There was a drama during the plenary session in the House of Representatives on Tuesday when a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representing, Ahiazu Mbaise/Ezinihitte federal constituency of Imo State, Hon. Raphael Nnanna Igbokwe, announced his defection to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In his letter of defection which was read by the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, he cited divisions within the opposition party as a major reason for leaving the party.
Igbokwe however noted he had since registered and joined the APC since January 2017, although the information formerlly came to the House floor only tuesday.
According to him, he had ceased from attending all PDP caucus meeting in the National Assembly, his ward, local government, state and national levels since 2017.
Rather, he added that he had since been attending all APC caucus meetings and functions at all levels, paying his party dues and levies with proof.
Igbokwe said: “My decision to join the APC as at the time I did was as a result of the leadership crisis/division that rocked the PDP. You would recall that the judgment of the Supreme Court that finally resolved the leadership crisis was delivered in July 2017, six months after I joined the APC.”
Continuing, he said: “Furthermore, the pending leadership litigations and divisions in Imo State chapter of PDP and the current legal crisis with the national leadership of PDP evidenced by the suit instituted by Prof. Taoheed Adedoja further strengthens my earlier resolve to quit the PDP.”
According to him, “This letter becomes necessary to clear doubt in the minds of my colleagues, constituents, and the public as to the political party I belong.”
His defection was witnessed by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State who was admitted into the chamber as an observer.
However, PDP members raised several point of orders bordering on the constitution as well as the Supreme Court ruling respectively on the declaration of a seat of any defecting member as vacant, ruling on the leadership crisis in the PDP, faulting Igbokwe’s defection.
The aggrieved opposition party members further accused Dogara of breaching due process by not putting the defection application to voice vote before hitting the gavel.
According to them, a panel of inquiry ought to have been constituted by the House to investigate all allegations of division among others before the lower chamber will arrive at a resolution on the matter.
Deputy Minority Whip, Hon. Binta Bello (PDP, Gombe), said there was no division or leadership crisis which the defector had taunted as reasons for abandoning the party.
Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta) also drew the speaker’s attention to relevant sections of the constitution on the need to declare Igbokwe’s seat vacant.
House Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabialmila (APC, Lagos), who welcomed the defection, said the contention over the defector showed his calibre.
The Speaker had sought the PDP members’ understanding of Section 68 (2) of the constitution which had been contentious.
However, the Speaker, notwithstanding the objections by the opposition, went ahead to congratulate and welcomed Igbokwe into the APC.
The new APC lawmaker immediately headed towards Dogara who shook hands with him before the former proceeded to Okorocha who also congratulated him.
The development angered the PDP caucus, which immediate staged a walkout from the chamber and headed to address a press briefing.
Speaking on behalf of the caucus, Bello said: “Just this morning when we walked into the chamber, Mr. Speaker read a communication from one of our colleagues, cross-carpeting from PDP to APC.
“And to the best of our knowledge here and the Speakers’ knowledge, there’s a Supreme Court judgment that any member elected under a party should vacate his seat if he’s cross-carpeting to another party.
“We raised different point of order to that effect but it didn’t yield any result and so therefore, we want to say we are going back to the Supreme Court to re-interpret to the chamber that same ruling that was done in the past.
“And secondly, based on our constitution, we have raised the constitutional point of order and nothing was done to that effect.”
According to her, “The Speaker ruled against us and therefore, we are not happy with the ruling of Mr. Speaker.
“He ruled against the constitution which he swore to protect and also against the supreme court judgment.
“Had the letter come earlier than now, it would have been a different case. To the best of our knowledge, we don’t have division in the party now.”
She said the PDP might have to seek the interpretation of the Supreme Court “if they do not allow us go by what the constitution says, because the Supreme Court is the final arbiter, which made the judgment which we are sticking to”.
The deputy minority whip added: “We raised Section 68 Sub-section 2 of the Constitution, to the ruling of the supreme court as well as the constitutional provisions. We stand that the seat must be declared vacant.”
Also, Ossai said: “We need to interpret that particular Section 68 (2) which Mr. Speaker asked me to read.
“And his interpretation is that the content upon which the member is defecting will be looked into by the House and a resolution will be reached.
“But the case today is that if that particular point or the issue the concern, this document ought to be perused by all 360 members and an investigative panel should have been set up to investigate it and report back to the House.”
He said: “And that decision was not taken and that’s why I reminded the Speaker that as a presiding officer, any ruling he makes today becomes a tradition of the House- and we don’t want that tradition to be sustained.
“So, you’ll find out that there’s a lacuna upon his ruling because he could have allowed proper investigation into the matter.
“There was a case challenging the foundation of PDP and that foundation came to a conclusion by the Supreme Court ruling which has rested the matter.
“And I reminded the Speaker last time and I still reminded him today and that’s why the Speaker didn’t go into issues on division; he went into the issues in Sub-section 2, to look at the material upon which a member defecting should supply, and that member has supplied; all you needed to do is to set up a panel to look into those materials and report back to the House for the House to come to conclusion.”
Continuing, he said: “And you will also agree with me that the point Mr Speaker is ruling, he didn’t put it forward to the House; he just hit the gavel- the gavel is not the voice vote.”
Nonetheless, the PDP caucus, immediately after addressing the press rejoined the plenary proceedings.
Asked how long they intended to boycott the plenary, Ossai said: “APC is not the owner of the chamber; we are going back to the plenary; the chamber is the chamber of Nigerians and our party has been legitimately elected to be in the chamber; so we would continue to occupy the chamber.”