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It is becoming eerily predictable, that is, the uninspiring and increasingly, less shocking episode of a member elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) defecting to the now ballooning, All Progressives Congress (APC) Caucus in the House of Representatives.
The drab drama, which I wish I don’t have to watch, starts with a gleeful PDP member submitting his letter, informing a pretentiously surprised Speaker Yakubu Dogara of his intention to dump the main opposition for the ruling party. Upon the submission of the missive, APC lawmakers cheer, while those still left in the PDP protest and then, the leaders of the minority party raise a point of order, demanding that the Speaker declares the seat of the defector vacant. I already mentioned that, lawmakers defecting from the PDP to the APC happen almost in the same manner, so it’s quite predictable, that the PDP Caucus will protest in vain. Dogara also like his predecessors in the Green Chambers, who reigned under the period of the imperial PDP, will find his way around the argument by the main opposition and happily welcome one more new member to his side of the divide.
The latest of the decampment of lawmakers from the PDP played out recently, with two members, Zephaniah Jisalo, who represents AMAC/Bwari Federal Constituency of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Tijani Yusuf, representing Okene/Ogori-Mangongo Federal Constituency of Kogi State, dumping the party for the APC. Both men came up with the now disingenuous reason that the PDP is in crisis.
The Minority Whip, Yakubu Barde immediately raised a point of order, demanding that the seats of his former comrades be declared vacant. A highly miffed Barde, cited Sections 68 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which states that the seat of a member of the Senate or House be declared vacant should he/she defect to another party, without a division in his old party or in the case of a merger of political parties. Suffice to say that the Senator Ahmed Markafi led-caretaker committee is fully in-charge of the PDP, with Senator Ali Modu-Sheriff now visiting Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in Aso Rock.Oh! PDP lawmakers fought hard on the day, but to end the back and forth on the relevance of Section 68(1)(g) to the case of the defecting members, the Speaker ruled that the PDP seek judicial interpretation on how a division in a party can be fully defined. The bothersome fact is that the PDP Caucus doesn’t really need this crafty advice from Dogara. I remember the eloquent and immensely experienced, Minority Leader, Leo Ogor vowing to make two members who defected in June 2016 regret their actions. They are Tony Nwoye, who is contesting for the Anambra governorship election on the APC ticket and Emmanuel Udende, from Benue State. These legislators as you might have noticed are still sitting pretty in the Green Chamber.
The wheel of the Nigerian judiciary moves quite slowly, but I am tempted to say, that any progress made with challenging the wayward movement from the opposition to the very powerful ruling party, can deepen our democracy. Legislators will think of the legal implications before they jump ship, if just one person has lost his/her seat for switching parties. I don’t blame cynics, who paint Nigerian politicians with one brush, saying the lack of political ideology, makes rubbish of calls for lawmakers to show more loyalty to the party that got them into the National Assembly. The PDP is losing members quite frequently, with its membership dropping from 139 to 118. Can I blame folks who say majority of Nigerian politicians simply cannot do the work, they want to go where life is easy, where they can use the much talked about federal might to win elections? This is even when they probably have lost popularity. They simply want to survive, these survivalists are probably desperate about ‘stomach infrastructure’, more than the poor masses, we warn against selling their votes for a pot of pottage.
How many PDP lawmakers will back their party ensuring that suits instituted against defecting members are completely disposed off? Most of them are truthful to themselves, enough to be cautious that they could just be the next defector. Some of those left behind in the PDP Caucus don’t love the party to the extent of sticking with it through thick and thin. The truth is a number of them really don’t have a choice, dumping the party which their governors still belong to can be counterproductive. Maybe, the heroes are the few members elected under the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who have remained in the party thus far. They didn’t grab the opportunity of the recent tussle over the leadership of APGA to jump ship.
When vibrant lawmakers like Edward Pwajok from Plateau State and Nnanna Igbokwe from Imo State, left the PDP or even Nwoye, who could be missed for his ability to mobolise at the grassroots level, a few observers felt sorry for the party. But quite frankly, if judging by vibrancy, the departure of individuals like Jisalo a former chairman of the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) and Yusuf didn’t leave the minority party with a deep cut. Never mind that in politics, the numbers matter especially with the mentality of the former ruling party, opposition members who hardly contributed to debate on the floor and are almost as docile at the level of committees is the major reason some say, Ogor and a few others shoulder the responsibility of playing opposition in the House. One the other hand, the APC which is neither a beacon of principled politics shouldn’t be envied because the defecting members will add to the survivalist mentality in their new party. Journalists aren’t immune to the cynicism and suspicion that pervades the country. This explains why Pwajok during a media interaction that immediately followed his movement to the APC was asked and he flatly denied, that, he had been promised an automatic ticket for a second term by Governor Simon Lalong, who accompanied him to the chamber on the day.
In the final analysis, I remember the cliché that power belongs to the people, especially in a democracy. The office of the citizen is supreme and only Nigerians can rescue our beloved country from the destructive consequences of politics without ideology. The shortest way of riding our leadership spaces of men and women, who want political office for the sake of it, is by severely weakening the power of money politics. Countries that have made into the first world and those opening new frontiers, nations regularly coming up with pivotal innovations have rid themselves of any semblance of vote buying. Up until the 18th and 19th centuries, politicians in England and America, handled voters the same way our politicians still handle the electorate today.
It was called treating in England, i.e., giving voters a treat (money, alcohol, etc) in order for them to cast their votes for your preferred candidate. Of course, a candidate who didn’t do any convincing to get the party’s ticket or win the general elections, who instead gave out cash or a bag of rice will not need to talk much about political ideology or his development blueprint. And how far can a leader promising development and any form of societal advancement go without an ethical set of ideals and principles that explain how he/she thinks society should work? When a candidate for political office comes to campaign, especially for a place in the state or federal legislature, constituents should listen carefully to the promises they make and not look out for how much he/she has to share. It’s the only way we can vote in a National Assembly with individuals who will ensure our societies thrive and not lawmakers, who are masters of self survival.