Constitutionality of defection of elected legislators – Hallmark

By The Citizen
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Is the law really an ass? Otherwise, why should legal interpretations that would seem straightforward, quite often, become overstretched and controversial? Should a man benefit from his own mischief?

There was a time when five governors elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (the figure of five is taking a life of its own among PDP governors) whose disputed elections were annulled after more than two years in office, they sought to restart their term from the time of their second swearing-in upon winning the re-run election! If the Supreme Court had not overruled the courts below, those governors would have got away with more than six years for one term while the governor whose election was incontrovertible would have had only four years. This newspaper strongly believes that it is   perverse to profit from one’s mischief!

At present, there is massive defection of politicians, including some state governors and legislators who were sponsored to office by the PDP, to the All Progressives Congress (APC). While the constitution is silent on the fate of the defecting governors in such circumstance, it is inconceivable that the legislators are demanding to remain in office, contrary to Section 68(g) of the Nigerian Constitution, which clearly states that: 'A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House if … being a person whose election to the House 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…'

A court of competent jurisdiction has also put paid to the window of division manufactured by the splinter group that walked out of the party’s convention in Eagle Square, Abuja, on August 31 last year by ruling that there was no division in the party to warrant the formation of New PDP. The constitutional provision for the state level is identical to that cited for federal legislators.

It is the view of this newspaper that all defecting office-holders - whether from PDP to APC or from APC to PDP - must be compelled to vacate their offices, in line with constitutional provisions and the ‘Rule of Law.’ The fallacy of elected legislators defecting in the past without losing their seats must now be repudiated.

There is no provision yet for independent candidacy in our Constitution and electoral laws. Only political parties are registered to canvass their programmes and contest for office. It means that the office belongs to the party while the occupant is merely an agent of the party. This fact has been amplified in the matter of Amaechi vs Omehia & Ors in respect of the Rivers State governorship candidacy and in several other cases.

Strong opposition a desideratum
By extension, although the Constitution could not anticipate and prescribe on the absurdity of the governor of a state abandoning the party which sponsored him to office, there now seems to be a lacuna on this score, it is the expectation of Hallmark that the governors among the defectors must on moral grounds vacate their offices. In principle, an agent cannot be greater than his principal nor can a man have his cake and still eat it.

We must also start to deal with the pervasive culture of instability among our, largely, bread and butter politicians, who are perpetually positioning for access to State resources, without commitment to any ideology or, even, national interest.

The inconsistency of politicians is also a manifestation of their numerous acts of disrespect for the electorate who supposedly gave them a particular mandate but who are, usually, never consulted before they migrate. It also underlies their inability to defend the interest of the people strenuously. And because every positive development in the polity starts with meeting the needs of the people, our politicians who are not people-centred are to be held liable for the underdevelopment of the country. We are largely saddled with cabals concerned by personal interests.

For the avoidance of doubt, Hallmark Newspaper’s position is not meant to diminish the APC which has been the beneficiary of the defections. This newspaper is very pleased with the emergence of a potentially viable opposition party that can be a match and alternative to the PDP. It should enrich the contest for power and the quality of future government. What we condemn is the running with the hare and hunting with the hound of bread and butter politicians. The APC must be attentive as a leopard does not change its spots; the party must be ready to deal with the implacability of the high-profile PDP migrants when it comes to power-sharing.  At the same time, it must not deploy the new-found clout in a manner capable of over-heating the polity or in any other way jeopardizing national unity and stability.