Defection: When Lawmakers Stand The Law On Its Head

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House Call with ADEBIYI ADEDAPO

The rank of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) further depleted yesterday, as two members of the House of Representatives defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

The development has, again, put to test the efficacy of section 68 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), which states the condition that warrants the seat of a lawmaker to be declared vacant.

Specifically, section 68 subsection 1(g) stipulates that a member of the Senate or that of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat if his election to any of the two chambers was sponsored by a political party and he later chooses to become 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.

However, this section seems to be existing only on paper, as no seat has ever been declared vacant due to defection of a member from one party to another. I stand to be corrected.

Unfortunately, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, created a bigger window for potential defectors to explore when he opined that the constitution was not specific in terms of what constitutes division in a political party. Dogara suggested that a division within the state, local government or even ward chapter of a political party could mean division in the party.

Dogara’s view sounded like a deliberate ploy to circumvent the truth on the altar of politics and party loyalty. It is more so considering the fact that it came as a response to the demand by the Minority Whip of the House, Hon Yakubu Barde, that defectors’ seats should be declared vacant.

This is another setback in our democratic practice, particularly that in which the Speaker chose to interpret the law in favour of his political party, in the name of exploring a ‘loophole’ in the constitution.

I make bold to disagree with the Speaker on the intention of the lawmakers in this context.  First and foremost, state, local government or ward chapter of a political party does not sponsor candidates for a political party, rather the National Working Committee of the party does. To this end, division within any other organ of the party should not by law suffice as division within the party. This is even so when the constitution of the party defines how such internal wrangling should be handled.

The intention of the lawmakers can also be measured by the last phrase in that section, as the lawmakers envisaged a situation where two or more political parties enter into a merger. I don’t think a chapter of a political party or any other organ of the party could be assumed to have merged with another party when the National Working Committee of the merging party is intact.

I am surprised that the Speaker feigned ignorance of this and pronounced that division in the PDP, in this case, is a subject of litigation, thereby referring the party to the judiciary for interpretation.

This is Nigeria, a country where laws can be interpreted to suit a particular purpose to make it convenient for the powers that be and interpreted them otherwise when the situation is different.

I wonder how long it will take the judiciary to decide this matter should the PDP approach the court, taking into cognisance the fact that the life of this 8th Assembly expires in about 18 months?

Dogara tactically waved his constitutional responsibility as enshrined in section 68(2) of the constitution to give effect to sub-section 1 of the same section.

It is my hope that the PDP will test this in the court, at least to form another precedence in our laws and constitutional development.

A Word For Dorathy Mato

After a prolonged legal battle, the member representing Konshisha/Vandeikya federal constituency, Dorathy Mato, was on Tuesday sworn-in to replace the erstwhile representative, Herman Hembe.

Mato was denied her position for about three months after the Supreme Court judgment which sacked Hembe declared her the valid candidate of the APC in the 2015 election.

Understandably, Mato expressed her gratitude to God, the judiciary as well as the media that, at different times and fora, called on the leadership of the House to respect the order of the apex court.

I can only advice the new honourable member to always remember the days when rule of law and the people stood by her. By this, she will undoubtedly use her good office to uphold the rule of law and advance the interests of the people.

I feel a sense of personal fulfilment because Ï personally fought on the side of justice. Congratulations Hon (Mrs) Dorathy Mato.

Views From Constituencies

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