As it was in the beginning, so it is now, but it must not be allowed to be the acceptable standard of political conduct. In principle, if you hold a view which is no longer defensible or you belong to a group which is no longer compatible, it is human and indeed legitimate to change course or company. But that was not the case at the advent of carpet crossing in Nigerian politics in 1952 in the defunct Western Region. Rather, it was a deplorable, obscene and desperate appeal to group ethnic solidarity for carpet crossing.
Despite that disturbing situation, there were men of conscience who remained constant, untainted and nationalistic. Caught in the disgrace of their action, beneficiaries of the 1952 carpet crossing rationalised themselves on a non-existing and unconstitutional principle of east for easterners, west for westerners and north for northerners. Ten years later, initiators of carpet crossing in Nigerian politics were consumed by the same corrupt act, a sizable section of the feuding Action Group in the internal crisis in the party crossed the carpet to a newly-formed Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) and formed the government. Even many of opposition NCNC members were also seduced with ministerial appointments to cross the carpet.It is thus obvious that, from the onset, carpet crossing in Nigerian politics was for the self-serving purpose of grabbing power in a civilian setting.
Later, some of the architects of carpet crossing recanted. On November 16, 1994, Chief A.M.A. Akinloye, a key actor in the carpet crossing episode in the Western House of Assembly in 1952, inserted advertisements in some Nigerian newspapers, ostensibly congratulating Nnamdi Azikiwe (the major victim of the carpet crossing) on his birthday but significantly apologised to Zik with the unsolicited explanation that the carpet crossing was never aimed at stopping Zik or NCNC from forming government. According to Akinloye, all they (they NCNC members who crossed to Action Group) asked for was that a Yoruba NCNC member of the House should be allowed to form the government in the west. That was simply a mischievous ethnic-laden opportunism, in violation of the constitution of the day whose only unambiguous provision was that the leader of the party with majority elected members would form the government. Chief Ayo Rosiji, federal secretary of the the Action Group, who played a leading part in the carpet crossing, later in his biography, owned up to his role of luring NCNC members, including F.O. Awosika, he described as his principal at secondary school. Chief Bola Ige, in his reminiscences, expressed reservations on the carpet crossing episode. By the way, each of the three regions in 1952 had in its constitution identical and unambiguous provision that any elected member in the region that was leader of the majority party would form the government.
The 1952 carpet crossing in the Western Region still bedevils Nigerian politics till today. Ideally, carpet crossing should be based on principle, especially if there is disagreement on party policies among members, But usually, especially currently, legislators cross carpet from opposition to ruling parties. Not even an Abuja high court ruling on the matter is being enforced that any legislator quitting a party for another must vacate his/her seat and seek fresh mandate on the platform of the new party. The loophole being exploited in the best of cases is the proviso in the Nigerian constitution that a legislator may retain his/her seat if carpet crossing was caused by factionalisation of the party. But there was a difference in 2014 even five serving state governor took the rare gamble of resigning from the ruling PDP to join in forming a new and untested APC. This followed the demand of northerners that, after 14 consecutive years, the presidency must return to the North, especially as an agreement to that effect was allegedly breached by the then incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, who, rightly or wrongly, demanded any document to that effect. A gentleman’s agreement.
Unable to produce such document, northern members of the ruling PDP muscled their numerical strength as governors, members of state and national assemblies, resigned from PDP and joined South Eest-based ACN and factions of APGA, ANPP as well as the CPC to form a new party, the APC. The significance of that development was that legislators resigned from a party in control of the federal government to found a rival (if opposition) All Progressives Congress. In the 1952 carpet crossing, the culprits betrayed the electorate to grab government. In 2014, PDP members resigned from a ruling party and sought a fresh mandat on the platform of a rival party in 2015 and got properly elected, almost as stipulated in the Nigerian constitution. While they were seeking a fresh, mandate on the platform of their new party, PDP remined in control of the federal government and most of the 36 states.
If the electorate disapproved of the few state governors who resigned from the PDP and/or those of the ACN, APGA, ANPP and CPC, which all dissoved and merged to found APC, on which platform a new mandate was obtained, they could all have been rejected at the polls, moreso as they were all contesting against a ruling party. That was the nearest to principled politics. Unfortunately, from that strong base, the ruling APC may be digging its political grave with the seeming open arms with which the party is welcoming deserting PDP members in both national and state assemblies. No principle is involved in the latest wave of carpet crossing. The only convenience for these shameless fellows is their confidence (more than hope) that the APC will return to power to continue ruling Nigeria in 2019. There lies the political risk for APC, should the party offer automatic tickets to carpet crossers from PDP.
