"Rather than being a move made out of conviction and good conscience, these defections are mostly opportunistic moves fueled by selfish ambition."
In all my years, I have not seen anything quite like Politics. Many have likened politics to a game of chess where each player makes calculated moves to further his own interest. For many Nigerian politicians, this has included "jumping ships" when they have the slightest clue that their present political party cannot serve their interest.
“Political parties are very important institutions. Their functions include developing policies, providing platforms to contest elections and creating a system of accountability. They also represent political ideologies.”
For an individual to run for an executive or legislative post in Nigeria, he must be a registered member of a registered political party. At present, following the de-registration of 75 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission for failing to meet the criteria set by the Constitution, Nigeria has 18 political parties..
By virtue of the provisions of Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended every individual has freedom of association which includes the right to form or belong to any recognised political party. It is however very concerning that defection which is movement from one political party to another is fast becoming a political culture in Nigeria. Rather than being a move made out of conviction and good conscience, these defections are mostly opportunistic moves fueled by selfish ambition
There is even a more controversial twist to it. A number of these defections have been made by individuals who are still serving in a political office. For example, quite recently, in the space of eight months, three serving governors abandoned the platforms on which they were elected. Not only is defection detrimental to political development, it reflects the state of political parties in Nigeria. Rather than being representatives of unique ideologies, our political parties are no more than political vehicles controlled by personalities and used interchangeably to gain power.
The position of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended is quite clear on its stance as regards defection of a member of the legislative arm while serving in government.
Sections 68 (1) (g) and 109 (1) (g) of the Constitution provide that "a member of the National Assembly ( or a State House of Assembly) shall vacate his seat in a legislative house of which he is a member if 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.”
In other words, a member of the legislature is only allowed to defect when he is not currently serving a term of office. The exception to this rule is when the defection is as a result of the division of his or her political party or a merger between his or her political party and another.
In interpreting this Constitutional provision, the court in Federal Electoral Commission v. Alhaji Mohammed Goni, noted that the provision of Section 64(1)(g) was enacted to address the mischief of carpet crossing or defection in order to protect the interest of the public.
In Attorney-General, Federation v. Abubakar, the issue before the court was whether or not the provision of Section 64(1) (g) applies to defection by a serving member of the executive arm. In this case the serving Vice president defected to the opposition party. While the Supreme Court held that the provisions that apply to the members of the legislature do not extend to the executive, the Supreme Court however admitted that defection by a sitting Vice President could “amount to gross misconduct” which is a ground for impeachment under section 143 (11) of the 1999 Constitution.
Freedom of association is a fundamental right. While every individual can enjoy this right, it is only fair that they do so in a way that does not amount to infringing other people’s rights. Democracy as a system of government strives on opposition, competition and choice.
The recent defections have been one-sided. As such Nigeria may be leaning heavily towards one party system and ultimately totalitarianism. Although defection in itself is a derivative of the freedom of association, an abuse of the process can make a mockery of Nigerian democracy.
What then can be done to check this?
To discourage defection, it is important that the defection of serving members of the executive moves from being morally impermissible to being legally punishable. Eligibility to run for a political office should also be determined by a person's identification with a political ideology among other factors.
Finally, there is the need to restructure Nigerian political parties so as to ensure that they represent clear cut ideologies.