2019, PDP lawmakers and gale of defections
For 16 years during the period the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held sway at the helm of affairs in the country, it benefitted immensely from the mass defection of elected public office holders from other political parties.
The development, which was severely criticised, muzzled the opposition and almost sent it into oblivion. Despite the criticism that trailed it, the practice continued unabated, making some politicians, including former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; Governor Rochas Okorocha; Senator Jim Nwobodo and other seemingly serial defectors.
In what looked like a move to stem the tide and bring in some level of sanity in the exercise, the 1999 Constitution was amended in 2010 ahead of the 2011 elections.
That was how the amendment of Section 68(1) and (109(1)) of the 1999 Constitution, which dwelt on political defection for members of the Senate, House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly was carried out and signed into law.
Notwithstanding the fact that these sections of the constitution are explicit as it concerns defection of legislators, the lawmakers have continued to defect unperturbed. It will be recalled that in 2015, the Supreme Court laid the issue of defection as it concerns the legislature to rest when it decided the case in the Labour Party versus Ifedayo Abegunde.
In a unanimous judgment by a seven-man panel of Justices, the apex court ordered Abegunde to immediately vacate his seat in the House of Representatives on account of his defection from the Labour Party to the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) because he was unfit to remain at the legislative house.
Abegunde had defected from LP to the ACN in 2011 and in a bid to forestall any possible move by his party to recall him, lodged a suit before the Federal High Court sitting in Akure. He however lost at both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, with the concurrent judgments of the lower courts equally declaring the defection as “unjustifiable.”
In their judgment, the Supreme Court panel, which was headed by the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, held that the lawmaker acted illegally by abandoning the party that sponsored his election. The court stressed that as at the time Abegunde defected to the ACN, there was no division in his parent party, LP.
The apex court maintained that the lawmaker’s defection to another party would have been justified if there was a division in the national structures of the LP, such that is capable of hampering the smooth operation of the party. It held that Abegunde’s defection could not be validated since his excuse of purported division in the LP was not in existence at the national level of the party.
Besides, the Supreme Court stressed that the “division” or “factionalisation” of Labour Party, which was cited by Abegunde as his excuse for abandoning the party, was only at the state level.
Even with this, ahead of the 2015 elections, the then Speaker House of Representatives and now governor of Sokoto state, Aminu Tambuwal and 37 PDP members in the House defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The action was challenged in the court by the PDP leadership, after which Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in his judgment asked Tambuwal and others to vacate their seats. The lawmakers did not obey the order, having appealed it. The case was overtaken by events, following its non-conclusion before the 2015 polls.
Even with the 2019 polls still two years away, politicians, especially PDP members in National Assembly have continued to defect to the APC, citing the crisis rocking the PDP as reason.
The latest of such defections was that of Nelson Effiong, the senator representing Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District. Effiong, elected on the platform of the PDP announced his defection recently at a plenary. The senator cited divisions within the PDP as his reason for leaving the party.
“No reasonable politician who is worth his salt would remain and allow his people to be drifting about without a direction,” Effiong said.
In the same vein, Yele Omogunwa, the PDP Senator representing Ondo South Senatorial District has before the last Ondo governorship election defected to the APC. With his action, all the three Senators representing Ondo State at the upper chamber are now members of the APC.
Early this year, the national chairman of the ruling APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, was in Jos, Plateau state capital to formally receive the former governor of the State and Senator representing Plateau Central District, Joshua Dariye and a former deputy governor of the state, Ignatius Longjan into the APC.
Also, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2013 poll in Anambra State and the member representing Anambra East and West in the House of Representatives, Comrade Tony Nwoye dumped the party for the APC.
There are indications that Nwoye, who was also a former State chairman of PDP, will vie for the 2017 governorship election on the platform of APC and consultations towards that are ongoing in and outside the State.
The Guardian’s investigation reveals that more PDP lawmakers from the South South and South East zones are on the verge of dumping PDP for APC before 2019. A PDP senator from the South East, who pleaded anonymity, disclosed that one of his colleagues and former presidential aide who wants to contest the forthcoming governorship election in his State will soon defect to the APC.
“That my colleague has reached out to the presidency through his political godfather over the planned defection to the APC to contest the governorship election on the party’s platform,” the senator said.
On why the PDP leadership has not challenged the defection in the court, the PDP lawmaker said: “Who will challenge it; the crisis-ridden party leadership that is neither here nor there. There is division in the PDP leadership. There is no pretence about it. Instead of challenging it, some of us are consulting to defect before 2019 polls.
“It is obvious that neither the PDP nor the yet-to-be formed mega party will get its act together before 2019. Even though defection is not moralistic, we have to survive politically not morally. What matters in politics here is relevance, not principle. You can only be relevant politically in Nigeria when you are in position of authority. That is the mentality and nothing has changed.”
Speaking on the growing trend of defection from the PDP to APC, former minister of Health and foundation member of the PDP, Prof ABC Nwosu said it is worrisome and a dangerous trend for democracy.
He said: “While it is within their rights to do so, they need to ask themselves questions; is it really what their people want and voted them for. We are watching to see how it plays out.”
To Senator Grace Bent, the development is a very big tragedy.
“I know that it will degenerate to this level immediately some PDP chieftains started defecting to APC after President Goodluck Jonathan lost the presidential election. I was denied a return ticket to the Senate on PDP platform, but despite pressures and offers, I have remained in PDP.
“It is quite unfortunate that because of greed and lack of principles, the political elites are trying to reduce our democracy to one party state. How are those defecting sure that APC will guarantee their continued stay in the office? APC should look beyond its noose, having become a dumping ground for desperate politicians. Will APC stand the heat when the chips are down? The political elites have missed the point because they are selfish and narrow-minded people. I am afraid for our democracy,” Bent said.
In his remarks, former national chairman of Labour Party, Chief Dan Nwanyanwu said that he was not surprised by the flurry of defections from the PDP to APC, contending that majority of the defectors have skeleton in their cupboards.
Nwanyanwu said: “They are encouraging and promoting political harlotry in flagrant disobedience of the provisions of the constitution. I think it is better for the PDP and APC to merge because the number of the PDP defectors to the APC has outnumbered the number of the original APC members. When the two parties merge, Nigerians will have opportunity to form a viable opposition. As it is now, we don’t know the difference between the two again.
“It is very shameful and disheartening that those who benefitted immensely from the PDP for 16 years cannot exercise political restraint for two years. Where are their morality and integrity?”