By Adewale Kupoluyi
Anytime I get to read about how our politicians cross-carpet from one party to another, I feel greatly troubled and unhappy for two reasons. First, it shows the level of indiscipline in the polity. Secondly, it gives one the impression that our journey into the enthronement of good governance, sustainable development and vibrant democracy is becoming a mirage. Perhaps, more than ever before in the annals of the country, the last few weeks have witnessed a litany of defections from one party to another that makes it difficult to sit down and understudy any sound justification for such actions.
Ordinarily, it is allowed for people to associate freely with others that they share things in common. This does not only foster collaboration and better interaction, it could also facilitate synergy of ideas and initiatives that would bring about economic and socio-political transformation. In this sense, people of like minds come together to leverage on their strengths, capacities and capabilities to do extra-ordinary and outstanding things that would normally not have been possible without such alignments and realignments. That is on the positive side.
However, what we have seen so far in the Nigerian political landscape are betrayals, dishonesty, inconsistency, disregard for ethics, morals and good conscience. In the course of this discourse, I would try, as much as possible not to mention names of persons. No political party is spared from this practice; from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the Labour Party (LP) to the Accord Party (AP) and vice versa. The logical conclusion derivable from the trend is that, all politicians in Nigeria are simply the same! In this part of the world, ideology, philosophy and integrity appear to be completely absent in the political lexicon of our politicians. What seems to be paramount and the driving force behind their scheming and permutations are their personal interest and what they stand to gain from politics, and neither the desire to serve the nation, nor to strengthen democratic rule.
Under the present democratic experience, prominent politicians have cross-carpeted on the excuse of imposition of candidates, absence of free and fair primaries, lack of internal democracy and money-politicking. To justify their exit, the defectors had always created an impression of cracks in the party since the constitution, to a large extent, permits legislators to defect from any crisis-ridden party. Nonetheless, the alternative rationale being canvassed by the defectors on why they defected were unclear and untenable for human comprehension. They are not laced with any soundness or superior ideological argument. As of now, there seems to be no end in sight to defections because the existing laws that prohibit defections are too weak and encouraging impunity.
Section 68 (1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) stipulates 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.
The ambiguous definition given to ‘division’, as the legal basis for defection, has created more harm than good. The law only says that a legislator must be sponsored by a political party, but it is silent on what becomes of him/her, if he/she defects. As it is, there is a lacuna in the existing law because it did not specify clearly that elected officials should vacate their positions when they defect to other parties, which did not produce them ab initio. Furthermore, the constitution is silent on the fate of members of the executive; both at the federal and state levels that decide to decamp, as we have been seeing. The constitutional provisions, as they are presently, are one-sided. What then happens to principal officers of executive arm of government when they decamp from their parties that brought them into office?
Following the drastic decline in the numerical strength of legislators in the Senate, the implication is that the ruling party (APC) no longer enjoys a comfortable majority in the Upper Chamber. This decline may worsen the executive-parliamentary relations required for smooth governance. The second gale of defections may continue at the next plenary of the Senate and the House of Representatives, if nothing is done urgently, as it is becoming too close to party nominations for general elections. For a ruling political party that is already three years in power, many defections from its rank and file is nothing, but counter-productive.
Going back the memory lane, the first celebrated case of cross-carpeting took place in the nation in 1951, when members of the defunct National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) were induced to defect to the defunct Action Group (AG). This was to prevent the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, from becoming the premier of the old Western Region. In that episode, 20 out of the 42 NCNC lawmakers had crossed-over to the AG, making Azikiwe to lose the premiership of the Western Region. The Premier of the defunct Western Region in the First Republic, late Chief Ladoke Akintola also defected from the AG following disagreements with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to form the United People’s Party.
In the Second Republic, the late Chief Akin Omoboriowo, the then Deputy Governor to Chief Michael Ajasin of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the old Ondo State, defected to the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Omoboriowo became NPN’s gubernatorial candidate in the 1983 general election, whose outcome turned the state into deep crisis that led to serious political violence because of the perceived desperate move by the NPN to win the governorship election. To some extent, the defections can be said to be based on principles.
No doubt, the central role of political parties to democratic governance cannot be over-emphasised. Parties are veritable platforms for mobilisation, political socialisation and acculturation. These ideals can be enthroned when credible and serious-minded men and women to come together towards attaining national development by ensuring that state institutions work. If the nation is seriously pursuing a stable political culture that can truly mobilise the people to support national causes, aspirations and ideals. Hence, it is time we do away with moneybags and corrupt politicians in place of young, patriotic, purposeful and selfless leaders at all levels of governance in the country. Defection impedes development as defectors merely negotiate access to power and state resources mainly for their selfish ends. It brings forth retrogression and multiplies setbacks in a nascent democracy and spurs distrust in the minds of voters. Vibrant democracy requires active, objective and fearless opposition to keep the government in power on its toes and constantly under check for better performance. The politics of ‘bread and butter’, ‘stomach infrastructure’ and ‘survival of the fittest’, which is seemingly being practiced in the country, must be jettisoned. Politics in the nation, for now, portends backwardness and not too good omen for national development.
A lasting solution is a combination of many efforts. First is through constitutional amendment that could halt the tide of uncontrolled political defections. Not only that, the electorate should stop celebrating defectors by attending such in their droves singing and dancing. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should increase advocacy in this regard, relevant institutions within the National Assembly should regularly organise programmes that would bring about attitudinal change of the law makers to see reasons why defections should be discouraged. Political parties should imbibe internal democracy and discipline. Nigerians deserve better governance and leadership in 2019 and beyond.
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