Despite the gale of defections that hit the federal legislature yesterday, the All Progressives Congress (APC) still maintains its control of the National Assembly with 52 members against 50 of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
About 14 Senators on the platform of APC defected from the party to the PDP, while a total of 37 members of the House of Representatives also announced their official defection from the APC to PDP.
Senate President Bukola Saraki announced the defection of the lawmakers, while reading the letter written by the Senators informing the upper chamber of their decision to leave the APC.
They defectors cited factionalisation of the APC as part of the reason they were leaving the APC, saying they would not continue to pursue their political careers under the ruling party.
But the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, who opposed the defection, said the action of the affected lawmakers should be quarantined while the letter written by the defected lawmakers should be stood down.
Names of Senators who defected as listed in the joint letter written to that effect and read by Senate President Saraki are Dino Melaye (Kogi West), Barnabas Gemade (Benue North East), Abdullahi Danbaba ( Sokoto South), Mohammed Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara North), Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara South) and Suleiman Hunkuyi (Kaduna North).
Others are Hamman Isa Misau (Bauchi Central), Monsurat Sunmonu (Oyo Central), Usman Bayero Nafada (Gombe North), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano Central), Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North), Lanre Tejuoso (Ogun Central) and Abdulaziz Nyako (Adamawa Central) .
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Yakubu Dogara read a defection letter by lawmakers who also cited factionalisation and division in the APC as their reason for leaving the party.
The details include 33 lawmakers from Kano, Sokoto, Kwara, Kogi and other states who defected from the APC to the PDP, while four others from Oyo State defected from the APC to African Democratic Congress (ADC).
The announcement of the defection of the lawmakers threw the House plenary into commotion, with shouts of PDP, APC, Change, Sai Baba renting the air.
Effort by the Speaker to restore normalcy to the House proved abortive as members of both parties engaged in shouting bouts.
But Dogara described the whole commotion as the "beauty of democracy."
Meanwhile, the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, told journalists after about three hours closed-door session that there was no cause for concern, as the APC remains the majority in the Red Chamber and the Green Chamber.
He said, "Out of the 109 Senate seats, the APC has 52, the PDP has 50, the ADC has three and APGA has two. Recall that we lost two of our colleagues, one from Katsina, one from Bauchi. So, we have two vacancies. If you put this together we have 109.
"I want to assure you that by the grace of God, INEC will conduct by-elections to fill in the vacancies in Bauchi and Katsina and by the grace of God they are our safest seats. We are still expecting some of our colleagues in the PDP who are originally our members to defect.
"They have expressed willingness to join APC and for our colleagues that have left we are still optimistic that many of them or all of them will have a change of heart. APC remains the majority party in the Senate and in the House of Representatives".
Lawan noted that the APC lawmakers would continue to support President President Muhammadu Buhari to deliver on his promises to Nigerians.
He gave the names of the 52 senators still with the APC to include Adamu Aliero- Kebbi, Yahaya Abdullahi-Kebbi, Bala Ibn N'Allah-Kebbi, Aliyu Wamakko-Sokoto, Ibrahim Gobir-Sokoto and Ahmed Yerima-Zamfara, Kabiru Marafa-Zamfara, Tijjani Kaura-Zamfara, Abu Ibrahim- Katsina, Umar Kurfi-Katsina, Kabiru Gaya-Kano, Barau Jibrin-Kano, Abdullahi Gumel-Jigawa, Sabo Mohammed-Jigawa, Shehu Sani-Kaduna.
Others are Ahmed Lawan-Yobe, Bukar Abba Ibrahim-Yobe, Ali Ndume-Borno, Abubakar Kyari-Borno, Baba Kaka Garbai-Borno, Sabi Abdullahi-Niger, David Umaru-Niger, Mustapha Mohammed-Niger, Abdullahi Adamu-Nasarawa.
