Some state legislatures have pronounced the seats of some lawmakers who defected from their political parties vacant, CHIBUZO UKAIBE captures the intrigues.
The recent spate of defections in the federal and state legislatures has opened a vista for political vendetta of sorts. It would seem that the status, circumstance and destination of the defector, defines how tortuous or otherwise his or her crossover becomes.
Since 1999, the trend has been that lawmakers in opposition parties enjoy relative ease while defecting to the ruling party both at the federal and state levels, thanks to the covering they enjoy from their new party.
Expectedly also, lawmakers defecting from the ruling party to the opposition party are subjected to very gruelling political experiences. They would have to rely on public sympathy and the support of their new party (which should have an appreciable number of seats in the chambers) to survive the barrage of attacks that would come from his or her former party.
Although analysts are wont to disagree with the moral argument for such defections, the fluidity of such cross carpetings is enhanced by the lack of core ideological base of the political parties which manifests in their propensity to implode easily.
Much like in the buildup to the 2015 general elections, the drama trailing the spate of defections playing out in the legislative arm isn’t any different. Former Speaker of the 7th House of Representatives and current governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, endured pressure from the then presidency controlled by the PDP when he defected to the APC.
At the federal level while some lawmakers who defected from the opposition PDP into the ruling APC have witnessed little or no heat, those who moved in the opposite direction have been put under pressure.
For instance, Senator Godswill Akpabio, the hitherto minority leader, has since secured a court order stopping the Senate leadership from declaring his seat vacant after he defected to the APC from the PDP. The fear for Akpabio is that the Senate President, Sen Bukola Saraki, might pronounce his seat vacant, a constitutional power he enjoys.
Former Senate President, Sen Ken Nnamani, had attested to this when he, in an interview some years ago, said “It is very clear. From the constitution, the powers of the senate president is enormous in matters like this. If he makes a pronouncement, he is just following the constitution.”
But Sen Saraki is in a battle of his own as he is under pressure to resign his seat amid repeated threats of his removal after he defected from the APC to the PDP. The national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, has sustained the call for his resignation from the position or else he would be removed.
But the removal of the Senator doesn’t come easy, especially on account of his or her defection. Perhaps that explains why it has happened only once since 1999, when the former Ondo State governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, had legally pursued the removal of Hon Ifedayo Abegunde in April 2015.
Abegunde who served as a two-term member of the House of Representatives for Akure North/South Federal Constituency, vacated office few weeks to the expiration of the seventh Assembly via Supreme Court judgment for defecting from Labour Party (LP) to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Despite this precedence and after series of defections at the federal legislative chambers, no other lawmaker has been made to vacate his or her seat on account of party defections.
So far however, the vacant seat threat following a defection seems to be worse in the state legislature. The Kogi State House of Assembly, didn’t hesitate to declare the seat of the immediate past Speaker of the House, Umar Ahmed representing Lokoja vacant.
The former Speaker had defected to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) stating that the ruling APC are in crisis and likewise declared his intention to contest the recent Lokoja/Kogi federal constituency by reelection.
The decision to declare his seat vacant was sequel to a letter sent to the House by the State Chairman of the All Progressive Congress, Abdullahi Bello, backed by a motion moved by the House Majority leader, Bello Hassan Abdullahi.
The majority leader backed his claim with the letter sent to the house by the former speaker announcing his defection to a new party.
Seconding the motion and the letter sent to the House for the seat of the embattled former speaker to be declared vacant, the deputy majority leader Ahmed Muhammed ( APC Ankpa I) declared that the motion was timely.
According to him, “There is no crisis in APC. The last time we defected to the ruling party, the PDP were in crisis.”
He also added to the prayers that, the official vehicle given to the former Speaker by the state government should be withdrawn.
When the floor of the House was open for deliberation by the current speaker Mathew Kolawole, (APC Kabba Bunu), the ex Speaker before Umar, Momohjimoh Lawal (PDP Okene II) disagreed with the letter of the All Progressives Congress and the motion moved by the majority leader.
“I disagree with the APC and this motion to declare the seat of our colleague vacant. We are all aware that, at the national level, there is Reformed APC which shows that there is crisis in the ruling party. Only the court of law can declare the seat of any member vacant. Mr speaker, you are a beneficiary of this defection. So why was your seat not declared vacant” Lawal averred.
He also cited section 109 subsection (1G) of the 1999 constitution to backup his claim.
