Tuesday Platform

August 25, 2009

Political party defections: A perspective on Obama, Clinton African policy

By John M Amoda and A. Eze Nwagbaraji
Introduction MATTERS of democratic governance have been raised to a status of conditionality in the emerging discourse of Obama and Clinton on African politics.  It is in this context that the spate of cross-carpeting by election officials is analysed in terms of its constitutional implications.

Elections and the conduct of elected officials in government are now centre-piece of American African Policy, a development that highlights Nigeria’s Foreign Minister’s exposition of notions of citizen diplomacy.

To fully develop the framework from which the fusion of the internal and foreign dimensions of governance is to be appreciated I have teamed up with Eze Nwagbaraji also a Vanguard columnist to deepen our appreciation of the problems involved in the current spate of elected officials defection from the electorate that voted them into office to opponent electorates overwhelmingly defeated in the elections in which the defectors were elected into office.

Whenever an issue requires this method for assuring adequate appreciation of fundamental constitutional dilemmas, the enhanced capability resulting from this method will be reflected in the authorship of the appreciation.

Representative governments are limited governments. Constitutions are written to create and demarcate that which is clearly within the purview of the people’s representatives. That which is not given by the constitution remains or reverts to the people.

Constitutions are the means by which sovereigns empower government to function as their agents in specific areas of the electorate’s lives in the daily governance of the country. At the core of democracy is the understanding that sovereignty resides with the electorate.

Elections are opportunities for political parties and candidates to outline their visions of how society should be governed within the limits of the constitution.

Elections also provide the electorate the opportunity to weigh the benefit of political party agendas, scrutinize the candidates and their parties, and come to a reasonable position of trust whether to hand over their sovereignties to the parties and their candidates.

All of the above contextualizes the ongoing spates of defections by elected officials from the party that elected them to the parties the electorate rejected at the polls.

The decampments of Governors Ikedi Ohakim, the former Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) Governor of Imo State, Isa Yuguda and Aliyu Shinkafi, both  former All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) Governors of Bauchi and Zamfara States, to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) highlight the relationship between principals and their agents.

Agents are agents because of the mandate given by their principals, the electorate. They remain agents when their conducts are governed by the mandates received from the electorate. This is the nature of representation.

Principals in mandating agents, indicate by the votes cast and the kinds of majority given who are representatives of the electorate. The elected are voices, the arms, and the extensions of the principals in space and in time. Agents have no independent existence.

Defection by the elected is therefore a rebellion against the principal, the electorate and repudiates the relationship of the agents to the principals. Defection is a frontal attack on the relevance of the Constitution to serve as context, control, and regulation of the process of political representation within the state.

When these repudiations of mandates and the explicit rejection of the Principal-Agent relationship occur, what are the Principal’s remedies in law? Who has locus standi to protect the Constitution and ensure its viability?

Is incremental assault on the Constitution as evidenced in defection of elected officers at any level – local government, state, federal, governors, or legislators, of less importance than the overthrow of the constitution by the military?

If the repudiation of the relationship of the Agents to the Principals is indeed the overthrow of the sovereign in an act of choice, an overthrow that results in placing the agent in the position of the principal, the event of an election has become a nullity.

We have a usurpation of the authority of the principal and the consequence is the overthrow of the system of constitutional representative government. We now have before us, two ways of cutting down a tree, i.e. branch by branch, or from the roots up. At issue therefore is the protection of the system of representative governance, i.e. government of the electorate by the electorate through its agents.

Whether it is recognized by the voters or by the parties, or the courts, what is at issue is the authority of the constitution to determine the entire organisation of government and the process of governance.