The feeling of being betrayed is not the best. It can be as basic as finding egusi inside an ice-cream bowl, or, if you’re a political party, getting served breakfast by an ungrateful politician that you helped to win public office.
“Defecting” and “cross-carpeting” are terms that have become mainstays in Nigerian politics because politicians love to backstab their
lovers parties. And as we all know, betrayal leaves the betrayed shocked, bitter and cold.
This feeling of betrayal is one that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) knows all too well. The party lost three state governors to the All Progressives Congress (APC) between November 2020 and June 2021. Dave Umahi of Ebonyi, Ben Ayade of Cross River and Bello Matawalle of Zamfara all jumped in bed with the APC.
Can serving governors just do that?
The short answer is yes.
Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution is very clear that a federal lawmaker shall lose their seat if they move to a new party before the end of their tenure. That lawmaker can only keep their seat if the party they left was experiencing internal division or merged with another party. This constitutional instruction is usually ignored when lawmakers defect in Nigeria, but at least it’s there.
However, the clear constitutional provision against betrayal does not affect governors. That’s why Umahi, Matawalle and Ayade can serve PDP breakfast with their full chests.
Who will stop them?
When Umahi defected to the APC, we imagine PDP felt like this:
And on March 8th, 2022, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, ordered Umahi to vacate his office. The PDP had argued before the court that votes that helped the governor win the office were cast for the party, not the candidate. This position is backed by many past court judgements.
Justice Ekwo agreed and ruled that Umahi cannot carry PDP’s mandate over to the APC that lost the governorship election. Umahi refused the legal justification for his dismissal and appealed against the judgement.
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Will he succeed?
Umahi has based his defence on the fact that the case filed by the PDP is not a pre-election matter. A pre-election matter is one filed in court about how a candidate was elected as their party’s flagbearer. A governor can be removed by a court if it’s determined there was something illegal about how they were elected.
However, the PDP’s betrayal case was filed after Umahi was already governor. He believes he should be protected by Section 308 of the constitution that grants him immunity from prosecution.
With that established, the constitution outlines only three ways in which a governor can be removed from office — death, resignation or impeachment.
Where will this end?
Even Justice Ekwo admitted in his ruling that the constitution is not clear on what to do with a traitorous governor, but he applied the provision of Section 68 that only deals with lawmakers anyway. Many legal experts expect that his ruling on Umahi will not hold up at the Court of Appeal and/or Supreme Court because there’s no clear constitutional backing. For now, the Ebonyi governor remains in office.
When a constitutional amendment bill was proposed on March 1st, 2022 for political office holders to lose their seats upon defection, National Assembly members rejected it. Until that part of the constitution is fixed, it appears governors will continue to serve their parties breakfast.