Cross carpeting or defection in Nigerian politics has now become rampant. Politicians both at State and Federal levels decamp to the winning party as the quest for power swells. This affirms the words of former US President, John F. Kennedy, that in politics, ‘there is no permanent friend or enemy, but permanent interest’.
The term, cross carpeting, was coined in Nigeria. Although it is more popular among Nigerian politicians, it occurs in countries with “mature” democracy. In other countries, it may be termed decamping, defection, floor crossing and so on. Many also refer to it with the derogatory term, ‘political prostitution’. In this regards, political defectors are usually called political prostitutes.
Going through history, one can say that party politics in Nigeria began in 1923 with the formation of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) by Herbert Macaulay. The Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) was later established before the 1938 election.
Since then, the number of political parties have continued to increase, from 7 that took part in the 1979 elections to a whopping 93 registered political parties as at 2020.
In February 2020, INEC deregistered 75 political parties on grounds of failure to meet electoral requirements. Although the 75 parties are still in court, the deregistration brought down the total number of political parties to 18 at present.
Even with the numbers of political parties in Nigeria, the two major parties in the country are the All Progressive Party (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). These two parties hold almost all key political positions in the country.
Politicians keep scrambling for the top in their political career and there is always movement from smaller political parties to the major ones. The power tussle between the two major parties is also one thing analysts cannot ignore.
In Africa, the frequency of cross carpeting is alarming, unlike in the Western world where party switching is a rare phenomenon. For instance, in the American Congress, it is argued that only 20 defections have happened from the 1940s to 1990. Even when it happens in the western world, it is for an ideological cause or disagreement on the pursuit of specific policies. Personal interest are always peripheral.
However, cross carpeting in Nigeria can be traced back to the 1951 election where 20 members of the then National Council for Nigerian (NCNC) defected to Action Group (AG).
Since then, politicians have developed the passion for defecting. For instance, Aminu Tambuwal, the current governor of Sokoto state has defected several times. Tambuwal started with ANPP, defected to DPP, swung back to ANPP. Later in 2007, he dumped ANPP for PDP and then to APC. Right now he is back in PDP. Also, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki was in PDP in 2011 but in 2014, he switched to APC, along with 10 others including some governors. Few months before the 2019 election, Saraki dumped the APC for PDP, declaring his presidential campaign for the PDP presidential ticket.
Seven years ago, intra-party crisis in PDP led to the defection of 5 governors and 37 House of Representative members to APC. In 2014, there was an allegation by the APC that 5 members that decamped to PDP did that on grounds of financial inducement.
In recent times, during the last Edo state governorship election, Godwin Obaseki decamped from APC to PDP. In November 2020, Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi defected from PDP to APC. There are speculations that party members of the PDP at the House of Assembly will join Umahi in APC. The PDP has however stated that no single lawmaker in the house will defect with the governor.
Just last week, seven (7) lawmakers from the Allied People Movement (APM) in Ogun State switched to APC. And just recently in Edo State, 2 APC lawmakers cross carpeted to PDP.
On February 1, 2021, there was an open invitation from the All Progressive Party to members of other parties. This was after the party revealed that PDP and other parties have indicated interest to join APC in the ongoing membership registration and revalidation. The party’s Caretaker Chairman in Lagos, Alhaji Tunde Balogun made this call in an interview with newsmen.
“Our doors are open to all members of political parties who want to join us. We expect some PDP members, who really are willing to join us in developing Lagos to do so. Many of them have been showing interest and we are prepared to register them from the PDP to the AA and others. We are happy to accept them among the progressives,” Balogun noted.
Notwithstanding, the major danger of cross carpeting is a dozy opposition: one that threatens democracy for that matter. An opposition that fails to play its role of checking the excesses of the ruling party will fail to question the government and hold them accountable to the public. This is because a senator who knows he is likely to defect to the ruling party is unlikely to speak out on the shortcomings of that ruling party.
This political culture has shown that political parties in Nigeria lack distinct ideologies and the interest of the general public. Most probably, what is being manifested here is politicians chasing the national cake and whatever party that serves as a ladder to achieve that is a ‘must join party’. Is this trend a boost on the country’s democracy? Or is it a menace to the stability of politics? What does it hold for the 2023 election?
Late Balarabe Musa, leader of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), in an interview with NAN emphasised that political prostitution can destabilise the country’s political development. He further noted that the mindless manner in which politicians defect needs to be checked to grow stability within the polity.
Balarabe Musa didn’t mince words by describing the trend as ‘mindless’. This is because although the constitution backs cross-carpeting, that same constitution also made provision for conditions a politician can cross carpet. However, Nigeria politicians seem to have abused the constitutional provision for freedom of association and choice.
Speaking on the allegation of the PDP lawmaker in Ebonyi state defecting to APC, PDP noted that ‘As democrats, we concede Chief Umahi’s right to join any political association of his choice. However, as Federal Lawmakers we are not unaware of the Supreme Court’s decision that candidates are products of political parties. What it means is that political office holders are not at liberty to migrate from one political platform to another, particularly when there is no division in their party’.
With Nigerian politicians, this is the opposite from the above statement as they migrate at will, even without any intra-party crisis.
Looking at the reason behind this frolicsome act by politicians, Balarabe Musa further pointed out that the deep cause of defection is ‘money politics’. He posited that political parties lack internal democracy.
The 2023 election has already sprung up contentions on who flies presidential and other flags. All these and more are likely to record more cross carpeting.
For the sake of democracy, there is a strong need to stem down the migration of politicians from one party to the other. This also means that several loopholes in the Electoral Act of 2010 need to be fixed to prevent politicians from lying on the shoulders of such loopholes to continue the act.
Although there have been attempts to amend the Electoral Act to put a stop to unworthy defections, these attempts did not get the needed backing of law makers. The sixth National Assembly could not get the two-third backing to amend the constitution in this area. Also in 2012, two federal law makers, Eddy Mbadiwe and Albet Sam-Tsokwa reinstated the bill but it failed to scale through the second reading.
There is certainly the need to check frivolous cross carpeting to safeguard the country’s democracy. But can this be possible without making public office less attractive through the reduction of powers that accompany political positions? Besides, how can the constitutional amendments be made when those that are supposed to pass such a bill into law may have migrated recently or have the intension to defect to another party before the next general election?
Faith Omo Ohioze