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Cross carpetting, a threat to our democracy?

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By Emmanuel Aziken, Abuja
The hypocrisy of the Nigerian political class was at its zenith in the chambers of the nation’s highest legislative chamber last Tuesday.

Senators had in the course of debate on President Umaru Yar‘Adua’s legislative proposal to amend the constitution repeatedly cited cross carpeting by elected political office holders as one of the pitfalls of the nation’s democracy.


Many thus welcomed the President’s proposal that elected executive office holders, notably the President, Governors and their deputies who decamp from the political parties on which they were elected should vacate office.

The bill for an act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 aims to alter among others, section 135 of the Constitution to the extent of stopping a President from decamping from the political party on whose platform he is elected.

A new clause (d) to be implanted after paragraph (c) of Section 135 on the condition under which a President may cease to hold office reads thus:
“(d) he becomes a member of another political party different from the political party which sponsored his election to the office of President.”

A similar provision to bar sitting governors from decamping from the political party on whose platform they were elected to another party is to be implanted in Section 180 of the Constitution which spells out conditions under which a governor may vacate office.

The proposal is to supplement the subsisting provisions in the constitution which presently prohibit elected members of the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly from decamping. The only exception is where there is a crisis in the party.

The distinguished Senators were, however, quick to jettison their words last Tuesday when Senator Satty Gogwin became the first Senator in the present Senate to decamp. Senator Gogwin who made name as the David that slaughtered the Goliath framed political operator, Senator Ibrahim Mantu in the Plateau Central senatorial election was again the one breaking the ice.

His decision to decamp from the Action Congress (AC), the party on whose platform he was elected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was a direct affront to the subsisting constitutional clause that a legislator who decamps should vacate office.

In his letter to the Senate President on his decision to leave the AC for the PDP, Gogwin said:

“I Senator Satty Gogwin wish to announce my defection from the Action Congress (AC) a party on which I contested election in 2007 and the re_run election in 2008 to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the greatest party in black Africa.”

“This action was taken by me and thousands of my supporters in Plateau State including some Executive members and elders of the party at all levels as a result of the crisis and division bedeviling the Action Congress in the State.”

Section 68 (1) (g) of the constitution states a member may vacate his seat 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;

However, when Gogwin made his move last Tuesday the event was characterized by much adulation by many PDP Senators who overlooked the very words that they canvassed during the debate.

The only word of caution came from Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora, the Deputy Minority Leader and Leader of the AC caucus in the National Assembly.

Senator Mamora who claimed to be a chummy friend of Gogwin in his assertion said that he would not allow his personal affection for Gogwin to becloud his responsibility to the constitution.

“Senator Satty is my friend, my brother and is my colleague. He is dear to me to that extent, but Mr. President and this Distinguished Senate it pains me to say that much as Senator Satty is dear to me, truth is dearer still to me,” he started as the President of the Senate, Chief David Mark and other Senators heard his homily.

Describing Gogwin’s defection as a moral question on the Senate, he said:
“The truth is that while I am not saying that a colleague cannot cross over, cross or cannot jump the ship, I am saying that in the constitution as we have it now, the conditions precedent for that have not been complied with.

I am saying that why the constitution is silent on the cross carpeting or jumping of ship by members of the executive, it is not silent on that of members of the National Assembly.’

Pointing to the sack of members of the Plateau State House of Assembly in 2007 following their defection from the PDP to the AC, he said:

“Let me remind your good self that in the same Plateau State in the last dispensation, 14 members of one Party decamped and they lost their seat in that State Assembly. 14 members of PDP in Plateau State decamped and they lost their seats because it is self fulfilling and the Constitution is clear under which condition a member can cross carpet.’

“What the Constitution says in the case of members of the Assembly is; the member shall vacate. It does not say may vacate and to the extent that there is no division in the Action Congress and we all know this. I am saying that we as Senators who are privileged to be in legislative Olympian height, we have a duty not just to our selves but to this country to ensure that we protect the Constitution that we all canvassed to defend,” he submitted.

Senator Mark was, however, quick to put Mamora to task on the issue of morality raised by the Deputy Minority Leader.

