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Before Saka there was…: A look at ‘portability’ in the Nigerian political space

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Before Saka there was…: A look at ‘portability’ in the Nigerian political space

by Ibrahim Faruk

A major talking point of last week was the kick off of the GSM number portability system for mobile subscribers in which an individual can switch from one GSM network to another without having to change phone lines.

GSM networks in an aim to rebrand themselves and increase the number of customers as they port from one network to another have released different adverts as the competition for mobile customers takes a new and interesting dimension.

But that which telecommunications companies are only just learning to do, politicians have been doing for ages. Cross carpeting, decamping, defecting or as we now like to call it “porting” has been a constant feature of Nigerian politics and a trait of the Nigerian political class.

‪In 1999, when democracy returned, the opposition parties won in 15 of the 36 States. The Alliance for Democracy (AD) won in Lagos, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Osun and Oyo and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) (formerly All Peoples Party (APP)) triumphed in Kwara, Kogi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. The PDP had the rest: Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Rivers and Taraba. By 2003, the opposition parties lost seven States – Ekiti, Kwara, Kogi, Ondo, Ogun, Osun and Oyo. They, however, gained Anambra State via a judicial decision.

But the PDP also had Jigawa in its fold following the first governorship-level cross- carpeting in the new republic – the porting of Jigawa governor Alhaji Saminu Turaki from the ANPP.

Political portability, sometimes referred to as political prostitution on the pages of newspapers, is not the exclusive preserve of the executive arm of government as Section 68(1) (109(1)) of the 1999 Constitution states that:

“A member of the Senate or House of Representatives (House of Assembly) 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.”

But political porting even pre-dates independence. The Action Group (AG), a political party established in Ibadan on March 21, 1951 by Chief Obafemi Awolowo to serve as the platform for realizing his preliminary objective of mobilising Western Nigerians to forestall the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroon (NCNC) control of the Western region and the subsequent aim of cooperating with other nationalist parties to win independence for Nigeria  masterminded a massive political porting exercise early. Yoruba members elected on the platform of the NCNC ‘ported’ to join the AG in order to deny Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (an Ibo) the premiership of the Western Region in favor of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

In 1965, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, who was locked in a supremacy battle with Chief Obafemi Awolowo over leadership of the Action Group (AG), decamped to the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), which was in alliance with the ruling Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). It was on that platform that he contested and won the elections to retain his position as Western Premier. He was killed shortly afterwards however, in January 1966 during Nigeria’s first coup d’etat.

More recently, there was the great porting of 2006 when Nigeria’s sitting vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Turakin Adamawa, an influential and founding member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) switched affiliation to the Action Congress (AC) where he sought nomination for the party’s presidential ticket.

It would be hard to forget the picture of Abubakar carrying a broom – the symbol of the AC and declaring a readiness to ‘sweep’ the PDP out of power. The former Vice President made a controversial return to the PDP – the same party he called a den of murderers – in 2009 to seek the presidential ticket of the party for the 2011 elections. He remains in the party till date.

Not to forget Owelle Rochas Okorocha who started his political career as a Commissioner in the Federal Character Commission and a Member of the National Constitutional Conference. When democracy was restored in 1999, Rochas Okorocha competed in the primaries to be People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for governor of Imo State, but lost to Achike Udenwa. He moved to the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), and was an unsuccessful candidate for President on the ANPP platform in 2003. He returned to the PDP, and President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as Special Adviser on Inter- Party affairs.

Rochas Okorocha formed the Action Alliance (AA) party in 2005, planning to become a Presidential candidate for the AA in the 2007 elections. He again returned to the PDP, and in September 2007 indicated that he was interested in becoming PDP National Chairman. Okorocha decamped from the PDP to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), to run as APGA candidate for Imo State Governor in the April 2011 national elections. A few weeks later, in December 2010 the APGA suspended Okorocha from the party over what it described as anti-party activities pending an investigation of his conduct. However, Okorocha went on to campaign as APGA candidate.

The final results had Okorocha of the APGA declared winner with 336,859 votes. He was followed by the incumbent governor Ikedi Ohakim of the PDP with 290,490 votes. Former Senator Ifeanyi Araraume of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) was third with 107,068 votes. President Goodluck Jonathan congratulated Okorocha on his election, saying the people of Imo State had spoken through the ballot box. Its seems like Okorocha now has a new destination to ‘port’ to with the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The list of politicians who have ‘ported’ and will continue to ‘port’ is almost inexhaustible. As the 2015 elections approach expect politicians to sing along with Saka and say, ‘I don port oh’.

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