Udora Orizu writes that the ruling All Progressives Congress is counting its increasing blessings as a good number of members of the minority caucus in both Senate and House of Representatives switch political party loyalty
As the country gears up for 2023 general elections, political parties as usual 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 the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) by some members of the minority caucus in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Defection by political office holders is not a new phenomenon. Since the return of the country to civilian rule in 1999, Nigerians have witnessed defections over and over again both in the executive and legislature.
An example was when in the run-up to the 2015 general election, some members of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) began defecting to the All Progressive Congress (APC) which had just been formed from four legacy parties, and they were all welcomed into the fold. The reverse was again the case in the run-up to the 2019 general elections which saw some APC members defecting to PDP.
This cycle of defections otherwise known as carpet-crossing has been one of the challenges to the sustainability of democracy and evolution of a robust political system in the country.
While developed democracies like the United States, United Kingdom and so on, have politicians who have experience in politics spanning decades without faltering in party affiliation, in Nigeria it’s rare to see such.
Here in Nigeria, politicians don’t just defect for the sake of it. Though they usually hinge their reason for defecting on the so called ‘crisis or factionalisation’ in their current party, most times their carpet-crossing from one party to another is usually determined by what they hope to get from the new party they are defecting to. As the country prepares for the next general election billed for 2023, again alignment and realignment of forces have begun.
As more federal lawmakers in the 9th National Assembly defect to the APC, the rank of the party has continued to swell, as they take up more seats previously occupied by the minority caucus in the two chambers.
Defections in Previous Assemblies
In 2014, during the Goodluck Jonathan, PDP led administration, about 16 senators defected to the APC.
The senators signed a letter that cited “factionalisation” in the governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The defectors announced their decision in a letter to the then Senate President, Senator David Mark.
In 2018, 16 senators quit the APC.
14 of the 16 lawmakers left the All Progressives Congress (APC) to join the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a letter read on the Senate floor stated. Two other senators later left the ruling party while parliament was in session.
Like in the Senate, 32 members of the House of Representatives also defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Four other lawmakers opted for the Africa Democratic Congress (ADC).
Their letters of defection were read by the Speaker Yakubu Dogara. Shortly after that, the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Orker-Jev Yisa also announced that he was resigning from the APC.
Members who defected from APC to ADC were: Sunday Adepoju (Oyo), Olugbemi Samson (Oyo), Taiwo Michael (Oyo) and Olasupo Abiodun (Oyo).
The 32 who defected to PDP were: Garba Umar (Kano), Olayonu Tope (Kwara), Ahmed Garba (Kano), Kabiru Marafa (Sokoto), Zakari Mohammed (Kwara), Abubakar Amuda-Kanike (Kwara).
Others imcluded: Ali Madaki (Kano), Hassan Saleh (Benue), Ahman Pategi (Kwara), Mark Gbillah (Benue), Shehu Usman (Kano), Aminu Shagari (Sokoto), Nuhu Danburam (Kano), Atunwa Abdulrazak (Kwara).
Also, Salisu Zakari (Bauchi), Hassan Omale (Kogi), Oker-Jev (Benue), Rufai Chanchangi (Kaduna), Abdulsamad Dasuki (Sokoto), Sani Zoro (Jigawa), Benjamin Okolo (Kogi), Funke Adedoyi (Kwara), Bode Ayorinde (Ondo), Bashiru Salihu (Sokoto), Barry Mpigi (Rivers) were among.
The other set of decampees were: Nasiru Sule (Kano), Segun Ogunwuyi (Oyo), Lawal Rabiu (Kaduna), Sani Rano (Kano), Dickson Tarkighir (Benue) Musa Adotsamiya (Kano) and Emmanuel Udende (Benue).
The 9th Assembly
Just like in previous assemblies, the 2020 legislative year in the 9th assembly witnessed a gale of defections with many of the main opposition federal lawmakers from the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) crossing to the ruling APC.
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 a 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.
Meanwhile at the House of Representatives, on October 7, 2020, two members, 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 said, ‘’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 was an opportunity for the Speaker to do the right thing and failure to do so was 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.
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.
As the 2021 legislative year commenced, the minority caucus has again lost more members. At the plenary last week, two members, Hon. Blessing Onuh and Hon. Yakubu Abdullahi announced their defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
While, Onuh who represents Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency of Benue, joined the APC from the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Abdullahi who represents Bauchi Federal Constituency, also dumped the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) for the APC.
In their separate letters read by the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, the lawmakers said the reason for their defection was due to the internal crisis in their respective parties.
Onuh said she was leaving APGA due to leadership crisis at all levels of the party, adding she decided to leave after serious consultation with her people.
On his part, Abdullahi said he decided to leave the PRP as a result of the crisis, which led to emergence of two national chairmen for the party as well as two chairmen in Bauchi state.
The latest on the list of defectors, is the member representing Ondo East/Ondo West Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Abiola Peter Makinde.
He defected on February 23 from the African Democratic Congress (ADC) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
His defection was announced through a letter read by the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, at plenary.
Reading the letter, Gbajabiamila quoted the lawmaker as saying that he left his former party due to a protracted leadership crisis and other issues.
However, a member of the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Ossai Nicholas Ossai, objected to the defection, saying that defections were being done without recourse to the specific provisions of the law.
He said reasons for defections should be based on facts as required by the law.
Citing relevant sections of the Constitution, Ossai said unless cogent and established reasons were given by members defecting to other parties, their defections were null and void.
However, the Speaker said the reason for Hon Makinde’s defection from his former party is clearly stated in the letter.
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 months.