There was confusion in the House of Representatives on Wednesday as two members, elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The members announced their defections in separate letters addressed to the house and read by the Speaker, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila at plenary.
The members are Rep. Ephraim Nwuzi (Etche/Omuma Federal Constituency of Rivers) and Rep. David Abel (Gashaka/Kurmi/Sardauna Federal Constituency of Taraba).
In their letters, the members said that they had consulted with their constituents and other stakeholders before their decisions to defect were reached.
They also cited the charisma of the speaker and his leadership style which, they said, had won their admirations as part of their reasons for their defection.
The Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Rep. Toby Okechukwu (PDP-Enugu), said that Nigeria is founded on laws and laid down due processes.
He said that his colleagues who were defecting were citing the charisma of the speaker as the reason for their defection instead of the Constitution.
The rep said that the decision of the defecting members is against the provisions of the Constitution.
Okechukwu said that the Constitution states clearly that a member can only defect when the party in which he was elected is divided or is in crisis.
According to him, the Constitution states that the seat of any member who defects without complying with the constitutional provision should be declared vacant.
Also, the Minority Leader of the House, Rep. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP-Delta) described the defection of the members as “assumed defection” as “there is no division in the PDP.’’
Elumelu, after reading relevant sections of the Constitution, demanded that the speaker declared the seats of the members vacant.
The Leader of the PDP caucus in the house, Rep. Kingsley Chinda (PDP-Rivers) urged the speaker to do what was right to advance the course of democracy in the country.
He said that the speaker swore to protect the Constitution and, as a lawyer, an opportunity had come for him to prove that he had respect for the law.
Chinda recalled that in 2007 the Supreme Court had ruled that any members who defects for any reason outside division in the party should vacate his seat.
According to him, Mr Speaker, this is an opportunity before you to do the right thing and failure to do so is either cowardice or incompetence.
In his response, Gbajabiamila recalled that he was once a minority leader in the house and many of his members defected to the PDP which was then the ruling party.
He said that he cited all the relevant laws and called on the house to declare such seats vacant until he lost his voice.
Gbajabiamila said that there were some members of the PDP who had not attended any sitting since the commencement of the 9th Assembly.
He said that section 68 of Constitution states that the seats of such members should be declared vacant and asked if he should go on to declare their seats vacant.
Elumelu responded that the Clerk of the house should be directed to provide the register to confirm the position of the speaker on the absent PDP lawmakers.
In his ruling, Gbajabiamila said that the points put forward by the PDP lawmakers were noted and taken, then the house proceeded into a closed door session.