There has been a lot of controversy in the past and quite recently around what happens when a serving federal legislator decides to abandon the party on whose platform he or she is elected. The relevant law on this matter is contained within the provisions of Section 68 (1) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). It states in the first part that:
“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 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”
While this appears to be clear enough, the same section then goes on to state, in its second and final part, the instances where the situation may be such that this law would not apply. In my opinion, the exception here is for the application of the law itself rather than an exception for any conscious conduct of the subject-matter of the law, the legislator. (ie. The law will not apply in this instance, not that the legislator can do such-and-such in this instance)
“Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored”
Most of the debates on this subject have been based on either the narrow or obtuse interpretation of the word ‘division’ as meant within the context of this law. There are some who say ‘division’ simply means ‘disagreement’ in this context while others see the use of the word as denoting an instance where a party has broken into different factions. I have to disagree with both schools of thought here, and not without a valid reason. A political party by nature exists as a pool of varied interests, factions, caucuses and disagreements. These inherent features are in fact the defining features of a political party and do not necessarily create an exceptional situation. If we therefore assume that those who drafted the law are saying that any serving legislator can abandon ship whenever there is an argument or different caucuses existing within his party then the law renders itself redundant and ought not to ever have been made. There can be no law, for instance, that says ‘if water is wet’ as a precondition for a remedy knowing fully well that water by nature will always be wet. Similarly, a political party by nature will also always expectedly have caucuses and disagreeing factions within its ranks.
I believe that in order to interpret this law correctly, it is necessary for us to take a journey into the minds of those who drafted the law and search for the situation that they were hoping to remedy or prevent by including this provision within our constitution. It appears logical and sound to me that those who drafted this law were hoping to prevent people from taking undue advantage of the party system by getting elected on one platform only to jump onto another platform after they might have won. If this assumption is valid, it follows therefore that the law must be interpreted strictly in accordance with this presupposition.
It is my reasoned opinion that any word or phrase has to be literally interpreted within the context in which it was used. By simple contextual analysis, the word ‘division’ appears to have been used within the letters of this law as an exact opposite to the word ‘merger’ used within the same sentence. The word ‘merger’ as used here unequivocally denotes the fusion of two or more parties to make one new party and therefore the word ‘division’ must also be interpreted within context as denoting the breaking-down of a party into two or more different parties.
After considering and applying all known rules of interpretation, it can be seen that no other meaning can be logically ascribed to the word ‘division’ as used within the context of this law than that it denotes a situation where a political party has split into two or more different parties, not just factions or caucuses. This interpretation is in harmonious consonance with both the purpose of the law and the situation envisaged by those who drafted it.
As can be seen from the explanation above, by the express and implied provisions of Section 68 (1) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), a serving legislator cannot leave the party that sponsored his election by his own volition and join another party as an individual for any reason whatsoever and not lose his seat. I will like to point out that no excuse for LEAVING the former party is provided for or mentioned in this statute and therefore no excuse is tenable. The exact wording of the provision that grants exemption is that:
“Provided that his membership of the latter political party is ……”
and not, (as it could have stated but purposely did not say)
“Provided that his reason for leaving his former party is….. ……..”
We can clearly see that the emphasis is not on the REASON FOR LEAVING the former party (as no reason can be justifiable) but on the REASON FOR BEING IN ANOTHER PARTY (by default). So, if you are a serving federal legislator, no excuse for leaving your current party is tenable. If you leave the party that sponsored your election by your own individual volition, your seat becomes vacant. If however you find yourself in another party by default through no fault of your own, you may in that instance offer any one of the following typical excuses to explain your position and retain your seat.
(a) I am now a member of APC because my former party CPC has merged with other parties to form APC.
(b) I am now a member of APC because a faction which I belonged to within my former party APGA has merged with APC.
(c) I am now a member of ABC because my former party PPP is no more and has split into two new parties known as ABC and ADD.
Dele Okenla Esq.
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