From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The rank of the minority caucus in the House of Representatives is depleting. At the last count, no fewer than 14 members of the House elected on the platform of opposition parties have announced their defections to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The floodgates opened on February 13,2020 when two members of the House, from Imo State, Uju Kingsley Chima and Paschal Obi, in a letter to the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, announced their defections from the AA to the APC. And in the last few months, it has been a case of one week, one defection.
Among the defectors are lawmakers elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Action Alliance(AA), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Social Democratic Party (SDP), African Democratic Congress (ADC) and the Allied Peoples Movement ( APM).
They include Paschal Obi( AA, Imo); Kngsley Uju(AA,Imo) , David Abel( PDP, Taraba); Ephraim Nwazu( PDP, Rivers); Datti Yako ( PDP, Kano) ; Samuel Onuigbo ( PDP, Abia); Danjuma Usman ( APGA, Taraba); Herman Hembe(APGA, Benue) and Blessing Onuh( APGA, Benue).
Others are: Lawal Kolawole (APM, Ogun); Abiola Makinde(ADC, Ondo); Yakubu Abdullahi ( PRP, Bauchi) and Tajudeen Adefisoye(SDP, Ogun). Although, the immediate past speaker, Yakubu Dogara dumped the PDP last year, his defection is yet to be announced on the floor of the House.
For Gbajabiamila, each defection is a joyous occasion. On some occasions, as the speaker gleefully welcomes each defector to the APC, he dismisses protests by opposition lawmakers as meddlesome.
Last week, the speaker described Ossai Nicholas Ossai as a meddlesome interloper, after the latter protested the defection of Makinde from ADC.
Makinde in his letter to the Speaker, had stated that he was leaving his former platform, because of the crises in the party. But Ossai faulted the claim by his colleague.
Similar scenario had played out in February last year, when Chima and Obi dumped AA for the APC. On that fateful day, Gbajabiamila had declared that the minority leader, Ndudi Elumelu had no locus to protest the defection of the duo, as he is not a member of AA.
The Speaker, while ruling on Elumelu’s point of order on the defections, had stated: “there is something in law called locus standi. My question to you is this, are you a member of AA? You are the Minority Leader and you are a member of PDP. As Minority Leader, you are not automatically a member of AA.
“So, you have no locus standi. If you go to court and I’m saying that the matter can be interpreted in court, but unfortunately, you cannot go to court because you are not aggrieved. You do not have locus standi. Unfortunately, your point of order is out of order.”
The National Chairman of the African Democratic Congress( ADC), Chief Okey Nwosu accused the speaker of turning the hallowed chamber of the House into a poaching platform for his political party.
Nwosu told Daily Sun that there is no crises in the ADC to warrant Makinde to defect and still keep his seat in the parliament.
He said, “the scandalous act of Speaker Gbajabiamila dishonors the Green chamber. Using the chamber as a poaching ground at a time that the country is in turmoil shows that the leaders are insensitive and incompetent. The speaker’s claim that Peter Makinde defected because of crises in ADC is very unfortunate. We don’t have any crisis in ADC as you can see.”
Lawmakers as lawbreakers
Analysts say the many defections in the House brings to the fore the constant and flagrant abuse of Section 68(g) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Section 68(1) (g)of the Constitution makes it illegal for lawmakers to defect from the party, on whose platform they were elected into the House and still keep their seats, except the defection is as a result of a division in their former party.
Ironically, each defection is premised on alleged crises in the defecting lawmakers’ political parties. However, the minority caucus contends that there are no crises in some of the political parties as claimed by the defectors.
Consequently, the caucus says, it behoves on Gbajabiamila to declare their seats in the House vacant in accordance with Section 68(2) of the 1999 Constitution ( as amended).
The deputy minority leader, Toby Okechukwu, while speaking on the defections of Nwazu and Abel stated that it is imperative for the speaker to respect the constitution of the country.
