Lawyers speak on legality of Saraki’s defection

Bukola Saraki
Senate President, Bukola Saraki

Some Nigerian lawyers have expressed their views on the legality of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s defection from the All Progressives Party (APC) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Although there have been defections by a sitting vice president (Atiku Abubakar) and a speaker of the House of Representatives (Aminu Tambuwal), Mr Saraki on Tuesday became the first Senate President in Nigeria to leave his party while in office.

The legal practitioners explained that there is no illegality in the way Mr Saraki announced his defection.

Mr Saraki had earlier made a formal announcement of his exit from the APC on his official Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“I wish to inform Nigerians that, after extensive consultations, I have decided to take my leave of the All Progressives Congress (APC),” he wrote on his Twitter handle.

In a statement he later released, he accused influential persons of the APC of intolerance and causing his exit.

“While I take full responsibility for this decision, I will like to emphasise that it is a decision that has been inescapably imposed on me by certain elements and forces within the APC who have ensured that the minimum conditions for peace, cooperation, inclusion and a general sense of belonging did not exist,” he said.

An aide to the Senate president later told PREMIUM TIMES Mr Saraki intends to retain his seat as president of the Senate.

In his reaction to Mr Saraki’s defection, a senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, said Mr Saraki also needs to write the office of the Senate President as expected of all senators changing their party.

“He (Mr Saraki) will write to the Senate President also, but his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, will preside over the session where it will be read.

“Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 constitution refers,” Mr Ozekhome said in a text message.

A legal practitioner, Liborous Oshoma, said the lawmaker has not broken any rule by making his announcement on his social media platforms as there is no constitutional provision for that.

“There is no constitutional provision but I know by virtue of their house rule, he is to announce his defection on the floor of the Senate to give the house notice of his decision.”

Mr Oshoma added that “he has not broken any rule since the parliament is on recess.

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“Maybe when they resume, he will announce it on the floor of the Senate. But apart from that, there is no constitutional procedure for that,” he said.

Mr Oshoma also said the Senate President will have to write a letter to his party secretary at his ward “just like it is done when you want to join or register with a party.”

While stating that a lot of people expected this to happen before now, the lawyer said for him, “the party has always treated him as an outcast since he won the election to the office of the Senate President. That’s why he has always been in opposition with the ruling.”

Another legal practitioner, Inihebe Effiong, also noted that there is constitutional provision for changing political party in the legislature.

“It is just for the member to indicate interest in joining another party. Going by the rules of the Senate, usually such decision is communicated to the presiding officers and he is a presiding officer.

“What amounts to the defection is a question of fact; once a member of the National Assembly has indicated that he has left a party, irrespective of how he does that, he is deemed to have left that party.

“That he announced on social media does not alter his decision – which is that he has left the APC. I believe that upon resumption, he will make the announcement.”

He further explained that Mr Saraki doesn’t need to write to the APC to say that he is no longer their member. “There is freedom of association,” he said.

Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer, had the same response when he was contacted.

“There is no elaborate procedure for that. What is conventional is to do it on the floor of the Senate; a letter is addressed to that effect. Due to the fact that the National Assembly is on recess, the letter cannot be read.”

While stating that Mr Saraki’s decision has been long awaited, Mr Ogunye explained that the most important procedure is not just the defection, it is the implication of the defection.

“It takes a single majority to appoint a presiding officer but it takes two-third of the majority to remove him, except he (Saraki) doesn’t want to be Senate President anymore, which in that case, he will resign,” he said.

Mr. Saraki joined the APC on January 29, 2014 after falling out with the then PDP government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan.

He was among 11 PDP senators of the period who informed the Senate of their departure from the PDP on that date.

Two months before then – November 2013 – Governor Ahmed, alongside four other then PDP governors defected to the APC. They were Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) and Rabi’u Kwankwaso (Kano).

Mr. Kwankwaso, now a senator, last week returned to the PDP.

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