OrderPaperToday – A mild drama ensued on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday as two lawmakers of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) announced their defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Mr. Ephraim Nwuzi, representing Etched/Omuma federal constituency of Rivers State and David Abel, representing Gashaka/Kurmi/Sardauna federal constituency of Taraba State, announced their defection in separate letters to the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila.
The letters were read during plenary.
Nwuzi is a fresher in the House having moved from an executive position in the government of Rivers State.
Although, David Abel was absent at plenary, Nwuzi was received into the APC by House Leader, Hassan Ado Doguwa amidst cheers from the APC lawmakers.
The opposition leaders and members of the PDP in the House did not take the defection lightly as they openly objected and asked the Speaker to declare their seats vacant as stipulated in Section 60 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, raised a constitutional point of order saying such defection can only be allowed if there was a crisis in the PDP, saying “the member whose letter has just be read is from Rivers State and I am aware that there is no crisis in the PDP in Rivers State. As a result of that, we are demanding that the seat be declared vacant.”
Also the Deputy Minority Leader, Tobi Okechukwu, noted that “this country is based on law and due process. It is clear that our colleagues who wrote to defect are simply quoting the charisma of the Speaker. The law says there must be a crack in the party on whose platform the member was elected and in the absence of that, such a member should lose his seat. The Speaker must obey the constitution and ask those defecting to vacate their seat.”
Also contributing, leader of the PDP Caucus in the House, Kingsley Chinda, said the law was very explicit on defection of members, adding that the Speaker, as leader of the House swore to uphold the constitution and the law.
He informed the Speaker that he was in trial, stressing that his decision on the issue would go a long way to save democracy, insisting however that there are several decisions of the court on the issue of defection.
He further submitted that the Supreme Court held that a lawmaker who defected to another political party other than the one on whose platform he was elected shall have his seat declared vacant, and that the Speaker has the responsibility of upholding the rule.
Chinda said the Speaker has yet another opportunity to uphold the rule of law saying “if you fail to uphold the law, it is either an act of cowardice or a deliberate refusal to uphold the law.”
Responding to the contributions, Speaker Gbajabiamila said “when I was minority leader, I said exactly the same things you are saying now when we lose members to your party and you shouted me down.
“You must look at the combined reading of section 60 of the constitution and our House rules. It is in the rules of the House that people can cross and you sanctioned it. You have said I should do the right thing which I will do.”
Referring to the provisions of section 68 of the constitution on when a member’s seat can be declared vacant, he said “you are aware of a particular member of your party that has not been present on the floor of this House since we started seating. Should I declare his seat vacant?”
Elumelu in reaction to the Speaker’s question said “Mr. Speaker, you have just made an allegation. Maybe we should ask the Clerk of the House to being the attendance register for verification.”
In his response, the Speaker said “if we do that, your party will suffer more because we are not talking about one person here. In any case, as you told me when I was Minority Leader, your points are noted”.