IN the past two editions, I have discussed the effect of the lack of ideologies in political life in Nigeria and how this continues to bring about a situation in which Politicians defect from one party to the other without justification and regrettably without any backlash from the voting public. This week in conclusion I will focus on how this anomaly can be brought to an end.
The way forward
To curb the spate of unbridled cross-carpeting, there needs to be a constitutional reform, the practicality of which, however, is doubtful under the current dispensation. Though the immorality of some patterns of cross-carpeting is implicitly recognized under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), yet, the proviso of these constitutional provisions equally provides a leeway for culprits of cross carpeting to escape from the consequences. Section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution provides as follows: 68.(1) A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if –(g) 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.”
The above provision is replicated for the State Houses of Assembly by virtue of Section 109(1)(g) of the Constitution. It is, however, to be noted that the proviso under both Sections 68 and 109 creates an escape for a defecting member of a party to simply allege that his defection 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.
In addition to the above provisions, the Constitution provides the procedure for the recall of members of Senate/House of Representatives (by virtue of Section 69) and recall of members of the States Houses of Assembly (by virtue of Section 110). A recall is the constitutional means by which the electorate can exercise some checks and balances on their elected representatives by signing a Petition for their vacation of their offices on the grounds that they no longer enjoy the support of confidence of the electorate that voted them into office in the first place. The procedure is essentially by the presentation of a petition to the Chairman of INEC a petition signed by more than half of the registered voters in the member’s constituency alleging a loss of vote of confidence in the member and the conduct of a referendum by INEC within 90 days of receipt of the petition, and approved by a simple majority of registered voters.
As simple as the above provisions and steps may appear to be, the fact remains that no member of the legislature has ever lost his seat on account of defection or cross-carpeting from one party to the other. This is due to a lot of reasons such as the penchant of affected legislators to rush to Court to stall the process. There is therefore the need to remove the proviso permitting an elected representative to defect on grounds of division or merger or in the alternative, to require a lawmaker who intends to rely upon the said division should first obtain a court order recognising the division or merger in his party.
However, in respect of members of the Executive at both Federal and State levels, the Constitution is totally silent. There is no corresponding procedure to deal with members of the Executive who carpet-cross. Thus, Presidents, Vice Presidents, Governors, Deputy Governors and other members of the Executive arm of government may be free to dump their political parties upon which they were elected at will, without risking the sanction of recall by the electorate that voted them into office. This sad reality was brought home by the case of the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who dumped the Peoples’ Democratic Party upon which he was jointly elected as Vice President with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, for the Action Congress. When the matter got to the Supreme Court, after his office had been declared vacant by the Presidency, the Court while agreeing with me that the conduct of the Vice President was immoral and unconscionable, found that the law as it stood, and as it still stands, could not be called in aid. The Supreme Court, in the matter reported as AG Federation v. Abubakar (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1041) 1, was mindful of the lacuna in the Constitution concerning defections from one party to another by members of the Executive but noted that:
Although defection or cross-carpeting to another party or dumping the original party that sponsored one for election to a particular office which is created by the Constitution; or in the same vein, condemning or criticizing that party or its members who by virtue of the same election hold some offices created by the Constitution, is painful, unconscionable and immoral; it is however not illegal.
The Nigerian situation with regard to the defection of political office holders can be summarized as follows: a. There is no sanction or restriction on members of the Executive i.e. President/Vice President, Governor/Deputy Governor from defecting. Such members of the Executive can defect or cross carpet at will. b. In the case of such members of the Executive, even where their defection is painful, unconscionable and immoral, it is neither illegal nor unconstitutional. c. Cross carpeting by any member of the Legislature at both Federal and State levels automatically makes the seat of such member vacant, except where such persons come within the exceptions provided under Sections 68(1)(g) and 109(1)(g) of the Constitution. d. The provision for recall of members of the legislature does not apply to members of the executive.
It is therefore clear that to properly prevent or reduce the rampant spate of cross carpeting amongst political office holders, the law must change to reflect the following, at the very least: i. The proviso in Section 68(1)(g) must give way or be amended in such a way that it would leave it less prone to abuse by politicians. There should be a provision requiring a lawmaker who intends to rely upon this provision to first obtain a court order recognising the division or merger in his party. ii.The provisions of section 68, 69, 109 and 110 of the Constitution should be amended to extend to all persons elected into public office on the platform of political parties.
I have identified the need for ideologies in any political space. For emphasis, an ideology is a set of beliefs, values, and opinions that shape the way a person or a group such as a social class thinks, acts, understands the world, and it may be broken into about three specific categories: beliefs, values, and ideals. Thus, people’s beliefs give them a sense of direction and an understanding of how to approach differing issues of local and national importance. Ideology helps to decipher how the world works and the appropriate response to the actions of others and their environments. After the first political dispensation in Nigeria—1960 to 1966, it would seem that concept of political ideology has begun to wane, while a frail measure of it was retained in the 2nd Republic, 1979 to 1983. Thereafter, not much has been seen of political ideology in Nigeria, but this noble concept has been replaced by far-less ideals of money politics.
The current trend of cross-carpeting is definitely call for concern in Nigeria due to the unquantifiable risk it portends to morality and posterity. Afterall, the political class which, ideally, should represent the perfect ideals of a society should not be mired in the dirt of immorality. While the legality of the current trend may be justifiable, howbeit not absolute; but the morality cannot, at any rate. Therefore, the need to curtail this unfortunate trend through the use of constitutional amendment mechanism is much more important than ever and ultimately, this may be achieved through the instrumentality of restructuring.
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON, LL.D, FCIArb, FNSE, FNIALS.
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