Defections and the Contours of Political Power -By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Filed under: Political Issues |

The gale of defections from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) raises a fundamental question about the strength of our democracy and the established core of democracy, which is choice. Democracy has no meaning and power if there are no guarantees for the right of the individual to freedom of choice, association and dissent. At the same time, defection is a fraud on voters as it impairs democracy because voters’ decisions, as expressed in their votes, are overturned by the unilateral conduct of an elected person, who becomes interest-driven in a power game. In the last few years, defections have been stretched to farcical limits by political players who feel shortchanged in the power equation. When threatened with the loss of power or diminished influence, they defect to another party, abandoning the platform on which they got their mandate. Defections due to disgruntlement is now part of Nigeria’s political culture and regular party shopping is expected of our politicians. To a large extent, it is presently an acceptable behaviour.

Under section 68 (1) (g) of the Constitution, it is stated that: “A member of the senate or the House of Representatives shall
vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if 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. Provided that his membership of the latter political party 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
(Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, p.34).

As a lay person, this law shows how lame, shortsighted and narrowly defined our laws can be. It points to our reactionary attitude and notorious short-termism. This law certainly does not apply to governors. It specifically prohibits legislators from defecting to another party. While a merger by two or more parties is allowed, defection by individuals is permitted only if the defecting member first gives up his legislative seat. In hindsight, the creation of the Reformed-All Progressives Congress (R-APC) may have been designed to fulfill the fictionalisation requirement in this law, and immunise defectors from paying the price of giving up their seat. Legislators are also banking on the long judicial process, hoping there will be little time to invoke the rule of law and have defectors disqualified and for by-elections to be held for their seats. With these convoluted arrangements, it will be tough and unnecessary to remove Saraki. The speaker or the Senate President can be removed by two thirds of the legislators.

Once again, these defections underscore the reason why we should always respect the rule of law as a necessary condition for our democracy to develop and strengthen. The pertinent question to ask is: Who owns a seat? The question of seat ownership is important because party shopping have significant consequences. The Supreme Court verdict upholding Yahaya Bello as the governor of Kogi State asserts that an election won by a candidate is one won for the party because of the existence of an agency relationship between the candidate and party. Besides, there is no room for independent candidature in our politics. Without a party logo or symbol, a person will not be on the ballot and without the machinery and resources of a party, an individual is unlikely to be elected. With that, we can reasonably conclude that voters do not vote for candidates, they vote for parties. Therefore, an elected representative, senator, governor, has no personal claim to the seat he holds. The seat belongs to the party.

From news reports and interviews, politicians have cleverly advanced the argument that the seat rightly belongs to the voters, who want them to exercise judgment on their behalf by defecting if the representative believes defection to another party is in the best interests of those he is representing. That is interesting. Splitting hairs and pushing the envelope is what politicians do. However, be it party ownership or representative ownership, we must resist this recurring election time orgy and demand the resignation of defectors and ask them to surrender the seat and put their decision and the justifications for it to an immediate test in a by-election on the plank of their changed loyalty.

What happens next will be interesting to students of Nigerian politics because the defections from APC has not been unexpected; the splinter was long in coming. What it has done is that, it has contributed to the general unease caused by the economic anxiety and mass killings in the land. Right from the onset, the APC was an amalgam of disunited interests and a victim of its own success, intrigues and planned hijack. No party can achieve its goals where there are plots with many conflicting individual and group agenda. No party can succeed when the leader of the party, the president, cedes his mandate to a cabal of his own creation. A good party must be able to keep its members united, maintain a coherent policy platform and avoid situations that can damage the party’s reputation with voters, who may withdraw their support from a divided party. Knowing how APC was formed and the intrigues plaguing it from birth, it is fair to acknowledge that it is a legitimate strategy for oppositions and political gladiators to deplete the ranks of the APC. Saraki and his gang have their game plan. They seem confident their bold gamble will pay off. Are the defectors facing short-term fame but long-term obscurity? Time will tell. We can only wish them the best of luck.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo