Noel A. Ihebuzor
Last week came the long expected announcement. The Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives had defected to the APC. At the extraordinary convention to welcome Tambuwal and celebrate the “catch”, the national chairman of the APC John Odigie Oyegun was exultant, and for very good reason. The fourth citizen of the realm, he kept repeating, was now with the “progressives”. It was celebrations galore as the brooms came out to sweep in a new member, a clean democrat from the “People Undemocratic Party”.
Errors and self revelations are not uncommon in such moments of celebration. When they do happen, the errors should be forgiven whilst special note should be made of the revealed character flaw. Odigie-Oyegun’s betrayal of gross partisanship in his claim that the containment of Ebola in Lagos and Rivers states was proof and example of the efficiency of APC led states falls into a special category of errors. But he should be forgiven for the tastelessness in his choice of exemplar whilst we note this penchant for making deceptive claims. The wine of “success” does at times impair proper functioning, and the APC drank quite some as it celebrated that day and into the night.
The country woke up the next day to learn that Mr Tambuwal’s security detail had been withdrawn on instruction of the IGP. That move was totally unnecessary. It made Tambuwal look like the innocent victim of police high-handedness. The withdrawal of the police detail also earned him a sizeable chunk of public sympathy, a large part of it completely unmerited when one considers what Mr Tambuwal did, failed to do and has not done till date. The withdrawal of the security detail was based on a hasty reading and interpretation of section 68 of the 1999 constitution.
The provisions of the said constitution on the implications of defection by an elected member to another party are quite clear. Section 68, sub 1 quoted in full below spell these out.
- (1)A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if -
(a) he becomes a member of another legislative house.
(b) any other circumstances arise that, if he were not a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives, would cause him to be disqualified for election as a member;
(c) he ceases to be a citizen of Nigeria;
(d) he becomes President, Vice-President, Governor, Deputy Governor or a Minister of the Government of the Federation or a Commissioner of the Government of a State or a Special Adviser.
(e) save as otherwise prescribed by this Constitution, he becomes a member of a commission or other body established by this Constitution or by any other law.
(f) without just cause he is absent from meetings of the House of which he is a member for a period amounting in the aggregate to more than one-third of the total number of days during which the House meets in any one year;
(g) 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;
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; or
(h) the President of the Senate or, as the case may be, the Speaker of the House of Representatives receives a certificate under the hand of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission stating that the provisions of section 69 of this Constitution have been complied with in respect of the recall of that member.
The withdrawal of the detail was based on reading 68 (1) (g) in isolation! If the IGP had read 68 (2) which details the process and necessary actions to be taken in the event of such a member defection, the withdrawal of the detail would not have been so precipitate. Section 68, sub 2 is reproduced below. That section clearly indicates the person to take action to give the defector the very well deserved red card!
(2) The President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, shall give effect to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, so however that the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives or a member shall first present evidence satisfactory to the House concerned that any of the provisions of that subsection has become applicable in respect of that member.
Mr. Tambuwal was fully aware of these provisions at the moment of his defection. The only person who could declare his loss of his membership of the house and by implication the immediate cessation of his status as Speaker is the Speaker, that is Mr Tambuwal himself! And Aminu Tambuwal is in no hurry to do just that. Mr Tambuwal is currently content to eat his cake and still have it. The best way to visualize this situation is to imagine a game of football where an elected referee suddenly abandons his supposed neutrality, signs up for one side and immediately commits a red card offense by that act. But nobody except the offending referee can issue a red card in the short and medium terms after the offense. Only a judge can cause a red card to be issued to the erring referee. Until this is done, the mayhem which the referee created will persist and its ripple effects may widen in scope and strength as the game is now played with feverish tempo and red hot tempers. Spectators would either be cheering or screaming, depending on which of the teams they support.
Such is the mess that we are in. Such is the mess Aminu Tambuwal has put us the country in all because he and his handlers were clever enough to see this gap in our constitution and to exploit it. Clearly, Mr Tambuwal must be enjoying himself due to this peculiarity in our constitution. But why would our constitution contain clauses and sub-sections that make for the type of messy situation that Tambuwal’s defection has created, one may ask? It is so easy to blame the constitution writers for situations like these. But truth be told, which constitution writer would ever suspect that a speaker of a house would ever defect and still want to hold on to his/her position? A John Andrew Boehner dumps the Republican Party and defects to the Democratic Party in the US and still wants to remain speaker? This is neither feasible nor imaginable!
In sane polities, elected members of houses who wish to defect to another party first resign the elected positions they hold, then defect and thereafter seek re-election (in a bye election) on the platform of their new parties. We saw this happen recently in the UK when a member elected on the Conservative Party platform resigned from the party, resigned his seat and signed up with UKIP. He then took part in the bye election as the UKIP candidate and won! That is the path of honor. But not so in this country where honor is now so depreciated that persons who choose to act with honor are now scorned and pooh-poohed. The honorable path for Tambuwal is to resign as member of the house and seek re-election on the platform of the APC. The honorable thing for Mr. Tambuwal to do is not to hold the country hostage by clinging to constitutional and legal technicalities. Not all that is legal is necessarily honorable. Aminu Tambuwal’s decision brings to a point in his political journey where the road now forks into two paths. One path leads to honor even though its surface in its initial stretch is littered with difficulties. But that path holds immense rewards in the long term. That path beckons to Aminu Tambuwal. We hope he takes it. Whilst waiting for Tambuwal to act with honor, his security detail should be restored.
This present crisis is one caused by the gross depreciation of honor in this country. However, unless controlled now, the current crisis may scale up and spiral out of control. In the long term, Section 68 of our constitution should be amended. All defections to another political party by elected representatives must be preceded by a resignation of membership of the house the person was elected into. The same principle should be extended to state governors who cross carpet. This is one way we can begin to check the irritant of political prostitution that is now invading our land.