Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja defrocked David Umahi and his Deputy Kelechi Igwe as Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State respectively. It also invalidated the legal right of 17 members of the state House of Assembly to remain in the state legislative chambers.
I salute him. Their offence? It used to be called carpet crossing. This is now called defection. It means that a man leaves the party on whose platform he was elected and re-elected governor or legislator and joins another ruling party for continued political opportunity or relevance. It is the tangled web of politics without morals.
The howl of protest at the All Progressives Congress (APC) is rather deafening but understandable. Let them scream even louder.
Since 1954, the action group has used it to deny Zik the chance to become Premier of the Western Region. It has now become the defining feature of our national politics, a way of life for politicians who seem to see it as a smart and rewarding game. But it is the scourge of our national policy as I will show here.
Mr. Justice Ekwo is a brave man. His judgment may not end defections or even go through the eye of the needle at a top bench, but he hit the glass ceiling hard. Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State can sleep with one eye open because I am sure that the PDP under the leadership of its new National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu will go after all those in his members who want to ruin the party. Other judges will find courage in his decision and help save the governance of our country from the irresponsible actions of our politicians who think that swinging from branch to branch like monkeys is pragmatic policy.
Our party politics are in trouble because great men refuse to play by the rules. Our country is in deep trouble because we are all complicit in the flagrant violation of our constitution and the continued hacking of the pillars of our constitutional government by men charged with both the moral and legal duty to protect them.
In his view, Ekwo did more than knock these men off their political high perch and told them unequivocally that there is a reasonable limit to impunity and cynical disregard for our laws by men made great and important. by the same laws. . Ekwo introduced a new and welcome dimension to political leadership in our country, namely the moral imperatives of political leadership.
Ekwo became not only the first judge to treat defection as a moral and legal offense against the electorate, but also the first to challenge his fellow judges to end the supposed right of our political leaders to do whatever they want. , the electorate be damned. Moral imperatives cannot be separated from legal imperatives.
The wind of defections blows in all electoral seasons. In my column, Carpet Crossing (February 18, 2017) I wrote: We are generally amused by the back and forth of our politicians desperately looking for opportunities even in small fish ponds. You don’t have to have fun. Their behavior is detrimental to the meaningful growth of our partisan politics. I say this to Nigerians (sounds like a lawyer, doesn’t it?) It’s time to wake up to the damage that carpet crossing has done and continues to do to party politics in the country. It is vast and shameful.
In 1979, five registered political parties were vying for the various elective offices at the federal and state levels. Each of them has won at least two states. By the time of the 1983 general elections, only the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which offered rosy cheeks to its leaders and members, remained strong. The NPN had damaged the other four political parties beyond repair. We did not negotiate a one-party rule. It had become anachronistic.
Think of defection as a worm in the apple of our political party.
Since we returned to civilian rule in 1999, defection has become the rule rather than the exception. This almost ruined the chances of President Buhari returning to Aso Rock in 2019. There is not a single political party registered by the generals in 1998 that has remained the same and intact. Few politicians have stayed in one party since 1999. They have walked the carpet back and forth. Not for ideological reasons, but for what has been cynically dubbed the infrastructure of the stomach. This results in the use of the self-service policy.
This is no way to build strong political parties.
In 2015, the once impregnable Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), touted by its leaders as Africa’s largest political party, collapsed. He has become a sad and pathetic victim of rug crossing. He was once the biggest beneficiary of carpet crossing and destroyed other political parties in the process. The biter found himself bitten. It is not always pleasant to swallow your poison intended for others. Men who have become Presidents or Governors of States or Senators or Members of the House of Representatives or Speakers of Houses of Assembly, etc., have suddenly left the party. They hitched their political wagon to the untested new political party, the APC, an amalgamation of mostly carpet smugglers. This is how during the 2015 presidential election, the sun suddenly set for the PDP. Its once arrogant rulers, who made impunity a virtue, have begun to push their way down the road.
Think about defection and think about the damage it continues to do to our political parties and party politics.
Defection is a malaise capable of spreading its poison over all that is political and decent. The generals who gave us the 1979 and 1999 constitutions knew the damage that the free roaming of politicians via carpet swiping would do to party cohesion and our national politics. They took constitutional measures to discourage it. The constitution stipulates that national and state legislators who cross the carpet must automatically lose their seats in parliament.
The constitution is silent on state governors who defect to other parties. Politicians took advantage of this to ruin governance and partisan politics. Generals must have thought that a state governor would exercise a greater sense of responsibility and loyalty to his party to even think about moving from his party to another and still feel morally entitled to retain the position he had. ensured his party. A state governor has a moral obligation to stay engaged and make his party strong and impregnable against opposition parties.
But governors Ali Shinkafi of Zamfara and Isa Yuguda of Bauchi showed the excesses of impunity and untouchability when, with all the members of their respective public assemblies, they defected from the ANPP to the PDP in power. The court ruled that what Shinkafi did was immoral but not unconstitutional. Yet the law is clear in the case of legislators. Using defection to bend the moral imperatives of the constitution for personal gain is the ultimate excess of cheap political power play.
Because of defections, we cannot have political parties formed and built around a well-articulated ideology designed to promote economic and social development. Our political parties are therefore devoid of progressive and developmental ideas. We take one step forward and two steps back.
Because of defections, we have no real commitments to our political parties. You’re there long enough for opportunities to open up in another political party and then you cross the mat.
Because of defections, our political parties are just convenient legal tools to oil our political aspirations. The cynical abandonment of parties that make their platforms available to ambitious seekers for elective office says all non-Nigerians need to know about our lack of a sense of gratitude.
Because of defections, families cannot bequeath an ideological commitment to particular parties so that generations of those families remain loyal to those parties.
Because of defections, our political parties are swaying with the wind. They are unable to conduct good leadership recruitment, are detached from their statutory responsibilities and moguls take advantage of the vacuum created.
It bears repeating: defection is the scourge of our partisan politics. We just use the policy for self service rather than national service. Even the blind can see that it harms our national political health.
If Ekwo’s judgment stands, as I hope, it will represent a) a major paradigm shift in our national politics and b) be the first step towards rescuing governance from the scoundrels.