One week after the Supreme Court overturned the election of Emeka Ihedioha of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as governor of Imo State and installed Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), nine lawmakers in the state house of assembly abandoned their party and joined the “winning team”.
Four of them were elected on the platform of the Action Alliance (AA); two were members of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); and three were from the PDP which, until two weeks ago, was the ruling party in the state.
The defection was announced on the floor of the House by the speaker. A week after that (January 28 precisely), the speaker would himself defect to the APC, taking eight more PDP lawmakers with him.
One of them, Eddy Obinna, is the from Aboh Mbaise the same local government where Ihedioha also hails from. Obinna is supposed to be very close to his former governor, even a die-hard supporter.
Ihedioha and his party haven’t totally given up. They still believe the Supreme Court would review the controversial verdict. Yet, it didn’t take Obinna very long after the court judgement to conclude that Ihedioha wasn’t worth following and that not only is the grass greener on the APC side, the gravy train could still admit some passengers.
If Uzodinma thought he would meet any resistance, he must be surprised about how quickly the turncoats lined up, without a thought for their former benefactor. The few who resisted were promptly executed, so to say. The first sign of trouble came with the resignation of Okey Onyekanma as deputy speaker of the assembly. If he thought there would be enough of his colleagues to follow in his footsteps, he was wrong. Resistance was, and always will be, a very lonely road.
Today, Onyekanma and five others who refused to join the APC are alleging attempts by the Speaker, Chiji Collins, to blackmail them into falling in line with the rest. While Ihedioha is out in the cold, Collins, the man he helped to become speaker, has overnight, become the biggest axe in the hands of the new ruling party in Imo. That is life – or perhaps, that is politicos Nigeriana. It does not matter that the new state assembly is a far cry from the one voted to power last year. Or that the common rule requires a clear and catastrophic split in a party as fundamental precondition for switching.
From ground zero, APC has usurped the majority PDP/AA/APGA-controlled house and enthroned itself as the dominant force in both the legislative and executive arms of government.
Yet, Imo is coming late to the game. The moment former governor Ayo Fayose of PDP was sworn into office in October 2014, six members of the opposition APC defected to his party. All six were supposed to be loyalists of Kayode Fayemi who had just lost his governorship seat to Fayose.
It was the first of many defections that eventually resulted in Fayose taking complete control of the 26-member assembly where PDP previously had only one seat. Fayose had not even left the inauguration ground, when supposed opposition lawmakers started trampling over themselves to declare loyalty to the new sheriff.
Four years later, when Fayose was three days away from the end of his tenure and Fayemi was the in-coming governor, the tables were turned. Lawmakers in Ekiti State House of Assembly were falling over one another to distance themselves from the outgoing PDP governor. They didn’t wait for him to leave office before impeaching the speaker he had installed and suspending House members who were determined to remain loyal to him.
A similar thing played out in Ondo State after Rotimi Akeredolu won the governorship election in 2017: the lawmakers trampled over themselves in pursuit of a slice of the pie until they were almost evenly divided between APC and PDP.
Now, the same thing is playing out in Imo State, only this time the Supreme Court is the catalyst. Surely Marcus Brutus, the protege of Julius Caesar who conspired with other senators to assassinate him would be proud of Collins for perfecting the art of political treachery in a supposed democracy.
But the national leadership of the opposition PDP cannot complain too loudly because Collins is a man with a history. The PDP did not lift a finger in protest when he dumped APGA on whose platform he was elected a house member, to join the PDP because he desperately coveted the post of speaker, which of course he got three days after his defection.
That was on June 13, 2019. The House had barely been inaugurated before he betrayed APGA. But it was fine with PDP. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the PDP is shouting “betrayal” and calling for Collins’ seat to be declared vacant along with those of the 17 lawmakers who have joined APC.
The national publicity secretary of the party, Kola Ologbodiyan, quoted Section 108 (1) (g) of the constitution which says, “A member of the House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if… (g) being a person whose election to the House of Assembly by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected.”
That is provided 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.
It is fascinating to watch PDP look to the constitution to defend its electoral majority in the Imo State House Assembly. At the national level and in many states, PDP has consistently ignored the provisions of the law when the defections were in its favour. This is the same party that has made it difficult for INEC to implement the law when it comes to the defection of sitting lawmakers from one party to another.
Over the years, the challenges faced by the commission forced it into taking the position that it lacked the power to declare a seat vacant. Declaring any seat vacant according to the commission, is the prerogative of the speaker. In this case, that would be Collins, who was elected on the platform of APGA only to defect to PDP when that was the pre-condition to get Ihedioha’s support for the seat of speaker.
And when all signs showed that Ihedioha and the PDP had become a sinking ship in Imo, he quickly found a new home in the arms of Uzodinma. If by chance, the Supreme Court reviews its own verdict in the election contest between the APC and PDP, and gives Ihedioha back his mandate, your guess is as good as mine the surfeit of summersaults guaranteed to happen just one more time.
If this shows anything at all, it is the sad fact that politicians blow with the wind and when all is said and done, the only thing that matters to them is their own stomachs. It’s politics of self above all.
Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview