By JOHN AINOFENOKHAI
PERMIT me to go straight to the point by calling on Nigerians, in the light of the recent defection of 37 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the House of Representatives to the All Progressive Congress (APC), to draw attention to Section 68 (1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution as amended which states: “A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member 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.”
Nigerians should also note that on Friday, October 18, 2013, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja and presided over by His Lordship, Justice Elvis Chukwu, had ruled that there was no division in PDP and thus restrained the self-styled new PDP from using the colour and logo of the PDP under the chair of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur. Recall that the Court had also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to refrain from recognising, dealing and relating with the new PDP.
It should be further noted that prior to the ruling, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on Friday, October 10, 2013, expressly declared that it did not recognize the now defunct new PDP, thus putting paid to the factionalisation plot being orchestrated by members of the group.
The Commission, in a letter with reference number INEC/LEG/PDP/19/111/245 signed by the Acting Secretary, Mr. U.F. Usman, addressed to the National Secretary to the now defunct new PDP, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, had acknowledged receipt of his letters dated 1st and 23rd September wherein he had requested for the Commission’s recognition of the Alhaji Kawu Baraje-led NWC.
The Commission had noted in the letter: “You will recall that the Commission monitored the National Convention and Special National Convention of the PDP held on the 24th of March 2012 and 31st of August 2013 at the Eagle Square, Abuja, after notices to the Commission.
“A National Working Committee (NWC) was elected at the two conventions with Alhaji Bamanga Tukur as the National Chairman. The Commission will not withdraw recognition from the leadership of the PDP elected at the conventions duly monitored by the Commission. Be guided accordingly.”
Now that these 37 members of the House of Representatives, in defiance of the provisions of the Constitution and pronouncements by relevant bodies- the Court and INEC- that there is no division in the PDP leadership, have left the party for the APC, I ask: where is the division in the PDP or in its leadership? Are they saying that the Court and INEC were incapable of determining the presence of a division in the party? I concur with the court and INEC that there is no division in the party leadership.
So, on what basis have they left the PDP and now keeping their seats in the House? To answer the question, it was on the basis of an interlocutory injunction purportedly granted them by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 that they hurriedly effected their defection plan.
The injunction had purportedly restrained the PDP, its chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the INEC, Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives from declaring vacant the seats of the defecting federal lawmakers to the APC. The leadership of the PDP had gone to court praying that the seats of its members who defected to the APC be declared vacant, which was the right to do in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.Now, which ground is provided in the law: is it not the condition for defection, to wit: division, which is absent, in the PDP leadership? Or, is it the restraining injunction granted by the court, which can be vacated? What will happen tomorrow if the injunction is vacated?
Without a division in the PDP, their defection will be legally flawed, standing on nothing. In that circumstance, they would be expected to do the needful: leave the House so that INEC can also do the needful: organise new elections to fill their seats. They can then decide to re-contest the seats on the platform of their new found APC.
Flowing from the above, I expect that men of integrity and honour within the APC, if any, that they should not be involved in political fraud by appropriating what is not rightfully theirs. What these legislators have done is immoral: taking the mandates given to them on the PDP platform to the APC. Understandably, the APC is happy to harness the fraudulently acquired mandates which it knows it did not get, directly, from the people.
It is, indeed, in the light of the above that I call on well-meaning Nigerians to urge the INEC to do the needful within the ambits of the law and call for elections where necessary. If the electoral body needs the pronouncement of the court on the issue to enable it act accordingly, the court should discountenance technicalities and other political shenanigans to rein in and sanitise the political process and system by acting strictu sensus with the provisions of the extant laws.