Okechukwu said:”This federation is based on law and due process. It is very apparent that our colleagues who have written to defect were simply quoting the charisma of the speaker , instead of the Constitution. Section 68(g) of the Constitution refers to the fact that there has to be a crises in a political party before any member can defect. The essence of that presupposes that the member doing it contrary to the Constitution should lose his seat.
“I will hereby ask Mr Speaker to observe with respect, the laws and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by asking the members who have deferred to his charisma in order to defect, that they should abide by the rules of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, he said.
The leader of the PDP caucus, in the House, Kingsley Chinda concurs. Chinda says the speaker is on trial over the spate of defections, against the dictates of the constitution, because he took an oath to defend the constitution.
Chinda said: “Mr Speaker, let me remind you sir, that you swore to an oath. In fact, twice as against every other member of this House to uphold the Constitution. Mr Speaker, this morning, you are on trial. Democracy will judge us this morning. You are on trial because you took an oath to defend the Constitution.
“Mr Speaker, you are a pace setter. Another opportunity has presented itself for you to set another pace in our democratic experience and I pray that you avail yourself of it and write your name in gold. Mr Speaker, what members have said is that you should uphold our constitution.”
He added: “Mr Speaker, I support my colleagues who have said that you should uphold the laws of the country by declaring the seats of the members, who voluntarily have decided to opt out of the party that brought them to parliament, so that this precedent will remain. And then we will continue to develop our democracy. I pray that you do the needful and declare the seats of the members vacant.”
The lawmaker noted that there are already judicial decisions that members, who defect from the political parties on which they were elected to another party, except there is crisis in their former parties, should vacate their seats in parliament.
“Mr Speaker with this law so explicit, that was why I said you have an opportunity to set the pace in this country; you have the opportunity to begin to right our democracy. You have an opportunity to do the right thing. It is for you to take that decision. And where the laws are on your side and you have the powers to take that step from your side and the action that will provoke those things has occurred and you refuse to take it, it is either cowardice or deliberately you do not want to uphold the laws of this country.”
However, for Gbajabiamila, this is seemingly a pay back time for the opposition in the House. Prior to 2014, members of the opposition parties in the House, had from time to time defected to the PDP, which was the ruling party at the time. And the onus fell on Gbajabiamila, as minority leader to protest the defections.
Recently, the Speaker, in response to calls by the opposition on him to uphold the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), recalled that as a minority leader, he protested the defections of lawmakers to the opposition party to no avail.
“We have taken all the contributions from the opposition party. Let me just very quickly say this; most of those who spoke, were all here, when I was minority leader, and we had people crossover from my party to your party; I said what you said on this floor. And I said a 100 times more. And quoted laws and I quoted cases. And you shouted me down and told me to go to court. That is number one.
“If it is the privilege and tradition of this House that people can cross, and they have, over the years and you have sanctioned it, I think it is the height of hypocrisy to come to the House today and begin to cite the things that I cited till my voice went, and tell me to do the right. I am going to do the right thing. Don’t worry about that…As you told me in those days, when I was minority leader, your points are noted,” Gbajabiamila stated.
Nevertheless, Elumelu says no matter what the speaker and the APC think about the defections, the defectors do not have the support of the Constitution, thereby making the cross carpeting illegal.
“Mr Speaker, it may sound very funny… Today, the APC memers are laughing. They are enjoying the illegality of people moving from the party that gave them the strength to be on this floor and they are supporting them to do what is illegal. To me, it is illegal, whether at the end of the day, we fail to declare their seats vacant or not; but I put it to the House that what is happening is based on Section 68(1)a and g; what they have done is illegal and Mr Speaker, I will like you to speak to your conscience and declare their seats vacant. It is illegal and I think we should not tolerate it”, the minority leader noted in one of his many protests against the defections.
For now, the APC is relishing the influx of opposition lawmakers into its fold, while the opposition parties are licking their wounds.
Obviously, the only option left for the opposition parties is to take their cases to the court. But whether or not they will explore this option is another issue, all together.