Posted in Prose

Section 68, a Speaker’s Defection and the Depreciation of Honor


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The country woke up the next day to learn that Mr Tambuwal’s security detail had been withdrawn on instruction of the IGP.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. (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.

Posted in Prose

Discouraging Deserters and Defectors

By Noel A. Ihebuzor


Twitter abounds in twitfights – fights between foes as well fights between former friends who have now parted ways for one reason or the other. When fights are between former friends who now find themselves on different sides of the political divide, the clashes tend to be very mean and vicious. The acrimony betrays the persisting bitterness and hurt that one party or both feel over the parting of ways. It is as if the fighters ignore one basic fact of life which is that some good friends must part someday, and that associations do not all always last forever. In life, friends do often fall out and part ways. This basic truth appears to be lost on quite a number of persons. Such persons hold on to a position which I call the permanence of associations and immutability of views position. Parting of ways or rethinking of positions by the other party are often very strongly resisted to the point where the person who decamps or changes his/her view is often treated as a deserter, a defector and a sell-out.

Positions of the type described above abound in the thriving twitter political party activist community. (I use this term to describe a community of persons who use Twitter mostly to actively promote the cause of a particular party. Members of this group, the political party activist group, must be distinguished from political activists. The former tweet and blog more like political party agents. The latter maintain more objective positions and tweet on governance, political, and accountability issues without favouring any political party. This distinction is important as a lot of unnecessary misunderstanding is caused by a conflation of the two terms).

In this political party activist community, change of positions and perceptions is viewed as a clear indicator of defection and desertion, offenses that are seriously viewed. Such changes are viewed as some form of social “apostasy”. And apostasy is perceived as a grievous sin, a perception that is most accentuated in communities with tendencies to self-ascribed moral righteousness. “Apostates” must be condemned to “social” disgrace and demise. Apostates must be treated as social lepers. They are to be ridiculed and subjected to all forms of social pressures. And all of this because apostates are a danger to the group they left. They possess a Snowden-type risk potential and precisely because of this, their credibility must be seriously eroded and progressively destroyed.

Matters are also not helped by the attitudes of the deserters/defectors, these modern day social apostates, themselves. Like most fresh converts to new faiths and belief systems, these social apostates consistently betray excessive zeal typical of neophytes as they try to settle in to their new camp. Most exhibit a tendency to dwell on and detail the evils of the groups they have left, a tendency that irks that group and one which then further exacerbates the already seething acrimony between the deserter and his/her former associates. Soon, the leaders, gate keepers, enforcers, whips and foot soldiers of that group are up in arms, defending the honour of their group and attacking the deserter. They have recourse to a variety of strategies in doing this.

These strategies include naming, recalling of previous tweets which the attacking group believes are diametrically opposed to the deserter’s current position and shaming the deserter. The deserter’s reasons for leaving are trivialised, ridiculed and made to look pecuniary and materialistic. The tweets and comments of the “apostate” are unearthed and hurled in his/her face just to show how inconsistent and unreliable he/she is. The strategic goal here is to call attention to glaring inconsistencies between present position and previous tweets – the end game is to undermine the credibility of the defector. Taunts abound. Wicked jibes and hurting jabs fly around. A campaign of name calling is unleashed on the deserter, a campaign where no punches are pulled and which may even go as far as in one case to saying that a deserter was so poor that he “used to drink garri” in his undergraduate days. People watch from the sides, either amused or too frightened to wade in as the gladiators engage in bloody, vicious but mutually demeaning bouts and jousts.

The attack on the defector is an eye opener and dampener to those within the circle who may have been contemplating either changing camps or moving to more neutral positions. The message to such persons is clear. This is what you are likely going to get should you ever desert us. The attacks are thus not fortuitous but have a functional intent – to discourage and deter other potential deserters. Successful defection deterring strategies keep members in – once you are in, you cannot leave – a bit akin to what I call the Hotel California syndrome – you can check out anytime you want but you cannot leave!

Most deserters/defectors act as if they cannot understand the flurry and fury of the attacks on them. A little reflection should make any deserter/defector understand why those attacks are necessary and likely to come.

  • First, a defector must realise that his/her defection is a threat to his/her former associates. You know too much. Your former associates are not sure how much you will give away. They will want to put you away socially for good before you can do their group any harm. Basic survival principle, not ideology or any higher order principle, I believe, is what drives the chief whips of your former group as they come after you.
  • Secondly, a defector must also realise that he/she is also a threat to the his/her former associates in the sense that he/she is a reminder to those inside that they too could defect one day.  Now, that must be an uncomfortable feeling because it introduces some gnawing doubts in the minds of persons who cannot afford to have their present beliefs or rightness of their present positions tested/questioned. Remember what George Santanaya said about some group of persons re-doubling their efforts in situations of doubt – well a defection creates one of such a situation.
  • Thirdly, a defector should realise that his/her defection hurts the pride of his/her former associates. And when people are hurt, they hit out, and hitting out on impulse does not subject itself to the controls and norms of rational conduct.

The foregoing should enable the deserter to understand the onslaughts against his person. Desertion is not cost-free. You should expect them to come after you. But you must not fight them each time they come after you. Choose your battles! Don’t go galloping into every battle! One key aspect of successful military strategy is knowing which battles to fight and which ones to walk away from. Walk away, avoid the fight – even if they call you “Coward of the County”. Walk away, “walk on by”. If you do not respond, they are likely to get tired and find other things to spend their energies on.

This write-up would not be complete without a brief mention of what happens in the camp that receives the “decampee”. It is simple. The strategy of attack and damage is reversed:

The new “decampee” is presented as someone who has seen the truth, who has suddenly become aware of the folly and evil in his/her previous ways, one who has seen the sinfulness and greed of former associates and as one who now regrets ever associating with such evil people in such an evil party. The devil, who is a convenient scapegoat, takes a good bashing in this new dance of the converted and the redeemed.

  • The decampee’s conversion narrative is cleverly spun and elevated to achieve about the same dramatic intensity as Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. A blind eye is suddenly developed to everything that the new convert and prized acquisition ever said whilst a member of the opposite side.
  • New spins are put on any comments such a convert may have made on persons, character flaws, fat bank accounts, crimes and indiscretions of members of the group he/she is now joining. Damaging comments on how non-electable some members of the receiving group are get blacked out! An unwritten rule which places an embargo among the “faithful” on ever remembering or writing on these telling social comments, except to excuse them as either slippages or works of the devil immediately comes into effect.
  • A package of rewards and incentives, including mentions and praise, is made available to the new convert to encourage continued membership…and all is rosy and honky-dory until there is a falling out. And then the dogs of war are unleashed and we are back full cycle.

There are some lessons in all of this. And I will summarise these as bullet points

  • Be careful who you associate with on Twitter.
  • Be careful who you dine with
  • If you must dine with the devil, go with a long spoon.
  • You do not have to belong to the “in-crowd” to be relevant.
  • Do not let others be the ones to determine your relevance
  • All that glitters is not gold.
  • Shine your eyes
  • Free your mind
  • Use your mind.

It is good to belong on social media but please do not sell yourself or your soul to belong. You can use social media to grow, to learn, to engage and to share but that same social media can kill your mind and stunt your thinking if you allow yourself to be sucked into unhealthy associations. Engage wisely!