A former member of the House of Representatives, Mr West Idahosa, on Sunday disagreed with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, on the rule of defection by holders of elective positions in Nigeria.
“It is not democratically correct that because you defect from one party to another, you ought to forfeit your seat or vacate that office to occasion a bye-election. You have to look at established democracies to reach this conclusion that I have just made,” he said on Politics Today.
Mr Idahosa also noted that we are in an evolutionary democracy and the status quo should be maintained until Nigerians “are able to identify one or two parties as the authentic vehicles for choosing candidates” and insisting that “until we get there, it will be difficult to decree into existence the attempt to confine an elected public office holder to his political party even when he defers in terms of obligations based on his views for which he sought election”.
However, a legal practitioner, Mr Wale Orinade, disagreed, quoting Section 68 of the 1999 constitution. He noted that “a person whose election was sponsored by a political party and becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected automatically loses his seat” insisting that once he jumps ship, it has become “political harlotry” which is “morally wrong”.
Citing the fact that the independent candidature is yet to be introduced by INEC, the lawyer noted that no one can contest elections in Nigeria without a political party, adding that “you either sink or swing with them”.
“You cannot come through that platform then change midstream and say you are not going,” he said.
Prof. Jega, had last week warned politicians holding elective positions that they risked losing their seats should they defect from the political party on whose platforms they get into power.
He said in Abuja at the All Nigeria Political Parties and Political Stakeholders’ Summit that INEC was proposing a bill to the National Assembly so that any elected political officeholder who joins any other political party other than the one on whose platform he was first elected into office, will lose his seat.
He said the bill, when passed into law, would correct the lacuna in the 1999 Constitution, which is being exploited by defected politicians. Under the 1999 Constitution, only lawmakers who defected from their parties are expected to lose their seats, provided their defection was not as a result of division in their parties.
But Jega condemned politicians who defected and insisted on retaining their seats in violation of the constitution. He said: “While we must respect the right of citizens to choose at will what parties to belong to, as part of their freedom of association, the negative effects of haemorrhage of party members and the rancour it generates cannot be underestimated because on one hand the legal framework is not too clear.
“If you are elected on the platform of a political party and you cross-carpet and change your political party, then obviously you have to relinquish the seat and election needs to be conducted to fill that seat. This is an important issue we should address”