Defection Of Lawmakers: Political Parties May Petition State, National Assemblies

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Major political parties are exploring administrative and legal means to force legislative bodies at the state and national levels to enforce the laws of the country and declare the seats of lawmakers who have defected from the political platforms they were elected.

The plot could lead to the All Progressives’ Congress, the People’s Democratic Party the Labour Party and YPP all petitioning legislative bodies at the state or national levels where they feel short-changed.

States where at least one lawmaker has defected since June when they were inaugurated include Anambra, Kogi, Enugu, Rivers, Yobe and Kaduna with the PDP being the worst hit.

So far, only one federal lawmakers, Senator Ifeanyi Uba has changed parties, dumping YPP for the APC.

In Yobe, Hon.  Lawan Musa Majakura, was the only PDP member and was celebrated for defeating the Yobe State of Assembly Speaker during the 2023 elected also dumped the PDP, which had given him its ticket without any contest.

Idowu Ibikunle, representing Yagba West at the Kogi House of Assembly won on the platform of the African Democratic Party but later joined the APC.

And in Kaduna, Godfrey Ali Gaiya representing Zango Kataf in the state assembly left PDP for the APC.

Based on the constitution, Section 109(1) (g) A member of a House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if “being a person whose election to the House of Assembly 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.”

A senior lawyer based in Lagos, Samuel Efosa believes that in the famous case of Abegunde against the Ondo State House of Assembly, the Supreme Court held that a lawmaker’s seat can only be declared vacant if their original party petitions the House due to a defection to another party. But no party has written a petition.

“So, looking at these sections of the law, which the apex court of the land backs up, you will find it difficult to understand why the issue of lawmaker defection remains contentious.

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Efosa stated that the reason why the issue continues to generate controversy is because Nigerians often fail to comply with the law, even when the law is very clear.

Efosa pointed out that the courts, including the Supreme Court, have ruled on the issue of lawmaker defection, but many politicians still choose not to obey the law.

He said, “It is clear that legislators cannot defect to another party unless it is due to a division in the political party that sponsored their election or a merger.

“Also, Section 109(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “A member of the House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if being a person whose election to the House of Assembly was sponsored by another political party; he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected.”

The defection of state legislators could aid or hinder the parties’ abilities to win other elective office like federal seats, the office of governor and even the presidency.

Recognising that more lawmakers could defect in the build-up to the next general election, party officials at the state level who usually suffer the consequences of losing elected officials to rival parties are strategizing on ways to make switching parties immediately after winning an election unattractive.

This, according to some party stakeholders who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday, include step-by-step moves as declared by the Supreme Court on declaring seats of lawmakers who defect vacant.

The Chairman of the Labour Party in Enugu State, Barrister Casmir Agbo has disclosed that they will approach the court to compel the speaker of the state house of assembly to declare the seats of six lawmakers elected on the platform of the Labour Party that decamped to the PDP.

Agbo stated this in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Sunday in Enugu, adding that they will file their petition next week.

It will be recalled that the six labour party lawmakers officially announced their defection to the ruling PDP last month.

The lawmakers announced their defection on the floor of the House during plenary.

The defectors stated that their defection was as a result of the “existence of irreconcilable division, incessant crisis within the labour party at the national level and across all the state chapters.

“Regrettably, the party has evolved into state of perpetual discord with various factions embroiled in legal battles thereby undermining its ability to effectively serve the interest of the people.

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“The Labour party once a beacon of hope for progressive ideas have regrettably become synonymous with internal squabbles, thereby reducing its capacity to fulfil the aspirations of electorates.

They cited the cases of Abure and Apapa factions as well as the national treasurer as some of the divisions within the party.

They expressed hope that the PDP will give them the platform to continue to serve the interests of their people and thanked the leaderships of Labour Party for their supports.

It was gathered that those that announced their defection include: the Chief Whip of the House and member representing Igboeze North I, Hon. Ejike Eze; the leader of the House and member representing Enugu North, Hon. Johnson Ugwu; the member representing Enugu South Urban, Hon. Princess Ugwu.

Reacting to the defection of the six members, the spokesman of the Enugu State House of Assembly who was elected on the platform of the Labour Party, Harrison Ogara said though they have freedom of movement, they should know that there is a section of the constitution that stated that any member of a political party that defects to another political party without fulfilling the constitutional provisions for defection will automatically lose his or her seat.

Ogara insisted that there is no crisis both at ward, local government, state levels of the party as well as the national level of the party that would have warranted them to cross carpet.

He stated that they only quoted a section of the party without looking at other sections that make it clear that would lose their positions.

 

 PDP In Turmoil In Rivers

Though Civil Society Organizations have already filed a case at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt challenging the defection of 27 state lawmakers from PDP to APC, the ruling party in the state plans to file its own case knowing the speaker, who also defected won’t respond to a petition, if and when it is submitted.

The PDP in Rivers State said it will soon approach the court to seek the interpretation of relevant sections of the Nigerian Constitution as it affects the 27 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly, who decamped to the APC.

PDP publicity secretary in the state, Tambari Sydney Gbara, disclosed this in a chat with LEADERSHIP Sunday in Port Harcourt, the state capital.

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Gbara explained the seats of the 27 affected lawmakers had already been declared vacant by former factional Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Edison Ehie.

He said: “The 27 seats had already been declared vacant by the former Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Edison Ehie. We as a party know the rules and we know the provisions of the constitution.

“So, at this point, we are poised to explore every legal means to ensure that Section 109, Sub-section 1(g) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, is interpreted and applied in accordance to the actions of those lawmakers. That is what we are working towards.”

The lawmakers that left the PDP are loyal to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike and in their separate letters attributed their decision to leave the PDP to the leadership crisis rocking the opposition political party at the national level.

However, on December 31, 2023, Ehie, who represented Ahoada-East 2 Constituency in the House, resigned as both factional Speaker and member representing his onstituency.

Except speaker of the Anambra state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Somtochukwu Udeze, no other member of the state assembly has left the political party platform he was elected on and joined another party.

Hon. Udeze, however, left the PDP, shortly after he won his re-election under the party’s platform during the 2023 general election and joined the ruling party in the state All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, even before the inauguration of the state assembly.

Upon the inauguration of the state Assembly, he, eventually emerged Speaker of the 30- member state Assembly which is composed of the following political party members: APGA (17), Labour Party (8) and Young Progressives Party, YPP (3).

Meanwhile, since the inauguration of the state Assembly Hon. Udeze’s crossing over from the PDP to APGA, an act that paved the way for his eventual emergence as speaker, has not generated any controversy in the state assembly.

 

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