Defectors Undermining Democracy


The rate at which political office holders jump to the party in power is alarming. Davidson Iriekpen warns that except this dubious trend is stopped, it risks making Nigeria a one-party state

Penultimate week, the embattled Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost a senator to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The defecting senator, John Enoh, Cross River Central, who announced his defection at plenary, cited personal reason. The senator, who is the Chairman, Senate Finance Committee, alleged that his district was neglected by the PDP.

Before Enoh’s defection, Joshua Dariye, Plateau; Yele Omogunwa, Ondo; Nelson Effiong, Akwa Ibom; and Andy Uba, Anambra all former members of the PDP had switched allegiance to the APC.

The story is not different in the House of Representatives where the membership of the PDP caucus has dropped to about 120 following the defection of some members elected on the platform of the PDP to the APC. At the inauguration of the current 8th assembly on June 9, 2015, the PDP had 139 members and the APC 214 members. However, the number of PDP members has lately fallen to about 120, with the APC being the beneficiary.

The above examples are a fraction of the number of PDP members who had so far defected to the APC since the party assumed power in May 29, 2015. The spate of defection from one party to another since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999 to now has been on the rise.

Unlike the famous early morning defection of elected members of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons to the Action Group on the floor of the Western Nigeria House of Assembly in 1951, the current defectors are regarded as politicians without principle, morality, conscience and ideology to champion the cause of leadership for the well being of the society and political development of the country.

Mr. Jas Awanen has recently adduced reasons for defection of politicians, saying the trend was the result of personality clash, power tussles, divergent views on the operation of a political party’s philosophy, crisis or division within a given political party, disagreement on party’s position on an issue, realisation of one’s personal political ambition and party leaders reneging on agreed issues of the political party probably on power sharing formula.

During the First Republic, the former Premier of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria, Chief Ladoke Akintola left the then Action Group in a crisis rooted more in personality clash and personal principles. He believed that there was the need for him to move the Yoruba race into Nigeria’s mainstream politics. Even within the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe political fold, the great political philosopher, Dr. Kingsley Mbadiwe, defected from the NCNC to form his political party, the Democratic Party of Nigeria in the 50s based on disagreement with the party leaders.

Records also show that in the old Ondo State during the Second Republic, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, the then deputy governor of United Party of Nigeria (UPN) government of Chief Michael Ajasin defected to join the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and became its gubernatorial candidate.

However, from 1999 to date many politicians at the local government, state and federal levels have easily defected from one political party to the other. While some do so abandoning the parties on which platform they were elected, others do so after losing elections thinking that the best option for them is to switch to another political party. One of the manifestations of the history of defection on the Nigeria’s political landscape is that a preponderance of those who defect do so in favour of the ruling political party in power either at the centre or state level. While from 1999 the trend was defecting from other parties to the PDP especially at the federal level, the new trend now is moving from the PDP to the APC.

Since there appears to be no public-spirited reason for an elected politician to dump his party for another, analysts see the spate of defections by some Nigerian politicians from one party to another as nothing more than an exhibition of lack of capacity, moral integrity and character among those who are ruling or aspiring to rule this country. Where a state is governed by APC, those in the opposition whether elected or not, would move to the party either to get reelected or get appointments in the state or federal level. The same goes for states that are governed by the PDP.

This, perhaps, explains why the likes of former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of the old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, former Governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, Senator representing Anambra Central, Andy Uba, a former member of the House of Representatives, Uche Ekwunife, who later represented Anambra Central ​at the Senate, before her election was annulled by the Appeal Court and many others defected to the ruling APC.

So embarrassing has the gale of defections of politicians from the opposition PDP to the APC become that a former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on the Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, recently frowned at it.

Dabiri-Erewa, who is also the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Diaspora Matters expressed disgust over the gale of defections, describing it as shameful, calling the defectors “political prostitutes.”

In a series of tweets via her twitter handle, @abikedabiri, the ex-lawmaker, who represented Ikorodu Federal Constituency, Lagos State said: “The rate of defection from PDP to APC is shameful. Political prostitutes, politics of convenience, not conviction.”

