Joel Nwokeoma. Image: Facebook
Everybody knew it was going to happen. It was as clear as daylight follows darkness: the defection of the members of the Imo State House of Assembly from the now dismantled ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, to the new ruling party, the All Progressives Congress. It was just a matter of days, political observers predicted. Admittedly, this is not strange in Nigerian politics. The only thing strange would have been if it never happened at all as it has been ingrained in the DNA of Nigerian politicians, shorn of any pretensions to discernible ideology, agenda and principles, to crawl to the political divide where their pastures are evidently greener and their proverbial bread more buttered. In pursuit of the Fayosian stomach infrastructure political tendency.
But nobody ever envisaged what has happened in the Imo Assembly in the last couple of days would be so sudden. Even a Rev. Fr. Ejikeme Mbaka, famed for his prophecy that changed the Imo political landscape, may not have got it spot on that, less than seven days after the change of guard in the state, occasioned by the Supreme Court judgement on January 14, which sacked the PDP’s Emeka Ihedioha as governor of the state and ordered the APC’s Hope Uzodinma to be sworn in immediately in his stead, the PDP lawmakers, until now in the majority with 18 out of the 27 members of the state assembly, would speedily dash to the camp of the opposing APC like a goat on heat. The apex court had declared Uzodinma, who originally came fourth, the winner of the March 9 governorship election in the state.
Days after the judgement that effected the unplanned shift of power locus, nine members of the House of Assembly, including the Minority Leader, Ekene Nnodumele (Orlu, APGA), quickly defected to the APC. Others were four members of the Action Alliance, namely, Arthur Egwim, (Ideato North); Obinna Okwara, (Nkwere); Johnson Duru (Ideato South) and Ngozi Obiefule (Isu); two from the All Progressive Grand Alliance (the minority leader and Paul Emeziem, Onuimo) and three others from the PDP (Amarachi Iwuanyanwu, Nwangele; Chidiebere Ogbunikpa, Okigwe, and Hercles Okoro, Ohaji/Egbema). Then, on Tuesday, the mother of all defections took place when the Speaker, Collins Chiji, led seven other members of his party (PDP) on a mass defection to the APC, thereby automatically handing over an absolute majority to the APC, which on inauguration of the eighth assembly on June 9 had no single member! Aboard the train in this latest self-aggrandising expedition are Uche Ogbuagu (Ikeduru), Dominic Ezerioha (Oru West) Chigozie Nwaneri (Oru East), Kanayo Onyemaechi (Owerri West), Kennedy Ibe (Obowo) Onyemaechi Njoku (Ihitte/Uboma), and Eddy Obinna (Aboh Mbaise). Obinna, incidentally, is the person representing Ihedioha at the parliament and until the judgement the bride of the parliament because of his closeness to the ousted governor, while Ogbuagu, the famous comedian and owner of a radio station, was an Ihedioha ally and accompanied him to his overseas trip shortly before his ouster. That, however, is the nature of politicians, ever unreliable and unpredictable.
The reasons adduced for the defections range from the ludicrous to the preposterous and to the outright absurd. The speaker said it was to “engender executive-legislative working relationship” while Ogbuagu, in a signed statement, said his was “inevitable following the ugly circumstances and unfair treatment meted out to me by the PDP.” Then, Ihedioha’s representative said, “Since we lost the case at the Supreme Court, I have tried several times to call Emeka Ihedioha without succeeding, tried to reach him to no avail. How am I expected to work with a leader who abandons his followers whenever tragedy happens?” As if that was not bad enough, the state PDP chairman, Charles Ezekwem, abandoned the ship midway in troubled waters on Tuesday, saying, “There was a conspiracy to disgrace me out of office two days to the Supreme Court’s judgment. They contacted somebody who will replace me but the plot leaked…I resigned to save my political career.” All self-serving concoctions.
Following the gale of defections, however, the APC now has 18 lawmakers with the PDP having just eight and the AA left with a solitary member. (Uju Onwudiwe (Njaba), who was declared the winner of the supplementary election held last Saturday, on the AA platform, has not been sworn in by the speaker, but if her antecedents are anything to go by, she is in the warm embrace of the APC the moment she is sworn in anytime soon.) Ironically, barely a month ago, the House had a membership comprising the PDP 18, the AA eight, and the APC and APGA one each.
As close watchers of political developments in the country are wont to agree, political prostitution has been the defining feature of the Fourth Republic, though defection in Nigeria’s political history dates back to the First Republic, in that episodic incident at the Western Regional House of Assembly when lawmakers earlier elected on the banner of the National Council of Nigerians and Cameroons, later changed to the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, led by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, “cross-carpeted” to the opposing Action Group led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, denying Azikiwe the simple majority his party needed to form the government of the region. Some political scientists like Okwudiba Nnoli argue that that was the origin of ethnic politics in Nigeria. Nnoli, in particular, has a seminal work aptly titled, Ethnic Politics in Nigeria (1978), discussing this phenomenon. But what unfolded in Imo State this week is unprecedented and perfidious. For the eight years Peter Obi, then of APGA, governed Anambra State, the opposition PDP dominated the 30-member state House of Assembly. Even though APGA has its root in Anambra, the PDP lawmakers stayed put in their party. Little wonder, the state experienced its golden era during that period. Currently, the PDP’s Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto is governing a state whose legislature has the APC enjoying a narrow majority of 15 to 14. That balance is needed to check executive excesses.
There is no report any of the Imo lawmakers held a consultative meeting with their constituents whom they begged with salt and pepper eight months ago for this same job before defection. Apparently, there is no need for the electorate anymore because after elections, voters are expendable entities to political actors. As an electoral system analyst, Jide Ojo, said, “What those MPs did is a flagrant abuse of legal provisions on defection. There must be division in their former party which I am unaware is the situation in Imo.” Opportunism trumped procedures.
Now, if lawmakers represent the sensibilities, aspirations, value propositions, and interests of their constituents, when did those Imo lawmakers consult their constituencies before embarking on their mass defections? If not, why can’t the various constituencies start a recall process to defang this band of opportunists masquerading as democrats? Section 109 (1)(g) of the constitution which provides that, “a member of the House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if …(g) being a person whose election to the House of Assembly by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected” supports this position. Otherwise, the court should be approached by aggrieved constituents to adjudicate on this matter.
In a piece entitled, Nigerian politicians as kalo kalo players, (The PUNCH, August 10, 2018), I observed that when the selfish interests of politicians “are no more served or their positions are weakened in one platform, you see them engage in hollow consultations to seek rapprochement even with fellows they had viciously fought with the night before.” That was what happened in Imo.
I noted that “until the electorate realise that the politicians, who tread this landscape, are same of the same, can change camps at the drop of the hat, care less about how many are killed by bandits on the road and at home, without any fightback of note from underequipped and underwhelming security agencies, or die in unresourced hospitals or are holed up in underfunded schools while their children get the best from public funds overseas, they will continue to wail…election after election.”
I reiterate the need for systematic citizen mobilisation and engagement by civil society and vigourous enlightenment by the media to bring an end to this reign of transactional politics that favours only the politicians in order to unleash the potent force of democracy in Nigeria. Let more people with pedigree and what Muiz Banire called Alternative Address take to politics, however dirty it may be, to salvage our democracy. Like Charles de Gaulle said, politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians. Sad that under Rochas Okorocha, the joke in Imo was, Akpuola gi? (Have you been moulded?) Now, it is, Idifectikwala? (Have you not defected?)
Contact Nwokeoma at: Jnwokeoma@punchng.com Phone: 07085183894