The ‘Tambuwal Test’ for our Democracy

(By Simon Kolawole)

Tambuwal has joined the opposition party. Again, I want to rely on common sense to analyse this development, based on my understanding of the laws of the land. Does he have to lose his position as speaker? The answer is no. The law does not say the speaker should come from the ruling party. It is a moral issue, not a constitutional one. In 1983, Abubakar Rimi stepped down as the governor of Kano state having defected from the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) to the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP). He did it purely on moral, not legal, grounds. Obviously, Tambuwal does not feel morally compelled to step down.

You should have seen me battling with tears on Thursday. After 15 years of unbroken experience of democracy in Nigeria, I had been quietly happy that despite the teething problems, despite the imperfections, despite the rough edges, we were making progress steadily. One step at a time. One day at a time. I had also been feeling happy that under President Goodluck Jonathan, political brigandage had diminished significantly and our desire for “decent democracy” was yielding nutritious fruits. However, I watched, helplessly, as hope evaporated at the premises of the National Assembly last week. I was heartbroken. Sure, Rome was not built in a day. But I also don’t think it should take a billion years to build Rome.

Let us look at the key issues within the constraint of a few hundreds of words. This is the executive summary: in 2011, the PDP zoned the speakership to the South-West. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, from the North-West, broke the zoning cordon and defeated the official candidate of his party ─ with the help of many PDP lawmakers from the North and opposition legislators. From then, he was effectively no longer in the PDP ─ and he formalised it by defecting to the All Progressives Congress (APC) a few weeks ago. The PDP-led government became furious and declared that he had to vacate his seat as well as his position as Speaker. And there began a new wave of war that is threatening our democracy, what with the show of shame on Thursday.

Even though I am not a lawyer, I want to rely on common sense in making my points today. One, zoning and power rotation are not in our constitution as they are a “gentleman’s understanding” which cannot be enforced in a court. When the PDP started the North/South power rotation of the presidency, they did not ask themselves the vital question: what if the president dies, resigns or is impeached? Under the law, the vice-president will automatically step in. This will defeat rotation instantly. That was what happened in 2010 when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died and the turn of the North ended in less than three years. There was no law barring Jonathan from contesting and he took full advantage of that.

In the Tambuwal case, what if the party zones a position to a geo-political area and someone else from another zone contests and is able to mobilise enough support to defeat the party’s position? What do you do? Again, there is no law against it. Tambuwal took full advantage of this and defeated his party. I remember Northern “leaders” threatening to set Nigeria on fire if power did not return to the North in 2011. Some of the decent ones were boasting that politics is a game of numbers and the North had the numbers to win power any day. My advice then was that they should use their numbers to defeat Jonathan and not threaten us with hell.

Tambuwal successfully used his own numbers to defeat PDP. That, in a nutshell, captures my position on zoning and power rotation. I support those principles in the interest of national integration and fair play, but I easily concede that nothing is cast in stone. If a candidate is able to get the numbers to defeat the “principles”, that is democracy in action. It is all about the choice of the majority. Jonathan overcame his “zoning” opponents in 2011 by the wishes of the majority of Nigerians. Tambuwal overcame his own party by the wishes of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives. It looks so simple, so straightforward. No law was broken.

Let’s touch on the issue currently at hand: defection. Tambuwal has joined the opposition party. Again, I want to rely on common sense to analyse this development, based on my understanding of the laws of the land. Does he have to lose his position as speaker? The answer is no. The law does not say the speaker should come from the ruling party. It is a moral issue, not a constitutional one. In 1983, Abubakar Rimi stepped down as the governor of Kano state having defected from the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) to the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP). He did it purely on moral, not legal, grounds. Obviously, Tambuwal does not feel morally compelled to step down.

Now to the more complicated issue. Can Tambuwal remain a member of the House of Representatives having defected from the party that sponsored his election? The answer, based strictly on Section 68 (1) of the 1999 constitution, is no. That other lawmakers defected and no action was taken against them does not make it right or constitutional. It is clearly illegal to defect and remain a legislator. The section says: “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…”

However, that section of the constitution does give a condition under which you can retain your seat after defecting: “…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.” The next question: is the PDP factionalised? If it is, Tambuwal can retain his seat. If it is not, he has to go. Tambuwal says the PDP is factionalised because the chairman of the Board of Trustees, Tony Anenih, visited Sokoto to reconcile the party’s warring members and left him out. PDP says it has no factions. The “New PDP”, led by Abubakar Baraje, is no more.

Now this is the key to the riddle: who decides if a party is factionalised? Is it the party leadership? Is it the members? Is it the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)? Is it a court? Is it the police? That, in my opinion, is the Tambuwal Test. In 2002, when AD senators ─ Adeseye Ogunlewe and Wahab Dosunmu ─ defected to the PDP, they retained their seats because INEC said their former party was factionalised, with Mamman Yusuf and Adamu Song both claiming to be chairmen. An option for the PDP is to ask for a bye-election in the Kebbe/Tambuwal federal constituency of Sokoto state, which Tambuwal represents. The party can cite Section 68 (1)(g) as the legal basis.

In my opinion, there are more decent ways to grow this democracy organically than the use of tear gas and fence-jumping. The police have behaved badly and embarrassingly. It is bad for democracy. One of the most exciting features of democracy is that it has a way of correcting itself. The separation of power, the checks and balances, the conventions, the consensus building… all these attributes make democracy superior to other systems. Tear gas will only suffocate the democracy and fence-jumping will only encourage more thugs to aspire to leadership in Nigeria.

Source: Abusidiqu

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