Defections: Understanding The Legal Perspective

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Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara

Most recent political developments, especially defection — an action indicating that a politician has changed his allegiance against the party that provides membership and the benefits he or she enjoys — has become rampant.
Unarguably, politics is about governance and the politicians drive the process by organising society for the good of citizens by holding governance on trust.
Political analysts then observe that a politician ought to be good at using different situations in an organisation or society to try to get power for the benefit of the larger society he or she seeks to serve.
Given that such a politician is confident with the party’s ideologies and manifestos, he ought to be faithful and committed to the unity of the party.
However, defection to another party by such a politician can only count in a situation where the party he belongs seems to have moved from basic principles and ideologies, the development that also ought to have been addressed within the party.
Analysts note that to defect to another party in the past used to be a long time decision to be taken after due consultations with party stakeholders, considering the interests of the citizenry.
According to them, the present politicians do not have interest in such old valued system as defections occur at the slightest perceived threats to their personal interest in the party because everyone joins a party where his interest is served.
Of course, this is the reason why politicians, in their struggle to get power or advantage and hold on to it, engage in noble and ignoble activities.
Globally, cross-carpeting or defection from one political party to another is a phenomenon, synonymous with politics and governance.
Irrespective of this phenomenon, there is a rule; what is the position of the law in a situation when politicians decide to vote another party against a party that might have offered them public offices?
Indeed, history of Nigeria’s political parties is replete with instances of carpet-crossing; it was minimal in the First Republic but prominent in the Second Republic.
For instance, in the Second Republic, the late Chief Akin Omoboriowo in Ondo State and the late Chief A. Fagbamigbe, both from the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and the late Nathaniel Anah  of the defunct Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), defected to the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
Similarly, at the return of democracy in the country in 1999, the noticeable defection then was when former Vice President Atiku Abubakar moved from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the Action Congress (AC).
However, observers note that while politicians without public positions may be at liberty to defect as many times as they wish, those in public political offices may face criticisms if they do.
Although there is a law on defections and most politicians are aware of this, politicians cross-carpet brazenly, mindless of the law.
Miffed by the situation, a lawyer and Company Secretary of Delta Printing and Publishing Company, Mr Tony Mezeh said that a politician was at liberty to cross from one political party to another.
“For elected persons, it has to be only when his party is in an intractable crisis, obvious crisis; otherwise, if an elected person defects ordinarily, he loses his position and this applies to legislators, governors, their deputies, president and his vice.
“The law is clear on that, but they gloss over all that, we don’t have a democracy, no ideology in the political parties any longer.
“What is here is about personal interest; what you can benefit from the system and therefore, lawmakers at federal and state levels cross-carpeted at will,’’ he said.
What should be the consequence of this disregard in law? Section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution states that a lawmaker will lose his seat if being a person whose election was sponsored by a political party.
Thus, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which position he was elected.
But to Mr Larry Okoji, “nothing short of enforcement of the law will put sanity in the system; the law is clear on it.
“Although you are at liberty to defect, the law says you must vacate the seat you occupy and give it back to your former party’’.
In his view, a renowned pharmacist, Chief Paul Enebeli said that any politician that defected from a party should be prepared for it because “it is like saying I am tired of this party and I have to leave everything about it.
“The politicians have taken Nigeria and their parties’ constitutions for granted and nobody cares about what the law says about defections, especially for elected people and they defect with impunity.
“This is being done brazenly because it has become a fad; all the political parties, especially the big ones had benefitted from it and that is why nobody can call somebody to order.
“Worse is that civil society organisations, which with the media, are the police of the society and are expected to go to court on this matter, seem to have lost their voices.’’
A lawyer, Mr Frank Tietie, nonetheless, blamed the government for not upholding the provisions of the law against defectors.
“I am surprised at President Muhammadu Buhari; when he should enforce or act on the law, he doesn’t but when he shouldn’t, he does.
“By the provisions of Section 68 of the 1999 Constitution, all the elected politicians who defected from either APC or PDP or any other party, for that matter, should lose their seats.
“There is no sufficient division in the All Progressives Congress to cause defection and there is no division in PDP.
“So, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Sen. Dino Melaye, Sen. Godswill Akpabio and all the other lawmakers who defected from one party to the other across the country, should lose their seats.
“When the law is invoked and they all lose their seats, the madness will stop and there will be sanity and responsibility in the polity’’.
Ifeajika writes for News Agency of Nigeria.

 

Olisayem Ifeajika