According to her, the APC should not allow the defections, adding that “But APC leadership thinks otherwise.” She pointed out that “defection should not be so easy. But hopefully, we will gravitate towards ideology.”

A few years ago, former President Goodluck Jonathan in his usual, self-inculpating posture aptly captured the scenario when he stated that more than 50 per cent of those in politics had no business being there. In the same vein, a former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) boss once observed that judging by their proclivity for gluttonous accumulation of wealth, many politicians and aspirants were mentally and psychologically unsuitable for public office.

A question begging for an answer is- what is the character of the Nigerian political elite? What, in the thinking of the politicians, is the whole purpose of the political party?

As Greenbarge Reporters put it, “Since the last election, it is not as if a better formula to govern the country has been found. It is not as if a new set of policy framework for socio-economic development has been formulated; neither is it that a roadmap for industrialisation has been drawn. It then beats the imagination what the attraction of defection from one party to the other is apart from power for its sake.

“In the last 18 years, the quality of political leadership at all levels has remained generally low. Power, violence and money remain instruments of statecraft in the hands of the ruling party, while vanity or indiscernible ideas characterise the opposition. The result is the forfeiture of character as the system remains unable to build strong institutions. The fear of poverty, the unwillingness to develop indigenous capital, inferiority complex, acute selfishness and the imperviousness to a conference of reason have conspired to unleash mediocre persons on the polity.”

Many reasons have been attributed for the defections. While those defecting have often given divisions in the parties as reasons for their defection, observers think otherwise. They also blame the absolute powers of the state governors for the actions.

They feel that the defectors defect because they want security in the new administration For example, while lawmakers who defect at the state level do so to get another term, others do so because they want to secure nomination at the federal level.

Most importantly, some defect because of the APC at the centre. For instance, it is believed that if the defector is a federal lawmaker, he or she would be defecting because first, federal legislative elections hold on the same day with the presidential election which is not within the control of the state governors especially in the opposition parties. For the defector, in his or her estimation, it is better to hide under the protection of federal government’s agencies.

For those seeking to become governors, and do not have the chance, they simply defect to the party controlled by the president in order to use federal might to unseat the incumbent governor.

Others have attributed the reasons for the rise in defection to lack of professional calling among politicians. They believe that because most of the country’s politicians are not lawyers, doctors or trained in any chosen field, they find it difficult to find something else to do when they are out of power.

“They are not lawyers, doctors or trained in anything. Some claimed they were businessmen or women, but in actual fact, they don’t have any fixed address. They are just portfolio carrying businessmen and women. When their tenures end, they find it difficult to secure jobs. Hence, they defect to another party to remain relevant. Some even defect to tame hunger. When they leave power, they are flat broke and can’t pay their bills,” said Emmanuel Adebo, a public affairs analyst.

Th courts have also made pronouncements on defection. Justice Adamu Bello of the Gusau Division of the Federal High Court in a landmark judgment delivered in the case involving the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the then Zamfara State governor, Alhaji Aliyu Shinkafi and his deputy Mukhtar Anka who defected to the PDP, dismissed the suit on the grounds that the action of the governor and his deputy was not illegal going by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

Section 177 of the Constitution clearly states that a person shall only be qualified for election into the office of the governor of the state if he is a member of a political party and sponsored by a political party. The same constitution did not state that such a person cannot leave that party after achieving electoral victory.

It was also based on this that the Supreme Court in the case of Abubakar Atiku v Attorney General of the Federation held that a person sponsored by a political party to power could leave the same party to another without breaching any section of the constitution.

But in respect of elected members of the legislature, the constitution states that a state or federal lawmakers must vacate his or her seat after defecting to another political party. This provision has been exploited by elected legislators to defect from their political party to another. But recently the Supreme Court explained the grounds under which a lawmaker can leave a political party on the excuse of factional crisis within the party. To a large extend, this explanation by the apex court has fallen on dear ears as members of the legislature continue to defect in droves.

In his view, a public affairs analyst, Philip-Wuwu Okparaji, said the spate of defection in the country portended great danger for sustainable democracy and if left unchecked could move the nation one political party system without any viable opposition to act as check on the ruling political party.