Others are George Akume-Benue, Joshua Dariye Plateau, Francis Alimikhena-Edo, Andy Uchendu-Rivers, Magnus Abe-Rivers, Ovie Omo Agege- Delta, John Eno-Cross River, Nelson Effiong-Akwa Ibom, Andy Uba-Anambra, Sonni Ugboji-Ebonyi, Hope Uzodinma-Imo, Ben Uwajumogu-Imo, Danjuma Goje-Gombe, Binta Masi-Adamawa, Ahmed Abubakar-Adamawa, Yusuf Yusuf-Taraba, Oluremi Tinubu-Lagos, Gbenga Ashafa-Lagos, Solomon Adeola-Lagos, Tayo Alasoadura-Ondo, Gbolahan Dada-Ogun, Soji Akanbi-Oyo, Ajayi Boroffice-Ondo, Yele Omogunwa-Ondo South, Abdullahi Buhari-Oyo, Babajide Omoworare-Osun, Olusola Adeyeye-Osun, Fatima Raji Rasaki-Ekiti.
The Senate leader said the APC administration is focused, even as the federal government of President Buhari is doing so much for the country.
He continued: "We need to work to support the president to ensure that Nigeria reduces its deficit in infrastructure, so that the social investment we are making will come to fruition.
"Every well meaning Nigerian is supposed to support the president to fight all those few challenges that we have across the country".
Earlier yesterday at plenary, the Senate Leader had made spirited attempt to save the ruling party from losing the defected members when he hurriedly pleaded for change of mind.
Lawan who rose through order 43 of the Senate rules under personal explanation, appealed to the Senate president to discountenance the already read letter since efforts are being made by leadership of the party to solve the internal crisis rocking the party.
He said, "The APC, our party, certainly has its own internal challenges but Mr President, as a political party, we all know how much effort had been made by so many stakeholders to address the issues that bedeviled this party.
"The disagreements do not translate into factionalisation. I therefore feel that our Senators of the APC stock do not have to move to any other party now because the issues are under serious discussions by the major stakeholders of this party.
"I will urge that the announcement be quarantined and contained and address the issues. Very seriously, this matter should be stepped down until we exhaust all the opportunities".
But the Senate president described Lawan's submission as belated in the face of executive recklessness against him and the deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, who was not allowed to attend the plenary session as a result of security siege laid to his house by operatives of DSS and EFCC.
He said, "As you know and have seen, the seat beside you is absent. As we speak, the deputy Senate president cannot get out of his house today. He is under siege. This morning, I could not also leave my street as well, all by efforts by some people that believe that today's sitting must not hold because some members want to move or defect.
"It is not something that has started today; it will not end today; people have gone, they've come back. But this kind of action does not allow for what you are saying or speaking as the leader of the Senate who has been here for many years. The Senators are adults and have made their personal decision as clearly explained in the letter .
The 14 Senators in their letter of defection said, "Dear Senate President, after due consultation with our constituents and stakeholders in our constituencies, in proper recognition of section 68(1G) of the 1999 Constitution as amended and with the fact, our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is hereby emerging a factionalised party.
"We hereby inform the Senate that we the undersigned are changing our political affiliation from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). We thank you for your exemplary leadership".
The Senate consequently adjourned sittings till September 26 after adoption of votes and proceedings of its session.
Also, Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said yesterday that regardless of the defection of 37 APC members to other parties, the ruling APC remains the majority party in the House.
Gbajabiamila, who gave the confirmation while briefing journalists, noted that the party is working to build its ideology, which would have curtailed defections.
He observed that, while the decision of the lawmakers to exit the party reflects the beauty of democracy, which allows for freedom of political association, the Supreme Court has addressed Section 68 as regards the legality of cross carpeting.
"Even with the defection, I want to say and repeat to Nigerians that not only is the APC in majority, it remains a clear majority! APC over and beyond has what is required of the majority. We are trying to build the ideology of the party because if it was entrenched, you will not see the way people cross carpet today", Gbajabiamila said.
The House Leader assured that the doors of the party remains open to those willing to return, even as he commended leaders and members of the party for remaining steadfast.
"It is sad to lose even one member because they were part of the family but they can come back if they realize they made the wrong decision. I commend the remaining members who have remained steadfast and committed. That is what democracy is all about", he said.
But the PDP said that the defection of 37 lawmakers was just a tip of the iceberg, noting that more members will be defecting in the days ahead.
