Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Amby Uneze write that lawmakers in the Imo State House of Assembly may have turned its hallowed chambers to a theatre of comedy by switching political party loyalty at the toss of a coin
At its inauguration on June 13, 2019, the ninth Imo State House of Assembly (ISHA) had started showing signs that it was in a bad situation. There was a scampering by the lawmakers to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), particularly those who did not win their election of the platform of the PDP. The motivation was clearly to identify with the governor of the state, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, a member of the PDP. To this end, the original 13 PDP lawmakers were denied some plum position in order to accommodate the interests of those that recently switched political party loyalty and to reflect a zonal spread in the spread of key committee offices in the assembly, along zonal line. The PDP, which won the gubernatorial election, opted to accept as many as were willing to come under its umbrella.
With that understanding, Hon. Chiji Collins, who represents Isiala Mbano state constituency who was originally of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He defected to the PDP to clinch the speakership which was zoned to his area. Okey Onyekamma, representing Mbatioli state constituency became his deputy. While Ihedioha served as chief executive of the state, PDP had 16 lawmakers, seven members of the ISHA belonged to the Action Alliance (AA) and APGA had two members. The All Progressives Congress (APC) had only one member in the ISHA.
However, changing circumstances occasioned by the controversial judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which sacked Ihedioha and installed Senator Hope Uzodinma of the APC as governor of Imo State has given impetus to a new positioning of the political parties in the ISHA. At the resumption of plenary for the year 2020 last Tuesday, some of the legislators, without recourse to their constituents, immediately defected to the APC, apparently to be domiciled in the same political party as the governor.
Starting the business on that fateful Tuesday, the Deputy Speaker, Okey Onyekamma representing Mbaitoli State Constituency tendered his resignation as deputy speaker and cited zoning formula as reason for his action. As Speaker Collins Chiji (Isiala Mbano PDP) announced the resignation of his deputy, it was the window of opportunity other lawmakers needed to signify their interest to defect to the ruling party in the state.
Reading Onyekamma’s resignation letter dated January 20, 2019, the Speaker disclosed that Onyekamma’s resignation was as a result of convention and zoning which prescribes that the deputy speaker should be from the geo-political zone of the sitting governor. He also announced the defection of nine members of the house from their parties to the APC citing various reasons for their decamping.
Four members left the AA; two defected from APGA, while three, who were originally from other parties and came to PDP for convenience also, defected to APC. THISDAY gathered that the reasons for the defection by the lawmakers was not unconnected with the Supreme Court sacking of former governor, Emeka Ihedioha of PDP and replacing him with Hope Uzodinma of APC.
Arthur Egwim representing Ideato North defected from the AA, Amarachi Iwuanyanwu from Nwangele defected from the PDP and Chidiebere Ogbunikpa (Okigwe) also from the PDP. The Nkwerre representative, Obinna Okwara defected from the AA, Paul Emeziem from Onuimo left APGA, as well as Ekene Nnodumele of Orsu. Johnson Duru of Ideato South and Ngozi Obiefule of Isu also left the AA while Okoro Syracuse from Ohaji Egbema defected from the PDP. As things stand today, it is difficult to say the exact composition of the ISHA along political party lines. What is clear is that from having just one legislator, the APC is now in contention for the distinction of the party with the majority number of legislators in the 27-member house.
The Director General of Imo Liberation Movement, Mr. Emeka Nwokeke, better known as, a
leader of one of the groups that championed the election of Ihedioha, would not admit that the wind has been taken out of the sail of the PDP with the defection of legislators elected on its platform to the APC. He said, “Many things are still hanging. Nothing is certain for now. Anything can still happen. The lawmakers that are purportedly defecting aren’t original PDP members. They were joiners into the party by political exigency when His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha was inaugurated as governor. I am aware that core PDP lawmakers are still in PDP. That’s to say PDP still maintains the majority in the Imo State House of Assembly. Moreover, politics is practice based on freedom of association. It is important to add here that Imo State is a core PDP state since 1998 irrespective of the avoidable incidents that made it lose power in the past. Only defection creates a deficit in the integrity quotient of the politician. For now, though, there’s no cause for alarm or worry yet. From what we hear, those defections were not willful.”
The Imo State chapter of the PDP has since described the legislators who left its platform as ‘fair weather members’. The party said that none of the nine lawmakers of the Imo State House of Assembly that changed sides to the APC belonged to the PDP originally.
The state Publicity Secretary of the party, Damian Opara told THISDAY on the phone that all the 13 members that won their elections on the platform of the PDP are intact, including the Deputy Speaker who resigned on the basis that there were plans to impeach him.
According to him, “We of the PDP are not surprised that the nine lawmakers who also defected to PDP from their former parties at the beginning of former governor Emeka Ihedioha’s administration last year were the ones that defected to APC.” He said that if at any time PDP members try to defect to another party when the party is not in crisis, the national leadership would come in with the constitution of the party in that regard.
Interestingly, none of the deserting lawmakers is from the Owerri zone, where Emeka Ihedioha hails from. The nine constituencies from Owerri zone produced PDP legislators.
One of the elders of the APC in Imo State, Chief Longers Anyanwu dismissed the suggestion that money exchanged hands to bring the legislators to the side of the governor. He recounted what happened on the floor of the ISHA on the day the legislators defected. According to him, Uzodinma was simply harvesting his past generosity. “As one of the APC leaders who was on hand to receive the defecting members, I can tell you that the governor never disbursed any fund for that, rather, most of the defecting members openly disclosed to everyone in public how the governor even before he was elected governor used to assist them without expectation and expressed hope that his government will engender an explosion of prosperity in Ìmo state hence their action to defect to the governor’s party, the APC. I look at this allegation that the governor enticed the legislators with money as cheap blackmail and spurious. Money from where? As you may know, the governor has not accessed any official document of the government till date.”
Explaining their action, one of the absconding legislators who pleaded anonymity told THISDAY that their action was to restore hope and integrity to the House, adding that there were moves to impeach some officers of the house and in order to assist the new governor, they needed to defect to his party to give him confidence.
He also observed that since some of them do not belong to the Speaker’s caucus, as there were two caucuses in the house, they decided to belong to the new governor’s caucus so that they would help him run the state aright. He, however, said that if at any time the Supreme Court reverses itself and brings back Ihedioha, some of them would also go back to their former party.
Some pundits who spoke to THISDAY observed that some Nigerian politicians are not worth dying for, as they have a propensity to chase their personal gains instead of representing the best interest of those who elected them to the house. According to them, where lies the tag ‘honourable’, since they cannot stay in the party that elected them for effective representation of their constituents. They urged constituents of the deserting legislators to initiate a process for their recall.
Arthur Egwim representing Ideato North defected from the AA, Amarachi Iwuanyanwu from Nwangele defected from the PDP and Chidiebere Ogbunikpa (Okigwe) also from the PDP. The Nkwerre representative, Obinna Okwara defected from the AA, Paul Emeziem from Onuimo left APGA, as well as Ekene Nnodumele of Orsu. Johnson Duru of Ideato South and Ngozi Obiefule of Isu also left the AA while Okoro Syracuse from Ohaji Egbema defected from the PDP. As things stand today, it is difficult to say the exact composition of the ISHA along political party lines. What is clear is that from having just one legislator, the APC is now in contention for the distinction of the party with the majority number of legislators in the 27-member house