By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
Nze Chidi Duru is the Chairman of the Anambra State chapter of President Muhammadu Buhari Re-election Movement. He was a strong voice in the House of Representatives where he served for eight unbroken years between 1999 and 2007. In this interview, he examines the recent defections by some lawmakers in the National Assembly, the attempt by Senate President Bukola Saraki and other defectors to cling on to power after defecting to other parties and submits that their action is in violation of the Constitution. He also speaks on what the re-election of Buhari portends for the Igbo Presidency in 2023.
As a former member of the National Assembly, what do you make of the recent rumblings in the National Assembly, particularly the gale of defections and the subsequent strident attempts by the key actors to retain their posts after defecting, the blockade of the place by hooded security men and the crisis arising from the defections?
I want to say that as a person, I normally would see event as positive learning curves. People draw from those lessons that events present and they help to bridge certain gaps and make us to be more mature as to how we react to events going forward. Going by the events in the National Assembly, starting with the last, which was the blockade, I would want to believe that the action of the Acting President was timely and to the point and to pray that such a primitive act should never happen again in our country. I am saying so because the blockade desecrated the sanctity of the National Assembly, which is the bastion or symbol of our democracy.
Coming down to the defections in the National Assembly, the actors are simply disobeying the law and deliberately heating up the polity. They actors know very well what the position of the law is on defection and they should simply comply with the law and stop creating unnecessary heat in the land. My position is that the law enjoins members of the National Assembly to serve out their tenure in the party on whose platform they were elected into the National Assembly. And if for any reason any member chooses not to serve out his term, then he is required by the Constitution to lose his seat and go back and seek a fresh mandate from his constituency because in Nigeria, as we have it today, members are not elected as independent candidates. Members are elected on the platform of a political party. The Constitution is very clear on that, and that is section 68 particularly (1g ) of the Constitution says that “members are elected on the basis of a political party, and if for any reason that they would like to defect from one party or the other, then they would lose their seat.” However, it gives three exceptions. And these exceptions are that: one, if there is a division in his political party and he leaves to another party owing to the division in his party. Secondly, if there is a merger of two political parties as it happened in 2014 when ACN, CPC, APP and a fraction of APGA came together and formed APC. Then such a lawmaker can retain his seat if he now emerges as a member of another political party. And thirdly, if there is a faction in his party and he remains a member of one faction of that party he still remains a member of the National Assembly.
But sadly, what the politicians have exploited to defect from one party to another is on the first requirement which is on the question of if there is a division the party. My view, given the plethora of cases that have established that those who have defected from their party to another party in the National Assembly are no longer members, and would not need anything else for that seat to be declared vacant, Akpabio, Bukola Saraki and the rest have lost their membership of the National Assembly.
I am hoping that APC, being the majority party, will take a firm stand and ensure that those who defected from the party are no longer allowed to sit in the National Assembly because they have lost their right to sit as members of the legislature having defected from the party without any justification. I am also expectant that they will encourage the defectors to go back to their constituencies and seek re-election. Doing so would set the agenda, bring fidelity into the political process and reposition the APC as a party that respects the fact that the electorate are the ones that actually elect lawmakers into parliament, and that the lawmakers, when elected, cannot on their own decide on what platform they can operate in the National Assembly.
Many Nigerians see the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole as belligerent and unable to differentiate between party and labour activism. Does this not pose a problem for the APC?
To every individual there are defining character traits. I believe that anybody who knows Adams Oshiomhole for the last seven years would know that he is an activist. If he has a cause, he pursues it to its logical conclusion. For the totality of the APC members to vest on him the powers as their Chairman, it means they have confidence in his ability to lead the APC. He has been there for just few months; he is settling down and bringing his person into the office of the Chairman of the party. We are confident that he will lead the party to victory. He will make sure that supremacy of the party is entrenched and people will have respect for the party as an institution and not be subjugated to any individual or government and the party will stand. I believe that is what he is trying to achieve and that requires the support of every member of the party in order to achieve that.
Why are you taking up the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari’s movement in Anambra when you know very well that he and his party, the APC, did not do well in the South-East in the 2015 polls? Are you not embarking on a failed mission already?
I have always tried to correct the impression that the South-East did not give their support to Buhari in 2015. I have always shown an illustration that typically depicts the votes that come from the South-East. The region usually gives seven to eight million votes to PDP. The picture was the same in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. If you relate that quantum of votes to what emerged in 2015 that the total number of votes that came from the South-East for PDP was fewer than three million votes, then you would know that something is wrong somewhere. So the question to ask is where did the usual eight million votes that PDP usually return for the PDP go to? Who snatched the votes? But the truth is that the South-East has begun to work for and believe more in the person and government of Buhari and that is what will give him a better electoral fortune in 2019 in the South-East. The leaders of the South-East have now moved from denying PDP the votes they would ordinarily have got in 2015 to actively working to ensure that majority votes are secured for the candidacy of Buhari in 2019. That is why you would find that a number of stakeholders from the South-East have not only joined APC but have also become very active in educating our people on the reason and the need to support the candidacy of PMB come 2019. For me personally, it makes sense to support PMB in 2019 on the back of the understanding that in 2023, it would be the turn of the South-East to have a stake in running for the presidency of Nigeria and that a one term of PMB is preferable to two terms of any other candidate from the North under any other political party – be it ADC, PDP and all that. I have also gone beyond that to restate that if the South-East supports PMB, it would ensure that we can sit on the negotiation table and bring on the agenda the question of not only the candidacy of the Igbo man in 2023 but also the need to fundamentally restructure and reorganise Nigeria to the benefit of the component units.
So far, one organ of the party that is doing that is the ACN tendency within the APC. There has been a large success in that to the extent that the panel of the organ of the party that was set up and chaired by Mallam Nasir el-Rufai which came up with a strong recommendation for restructuring and agreed essentially with all the components of the ideals that are embedded in the manifestoes of the party on the reasons Nigeria needs to be restructured.
We need all the people in the country to come together. I believe the South East will be part of that component to advance the reason we need to restructure Nigeria. Beyond the fact that it would reduce cost of governance, it would also enable the different component units of Nigeria to have the opportunity to harness their abilities and potential and compete actively in developing their regions. And the greatest beneficiary would not just be the government but the citizens of Nigeria. That for me would be a significant benefit for the people of the South-East and that is gaining currency.
Now, coming to Anambra State where I come from and where I am the State Coordinator for Buhari Re-election Movement, APGA is the ruling party in the state. As has been the case in the last two elections, APGA does not have a presidential candidate. As has always been the trait of the party, it supports the President at the centre. I believe the support from Anambra will be largely for Buhari to retain his office come 2019 given all the advantages that I have just enumerated.
Are you not worried that despite the movement of prominent South East politicians to APC, sentiments against the party are still high among the electorate who accuse the incumbent administration of alienating the zone?
I will like to respond by saying that unless you are on the table, you would not able to make a change. The reality is that as of 2014 to 2015, the South-East did not believe in the candidature of Buhari and did not think that APC would form the government and that made them to put all their eggs in one basket, which is the basket of PDP. Unfortunately, PDP did not form the government at the centre in 2015. The Igbo men, who could see the future clearly and joined the APC, were not so many. We need to change that picture in 2019 in the overall interest of Ndigbo and the South-East.