The gale of defections in Nigeria’s National Assembly has led many Nigerian citizens bewildered on the legitimacy of the Act. It will be recalled that before the National Assembly adjourned for recess on July 25th, 2018, 14 Senators and 37 House of Representative members defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the African Democratic Congress (ADC). In addition to this is the Senate President Bukola Saraki’s defection from the APC to the PDP and Sen. Godswill Akpabio’s defection from the PDP to the APC after the National Assembly closed for its annual recess, as well as the wave of defections in State Houses of Assembly like Kano, Osun and Kwara States.
While this has become customary in Nigeria with its first instance as far back as 1951 where 20 members of the defunct National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) defected to the defunct Action Group to prevent the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe from being the premier of the old western region, defecting or “cross-carpeting” is actually prohibited under the 1999 Constitution (as amended). In particular, section 68(1) of the Constitution provides that a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives should vacate the seat of the House, which he is a member if he leaves the political party on which he contested for election to join another political party before the expiration of the period for which he was elected. An exception to this rule however applies in cases where there has been division of the political party of which he was previously a member or there has been a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored.
This constitutional provision, which seems to emphasise that votes cast by the electorate belong to the party and not the candidate was reinforced by the Supreme Court in Amaechi v Omehia. However, despite the provision of the law, the exception in the law enabling defection where there has been a division continues to be exploited, creating problems for Nigeria’s democracy.
In addition, many perceive the recent defections arising largely from political interests rather than “national interests”, more so as political primaries have been scheduled to commence from August 2018. It has been noted that many of the said politicians failed to defect or resign from their political party even when serious issues such as the Boko Haram crisis and arbitrary arrest and detentions of citizens and political opponents of the ruling party affected the polity.
It appears that defections in the National Assembly will continue to constitute a friction between the Executive and the Legislature unless such matters are taken to the Court to make a firm and final pronouncement.