By Emman Ovuakporie
FOLLOWING the defection of 37 members of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in the House of Representatives, last December, to All Progressives Congress, APC, fear of leadership change has gripped members of the ruling party in the House. As members of the House get set to resume after nearly three weeks’ Christmas break, Nigerians should expect drama over the likely change in the leadership of the House.
Since the defection of 37 PDP members to the opposition APC which left the former with 171 legislators as against latter’s 172, there have been reports of imminent change in the House leadership. The defection has constituted a threat to the majority advantage the PDP has enjoyed in the House since 1999. The defection followed the crisis that has rocked the party since August 31, 2013 when seven of its governors staged a walk-out from its mini-convention in Abuja.
This development resulted in the formation of the ‘New PDP’. Consequently, the party leaders made efforts to make peace with the warring party stalwarts.The crisis took a twist when five out of the seven aggrieved governors alongside their ‘New PDP’ leader Abubakar Kawu Baraje announced their ‘merger’ with the opposition APC.
The 37 ex-PDP lawmakers from Kano, Sokoto, Kwara, Rivers, Bauchi and Katsina States followed their governors in the ‘New PDP’ to APC.
The PDP leadership moved to declare the seats of the defected lawmakers vacant through a court action.
This was after the party had failed to get Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal to declare the lawmakers’ seats vacant on the strength of an Abuja High court restraining order.
One of the defected members, Hon Yakubu Dogara (APC, Bauchi), described the PDP’s move to declare their seats vacant as a joke. “That’s the depth of decay we have sunk to. The rule of law means nothing in the strange democracy we practise here. Take a look at Section 68(1) (g) of the Constitution which the party is referring to. The power to declare defecting members’ seats vacant is solely vested in the presiding officer, the Senate President or Speaker of the House, as the case may be.
“It’s in black and white. Section 68 (1) (g) of the Constitution does not mention INEC, the courts or any party for that matter. It’s a demonstration of crass ignorance for PDP to have written to INEC or even go to court to have defecting members’ seats declared vacant. Thank God INEC swiftly replied that it lacks the constitutional powers to do so,” he said.
Dogara added, “Even in these days of black market judgments, it will be near impossible for any judge to interpret section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution which does not mention the court as conferring the powers to declare defecting members’ seats vacant. That will amount to judicial rascality of the highest order.”
Despite the fact that APC now enjoys simple majority in the House, it requires about nine more lawmakers to take over the leadership.
But ahead of the House’s return to legislative business on Tuesday, there are strong indications that more PDP members may join APC.
A source told Sunday Vanguard that the APC was expecting about 20 more defectors in the House from Benue, Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, Niger,Kano, Taraba, Plateau and Adamawa states among others.
If Speaker Tambuwal defects to the APC and the party is able to garner the required 181 members to topple PDP in the House, PDP will be left with no option than to settle for positions such as minority leader, deputy minority leader, minority whip and deputy minority whip.
Some APC members are said to be adamant that Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha is removed as soon as the party attains majority status in the House. But deputy spokesman of the House, Rep Victor Afam Ogene (APGA, Anambra), assured that the lawmakers had no plan to remove Ihedioha.
“The report that the deputy speaker will be removed when we resume is the handiwork of fifth columnists trying to cause crisis among members before resumption. People should not forget that besides political affiliations, we all belong to a group called House Project which saw to the emergence of the current House leadership.
“What will happen is a seamless transfer. As soon as the party with the majority members notify the speaker that they have majority- that is if the APC notifies the speaker that they now have the majority number and he cross-checks with the clerk, the change will be immediate.
“Resignation, death or impeachment are the only ways that a vacancy can occur in the office of the speaker or deputy or indeed, any other principal officer’s position,” Ogene said.
Also, the chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Albert Sam-Tsokwa (PDP, Taraba), said, last week, that the defection to APC would not affect the chamber leadership composition, saying “the leadership of the House of Representatives remains intact, having enjoyed and is still enjoying the confidence of the members.”
But lending credence to the defection of more PDP members to APC, Hon Dogara said, in an interview with Sunday Vanguard, that more members would join them as APC was the party to beat.
Meanwhile, the deputy majority leader in the House, Hon. Leo Ogor (PDP, Delta), doused the fear of leadership change, describing it as a “mere storm in a tea cup.”
Ogor, who insisted that PDP was the majority party in the House, said, “We are not jittery and we are ready to combat whatever situation we meet on the floor of the House, because we are still in majority.
“We are not scared of any plan or whatever grand design to change the leadership because they can’t do anything. We are still in control of the House leadership as far as I’m concerned, and there is no shaking.
“We have all the necessary technical know how to handle the situation, legally and otherwise. For instance, the decampees went to a competent court of jurisdiction to seek an injunction that the status quo should remain without necessarily declaring their seats vacant.
“They do not own any seat. The seat belongs to PDP not to individuals; that is what they do not know. Those who defected are technically still members of the PDP until a court of competent jurisdiction declares otherwise. We do not need a rocket scientist to interpret the Constitution to us on this issue. “
To give credence to the threat to unseat them by the emerging scenario in the House, Deputy Speaker Ihedioha, Majority Leader Mulikat Akande-Adeola, Ogor and other principal officers of the House in the PDP went to court on Monday to stop any attempt by the APC lawmakers to remove them.
This is a pointer to the fact that all may not be well as the House resumes in another 48 hours.