I want to rule on the point of Order and I need some level of clarification. “You said that it is a moral crisis. On who?,” the Senate President asked?

“You said that there is no crisis in the Action Congress, You are speaking as a Senator isn’t it and not as an official of the party,” Mark continued trying to question Mamora’s capacity to confirm the integrity of the AC.

Mamora, however, stood his ground affirming that there was no crisis in the AC as to justify Gogwin’s decamping from the party.

“Mr. Senate President, with every due respect, I think I am ranking enough to know what is happening in the party and I am saying that there is no division in the party and that is the truth.’

Dismissing Mamora’s claim, Senator Mark said:
“So Satty is the one who is taking the risk and not you. So if he has taken the risk, you leave him to his fate because I don’t see what your point of order would do here. You are not a party official. You are a member of the party just like he is. If he has decided to take the risk, what is your point of order now?’

Continuing, Mark said:
“Satty has a letter showing that there is a division in AC and he has taken the risk, you leave him to his fate and if he has taken the risk, what is your point of order here that I should rule that he should not take the risk.

If you feel otherwise, the right place to protest against it is not on the floor here. I cannot stop him from decamping and you cannot stop him either. It is not really your problem so your Order cannot be sustained. I rule you out of Order.’

Following Mark’s cavalier dismissal of the point of order the Senate proceed with the debate on the constitution amendment bill. As if forgetting what they had just done, the Senators again went on to declaim cross carpeting as an evil besetting the nation’s democracy.

But that was not before the Minority Leader, Senator Maina Maji Lawan described what happened on the floor as a tragic day for democracy. The seeming hypocrisy of the legislators on the issue was also demonstrated by President Yar‘Adua, the very author of the proposal against cross carpeting.

President Yar‘Adua had last weekend led national officers of the party and PDP bigwigs to receive Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State back to the PDP. Yuguda, the President’s son in law was elected on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2007.

He became ANPP’s gubernatorial flag bearer for the 2007 election following the internal crisis in the Bauchi State PDP that drove him to the ANPP.

Yuguda indeed became the only ANPP flag bearer to defeat the PDP from any of the States controlled by the PDP during the 2007 round of general elections.

His election was by all accounts achieved through a massive outpouring of goodwill from the electorate who sympathized with him on account of his local problems with the then Governor, Adamu Muazu.

Even though Muazu was accounted as one of the best performing Governors between 1999 and 2007, the Bauchi electorate was able to overlook his achievements to enthrone his political foe, Yuguda as Governor. Hence the morality that has now come to shadow Governor Yuguda’s steps back to the PDP.

President Yar‘Adua’s personal reception of the Governor despite his articulation of the proposal to ban cross carpeting has indeed been questioned.

The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) has indeed questioned the President’s electoral reform agenda alleging that President Yar‘Adua is drumming an orchestra of deception.

Mr. Osita Okechukwu the CNPP spokesman told Saturday Vanguard that such  deceptions have indeed been the President’s trade in stock right from his days as Governor of Katsina State.

“President Yar`Adua is drumming the orchestra of deception and his metaphor right from Katsina is flip_flop,” he said.

Indeed allegations of insincerity have trailed the ongoing constitution review exercise adopted by the National Assembly.

Though the two chambers of the National Assembly have constituted their delegations to a National Assembly Joint committee on Constitution Review (JCCR), intrigues have bedeviled the work of the committee.

The committee is presently moribund as both chambers have seemingly opted for separate exercises.

Beneath the allegations of infighting between the two chambers are allegations that presidency officials instigated the crisis as a measure of frustrating the constitution review exercise.

The 44 man House of Representatives delegation walked away from the JCCR complaining over the assignation of the Deputy Speaker of the House as Vice_Chair instead of Co-Chairman as desired by some interest groups in the House of Representatives.

The contention by the House of Representatives for the position of Co-Chairman and the determination of the Senate not to budge is to many Nigerians an irrelevance that they believed should not frustrate the serious work of constitution review.

But with the two chambers holding on their positions of seeming senselessness, the expectation of many Nigerians for a reformed electoral process remains hopeless.

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