Opinion: Obaseki resigns from APC - he must also quit as Governor.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria, on Friday, 17 April 2015, pronounced that an elected legislator, who defected from the political party which sponsored him, must vacate his seat in the legislature. It was a unanimous decision of a Seven-man Panel of the apex court led by the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.

• Saturday Punch issue of 18 April 2015 reported the ruling of the Supreme Court on its Page 10.

* The Supreme Court order, by extension, definitely, must apply to an elected Governor who changed his party allegiance or resigned his membership of the political party that gave him the platform to contest election.

* According to our Constitution, a Governorship Aspirant can only become a Candidate and qualify to "contest election to the office of Governor of a State if he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party." (Section 177 {c}) of 2011 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended)

In other words, an Elected Governor is a Representative of the Political Party that sponsored him, and holds the office in Trust for the Party, that the people, believably, voted for. The mandate, therefore, belongs to the Party.

This position was affirmed by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the suit brought before it by Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi in respect of 2007 Governorship Election in Rivers State.

* In the build-up to the election, Amaechi took part in the party primaries, and won. But, the powers-that-be in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) at the time claimed that 'Amaechi's victory had a K-leg'. The ticket was taken from him and given to Mr. Celestine Omehia to be the flag-bearer of the party. Omehia on the platform of PDP won the election and assumed office as Governor of Rivers State.

Unrelenting Amaechi, not pleased with the denial of the ticket by his party, pursued the case for the restoration and affirmation of his victory in the primaries to the Supreme Court.

Months after Omehia had been addressed as His Excellency, the Governor; the Supreme Court reversed the nullification of Amaechi's victory in the primaries, declared him as the proper, eligible candidate for the election and ordered that he should be sworn in as Governor, because it was the political party - PDP - that owns the mandate, not Omehia, as an individual. He was not an Independent Candidate.

That was how Celestine Omehia's tenure as Governor was brought to an abrupt end and Rotimi Amaechi assumed office as Governor of Rivers State as ordered by the Supreme Court.

** Back to the Supreme Court pronouncement mentioned in the opening paragraph, for the records.

The central character in the suit, was Hon. Ifedayo Abegunde, then a member of the House of Representatives representing Akure South/North Federal Constituency of Ondo State.

At present, the Secretary to Ondo State Government, Hon. Abegunde defected from the Labour Party to the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2011.

Smart guy, in a pre-emptive action, he approached the court seeking an order to restrain the Labour Party from initiating his recall from the National Assembly, as a result of his action.

He predicted his defection on the 'division and factionalisation in the Labour Party.'

* The Federal High Court, Akure and Court of Appeal, Akure Division ruled that Hon. Abegunde's defection was unjustifiable. He proceeded to the Supreme Court for final adjudication.

**Saturday Punch issue of 18 April 2015 reported the Supreme Court ruling on its Page 10 thus:

"...The Apex Court held that a legislator's defection to another party could only be justified if there was division in the National Structure which incapacitated the party that sponsored his election to function.

"... Abegunde's defection could not be justified since his excuse of purported division in the Labour Party was not in existence at the National Level of the party. The court noted that the 'division' or 'factionalisation' of Labour Party cited by Abegunde as his excuse for abandoning the party, was only at the state level”

An interesting point about the matter was that the process from the High Court to the Supreme Court took Four Years, by which time 'Smart Alec' Hon Ifedayo Abegunde had almost completed his term in the House of Representatives.

*Most intriguing today, and in recent years, is the seeming pretense by leaders in all the political parties, about the existence of this landmark pronouncement by the Supreme Court, the invocation of which would have had far-reaching effect on the entrenchment of party discipline with attendant sanity and stability in the polity.

One wonders, why the party in power, the APC (All Progressives Congress) with the array of legal minds the party parades, have been shying away from putting this pronouncement to test, especially during the gale of defections in the National Assembly - Senate and House of Representatives, in 2018.

•• THIRTY FIVE YEARS before the Supreme Court ruling of April 2015, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had spoken on The Supremacy of The Party Over Its Members. It was in his address to the old Oyo State Conference of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) on Saturday, 8 November 1980.

I could remember being part of the audience in the memorable gathering as a reporter. Papa Awolowo, among other things, said:

“The fourth and final point to note is that, as regards the Legislature and the Executive, our Constitution recognises only a Registered Political Party, and not the individual members of the Party.

“Members of the Legislature and the Chief Executive of any Government are, in the first place, candidates of the Registered Political Parties; and, in the second place, in the case of those elected into the Legislature, enjoined by the Constitution, under pain of severe sanction, to remain loyal to the registered Party which sponsored their election.

"It is the Registered Political Party alone which has authority to canvass for them to be elected. AND ANY MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATURE WHO CHANGES HIS PARTY ALLEGIANCE, ipso facto, LOSES HIS SEAT IN THE LEGISLATURE." (emphasis mine)

(I believe, the same should apply to any Chief Executive of Government, who changes his Party Allegiance.)

••• I remember, when I floated and canvassed this idea of - Party Supremacy, of Defect and Vacate Seat in 2018 - during the imbroglio in the 8th National Assembly with Dr. Olusola Saraki as Senate President - a friend, brother and respected professional colleague, O'Remi Oyeyemi, reacted to my post subtly and sharply: "NOT IN NIGERIA". ... And he was right.

What we experience today, what we are fed with daily by these present breed of politicians, at all levels, are nauseating and irritating.

I hope, and pray for the Dawn of the Era of Honour and Sanity in Politics, among Politicians in Nigeria... Such that we can ask in a positive tone: AND THIS, IN OUR NIGERIA?

* The first step in this positive direction, should be the enforcement of: He Who Defects Must Vacate Seat - to put an end to this frog-jumping from one political party to the other at the tap of a finger.

Do we need a Constitutional Amendment to enforce this? I do not think so.

May God bless Nigeria.

Ayo Akinyemi (First published in the Nigerian Tribune)

Wednesday, 17 June 2020.

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