Some lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives, recently defected from their former political parties to the ruling All Progressives Congress, reports Udora Orizu
It has been an interesting time recently at the National Assembly. Ahead of the 2023 general election, political parties are trying to find an edge over each other, giving rise to the recent gale of defections from one political party to another, particularly to APC by some of the federal lawmakers.
With the recent defections, the rank of the APC has continued to swell, as they take up more seats previously occupied by the minority caucus in the two chambers.
A Minor Shake in the Senate
It all started on November 25, when the Yobe State Governor and Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, Mallam Mai Mala Buni told Nigerians to expect more shocking defection from the minority parties to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Governor Buni, who made the disclosure at a meeting with APC Senate caucus in the National Assembly said his leadership reconciliation drive has encouraged aggrieved chieftains of his party to return even as he boasted that Nigerians would soon experience unprecedented defection in the history of political parties.
According to him, ‘’Our recent big catch of a very no less personality than the Executive Governor of Ebonyi State, His Excellency Mr. Dave Umahi and several legislators of the state assembly are indeed great milestones in our restoration process. Many others have indicated interests to either return or join the party.
“In fact, I want to assure you all that APC will soon shock Nigeria’s political space with massive and unprecedented defections ever witnessed in the political history of our great country, and by the grace of God, APC will undoubtedly remain Nigeria’s leading political party.’’
Same day, the Senator representing Adamawa North in the National Assembly, Elisha Abbo dumped the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Abbo announced his defection in a letter addressed to the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and read at the day’s plenary.
In the letter, Abbo attributed his decision to defect to the APC to the mismanagement of the PDP in Adamawa State by Governor Umaru Fintiri.
House’s Balance of Power
On October 7, two members of the House of Representatives, Ephraim Nwuzi from Rivers State and David Abel from Taraba State defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The lawmakers announced their defection on the floor of the House at plenary in separate letters addressed to the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
In the letters read at plenary by Gbajabiamila, the lawmakers hinged their decision to join the ruling party on the charismatic and purposeful leadership of the Speaker.
Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, was however quick to raise a point of order, saying the defection should be based on law and due process and not simply quoting the charisma of the Speaker.
His words: ‘’We ask Mr. Speaker to observe with respect to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, abide by the rules of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
Corroborating Okechukwu’s submission, the Leader of the PDP caucus in the House, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, tasked the Speaker to do what is right to advance the cause of democracy in Nigeria.
According to him, the Speaker swore to protect the Constitution and as a lawyer, an opportunity had come for him to prove that he respects the law. Chinda recalled that in 2007, the Supreme Court had ruled that any member, who defects for any reason outside division in the party should vacate his seat. He added that this is an opportunity for the Speaker to do the right thing and failure to do so is either cowardice or incompetence.
Responding, Gbajabiamila recalled that he was once a Minority Leader in the House and many of his members defected to the PDP, which was then the ruling party.
He said he cited all the relevant laws and called on the House to declare their seats vacant until he lost his voice. Gbajabiamila further pointed out that there are some members of the PDP, who had not attended any sitting since the commencement of the 9th Assembly.
He said section 68, sub section (1f) of the 1999 Constitution states that the seat of such members should be declared vacant and asked the PDP lawmakers if he should go on to declare their seats vacant.
Reacting, the Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu said the Clerk of the House should be directed to provide the register to confirm the position of the Speaker on the absentee PDP lawmakers.
Ruling, Gbajabiamila said the points put forward by the PDP lawmakers were noted and taken.
Again on October 17, another member of the House, Hon Kolawole Lawal representing Egbado South/Ipokia Federal Constituency in Ogun State defected from Allied Peoples Movement (APM) to the All Progressive Congress (APC). The lawmaker announced the defection in letter read by the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila at the plenary.
However, Okechukwu raised an objection saying the Speaker should obey the law and constitution of Nigeria. But Gbajabiamila interrupted and said Okechukeu’s point was noted a week earlier, when he raised a point of order regarding the defection of two house members from PDP to APC.