Hon Abdurazak Atunwa from Kwara state gave the hint yesterday while briefing journalists on the development in the House.
Atunwa who is one of the 37 lawmakers who dumped the APC also cited victimisation as one of the reasons why the lawmakers decided to part ways with the ruling APC.
He said, "Some of us have left the APC mainly to the PDP and ADC and we tell you that constitutes the first batch of those that have signified that they will leave APC. Expect more defections in the days to come", he said.
On why they returned to PDP after abandoning it in 2014, the Kwara lawmaker said that they monitored the PDP and found that it has learnt its lessons, taken corrective measures and reformed itself.
He pointed out that, while the APC caucus is concerned with size of its membership, the PDP is interested in ideals, adding that they form a slender majority.
"The focus of APC should tell you something. While we are talking about ideals, it is busy with numbers. We are more concerned with saving democracy, improving the nation's economy and providing succour for our people", Atunwa said.
SANs Knock Lawmakers Over Defection
Meanwhile, senior lawyers in the country yesterday faulted the mass defection of some Senators and House of Representatives members, saying the conditions they gave for leaving the All Progressives Congress (APC) are not prevailing even as they accused the decampees of glorifying illegality.
Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) who spoke separately with LEADERSHIP yesterday held that the defections failed the test in Section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The legal experts, including members of the inner bar and constitutional lawyers argued that even though the parliament, political parties and the court have invoked the law against the defectors in the past, there are conditions that have to be in place to make the defections valid.
They averred that it was wrong for the defectors to rely on the reformed All Progressive Congress (rAPC), a group that is not recognised by law or registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to effect their defections.
The rAPC, they said, was just a name they coined for themselves, which is not recognized by law, but meant to wreak havoc and further their confusion activities in the party.
The lawyers argued that the law requires them to resign their position or vacate their seat in the National Assembly if they wanted to be credible or seen to be credible.
Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), told LEADERSHIP that the constitutional provision is very clear on condition for defecting from one party to the other by elected officials in the country.
He said, "Those that decamped today ought to resign or vacate their seats in the National Assembly because the condition under which they can decamp is not in place. Legally, they are wrong; that defection is unlawful.
"The so-called rAPC is not a party validly formed, neither a is it division lawfully created from the APC. It is a name they gave to themselves for the purpose of wreaking havoc or generating confusion in the APC.
"I believe APC will be well with their defection because it is like removing bad blood causing diseases in one's body. APC will definitely be better off with their decamping".
On his part, Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), noted however that "by virtue of Section 68 (1)(g) of the constitution, once there is a valid division in the party, the elected officials can defect.
"We created it with ourselves by disapproving the emergence of the National Assembly leadership three years ago, a position APC leadership has maintained all along", he added.
Also, former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), said he could only comment on the defections based on political proprietary of the action of the National Assembly members that decamped.
He said, "All along, the laws on defection has never been implemented by the parliament, court and the party from which they are defecting.
"The development would improve our political terrain because the situation under which only one party reigns supreme is bad for the country".
Also, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) who supported the defections said, "Once there is division in a party, a defection based on the division is protected by the proviso to section 68 (1)(g) of the Constitution. Unfolding facts will determine the issues".
But a constitutional lawyer, Alasa Ismail, said those defecting are not mindful of the provisions of the constitution and decided cases on defection.
"It is only that the APC is tired of their nefarious activities and destruction meted on the party so far; otherwise the party should have approached the court to force them to vacate their seats in the National Assembly", he noted.
On his part, the first vice chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani, described the development as nothing new.
According to him, the situation where lawmakers jump ship few months to a general election for selfish reasons is as old as the nation's democracy.
He said, "There is nothing new in what has happened. Our politicians have been known to have dinner with angels in the morning and go to drink wine with the devil at night. There is no ideology in politics in Nigeria.
"What has happened also happened in 2014 before the elections. These lawmakers were the same set of lawmakers that left the PDP in 2014. So, they are going back to their natural home.
"On the issue of the law, no one can deny that there have been some form of crisis in the APC, particularly after their primaries. There has also been serious disagreement between the executive and the leadership of the National Assembly. So, whether or not the defection is in line with the law is now a matter for the court to determine.
