By Afe Babalola
“Unlike other parts of the world where politicians defect for ideological reasons, politicians in Nigeria defects mostly for selfish end. All they are concerned with is simply associating with those with whom their personal political objective stand a better chance of being achieved”.
Over the course of centuries dating back to Athens 507 BC, political and philosophical thinkers have analyzed the relationship between the governed and the government. It is generally agreed that the individual has expressly or tacitly given up his freedom to the government in return for the protection of that government. As a result the individual or citizens are expected to live harmoniously and in accordance with the laws of the land while the government provides security of life and property. This theory pervades all modern societies with varying degrees of success. A major way in which this contract is continually renewed is through elections in which Politicians seek the votes of the electorate with the promise of improvements in the standard of life. In Nigeria Political Parties serve as a Platform upon which the relationship between the ordinary citizens and the government is nurtured. However, Nigerian politicians have for several years failed to show any appreciation for the fact that in exchange for their votes, the people require the service of the government. What is often of paramount importance to most politicians in Nigeria is how they will attain political office, no matter the means by which they get it. This desire for power has manifested itself in various forms, the most common being what is known in Nigeria as “Crosscaperting” or “Cross-carpeting”.
To be certain, the word “Cross-carpeting” does not exist in the English language. It has however been coined in Nigeria to describe a common phenomenon by which politicians almost unashamedly, switch political allegiance just to achieve their own personal political goals. In an article titled: “Cross Carpeting in Nigerian Politics: Some Legal and Moral Issues Generated”, O. Opadere and J. Agbana stated the first known case of cross carpeting in Nigeria as follows:
Celebrated cross carpeting
“In 1951 the first celebrated cross carpeting episode occurred in Nigeria; which consequently robbed Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe the chance to lead the government’s business of Western Nigeria. This happens to be the most celebrated cross carpet episode in Nigeria. Yoruba members of the National Council for Nigerian and the Cameroon (NCNC) were lobbied to cross over to the Action Group (AG) to stop Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo man, from becoming the premier of Western Region. This heralded the massive cross over to the AG. As the leader of the NCNC, Azikiwe was to be the Premier of Western Nigeria following the elections of 1951 with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba man and the leader of Action Group, as the leader of the opposition in the Regional House of Assembly. The NCNC won 42 seats out of 80, but within 24 hours 20 of them had cross carpeted to AG.”
Over the years, this development gained much traction such that most Nigerians are now familiar now with defections by Politicians from one political party to the other. While it is not unique to Nigeria, the surprising thing however is that unlike other parts of the world where Politicians defect for ideological reasons, Politicians in Nigeria defect mostly for selfish ends in a bid to contest elections. Therefore a Politician who is unable to get the ticket of his Party for a particular election will immediately defect to another opposing party even if he had already been elected to public office on the platform of his original party.In such situations it would even not matter if ,as it is in most cases, the manifesto of his new party is diametrically opposed to that of his former party. However I find it rather strange that a political office holder who has attained public office through the votes of the electorate on the strength of the manifesto of its party will defect to another party with a totally different manifesto and yet carry on as if there is nothing dishonourable about his conduct. I believe that honour should play an important role in any human endeavour and particularly in politics. On the contrary, what has been experienced is an upsurge in defections all with a view to securing tickets to contest elections. In some instances, politicians have defected from their political parties to another party only to leave that other party for yet other parties before eventually returning ‘home’ to their original political party.
In the case of AG Federation v. Abubakar (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1041) 1 which I was privileged to argue before the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Court, while stating the absence of a a clear constitution provision permitting the removal of the then sitting Vice President on account of his defection from the ruling party on whose platform he sought an election, to the opposition, nevertheless deprecated his conduct and stated as follows:
“The action cannot be justified by the fact that he had been suspended or expelled from the ruling political party under which he was jointly elected with the President or that he exercise his fundamental right of association guaranteed by the Constitution. What is required of him is to first resign and even after resigning from that office he would be precluded from dissociating himself from the collective responsibility for decisions taken by the Cabinet while he was in office.”
My decision to focus on this issue is not without reason. With less than a year to the next general elections Politicians are already busy reappraising alliances and pursuing new ones all in a bid to be strategically placed to win the votes of the electorate. None of the meetings currently being held focus on ideological parameters. All that people appear to be concerned with is simply associating with those with whom their personal political objectives stand a better chance of being achieved. Soon in virtually all states of the Federation Campaign Posters will become common sights. However despite the diverse method these Politicians have chosen to sell themselves, what remains common are the promises being made to Nigerians. Yet these same promises were made in the run up to the last general elections. If left unchecked, the current spate of defections will spell doom for democracy in this country. It will continue to foster the notion that the interests of the citizens have no role to play in the determination by politicians of the question whether they should remain on the political platform on which they sought the votes of the electorate. It will continue to foster the notion that attainment of political office rather than being the means to an end, is the end in itself. Winning political office will continue to be a do or die affair.
Patriotic ideals and conduct
Yet governance anywhere in the world is supposed to be about the people. The Nigerian National Anthem is one that calls on all Nigerians to rise to the call of the Nation and act only in its best interests. By the words of the anthem, patriotism is demanded of every Nigerian. However a country that demands patriotisms from its citizens must continually be seen to be working in their best interests. The government of the country must always be seen to seek ways of making the lives of the citizens better and not otherwise. One can hardly expect patriotic ideals and conduct from a citizen who feels let down by his country and its leaders. This is why politicians must be made to realize the sacredness of electoral promises they make prior to election and the oath they take upon assumption of office. Vigilance must be the eternal watch word of not only Nigerians but indeed all those who are governed all around the world.
To be continued.