By Umar Ardo, Ph.D
Yesterday was another sad day for the Nigerian state as its elected democratic leaders, again for the umpteenth time have thrown rules, laws and constitution to the dogs, embarking on a clearly self-fulfilling political misadventure with ominous consequences for the country. In a well-attended ceremony of governors, legislators and party stalwarts, Gov. Bello Mohammad Mutawalle of Zamfara State, along with Senators, House of Representatives and State House of Assembly members of the state, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Earlier, a few weeks ago, the Cross River State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade and some legislators had also crossed over from the PDP to the APC; following the footsteps of Sen. Elisha Abbo of Adamawa and Hon. Yakubu Dogara, former Speaker of the House of Representatives. These defectors literarily constitute the highest echelons of Nigeria’s elected leaders.
It is not unusual, even in the most advanced democracies of the world, like the United States and the United Kingdom for politicians to change political parties on dictates of politics and political expediencies. In those countries, their constitutions were either ambivalent or even outright silent on such matters. In our case, however, our constitution made explicit provisions on the matter but it is just simply not obeyed by operators of the system; thereby making our story different from others in a rather negative way. For us, it is a trend of lawlessness although.
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At almost all times, in a contest between political expediency and rule of law, our operators put the latter to the back seat while the former, most unfortunately, is always found a supervening stand. It is in this light that the perennial defections, especially of legislative members, the negative implications and consequences on our democracy and society must be viewed.
In dealing with the issue of party defections, Section 68 (1) (g) for NASS and 109(1)(g) for State Legislators of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), expressly state respectively inter alia: “A member (of NASS or of House of Assembly) shall vacate his seat if-: being a person whose election to the (NASS or House of Assembly) was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected;
“Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored;”
And in the judgment of the Supreme Court clarifying the division meant in a political party by this very provision, in the case of Adegunde Vs Ondo State House of Assembly in 2015, the Supreme Court in a unanimous judgment of the full court read by Justice Moh’d Dattijo declared: “The division in section 68(1)(g) of the constitution must be a division at the national level of the party; not ward, not local government and not state. To take refuge under this provision the division in the party must be such that it affects the entire structure of the party”.
Now, this is the clear unbridled provision of the constitution and its unambiguous interpretation by the apex court of the land. Where then do our operators have cause to act otherwise on this matter?
Yet, according to the Press Release of the Chairman, Publicity Sub-Committee of the Organising Ceremony and Zamfara State Commissioner for Information, Alhaji Ibrahim Dosara, no fewer than 18 state governors held a public rally to receive Gov. Bello Matawalle penultimate Tuesday, along with members of all the legislative houses for Zamfara State who defected from their sponsoring party to another. The ceremony was all gleeful without one in the whole lot reflecting on their transgression and its ominous implications to our country.
We all know, as they all also very well do that since the election of the Prince Secondus-led national leadership of the PDP, there has been no such contemplated division within the ranks and structures of the PDP, the sponsoring party of all the decampees. Yet, legislators like Hon. Dogara, Sen. Abbo, in Cross River, now in Zamfara and maybe in others too, have left the party that sponsored them to their various offices into another without vacating their seats in compliance with the provisions of the constitution. And their outrageous actions are being celebrated openly. Why is it so?
The answer is in the provision of sub-section (2) which requires the leadership of the legislative houses to give effect to the vacancies of such decampee members. And this is where the problem starts – because the leaderships of the legislative houses belong to the party that is the beneficiary of the defections, partisan benefits become more convincing a consideration to them than the enforcement of the Nigerian constitution that they all swore with their holy books to uphold and defend.
But more worrisome is the very fact that we have leaders who actually compromise the constitution and render its provisions and the law inapplicable by their deliberate acts of commission and/or omission. By their acts against the constitution, they have wittingly, albeit naturally, turned Nigeria into a lawless society. Nothing can be worse than this and especially caused by those who are lawfully entrusted with the operation of the law. It is a more dangerous situation than having bandits and terrorists raising arms against the state. While bandits and terrorists are outlaws, the ultimate results of compromising the law by those entrusted to apply it could create a thousand bandits and terrorists. What, therefore, do we call those whose responsibility it is to apply the letter of the law but purposefully refuse to do so? We should call them tyrants and enemies of the state, as they are responsible for rendering our society lawless and our democracy impracticable; they are responsible for the collapse of our country! To this end, the Senate President, the Speakers of the House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly affected have betrayed their oath of office and are a danger to our society. Already with no ethics, no values and now no laws in their operating the system; the drift of our society is inexorable and shameful!
Having been unable to discharge this constitutional duty faithfully, legislative leadership should be stripped of this power by amending subsection (2) of sections 68 and 109 of the constitution and entrust it in the hands of the sponsoring political parties. In fact, this provision should be extended to apply to the executives as well. It makes even better sense as parties will retain the political initiatives on their members, thereby strengthening the parties and hence our democracy.
In the meantime, PDP should apply due process of law to the affected seats and mobilise all manner of political activists across the entire country to pressure for the rectification of these gross anomalies.
Ardo sent the piece from Abuja