"But I will like to say that even if the case goes to court, it has become an academic issue because by the time the case reaches the Supreme Court, the lawmakers would have finished their tenure and probably they would have defected back to the APC during another election circle".
On his part, Norrison Ibinabo Quakers (SAN), noted that yesterday's development struck at the democratic development of Nigeria, adding that if things continue this way the country would continue to go round in circle.
He said, "The tragedy of the situation is that there is no party in Nigeria with a clear cut manifesto or ideology that can drive the reforms and build structures that would aid development.
"My fears and worries is that we are not yet mature for the games we are playing and every Nigerian must rise up and address these fundamentals. The law is very clear that a lawmaker can only retain his or her seat if there is a crisis in their party and the crisis lead to the fractionalization of the party. So, in this case the question we should ask ourselves is, is there a fraction in the APC? The answer is yes.
"These lawmakers are characters that were disgruntled in the PDP and then crossed over to the APC and were able to grab power. The same thing is what is happening now. These are people who do not have democratic values.
"So, since we run a constitutional democracy, it is only the court that can determine whether or not the law was fully complied with. I will advise both parties not to resort to self-help but to submit themselves to our court system".
I Wish Them Well - PMB
But reacting to the development, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday expressed total commitment to the values of democracy, freedom of choice as well as total willingness to work with all members of the National Assembly, irrespective of their political party, for the benefit of the nation.
The president noted in a statement by his senior special assistant on media and publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, that none of the defecting federal lawmakers of the APC had any specific grievances against him or the government he leads, adding that neither did he harbour anything against any of them.
"As the saying goes, all politics is local. We understand that some of the distinguished and honourable lawmakers have issues with their home states, especially on zoning which bars some of them from seeking another term in their constituencies," he said.
Noting that the APC had done its utmost to stop the defections, the president commended the leadership of the party for relentlessly working for its unity and ensuring success in the upcoming elections.
President Buhari assured members of the APC of his total support and urged party faithful not to despair but to see the defections as a seasonal occurrence that happens on election eve.
Expressing confidence that no harm or injury will be done to the party and its aspirations by the movements, President Buhari wished all the decamped members the best in their future undertakings.
Decampees Have Little Electoral Value
In its reaction, The APC described the lawmakers who decamped from its fold as big masquerades with very little or no electoral value.
Speaking on the defection of the federal lawmakers to the opposition PDP yesterday, APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, declared that the ruling party is not for everybody.
Oshiomhole who spoke to State House correspondents after meeting with President Buhari at the presidential villa insisted that the APC is not worried about the defection, saying the party is still in good stead to win the 2019 general election.
He said, "Well, as the national chairman, I am committed to listening to very legitimate grievances and engaging all those who are aggrieved that we can see through their grievances. But I insist that I will not miss a sleep one minute over mercenary activities.
"I had said and I want to repeat that this business of governance must be driven by men and women of honour. If the only motivation is personal interest, the earlier those in this business of personal gains return to where they belong the better."
"To be a progressive party means we must be clear that it cannot be a party for everyone. We have to be sure that you subscribe to the values and ideals of a progressive party. If indeed you belong to the extreme right, and you mistakenly find yourself in a progressive party, obviously that is not where you belong.
"The point I have been trying to make is that we need to build a political party that goes beyond the platform for election".
Also, the APC said its members who defected at both chambers of the National Assembly may have different considerations beyond the grievances they profess for which the party's leadership had been doing everything to address.
The party however reassured its members that it was in firm control of 25 out of the 36 states of the federation, even as it urged them to do all to maintain the party's presence ahead of the 2019 general elections.
In a statement signed by its national publicity secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, in Abuja, APC said it respects the right of all to associate freely.
PDP Assures Decampees Of Equal Treatment
Meanwhile, the national leadership of the PDP has assured the federal lawmakers who moved into their fold of cooperation and equal treatment.
The national publicity secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, who addressed a press conference yesterday on the defections, said what the lawmakers did was to abandon a sinking ship.
Ologbondiyan also described as unfortunate what he called the onslaught against Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ekweremadu.
