by Rotimi Fawole
Since the APC announced its absorption of the breakaway faction of the People’s Democratic Party – the so called “New PDP” – questions have been raised as to whether defecting lawmakers must now vacate their seats in the various legislative houses. This ordinarily should be the direction that the moral compasses of the new members of the APC should point to. If you asked your constituency to vote for you based on your membership of a party and then leave the party after your election, you should ask for their trust again.
However, the issue is legal and not moral. And the principal actors also realise this. In its statement after the defection, the PDP, through its National Public Secretary, Olisa Metuh, the PDP said the governors were free to leave the party, concluding with the following reiteration:
“We reiterate that the position of the law is very clear – that there is no factions whatsoever (sic) in the PDP.”
In his own press release, Chief Eze Chukwuemeka, the NPDP’s National Publicity Secretary, apparently in response to the nuanced “de-factionalisation” of the PDP, declared that the seats of defecting lawmakers were safe, citing constitutional and judicial authorities for his position.
Sections 68(1)(g) and 109 (1)(g), in virtually identical wording state that:
A member of a House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if – (g) being a person whose election to the House of Assembly 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.
What this means, in plainer English, is that a lawmaker who switches to another party before the next elections will not lose his seat if the switch is as a result of a division (or breaking into factions) in his original party, or his original party merges with another.
The New PDP, as a result of concerted resistance from the Old/Real (?) PDP, was not registered as a political party by the Independent National Electoral Commission. There is also a subsisting court ruling restraining the New PDP from using the PDP’s logo or parading itself or its members as PDP. Does this mean, as Metuh has suggested, that there are no factions within the PDP? A court would probably need to rule on the point but I would suggest that common sense would recognise that there has, in fact, been a split within the PDP since the machinations at its last National Convention.
Eze Chukwuemeka, in his press release, also cited a Supreme Court judgment from 1983 which ought to give the new members of the APC some comfort. In FEDECO vs Goni, Aniagolu, JSC (as he then was) said the following, on “cross-carpeting” and Section 64(1)(g) – equivalent of current 68(1)(g) – of the 1979 Constitution:
“The mischief which the framers of the Constitution wanted to avoid was carpet-crossing which, from our constitutional history, in the not distant past, has bedevilled the political morality of this country. They had however to allow for a situation where a political party, by reason of internal squabbles, had split into one or more factions. A split or division could arise without any fault of the members of a political party, resulting in a member rightly or wrongly, finding himself in a minority group which may not be big enough, or strong enough, to satisfy the recognition, as a separate political party, of the Federal Electoral Commission. For such a member not to be allowed to join another political party with his faction may be to place him in a position where his right to contest for political office will be lost. Such a situation is entirely different from the fraudulent and malevolent practice of cross-carpeting politicians of yester years who, for financial consideration or otherwise, crossed from one political party to another, without qualms and with out conscience. Such a practice had to be discouraged by the framers of our Constitution if political public morality of our country was to be preserved.”
This dictum is instructive, as it clearly recognises that a faction may exist even if INEC (then FEDECO) did not register the faction as a separate political party. Taken with the fact that the Constitution permits a departed factionalised legislator to retain his seat, I think the APC can safely put its feet up, at least until the next elections.
1. As we are on the subject of elections, I recently stumbled upon some provisions of the Electoral Act of 2010 which bear some significance to the ongoing(?) elections in Anambra State.
Section 102 states as follows:
“Any candidate, person or association who engages in campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal, or sectional reason for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate, is guilty of an offence under this Act and on conviction shall be liable to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for twelve months or to both.”
Juxtapose this with the following statement credited to Chief Arthur Eze –
“That short man called Ngige, we gave him power and he went and joined Awolowo’s people; the people that killed the Igbo.”
And the following statement credited to Chief Dennis Agumba –
“It was Chris Nwabueze Ngige that described the deported Igbos as destitute, just to please his godfathers from Lagos, who are funding his governorship campaign.”
Are these two men guilty of electoral offences?
2. The Parties who insist that they will not take part in the supplementary elections in Anambra State need to know (they probably do anyway) that boycotting would be an empty gesture.
“An election tribunal or court shall not under any circumstance declare any person a winner at an election in which such a person has not fully participated in all the stages of the said election.” – Section 141
If you’re within striking distance of Willie Obiano but refuse to take part in the supplementary elections, the court cannot declare you winner even if everything goes your way during the trial.