APC should consider this prospect of the carpet crossers seeking APC ticket merely to be re-elected and continue serving as legislators after 20 years (from 1999 to beyond 2019). That is at the best. What then is APC’s reward for its long-standing and loyal members all over the country? Monkey de work only for baboon to be chopping from any ruling party? In the worst case, carpet crossers from the PDP, if re-elected on the platform of APC and defect to another party, they will conveniently cite past defections to strenghten the case that their defection back to PDP is supported by the constitution. With that, what is the guarantee against their ganging up to impeach a sitting President of the Federal Republic Republic of Nigeria? Witness their series of manouvres with treacherous APC members in the National Assembly even against APC’s interest and decisions awaiting ratification.
To halt this wave of carpet crossing, APC will be helping itself and will also be sanitising Nigerian politics by making carpet crossers eligible for the party’s ticket only at the election after the next. That will show their principle, if any, in joining APC.
Brickbats towards 2019 polls
Ordinarily, next year’s general election should be mere routine but, being Nigeria, an ever restless country, a lot will happen towards that exercise. At least, there will be a triple showdown, The combatants will be Aso Rock, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the National Assembly. The first challenge was thrown by the National Assembly in the self-delusion of arm-twisting the electoral agency out of its complete autonomy in discharging its statutory obligations to the country every four years.
Trouble-shooting legal/constitutional expert, Femi Falana, has since exposed the ignorance of the National Assembly in the attempt to excercise power not conferred on their privileges, which they could otherwise have claimed had been breached. For this, we owe Falana much for neutralising on-coming political tension of unimaginable magnitude.
Probably, with that latent unquestionable exclusive authority to conduct elections in the country, INEC has robbed it in by announcing election dates in Nigeria for the next 36 years, However, INEC was wrong or at least was partially wrong in claiming that its decision to fix election dates for that long is the standard in major democracies throughout the world. Only the United States seems to have fixed dates for presidential elections, since 1845. Presidential election is held in United States first Tuesday in November but strictly after the first Monday in November every four years. That rule operates till today because there is never any emergency to warrant any postponement of the presidential election. Come hell or high water, America goes on. That is the abiding patriotism of the average citizen.
Even if both American president and the vice president die in office or are both impeached, the Speaker of Hou se of Representatives assumes office as acting president. Such emergency is very rare in the country’s history. Hence, the fixed date of the first Tuesday after first Monday in November There is nothing like permanently fixed dates for elections in established, democracies like Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, Germany, etc, which practise parliamentary democracy. If the prime minister loses a censure vote in parliament, the government in most cases falls and new elections follow even a year after the last one. Britidh prime minister David Cameroon won re-election in 2015 but lost a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union in 2016. His successor, Teresa May could have sustained the five-year tenure she inherited but after only a year in office, made a dash for her own mandate but only narrowly survived. Her government can fall at any time and elections will follow. In France,, as head of state, the executive President appoints a prime minister who can be dismissed at any time while the President remains in office for a tenure of seven years
President Charles de Gaulle’s policy of reforms in response to students protests in 1968 were rejected by national assembly, He resigned and there was immediate presidential election won by erstwhile prime minister Pompidou. However, INEC is in order only because Nigeria practises presidential system with a fixed tenure of four years. Fixing election dates for the next 36 years only means sheepishly copying United States. Still, Nigerians must get ready for possible rascality, which will cut National Assembly down to size. Yet, despite the nullity of their efforts to control the 2019 elections, National Assembly may still confront Buhari with a fake, purported amendment to the Electoral Act, which he would veto, in line with his powers under the constitution. The veto will then be overriden by the National Assembly after which INEC would be handed a fake law on how to conduct the elections.
At that stage, INEC must assert itself by proceeding to enforce its own lawful arrangement sourced from its power under the constitution on the conduct of the 2019 elections. In short, INEC must not dignify National Assembly by challenging in court a law that has been proved beyond reasonable doubt not to exist for one second. INEC should dare National Assembly to be dragged to court for ignoring a law brought in dead. That will then set the stage for the real showdown between eager Nigerian voters and spoilt brats of Nigerian politics.