‘’Recall when 48 APC members moved to PDP, did you raise this objection? Your point was noted last week. We move on,” he said.
Also, on December 15, two members of the House of Representatives, Hon. Datti Yako from Kano State and Hon Danjuma Shittu from Taraba State, defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC). While Yako left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Shittu defected from the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).
In their defection letters read by the Speaker, Hon Gbajabiamila, the lawmakers cited leadership crises and factionalisation in their respective states as reasons for leaving the parties upon which they were elected.
Reacting as usual, Elumelu urged Gbajabiamila to declare the two seats vacant, citing relevant sections of the constitution and the fact that he’s not aware of any crisis in the party.
Corroborating Elumelu’s opinion, Okechukwu, insisted that there’s no crisis in the party and urged the Speaker to put a stop to illegal defections.
According to him, “There is a subsisting Supreme Court judgment, which states that it was only a crisis at the national level of parties that could prompt a defection of any lawmaker.’’
Again, Gbajabiamila dismissed the protests by the opposition leaders and ruled in favour of his defecting colleagues, adding that Yako’s defection made all the 24 members from Kano to be in APC.
Barely 24 hours later on December 16, another member of the House of Representatives Hon. Tajudeen Adefisoye from Ondo state defected from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to the All Progressive Congress (APC).
Adefisoye, in his defection letter read at the plenary by the Speaker hinged his decision to dump SDP over irreconcilable leadership crisis within the party.
The letter read in part: “I write to inform the Honourable Speaker of my resignation as a member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). My decision to quit the SDP was informed by the irreconcilable leadership crisis within the party.
“The protracted leadership crisis has manifested in the plethora of ongoing court cases as well as the multiple factions of the party that have surfaced at the National level and Ondo State chapter of SDP. In view of the above, I hereby notify the House of my decision to officially become a full-fledged member of the All Progressive Congress (APC).’’
On December 17, another loss hit the opposition party, as a member of the PDP from Abia State, Hon. Sam Onuigbo, announced his defection to the APC.
Onuigbo’s defection, which was announced at the plenary by Speaker Gbajabiamila was received with a standing ovation by members of the APC family including former Governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who was admitted into the chamber to witness the ceremony.
In his defection letter, Onuigbo said he decided to join the APC as a result of crisis and lack of internal democracy and outright impunity within the PDP.
But, the defection of the lawmaker, who is one of the oldest members of the House created uproar from members of the opposition, who insisted that the constitution has been breached and therefore his seat should be declared vacant.
One of the opposition lawmakers, Hon Solomon Bob, described the action as a charade as there was no crisis within the PDP to necessitate the defection.
‘’Mr. Speaker, I know that you are a leader and you know what to do. What we are doing here is nothing but tramping on the constitution we swore to protect. If somebody writes to you claiming he was leaving the party that sponsored him to this House because of crisis, it is your responsibility to investigate that before accepting his letter.’’
On his part, Elumelu, asked the House to invoke the provisions of section 68 and declare the seat vacant, pointing out that the claim of a crisis within the PDP was false. Elumelu said the National Organising Secretary of the PDP hails from the same local government with Hon. Onuigbo and that there could never be crisis in the party there.
Gbajabiamila however recalled that, “Some years ago, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House defected to the PDP. Did you ask for their seats to be declared vacant? Now, that former Speaker has left the PDP and rejoined the APC. Are you saying I should declare his seat vacant?’’
But Elumelu insisted that what was going on was building on a faulty foundation and therefore there was the need to empower a Committee to investigate the claims.
Okechukwu added that the spirit and letters of the constitution were sacrosanct and should be respected. He claimed Onuigbo had taken a dangerous step, as there was no crisis in the PDP either in Abia State or at the national level.
The last may not have been heard of the defection spree by members of the two chambers of the National Assembly, as there are feelers that more federal legislators are likely to switch political camps in the coming weeks.