By Gift Habib
The Nigeria lower chamber on Wednesday witnessed a shouting match, following the decamping of two members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The session was very rowdy when the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila read their separate letters of defection.
The two lawmakers are, Ephraim Nwuzi (Etched/Omuma Federal Constituency of Rivers) and David Abel (Gashaka/Kurmi/Sardauna Federal Constituency of Taraba).
While Nwuzi was present at plenary and officially received into the APC by House Leader, Ado Doguwa, Abel was absent and his defection, the Speaker ruled should be taken on the next legislative day.
The decamping did not go down well with members of opposition leaders who objected to the continued stay of the members in the House and asked the Speaker to declare their seats vacant.
Leading the objection, Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, raised a constitutional order saying such defection can only be allowed if there was crisis in the party.
He said: “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”.
Deputy Minority Leader, Tobi Okechukwu said: “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”.
Leader of the PDP caucus in the House, Kingsley Chinda, said the law was very explicit on defection of members, adding that the Speaker swore to uphold the constitution and the law.
He informed the Speaker he was on trial, stressing 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 said in one of its decisions, 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 deleberate refusal to uphold the law.”
Gbajabiamila responded: “When I was Minority Leader, I said exactly the things you are saying now when we lose members to your party and you shouted me down.
“You must look at tbe 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 provisions of section 68 of the Constitution 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 fired back: “Mr. Speaker, you have just made an allegation. Maybe we should ask the Clerk of the House to bring the attendance register for verification”.
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”.