Momoh Rabiu member representing (APC Ankpa II) in his remark notified his colleagues that, they are lawmakers and not law breakers, “Declaring the seat of the former speaker vacant is of no use to the members. I therefore distance my self from this motion “he noted.
Linus Eneche (APC Olamaboro) urged the members to have the fear of God. According to him, “Are we deliberating on the letter sent to the House by the All Progressives Congress Chairman in Kogi State or the motion moved by the majority leader. We should not forget that, it is Umar today and could be any of us tomorrow. Declaring the seat of the former speaker vacant to me is not necessary”.
Other lawmakers who distanced themselves from the motion are Barrister Oluwatoyin Lawal ( PDP Yagba West), Zakari Osewu ( APC Kogi Koton Karfe ), Obaro Pedro.
While those who supported the motion are Ododo Moses ( APC Dekina Beraidu), Abdulkareem Kekere ( APC Okehi), Lawi Ahmed (Okene I ), Adoke Muktar ( APC Adavi), John Aba (APC Ibaji), Jimoh Omiata (APC Yagba East).
In his summation, the Speaker of the House, Mathew Kolawole noted that he is on the side of the law on the matter before the House directed the Clerk to convene the resolution of the Assembly to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the former Speaker, Umar’s seat has become vacant.
When contacted, the embattled lawmaker, Umar said he had no comment to make because he had known for long that such will be carried out by those he claimed are taking “commands from the executive.“
Barely a week later, the Kaduna State House of Assembly declared the seats of the two lawmakers who defected from the APC to the PDP vacant.
The two members whose seats were declared vacant are the former Deputy Speaker of the House , Hon . John Audu – Kwaturu , representing Kachia constituency ; and the member representing Kudan constituency , Hon. Junaidu Yakubu.
They had claimed that they dumped the APC over what they described as “impunity ” in the party.
However , the Speaker , Aminu Abdullahi Shaghali, said the reasons adduced by the lawmakers were not tenable since there was no crisis or rancour in the party at both the state and the national levels , hence the lawmakers had to vacate their seats.
The lawmaker representing Makera Constituency, Dahiru Liman , nominated Hon . Nuhu Goroh Shadalafiya , Kagarko Constituency, as the new Deputy Speaker ; and Hon . Ahmed Mohammed of Zaria Kewaye Constituency seconded the motion.
The new Deputy Speaker , until now , was Chairman , House Committee on Information. He was immediately sworn in as the new Deputy Speaker .
The Niger House of Assembly took the cue also as it declared the seat of the member representing Tafa constituency, Danladi Iyah, vacant.
Iyah had announced his resignation from the All Progressives Congress in a letter read on the floor of the House by the Speaker , Alhaji Ahmed Marafa .
According to the letter , Iyah said he was leaving the APC due to ‘ untold hostility’ during the period of his membership of the party.
He explained that the hostility snowballed into his suspension in June 2018 and all efforts to get the suspension lifted were futile and claimed he was not given a fair hearing .
The decision to declare his seat vacant was sequel to a letter sent to the House by the State Chairman of the APC, Alhaji Jibril Imam, backed by a motion moved by Bala Abba ( Borgu , APC ) and seconded by Mohammed Haruna ( Bida II , APC ).
Abba noted that constitutionally , a member could only leave his party if there was a division , adding that the reason given by the lawmaker for his resignation from the APC was not tenable.
“The only ground on which a member can leave his party is if there is a division within that party.
“And since there is no division in the APC and he is leaving , his seat should be declared vacant , ’’ he added .
The House thereafter unanimously resolved to declare the member ’ s seat vacant through a voice vote .
When contacted , the embattled lawmaker said he would take legal action to challenge the decision of the House.
He said there was division at the national and the local government levels of his party, adding that those were enough reasons for him to leave.
Iyah wondered how the House could take such action when he has not formally written to it but had only notified them of his resignation.
According to him, the letter read on the floor was the one he wrote to his party at the Local Government, which was copied to the House without his knowledge.
Although the leadership of the state legislatures seem to be taking the action, pundits believe that the shots were called by the governors who are desirous of showing they are in full control of the political structures in their states. This scenario however reflects the debate over the independence of the state legislature, which are often labelled appendages of state governors.
However states like Kano, Benue and Akwa Ibom have also witnessed defections in their legislatures. Whether these legislatures will insist on declaring the seats of the lawmakers vacant is perhaps a matter of time.