Defections by politicians have been ongoing since 1951 when the first celebrated cross carpeting was led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The Yoruba members of the National Council for Nigerian and Cameroon (NCNC) were lobbied to cross over to the Action Group (AG) in order to stop Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, an Igbo man from being the premier of the Western Region. This action could be said to have birthed the gale of defection in Nigeria.
According to section 68, subsection 1(g) of the 1999 constitution (as amended), “a member of the Senate or that of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat if his election to any of the two chambers was sponsored by a political party and he or she later chooses to become 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.” This simply means that a defection can only be tenable when there is division in a political party. However, the constitution does not define what constitutes this division.
Over the years, several defectors have been tried to court with little or no definite results.
2014 – Defection of Hon Tambuwal & 42 others from PDP to APC:
The Presidency under Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP national leadership approached a Federal High Court in Abuja, asking Tambuwal and other defecting members to vacate their seats. The presiding judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola held that there was no division in the PDP to qualify the legislators to defect and continue to retain their seats.
Tambuwal and others challenged the judgment stating that:
- He had immunity and couldn’t be tried by a court (According to the section 30 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act Cap L12 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004: Neither the President or Speaker, as the case may be, of a Legislative House nor any officer of a Legislative House shall be subject to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise of any power conferred on or vested in him by or under this Act or the standing orders of the Legislative House, or by the Constitution)
- It was an internal affair in the House and
- It was an abuse of court since there were other similar cases which involve both parties that were pending cases before the court.
While the legal battle lingered, the 2015 polls were conducted and Tambuwal emerged Governor of Sokoto State on APC platform and President Jonathan lost the presidential election to Muhammadu Buhari of the APC. The case stopped there.
The defection of Honourable Abegunde from Labour Party to Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN):
Hon. Abegunde served as a two-term member of the House of Representatives for Akure North/South Federal Constituency. After had completed a term in office, defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the LP and was given the mandate and ticket to contest under the LP platform in April 2011. He won that election. However, after his re-election under LP, he defected to the ACN a few months after. In justifying his defection, he claimed that the Labour Party in Ondo State was factionalised. Since the division of the Labour Party was limited to Ondo State. The Supreme Court held that the division did not affect the party at the national level to justify the defection. It was therefore decided that the appellant had lost his seat in the House of Representatives.
In the judgment, Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad stated that, “the principles enunciated by this court in the two cases, FEDECO v Goni (supra) and the AG Federation vs Abubakar (supra), is to the effect that only such factionalisation, fragmentation, splintering or “division” that makes it impossible or impracticable for a particular party to function as such will, by virtue of the proviso to section 68(1)(g), justifies a person’s defection to another party and the retention of his seat for the unexpired term in the house in spite of the defection. Otherwise, as rightly held by the courts below, the defector automatically loses his seat.”
From this judgment, a division in a political party envisaged by the constitution cannot be something the defector just decides to do. The division must be such that the party cannot function.
In this recent defection saga, both political parties cannot take legal actions because it is favorable to each divide. 2015 witnessed massive defection from PDP members to APC. In 2018, both parties have had their fair share of the defections.
As Federal legislators, they have refused to enshrine principles of transparency and accountability in their budgetary processes.
The #OpenNASS campaign which demands an open, transparent and accountable National Assembly has persistently demanded they make public the details of their budget (they did in 2017, however, the 2018 budget is still unavailable to public scrutiny), adopt electronic voting instead of voice voting (Nay & I’s), make attendance records public so citizens can track their representatives.
Sadly, these defections are not about Nigerians! They are about self-serving politicians whose political interest might simply be at stake. It is simply politics of selfish defection! Nigerians should say NO to such unconstitutional practices.
Active citizens, tell your legislator who defected to vacate his seat!!!
Dapo Awobeku, a young and passionate Nigerian writes from Lagos and works at EiE Nigeria as the Project Officer (OpenNASS).