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DEFECTION: ANARCHY LOOMS AS DEFECTORS SURFACE AT ASSEMBLIES, URGENT NEED FOR NIGERIA ASSEMBLY REGULATORY COMMISSION (NARC)

The President of Rights and Freedom Advocates (RIFA), Mr. Luqman Soliu on it again but this time on defection in National Assembly:

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The Rights and Freedom Advocates (RIFA) watched recently with keen interest the exercise of freedom of association by some of our politicians especially the legislators in line with the Nigeria 1999 Constitution (as amended). Truly, our politicians have exercised their right of freedom of association as guaranteed by Section 40 of Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended) LFN which provides “every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests”.

But other Nigerians also have their rights to determining who to represent them in the legislative houses as guaranteed by same constitution. In this regard, the Constitution provides that electorates shall vote any candidate as legislator duly sponsored by a political party and where a legislator finds himself uncomfortable any longer with the political party that brought him to power, the most constitutional and honourable thing to do is to exercise his right of freedom of Association by leaving his former party and quit his legislative seat for his constituency to determine which candidate or party they want next to represent them instead of usurpation of their rights by the defector. However, the Constitution mandates the defectors to immediately vacate his seat where there was no serious rift in his previous party to warrant defection.

Nigerian Constitution is very clear on defection as it provides in its Sections 109(1) that “A member of a House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if – (g) being a person whose election to the House of Assembly was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected” Similarly, Section 68 (1) of same constitution provides “A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if – (g) being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected”. With the current political situation in Nigeria, no political party experiences serious internal acrimony to warrant defection as envisaged by the Constitution. Therefore, a defector leading or participating in a legislative house raises serious constitutional issues that may ridicule the nation.

Section 99 provides “Any person who sits or votes in a House of Assembly of a State knowing or having reasonable grounds for knowing that he is not entitled to do so commits an offence and is liable on conviction to such punishment as shall be prescribed by a Law of the House of Assembly”.

Likewise Section 57 provides “Any person who sits or votes in the Senate or the House of Representatives knowing or having reasonable grounds for knowing that he is not entitled to do so commits an offence and is liable on conviction to such punishment as shall be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly”. Therefore, any defection impliedly means the Independent Electoral Commission should conduct a bye election to fill the vacancy of such legislators that might have defected.

However, reverse is the case in that of Nigeria even when the Constitution made it clear that it is a crime for someone to sit and contribute to legislative deliberations where he is unqualified to do so. With this fact, should any of those legislators who defected from one party to another henceforth be allowed into the legislative house including any of the leaders of the house? Or can a disengaged staff or a staff who voluntarily resigned from the work of a previous employer be using the identity card of his previous employer to transact in a new place of work and not regarded as impersonator?

This national shame calls for a body such as Nigeria Assembly Regulatory Commission (NARC) to be established and consists of a governing board with people of proven integrity and staff whose main duty would be to immediately declare vacant the seat of any legislator either at state or federal level who defects before the end of his tenure from a party to another, declare vacant the seat of a legislator with questionable academic result or accused of financial impropriety until he is cleared by the court and send a notice to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a bye election. The requirement in our laws that until the leadership of the house declared a seat vacant should be repealed as it abets anarchy and felony in the land.

International Communities and Civil societies should rise to the occasion by joining the call for restoration of orderliness to our polity. Any law or resolution passed under the leadership of any defector should be nullified by the court while executive should also be wary of such resolutions.

Luqman Soliu
President,
Rights and Freedom Advocates (RIFA)

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