Decamping legislators: Caught in the act

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The legal dispute over the defection of 37 members from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to the All Progressives Congress, APC is a threat to the integrity of the Tambuwal phenomenon.

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor and Emman Ovuakporie

*National Assembly

*National Assembly

IT was evident there was trouble last Tuesday when the chamber of the House of Representatives recorded 165 members of the 360 legislators in session. The trend had been for the lawmakers not to form a quorum of 120 in their lawmaking sessions in the past. However, with almost half of the lawmakers in the chamber, no one needed to be told that there were signs of conspiracy in the air.

The day before, Justice Adeniyi Ademola had shaken the political firmament when he gave judgment in the suit filed by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to stop 37 former members of the party who crossed over to the All Progressives Congress, APC from participating in any move to change the leadership of the House.

Having perused the arguments of counsel and the constitutional provisions, it is clear and unambiguous that the defendants were sponsored by the PDP and won the election on its platform. It is also the courtfs opinion that their tenure has not expired and there is no division in the PDP.

The defendants are, therefore, not competent to vote or contribute to any proceedings in the House of Representatives. An order of perpetual injunction is, hereby, ordered, restraining them from altering or attempting to change the leadership of the House of Reps,h Mr. Ademola had ruled.

The court case followed two actions respectively filed by the 37 former PDP House members and the party following their defection to the APC last December.

Once the lawmakers defected last December, the impression was created that the APC had gained the superiority in numbers in the House putting the PDP for the first time as a minority since the inception of the Fourth Republic.

Just before they defected, the legislators upon feelings that the PDP would come against them had gone to court to obtain an injunction against the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark and Speaker Aminu Tambuwal from declaring their seats vacant.

With the ruling party being rubbished all around, the PDP responded when it asked Justice Ademola in early January to grant a perpetual injunction against the 37 lawmakers from participating in any move to change the leadership of the House or the Senate.

The party also asked the court to stop the members from defecting.
The PDP’s action was especially ironical, given several claims that Speaker Tambuwal who the party was seeking to protect has largely been alleged to be a closet member of the APC.

Remarkably, only last Friday, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, who heard the petition of the decamped legislators ruled that the PDP could not declare the seats of the legislators vacant.
The print on Mohammedfs ruling had hardly dried when Justice Ademola ruled on Monday that the legislators had no moral or legal reason to remain members of the House.

The judgment immediately brought ferocious response from the affected legislators, the APC national leadership which called on the National Judicial Council, NJC to fire Justice Ademola.

APC House leader, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila described the judgment as strange and an affront to the right of association of the lawmakers.  “It negates a fundamental right of association of every citizen that is inalienable. Section 68 of the constitution has been turned on its head and the error of the court is manifest”.

Continuing, the minority leader declared that “Section 68 was never argued in court by any of the parties.  The judge gave an opinion he was never asked to give and an argument that was never canvassed before him”.

Hon. Samson Osagie, the House minority whip in his reaction described the judgment as one given in ignorance saying that the procedures on leadership change were clearly spelt out by the constitution. He said the attempt by the trial judge to impose a stipulation on the House members was clearly vain even as he pooh-poohed suggestions by the judge that the members were bent on changing the leadership.

Osagie said the judgment would be appealed as he further claimed that it had no bearing on the constitution and the rules of the House.
The deputy House Leader, Rep. Leo Ogor, however, differed saying that “the seats they occupy belong to PDP, it is not an individual seat but that of the party”.

“We were more than convinced that the court will do the right thing because you do not need a rocket scientist to interpret Section 68(1) (g) of the constitution”.
“I’ve always emphasised this position that you cannot reap where you did not sow, our party has demonstrated that it respects the law of the land”.

Beyond the denunciations the APC was also quick to appeal the judgment and the papers were quickly sent to Speaker Tambuwal.
It was not surprising then that despite the ghugeh turnout of members last Tuesday that nothing on the court judgment was mentioned in the House sitting that day.

But that did not mean that nothing was happening. Prior to the Tuesday session, both PDP and APC legislators held separate strategy sessions where they contemplated their options.

Despite their different political leanings, many are not oblivious to the fact that the warring sides were not too long ago aligned in securing the integrity of the Tambuwal House. For now, all sides remain committed to securing the Tambuwal leadership. However, no one is disputing the fact that the House is under stress.

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