In Tuesday 28th October, 2014, the Speaker of the House of Representative, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal notified his colleagues that he was defecting from the ruling People’s Democratic Party to a minority party, the All Progressive Party (APC). He said his reasons for switching party was “In pursuit of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and in view of the political developments in my state, I wish to formally inform you of my membership of the APC,” This, he said was “in continuation of the great sacrifice and also the need to ensure development of constitutional democracy.’’
The Speaker, maintained that his defection was in pursuit of the provisions of the 1999 constitution, how? He also quickly added that it was based on views of the political developments in his home state, Sokoto. Well this we can live with. Because even in the US, according to US congressional website: in April of 2009 Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced that he would be leaving the Republican Party after 28 years of serving as a Republican and that he would seek re-election in 2010 as a Democrat. Specter described his decision in the context of political ideology, “I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.” Therefore, if the political development in the home state of the speaker is based on ideological shift or constituents preferences, it is ok. It can also be because of “electoral concerns” which the Speakers decision is clearly based on and if his people insist that they don’t want him in the PDP for this new assignment, it is still fine since that is what obtains in other presidential system styled legislature. The one who would most likely feel bad and suffer the consequence of this decision is the ruling PDP, because it is a mandate transferred to another rival party.
However, Section 68(1)(g) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), 1999, as amended states(1)” A member of the Senate or of the House of Representative shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if… (g)”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”.
The provisions above are the scenarios the constitution anticipated that Members could lose their seat if they defect or if they have to cross carpet or switch party. Note, however, that the constitution did not ban cross carpeting but one has to fulfill some conditions. None the less, we have a problem of implementation of this provision. This is because these provisions are more aligned to Parliamentary System Legislature, where it is strictly Political Party that wins election not individuals than Presidential system Legislature where there is weak party system and individuals merely use political party platforms to win elections based on individual currency. Some commentators have opined that “the central thrust of these arguments is that presidential constitutions create weak and indisciplined political parties relative to those in parliamentary systems. On the other hand, others recognize that it is the nature of political parties that can make a particular constitutional structure work effectively or not”. They further “points out that the effectiveness of parliamentary systems require “parliamentaryfit” political parties, “that is to say parties that have been socialized (by failure, duration, and appropriate incentives) into being relatively cohesive and/or disciplined bodies. …disciplined parties are a necessarycondition for the ‘working’ of parliamentary systems”.
Considering the fact that political parties under a Presidential system of Government are generally weak and indisciplined, why did the constitution have to merger a parliamentary system party disciplined provisions to a presidential system legislature and expect compliance? It is simply impossible, particularly in a developing country like Nigeria, where rule keeping is an exception.
The political parties in Nigeria don’t have any known ideology that Members can align with or hold unto as a way of life or ones dispositions. Members of political parties in Nigeria benefits little or nothing from their political parties in terms of campaign finances, since everybody has to fend for his or her self. Again, there is no Federal expenditure in ones constituency for one to look up to as reasons why one won’t want to leave a particularly party. So, to add insult to injury is the fact that there is a selective application of section 68(1)(g) to party members across the board.
Therefore there is no incentive to maintain party disciplined in Nigeria, especially in a Presidential system that is globally known not to have party discipline. Political parties in Nigeria cannot even adhere to their own internal rules and that is a recipe for party indiscipline as far as selective applications of rules, let alone command discipline amongst its membership.
From the foregoing, therefore, one of the problems I have with the defection of the Speaker is the timing of the announcement of his defection. It must not necessarily be on the floor of the House. He should have delayed his announcement to the eve of either INEC or Party nomination deadlines as a matter of strategy. For example, “Rodney Alexander registered for re-election as a Democrat in 2004. Just before the filing deadline, Alexander registered as a Republican”. This was the last known Member of the US House of Representative that switched Parties in 2004 to date.
The question as to whether he can still be Speaker or not, we take up subsequently, including the withdrawal of his security aides and reasons given by the police.
Onwu Paul via firstname.lastname@example.org