By Joef Omorotionmwan
WILLIAM Shakespeare was essentially right when he asserted, “What the great ones do, the less we prattle off”. In Nigeria, people change at will from one political party to another.

People are known to have belonged to Party ‘A’ in the morning; Party ‘B’ in the evening of the same day; and by sunrise the following day, they were back to Party ‘A’. The known record holders here have hit upwards of nine defections in two years; invariably citing the same vain excuse – “Lack of internal democracy” as the reason for their movements.

OBASANJO—Ex-President Obasanjo (left) watches as Alhaji Usman Oladunjoye tears the PDP membership card. Right: Obasanjo’s card after it was torn, yesterday.

This past week, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo decided to make a difference by resigning his membership of the PDP and causing his membership card to be publicly reduced to unrecognizable pieces.

The theatrical around Obasanjo’s membership card is a non-issue. If as a condition for settling with the PDP, Obasanjo wants 1000 cards as replacements for the single one destroyed; the cards would be rushed to his Owu home before sunset. Yet, this is the aspect of his resignation that is receiving people’s attention, thus chasing the shadow and leaving the substance.

Certainly, today’s spate of defections provides a frightening glimpse to our future. The rate at which we are going, it will be possible sometime soon for a sitting President to dump the political party that sponsored his election and move to another one, unchallenged.

Nigerians are perpetually in a state of flux. If you await them in one direction, they will burst out in another. This explains why the numerous laws aimed at checking defections simply come to naught.

Ordinarily, there could be genuine grounds for defection. Members of even the best-run organizations cannot always escape moments of profound crisis when they must break faith either with the team or with themselves. These crises occur when the leadership of an institution suddenly embarks on a course of action that is incompatible with a member’s private ethical standards or judgment. Sometimes, the member tries to change the policy from within, using approved procedures, but fails. Should he quietly go along with the team or should he dissociate himself from it? The choice is his. After all, he has the rest of his life to live with himself.

When a man quits from his team, he is duty-bound to tell the people why. This is where many decampees have always failed the acid test of proper resignation. At the point of entry, they filled and signed application forms with their bio-data and other details about themselves properly entered into the membership register before being issued with membership cards. At the exit point, it is not enough to simply mount a public exhibition; tear their membership cards; and announce their resignation from the party.

From the legal viewpoint, these decampees are still members of multiple political parties. In just the same way that a divorce is not consummated until you go to the authorities that performed the marriage, membership of a political party cannot be terminated merely by rushed press conferences.

There are spices of goodness, even in things evil. In its negative form of today, defections offer escape routes from an oppressive regime. What else could have removed us from the claws of an authoritarian group that vowed to continuously rule us for 60 years in the first instance?

And the ugly situation before us today is still an improvement over what we had at inception. At that time, a parliamentarian could be in one party in the morning and in the afternoon of the same day, he was in another party within the same parliament. It was that easy and cheap. The cress-cross between parties was like a coup d’état.

The NCNC got its baptism in Western Nigeria in the 1951 elections. Although the Action Group, AG, won a plurality of the votes in the election, its prospects were dim as the NCNC was poised for an overwhelming majority with the support of an Ibadan Community Party, which was its ally.

On the day of inauguration, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe watched, to his chagrin, as some members of his NCNC carpet-crossed to the AG side and that was how Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led AG obtained the needed majority to form the government of then Western Nigeria.

This goes down in history as the beginning of ethnic politics in Nigeria. By 1954, Nnamdi Azikiwe returned to Enugu where he became the Premier of then Eastern Region in an apparent overthrow of Chief Eyo Ita who held sway before then.

The framers of our Republican Constitution frowned at the situation where it was easier for politicians to change political parties than changing their underwear. This was the genesis of the present Section 68(1)(g) and 109(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulate that a legislator shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if he defects from the party that sponsored his election before the expiration of the period for which the House was elected.

Again, the cure for democracy is more democracy. The founding fathers were soon torn between flexibility and rigidity; and between freedom of association and denial of that freedom. They foresaw a situation where political parties could become so tyrannical to the extent of being overbearing on the elected official.  They created a small window, which permitted the elected official to retain his seat if his defection was as a result of a division in his former party. This has since become an escape route for most decampees.

On balance, today’s spate of defections succeeds in cheapening the political process; lending credence to the aphorism that politics is a dirty game; and portraying politicians as crass opportunists. There must be an end to this embezzlement of public trust which reduces those involved to purchasable commodities and direct beneficiaries from their own crimes.

We must also stop celebrating decampees. Whosoever wants to move from one party to another should do so quietly, possibly with a sense of loss and trepidation.

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