He said, "We thank all the senators and we assure them of cooperation within the PDP. I wish to tell you that more members of the APC in both chambers of the National Assembly, State Assemblies and even among governors are coming to join the PDP all in the interest of good governance for the people of our country".
The PDP spokesman condemned what the party described as the high handedness of the government of APC and President Buhari.
Atiku, Secondus Condemn Security Siege To Saraki, Ekweremadu's Houses
Meanwhile, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the national chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, yesterday condemned the security siege to the residences of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.
Atiku, in a statement, said the news of the siege to the residences of Saraki and Ekweremadu is both troubling and unsettling.
His words: "No democratic nation ought to treat the leadership of its Parliament like common criminals in the course of a political disagreement.
"I remind the powers that be that on August 31, 2013, when Senator Bukola Saraki walked out of the Peoples Democratic Party and began the process of joining the All Progressives Congress, there was celebration in their camps.
"I also remind them that their electoral victory, which they have so badly mismanaged today, would not have been possible without the Senate President".
On his part, Secondus said in a statement that it is unfortunate that President Buhari could allow such to happen under his administration.
He said, "The APC government led by President Muhammadu Buhari is using state security apparatus like the Nigerian Army, Department of State Services and the Nigerian police to attack the National Assembly with the aim of forcibly overthrowing its leadership and rendering the third arm of government comatose.
He also called on all traditional rulers in Nigeria, the international community and all well-meaning Nigerians to "rise up against the antics of President Muhammadu Buhari to forestall a possible derailment of our democracy."
We Did Not Besiege Saraki's House - Police
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Police Force yesterday denied reports that its officers besieged the house of Senate President Saraki's.
Force PRO, Jimoh Moshood, who described the reports as innuendos, maintained that policemen did not surround the residence of the Senate president.
He said, "The Force wishes to categorically state that there was no authorised deployment of Police personnel to besiege the residence of the Senate President or his deputy as reported in the media. The police personnel seen in pictures in the media were those in the convoy of the Senate President and others attached to him.
"The Inspector General of Police has directed a thorough investigation to ascertain the facts in the episode. The Force will not allow the end of justice to be perverted by this distraction. The Nigeria Police will ensure that the rule of law prevails in this matter."
Moshood however said Saraki is still being "expected to report to the head of investigation team at the Intelligence Response Team office at Guzape junction, Asokoro Extension, Abuja and should honour the invitation, otherwise the Force will not hesitate to use all the instruments of the Law to ensure compliance with the law."
The Police had invited Saraki to report to the head of investigation team at the Intelligence Response Team office yesterday at 8:00 am for further investigation on his alleged indictment based on confessional statements from some of the five gang leaders arrested for their active participation in the Offa bank robbery and gruesome murder of more than 31 persons as well as snatching of 21 AK47 rifles on April 5, 2018.
The police alleged that the Senate president refused to honour Police invitation as at the time of filing this report.
Law Enforcement Agencies Should Be Allowed To Work - Presidency
But the Presidency warned yesterday that security agencies should be allowed to carry out their constitutional duties, saying the law of the land is intended for all and not only for the poor or those at the lowest rungs of the social ladder.
It said it has taken note of the orchestrated campaign against President Buhari each time a very important person (VIP) is invited by the law enforcement agencies in the discharge of their legitimate duties and functions.
In a statement by presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, the presidency said, "It is odd, strange and bizarre that while ordinary citizens can be called up to answer questions or be interrogated, the VIP cannot be questioned without the annoying insinuations of partisanship, persecution or outright politicization".
Shehu added that the country cannot achieve development in peace when important cases are viewed through a political prism and the law is considered as being applicable to some, and not applicable to others.
He continued: "The workings of law enforcement agencies are set out in the constitution and the laws of the country. If they worked at the discretion of past presidents, who decided who to question and who to detain, Nigerians should get used to the fact that this President is different. President Buhari does not and will not influence or interfere with cases.
"The constitution clearly directs law enforcement agencies to promptly report and investigate any actual or potential infringement of the law and also initiate proceedings against all those involved. This President is not the one who directs them on what to do".
The presidential spokesman said President Buhari does not stand in the way of law enforcement either.