Defections in recent times have rattled and further depleted the number of members in the opposition camp in the House of Representatives headed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Despite its continued resistance, the PDP is losing members of smaller opposition parties to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
As at June, 2019, when the Ninth House of Representatives was inaugurated, the APC held the majority with 190 out of the 360 members.
The largest opposition party, PDP, at the time had 151 members, while smaller opposition parties shared the remaining members.
However, since then there have been cross carpeting by members of various parties to either the ruling party or the main opposition.
Although the PDP also has some members that defected from other parties to its side, the APC has an upper hand.
The smaller opposition parties include All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Social Democratic Party (SDP), African Democratic Congress (ADC), Allied Peoples Movement (APM), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Labour Party (LP) and Accord Party (AP).
However, as at the last count, 15 members of the opposition parties, including the PDP, had decamped to the ruling APC; further shrinking the ranks of the opposition and threatening the strength and voice of the PDP to lead a strong opposition.
In the gale of the defections, the PDP lost three members to the APC. The other six smaller parties with 20 members lost most of them to the ruling APC.
APGA, the second biggest opposition in the house, has nine members, ADC has three, PRP has two, AA has two, while SDP, LP, AP and APM have one member each.
Out of the number, two members of Action Alliance (AA), three from APGA, one from SDP, two from ADC, one from APM and one from PRP defected to the ruling APC.
With these defections, the smaller parties are now on the verge of extinction as their members have almost defected; leaving only few on their platforms.
AA, APM and SDP have all been wiped out in the house as all their members have defected to the ruling party. ADC lost two out of its three members, while PRP with two members now has one left.
Those who defected to the ruling APC from the opposition parties are a former Speaker, Yakubu Dogara (PDP, Bauchi), Yakubu Shehu Abdullahi (PRP, Bauchi), Abiola Makinde (ADC, Ondo), Lawal Kolawole (APM, Ogun) and Tajudeen Adefisoye (SDP, Ogun).
Others are Danjuma Usman (APGA, Taraba), Herman Hembe (APGA, Benue), Blessing Onuh (APGA, Benue), Kingsley Uju (AA, Imo), Paschal Obi (AA, Imo), David Abel (PDP, Taraba), Ephraim Nwazu (PDP, Rivers), Ali Datti Yako (PDP, Kano), Samuel Onuigbo (PDP, Abia), and Olaifa Jimoh Aremu (ADC, Ogun) who defected on Wednesday.
PDP kicks, says APC violating constitution
As the APC poached on members of the opposition camp, the leading opposition party, PDP has kicked at every turn, accusing the ruling party of allowing the violation of the law by relying on frivolous reasons presented by members who defect to its side.
The Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, his Deputy, Toby Okechukwu, the PDP Caucus Leader, Kingsley, and other members of the PDP have always been vocal in their opposition to the defection of members to the APC.
They have always accused the ruling party, particularly the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, of being aware of the abuse of Section 68(g) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) in dealing with the issue of defection.
They also reminded him of the provisions of Section 68(1) (g) of the constitution which makes it illegal for any elected member of a party who defects without acceptable reason(s) recognised by law to retain his seat.
At every instance, the minority caucus leadership called on the speaker to declare the seats of defecting members vacant in line with Section 68(2) of the 1999 Constitution.
Voicing his opposition to some of the defections, Elumelu informed the speaker that no matter how the APC was seeing the defections, it was condoning illegality.
Elumelu said, “To me, it is illegal, whether at the end of the day we fail to declare their seats vacant or not; but I put it to the house that what is happening is based on Section 68(1) and g.
“What they have done is illegal and, Mr Speaker, I will like you to speak to your conscience and declare their seats vacant. It is illegal and I think we should not tolerate it.”
Speaking during the defection of two AA members, Okechukwu said the speaker should respect the constitution as regards the issue of defection.
He said, “Section 68(g) of the constitution refers to the fact that there has to be a crisis in a political party before any member can defect. The essence of that presupposes that the member doing it contrary to the constitution should lose his seat.
“I will hereby ask Mr Speaker to observe with respect, the laws and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by asking the members who have deferred to his charisma in order to defect, that they should abide by the rules of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
On his part, the PDP Caucus Leader, Kingsley Chinda, said the speaker who swore to an oath to respect the constitution had now put himself on trial over his stance on defection.
Chinda said, “Mr Speaker, let me remind you sir; that you swore to an oath. In fact, twice as against every other member of this house, to uphold the constitution.
“Mr Speaker, this morning, you are on trial. Democracy will judge us this morning. You are on trial because you took an oath to defend the constitution.
“Mr Speaker, you are a pacesetter. Another opportunity has presented itself for you to set another pace in our democratic experience, and I pray that you avail yourself of it and write your name in gold. Mr Speaker, what members have said is that you should uphold our constitution.
“Mr Speaker, I support my colleagues who have said that you should uphold the laws of the country by declaring the seats of the members who voluntarily have decided to opt out of the party that brought them to parliament so that this precedent will remain.
“Mr Speaker, with this law so explicit, that was why I said you have an opportunity to set the pace in this country; you have the opportunity to begin to right our democracy. You have an opportunity to do the right thing. It is for you to take that decision.
“And where the laws are on your side and you have the powers to take that step from your side and the action that will provoke those things has occurred and you refuse to take it, it is either cowardice or deliberately you do not want to uphold the laws of this country.”
APC replies PDP
The Speaker, Gbajabiamila, however, dismissed the protests of the opposition PDP over the defections, saying the defecting members had all presented their reasons for defecting.
He said members of the PDP were not the ones to determine whether or not there were crises in other parties which members defected to the APC as the defectors were explicit in their letters and knew the crises in their parties.
He reminded the opposition that at a time when he was the opposition leader, a large number of members from his party defected to the then ruling PDP.
He said: “We have taken all the contributions from the opposition party. Let me just very quickly say this; most of those who spoke, were all here, when I was minority leader, and we had people cross over from my party to your party.
“I said what you said on this floor. And I said a 100 times more and quoted laws and I quoted cases and you shouted me down and told me to go to court. That is number one.
“If it is the privilege and tradition of this house that people can cross, and they have, over the years and you have sanctioned it.
“I think it is the height of hypocrisy to come to the house today and begin to cite the things that I cited till my voice went, and tell me to do the right.
“I am going to do the right thing. Don’t worry about that…As you told me in those days, when I was minority leader, your points are noted.”
Although it is not a new thing as it has been happening in the past, many political observers believe that the ruling APC is waging a silent war using inducements to break the ranks of the opposition and weaken PDP not only in the house, but elsewhere as a part of 2023 political manoeuvers.
They also believe that with the determination of the PDP to wrest power, there is the need for the APC to tackle the opposition party by taking away its support base among the opposition from the states.