By Peter Claver Oparah
As the 2019 general election approaches, Nigerian politicians are moving camps, divorcing and marrying new political suitors and erecting new shades to ply their political trade. Defection, the chosen name for this seasonal movement of camps, is at its peak period presently and this is so because the 2019 election is just around the corner.
For politicians, this is a critical moment when their fates in the coming election are decided. How well the parties meet one’s hope and desire informs whether he stays or moves camp. There is no more to this than this unceasing foraging for greener political pastures. The gale of defection is here again! Not that it had stopped before now but this is the seasons for it; when a fresh election knocks at the door and politicians take stock and prospect to the future. Applying football terms, this is the peak of the transfer window. Nothing is wrong with this because it is embodied in the freedom of association which is an essential provision of our laws.
So, defection is a normal trend in politics so long as man is a restless political animal and yearns for the appropriate space to ventilate his nuances. In Nigeria, defection is a seasonal fad and peaks as election approaches. It is a habitual search for the right clime to realise one’s dreams and ambition and so long as Nigeria is packed full of politicians who are desperately looking for greener pastures, defection will always happen. Make no mistake about it, there is nothing absolutely wrong with defection. There is nothing wrong with shifting base in the never-ending search for political nests where one’s dreams could be realized. There is nothing wrong in seeking out and joining any political party that promises you the fulfilment of your political dreams. So defection will always happen in Nigeria if we are still practising democracy and there is nothing one can do about it.
In politics, interests are fixated but avenues to achieve those interests are fluid. In politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, as the regular aphorism goes. In Nigerian politics in particular, the line that separates one politician from the other is so thin that some politicians have practically traversed all political parties in a bid to satisfy their burning interests. In moving from one political party to the other, they make new friends with whom they cohabit and work with for the period they remain in those parties. So if we agree that there are no permanent friends or foes, seasonal movement from one camp to the other is a tolerable aspect of our politics. So defection is a choice and hugely overused part of our politics. There is nothing one can do about it than to hope to benefit from it the next time for there will always be the next thing with defection.
But then, as has been well canvassed, defection becomes a problem if the defector takes along with him the office he occupies by virtue of belonging to his former party. In Nigeria, political offices belong to parties, not individuals. Political parties are the ones that canvass for votes and are the ones that appear on the ballot during elections so it should be an article of honour and compulsion for politicians moving from one camp to the other to resign from the offices they occupy before joining another political party. That should be the rule. That should be the ideal. That should be the proper thing to do. But that is not the case in Nigeria where the issues have been deliberately muddled up to create a diktat that unjustly favours these defecting politicians and the new parties where they berth and rob the parties they are defecting from. This amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is another way of one eating his cake and having it. That has been the problem with defection in Nigeria which has created so much bad blood around this practice and further introduced wear and tears in the politics practised in Nigeria.
Of what the Nigerian law says about this, it states that the only reason politicians can take their offices to their new destinations is where there exists a division in the party that necessitates the politicians’ departure from his party. So what most of the politicians and their cohorts seeking to leave any party do is to create a façade of division and leave with their offices. Even where there are no divisions, they still keep their offices in the face of the weakness of the law and the judicial system to do the needful. In the long run, the law that recommends that a defecting politician leaves behind his office have become a toothless bulldog that has hardly survived the antics of politicians.
In the present dispensation, the seed for the reigning fad of politicians defecting with their offices was sown when Senators Wahab Dosunmu and Adeseye Ogunlewe abandoned the AD party platform on which they were elected to the Senate to join PDP shortly after the 1999 elections. Every effort made by the then AD to retrieve their mandates were stifled by the PDP which was basking in the euphoria of its commanding control of the post-military politics then. Many more senators and House of Assembly members were to follow and they were absorbed by the willing arms of PDP who mocked all attempts to stick to the law and prevent defectors from leaving with their parties’ mandates. It got worse as the PDP waxed immunity from all constitutional efforts to make it play fair. With its strengthened control of the democratic system in its 16 years, PDP even went further to create division within the smaller parties and harvesting the aftermaths; defectors, officers, warts and all to its burgeoning family.
But nothing lasts forever. PDP was to be fed a dose of its medicine when some of its governors, dissatisfied with the internal impunity within the party, revolted and left its fold with their offices to join the fledgeling APC which was a newly formed coalition of opposition parties commented to dislodging the octopoidal PDP from power in 2015. APC was to emerge victorious in the ensuing general election and PDP’s 16 years was brought to an end.
As the next general elections approach, some of those that left PDP to join APC started waxing displeased about how they were treated in APC and just a few weeks ago, left to re-join PDP. They left with their offices, among which is the Senate Presidency, even in the face of APC’s threat to reclaim the office. Whatever pans out eventually is left to the imagination but the bottom line is that the country’s electoral and judicial systems must find ways of fixing the aberration of defecting office holders taking their offices with them when they are leaving the parties that sponsored them to power. Settling this issue will deal with some ugly fallout of such outcome which may eventually harm the system. There is no moral right a defector has to rob the party he is defecting from of its due right, which is the office he was occupying and vesting it unduly to the party he is defecting to. Good enough the Supreme Court had decided that offices belong to political parties and not individuals. The benefits of fixing this issue are that no one party claims the benefits as all are affected by its noxious impacts since defection is a game of musical chairs that has no fixed location. It moves in circles to afflict those that benefit from this unjust aspect at the next gale of defections.
So there is every imperative for a just provision of our laws to be made to ensure that no one leaves a party for another with the office he or she occupies. At worst, such offices should be declared vacant to allow a fresh contest. There is nothing right about taking one party’s office to another party. The resolution of this issue is a win-win for everybody as it preserves the integrity of the people as the ultimate decider of who occupies one office or the other at any given time. It will ensure a cleaner and credible playing field, help the smaller parties to grow and most importantly, it will tame the inclination of politicians to continually shift camps to whichever side their bread is selfishly buttered.
Peter Claver Oparah
E-mail: [email protected]