My attention has been drawn to a statement credited to the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, cautioning banks and other financial institutions to be wary of financial transactions with Governor A.A. Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State on the ground that Governor Matawalle has ‘vacated’ his office as Governor by defecting to the APC. The PDP also stated in very clear terms that the Deputy Governor, Mahdi Aliyu Gusau, now holds the Zamfara Governorship mandate and ought to be accorded the protection and privileges due the office of Governor as the formal process for his official declaration as substantive Governor of Zamfara State has commenced at the Federal High Court.
I was tempted to dismiss this statement by the PDP with a wave of the hand as a joke but I quickly realized that some of the tumultuous moments we have had as a country began as seemingly innocent jokes. My intervention is therefore borne out of patriotism (yes, I admit, maybe partisanship too) and a duty to set the records straight.
To give its illogical assertions some veil of constitutionality, the PDP placed reliance on Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as the judgment of the Supreme Court in Faleke v. INEC.
Unfortunately for the PDP, the Supreme Court decision in Faleke v. INEC does not relate to the consequence of the defection of a Governor from one political party to the other. A more apt instance will be the Atiku Abubakar scenario wherein Atiku Abubakar as Vice President, elected under the PDP, defected to the then Action Congress. President Olusegun Obasanjo attempted to declare his office vacant in circumstances similar to the Zamfara scenario and the dispute ended in Court. I was part of the legal team at the time. It is trite that under the 1999 constitution, provisions relating to removal of the President/Vice President are replicated with respect to Governors/Deputy Governors. The position of the Supreme Court was reported as ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION V. ABUBAKAR (2007) 10 NWLR (PART 1041) 1. At page 124 of the Report, Honourable Justice Onnoghen set down the position thus:
“There is no where in the 1999 Constitution where it is stated that the President or Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be removed or is removable from that office if he defects from the political party on whose platform he was elected to that office and joins another political party. It is the Constitutional responsibility of the Legislature to make or amend the laws including the Constitution, where the need arises, while that of the judiciary remains to interpret and apply the laws so made or amended. The courts can therefore not add to nor subtract from the law as enacted by the Legislature under the guise of judicial interpretation of the Constitution or Statute which the appellant desires this court to do in the instant case on appeal.”
Additionally, Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution does not avail the PDP any protection and is not remotely applicable to the present situation in Zamfara State. Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution merely deals with the prohibition of political activities by associations other than political parties. The attempt by the PDP to import the provisions of section 68 of the 1999 Constitution into section 221 of the 1999 Constitution smacks of mischief. If the intent of the draftsmen was to prohibit the defection of Governors to other political parties, it would have been so expressly stated like in the case of lawmakers. The provisions of the 1999 Constitution are very clear on the grounds for the removal of an Executive Governor of a State from office and defection to another political party is not one of such grounds. The Constitution has ‘covered the field’. However, in its characteristic manner, the PDP has interpreted the law to suit its mischief. At Page 179 of AGF v. ABUBAKAR (supra), Honourable Justice Aderemi went further to add as follows:
“It is manifest from the above quoted constitutional provisions that the law-makers intended to and indeed have made punishable the defection of an elected member, from the political party that sponsored him, to another political party before the expiration of the period for which the House was elected by declaring his seat vacant. No similar provision was made for the Vice President even for the President. If the legislators had intended the Vice President or even the President to suffer the same fate, they would have inserted that provision in clear terms……I have earlier said in this judgment that the removal of the President and/or Vice President from office is an exclusive function of the National Assembly. To stealthily read words in the terms of Section 68(1)(g) or Section 109(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution into Section 146(3)(c) of the same Constitution and hold that, by his conduct, the Vice President has voluntarily vacated his office will paint a picture of the judiciary foraging into the exclusive territory of the legislators.”
It is extremely laughable that the PDP that celebrated the defection of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State from the APC to the PDP with such elaborate ballyhoo and fanfare would muster the effrontery to attempt to remove Governor Bello Matawalle from office for defecting to the APC. Once again, it is simply ridiculous.
One interesting point the Supreme Court also made in the Atiku Abubakar’s case which must have been lost on the PDP is that once a candidate is elected as President or Vice-President (in this case, a Governor) he automatically drops the ticket upon which he/she rode to power and becomes a President or Vice-President of the FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, and not of that political party. The ticket is only a VEHICLE to get elected. Once elected, the Governor drops that party ticket and becomes a free agent for EVERYONE in that State. He is therefore free to associate (and decamp) as he likes to any political party. The Supreme Court judgment on Zamfara did not proscribe APC as a political party in the State. It only prohibited it from sponsoring candidates AT THE ELECTION (and not from receiving members to its fold subsequently). Perhaps, the PDP is assuming that it continues to sponsor Matawale IN OFFICE as Governor. No. That SPONSORSHIP ended the MOMENT Gov. Matawale was elected. In fact, to stretch the matter further, belonging to a political party is ONLY for the purpose of ELECTION for President, Vice-President, Governor and Deputy Governor (this may not apply to Legislators as they must continue to belong to a political party whilst in office). So, a Governor, upon being elected can even decide not to belong to a Political Party. In fact to follow the warped logic of PDP on this issue, all a political party needs to do to get rid of a Governor from office is to expel the Governor from the Party!
I also wonder the audacity the PDP has to directly instruct banks not to transact any business with a duly elected Governor. This is such a joke that it portrays the PDP as a comedy troupe. It is also very seditious to attempt to shut down or take over the Government of Zamfara State without a court order and by unconstitutional means. This must be deprecated by all Nigerians.
The PDP should realise that its infantile and illogical position in the case of ZAMFARA appears as a joke, but it has the capability of causing chaos in the State by inciting the uninformed ones in that great State to resort to lawlessness. My advice for the PDP is to concentrate on calming its rocking boat and not to be chasing a horse that has already bolted from the stable.
I rest my case.
Festus Keyamo, SAN, FCIArb (UK)
Hon. Minister of State, Labour and Employment.