Defection by political office holders in Nigeria is not a new phenomenon. Historically, Nigerians have experienced defections in the legislature otherwise known as “cross-carpeting”. Defections in the executive arm are fairly recent. The most striking in this regard, is the change of parties by a serving Vice President in 2009, and more recently by five erstwhile Governors.
Furthermore, while the Constitution expressly provides consequences for defection by members of the legislature, no such express provisions exist for members of the executive arm. The constitutional provision in sections 68(1) (g) and particularly the meaning of the phrase “division” in the proviso to these provisions have hitherto been the subject of much controversy. The recent Supreme court decision in Abegunde’s case appear to have substantially resolved the controversy albeit other concerns such as the capacity in which the Head of the legislature acts, the absence of corresponding
provisions on the executive and the implication of the constitutional requirement of party sponsorship for elective offices.
The Roundtable on Political Defections was convened by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies with a view to examining these and other related issues. The Event which held at the Shehu Musa Ya’adua Centre Abuja was declared open by Honourable Attorney General of the Federation. Other dignitaries at the event include Hon. Ali Ahmad, Chair House Committee on Justice and Judiciary, and Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi the special guest of honour.
In addition to the NIALS faculty, The Roundtable had in attendance several distinguished experts who examined the following issues –
(a) Professor Attahiru Jega:- Defection and Integrity of
(b) Mr Joseph B. Daudu, SAN:- Constitutional Provision on the
Effect of defection
(c) Professor Nnamdi Aduba:- The Presidential System and
(d) Ms Ebele Ogwuda:- Implication of Abegunde’s Case on
the Constitutional Provision.
Ignatius Ayua SAN and Profesors E. Alemika respectively moderated the morning and afternoon sessions of the Roundtable.
In the course of the Roundtable participants:
1. The word “Defect” or “Defection” is defined as ‘the act of leaving a political party, country etc to join another that is considered to be an opposition’. This act, when engaged in flippantly and outside the rules of political bellum is an act of treachery and dishonesty of the highest order.
2. Defection or Carpet-Crossing by Political Office holders or Nigerian politicians generally is not a new phenomenon but one that has persisted since the first republic in the period leading to independence of Nigeria as a sovereign nation.
3. In advanced democracies, reasons adduced by politicians for defection include divergent views on the operations of parties’ philosophy, crisis, division, and party leaders reneging on agreements.
4. In Nigeria of late, most defection cases, have been mainly informed by personality clash, financial considerations, power tussles, personal glorification, etc.
5. A political party is a political association that complies with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010. It is the only body permitted by the Constitution to
canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expense of any candidate at the election.
6. A political party is expected to have its own program, aims and objectives and its ideological platform which according to section
224 of the CRFN 1999, must not be contrary to the provisions of chapter II of the Constitution.
7. The following principles guiding the relationship between a candidate seeking elective office and the political party sponsoring him have been judicially established:
a) Nobody may contest an election without being a member of a political party.
b) Political parties have the power to nominate and sponsor a candidate without interference from INEC or even the courts.
c) It is a political party that wins an election.
8. Votes cast at an election are cast for the sponsoring political party.
9. The wave of defections from one party to another in the National Assembly since 2007 is alarming and detrimental to sustainable development of democracy in Nigeria.
10. The freedom to freely associate with any party under section 40 of the 1999 Constitution cannot be exercised without regard to
extant provisions of the Constitution on the right of political parties who sponsor candidates and the duty of the Senate President or House speaker under section 68 of the same Constitution.
11. The combined provisions of section 68(1) (g) and subsection (2) of the same section, makes it clear that action on the part of the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives is required to give effect to the provisions of sub-section (1) by presenting satisfactory evidence to the House that any of the provisions of that sub-section has become applicable to the legislative member concerned.
12. Although the provision imposes a duty on the Senate President or Speaker of the House inaction on their part cannot readily be challenged thus creating a loophole for non-observance of the provisions of the section.
13. The Constitution is silent on the consequence of defection by the President or Vice President as well as a Governor or Deputy Governor. The provisions of Sections 189,190,191 of the CFRN do not explicitly proscribe party defections as one of the scenarios under which the office of a Governor or his Deputy will be declared vacant. While there exists on record an instance of defection of a sitting vice president, there is no record of defection by a sitting President in Nigerian political history.
14. the recommendation of the 2014 Constitutional Conference to modify section 68 by deleting the proviso and stipulating automatic loss of seat of a defector for both executive and legislative office holders.
15. The controversy generated by the proviso in section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution to the effect that a member of the National Assembly will not lose his seat where defection is caused or driven by a division in the former political party or a merger involving the former political party.
16. The limitations of the recent decision of the Supreme Court In Abegunde’s case, which while interpreting “division in a political party” in the light of Section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution held that the type of division that will entitle defection pursuant to the section above is the division that makes it “impossible or impracticable” for the party to function.
17. The need for a viable Opposition to play the role of a watchdog in order to make government more accountable, and check the excesses of the ruling party.
AND RECOMMENDED THAT:
1. For the purposes of deepening the practice of democracy in Nigeria, any elected politician (whether executive or legislative arm) that defects to another party should automatically loss his or her seat
and be eligible to re-contest for that seat on the platform of his new political party.
2. The exception in relation to defection in consequence of a merger of political parties should be preserved
3. INEC should withdraw the certificate of return of any elected candidate that defects.
4. Political Parties should be encouraged by INEC to draw up clear principles and manifestos distinguishable from other.
5. There is need to give constitutional roles to opposition parties. The legislatures have engendered this in terms of constituency allowances and the distribution of chairmanship of committees. There is need to de-emphasize a winner-takes all approach, by ensuring that constituents still see even losers as leaders of thought. Some examples include instituting consultative forums or elders forums.
Adopted today, May 19th, 2015,
Prof. Adedeji Adekunle
Director General, NIALS