republic. We note with disgust that the political parties seem not to exhibit distinct ideological peculiarities thereby making it possible for all the political parties to be lumped
into the same basket. What is largely responsible for the recurring defections, among politicians in the Fourth Republic? The defections have been propelled by material and often selfish considerations rather than ideological reasons. Politics has been discovered to offer an escape from poverty and destitution.
This notion is enhanced by the fact that a political party, being considered for defection to, is presiding over the affairs of the people either at the state or federal level, so as to be able to dispense patronage from the public till. The realization that some politicians are into politics on full-time basis provides the prompting for them to approach defection with desperation and zeal. Nothing else matters for them for as long as their material comfort will be guaranteed through elective or appointive positions with the accompanying fat salaries and perks.
We make bold to say that the gale of defections has taken a reasonable part of the 22 years of the Fourth Republic with some of the dramatis personae fuelled in their actions by the desperation to earn their livelihoods from politics, which they have now come to regard as an investment, instead of as a platform for service. Such a trend may continuously retard the progress of Nigeria by constantly throwing upon the political stage an army of politicians who may lack the wherewithal for realistic governance but resort to preoccupying themselves with the jostle for primitive accumulation of wealth likely to be guaranteed through defection.
We recommend that there should be a paradigm shift to help save the nation from further drift. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other critical stakeholders should compel all the political parties to have clearly distinct ideologies. This will help discourage some politicians from some actions, especially defection. In order to strengthen INEC to carry this and other crucial tasks, the Chairman and other top officers of the commission would need to be appointed by a representative body instead of by the Executive Branch of Government. Such a representative body should be composed of leading professional bodies and Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the country.
INEC will be enhancing the quality of party politics by making it mandatory for every politician to have a career, profession or business for their livelihood while engaging in politics on a part-time basis. This will not only help improve the quality of party politics but will also have a positive effect on governance as more professionals and captains of industry in diverse fields will be attracted to politics to make their expertise and managerial acumen available. The ultimate beneficiary is likely to be the public purse which will be freed from the suffocating pressure of some politicians and help make it possible for critical sectors such as education, health, electricity, housing steel and transportation to be better-funded. Such paradigms are likely to help Nigeria tremendously in her developmental strides and certainly not the frequent defections of some politicians.