In its latest political offensive against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) issued a curious but stern warning to the judges across Nigeria not to be pliant to the influences of the PDP. To follow up on the threat, the party promised the mother of all mass movements if the PDP and such pliant judges go ahead to conspire to declare the seats of five defecting PDP governors vacant.
Perhaps, seeing the folly of progressives being perceived as threatening parties to a dispute from taking legal steps, the proclamation of the party’s spokesman, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was modified by the party’s chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, who later declared that the party will take legal steps to protect the defecting governors. But, this is all bombast, and the APC knows it.
The reasons the APC’s claims are bombastic are twofold. Firstly, the party argues albeit erroneously that the only acceptable process for removing a state governor is by the provisions of Section 180 of the extant Nigerian constitution. This is a ‘big fat’ lie. Two of the states currently controlled by the APC, Osun and Ekiti states, were burgeoned in court perhaps, by the grace of pliant judges. We may never know the full story now that the main litigant in the aforesaid case, Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola, has become part of the political whirlpool created by the defecting governors.
Secondly, the APC argues that previously, other governors from other parties had defected to the PDP without consequences. This is the most ridiculous legal premise for obviating a legal recourse. It is an argument that may be presented in the following syllogism: ‘A’ stole a goat from ‘B’ but ‘B’ said nothing and did not litigate, so why should ‘A’ take ‘C’ to court for stealing ‘A’s goat. That the parties from which governors defected previously chose to be passive is not a proof that their actions were not unconstitutional or unlawful. If the APC and the defecting governors feel safe enough to test it as a more, the PDP though with a huge moral burden, having been a beneficiary of such defections in the past, may feel safe enough to test it as a law. Unfortunately, the difference between a law and a more is that, whereas mores are generally accepted practices, moral norms or customs which a society or group considers acceptable and which they may deviate from without consequences from society, laws are written, gazetted and codified body of rules and standards issued by governing authorities for which negation of expected behaviour attracts codified consequences. The legality of defection with a party’s mandate has not been adequately tested by judicial interpretation in Nigeria. But this does not mean that there are no consequential laws guiding such defections.
So, it may quite be acceptable practice between Nigerian politicians to defect from one party to another, but is it the accepted law to retain their mandate from the parties from which they defected? To find answers to this question, the PDP has gone to court to challenge the validity of the mandate given to a PDP governor being exercised by an APC governor. To support their prayer in court, they cited that Section 177c of the 1999 Constitution states that; “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a state if (c ) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party” ; Section 221 which states that “no association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.” As well as Section 222 (a-e) which states that “No association by whatsoever name called shall function as a party, unless (a) the names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
From the foregoing, without further adumbrating the provisions of subsections (b) to (e), it can be seen that the nPDP does not qualify to function as a party, or go into a merger as a political group with an extant party, as it does not have a registration with the INEC, moreover the APC was not an existing entity at the time the mandates of these governors were won by their parties. But to complicate matters further, the Electoral Act which guides the verdict of electoral mandates, had the following provisions on mergers of political parties and how the mandate of a party may be carried forward in the absence of the party. In Section 84 of the extant Electoral Act, it is provided that for parties to merge, the existing entities of the merging parties must not only dissolve but must notify the electoral Commission, INEC, of its willingness to do so and must thereafter conduct a congress of the merging parties to formalise the process. After these are conducted, a formal dissolution will be certified by INEC. These will ensure that mergers are not an issue that is arbitrary or conducted at the spur of the moment in disdain of party members. Thus, assumedly from these laws, the nPDP has no powers to dissolve PDP or a hypothetical faction of it, nor is there any record of party conventions or notices to INEC in that regard, whether in whole or factional part to precede such merger.
Furthermore, on what happens to the apriori political mandates of the dissolved parties, Section 97 of the Electoral Act provides that where a party ceases to exist, the members may carry such mandates until the end of the mandate. The fact, however, is that, the PDP (like the other parties from which former PDP governors defected but which did not bother to challenge the PDP for their mandates) did not cease to exist and hence there was no legal plank to defend their action. However, whilst the other parties failed to test the validity of these defections in court, the PDP has decided to test it. The right arbiter for this case, therefore, is the court and not a mass movement as the APC has threatened to do. If in their hermeneutic wisdom, the learned judges find that the prayers presented to them by the PDP are cogent and verifiable, and enter a judgment according to the law, that would consolidate our democracy. Moreover, impeachment proceedings are no longer conducted recklessly in hotel rooms anymore, since the judiciary gave the law its full meaning and purpose. Whichever way the court re-examines and decides this matter, it does not make judges pliant to political influences; rather, it will be the law that was pliant to the issues in contest. In that regard, the voting public does not wish to be entertained by any partisan rented crowds, be they APC or PDP. The voting public wants to know the criteria for determining “faction” and/or “division” of political parties, as used in the legislation in order for periodic custodians of the mandates of political parties to be well guided, and for Nigeria to have a stable and sustainable democracy, because arbitrary political defections have doomed several democratic regimes to the detriment of our collective development in the past.