Throughout this political transfer window of movements between the PDP and APC, the announcement by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal that he was moving to the All Progressives Congress was treated with rather less surprise than a casual observer would have expected, considering that he is the fourth in line in terms of constitutional succession to the Presidency, and is hence the APC’s biggest defection in its one year of existence. Close watchers of Nigerian politics would not have been surprised. In fact, it has been perhaps the worst kept secret of the past one year, and there are a number of reasons for this.
Flashback to 2011. As the dust settled after the PDP’s victory at the 2011 elections, the speakership of the 7th house of representatives was zoned by party bosses to the South West, despite the decimation of the PDP in that zone at governorship and federal legislative levels. The choice of the party was Mulikat Akande-Adeola from Oyo, who secured another term as representative while most of her PDP colleagues fell away, but Tambuwal made his moves, ran against her and won. He did this with the assistance of then ACN lawmakers.
The result of this was a House of Representatives that stood relatively free of Presidential influence, and Tambuwal himself free to speak his mind at critical moments like during the fuel subsidy probes and monies unremitted to the Federation Account by the NNPC. The price for this was a Speaker who never quite fit in with his party. He was, to paraphrase the Bible, ‘in the PDP, but not of the PDP’. His absence at major events, together with his criticism of the executive branch meant that as soon the APC became a reality late last year, it eventually became an issue of when, not if, he would switch parties.
The current governor of his home state of Sokoto, Aliyu Wamakko, also moved to the APC, together with 27 of 30 members of the state house of assembly. This provided further incentive, especially as Tambuwal is rumoured to want to become governor. In fact, reports surfaced in January that Tambuwal would be offered the PDP governorship ticket, in order to prevent his defection. However, 3 house members, together with the deputy governor of the state Mukhtar Shagari (Yes, Shagari’s son) stayed with the PDP.
So, the PDP knew it was coming for some time. As soon as Tambuwal declared his switch on Tuesday, he promptly adjourned sitting till December 5th, ostensibly to secure his position. The PDP counter attack was to promptly remove his security detail, and the Inspector General of Police was quick to justify this move by quoting Section 68(1) of the 1999 Constitution:
A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if – (g) being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected; Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored.
There are a number of issues here. First, the Inspector General has quietly moved from being a law enforcer, to a law interpreter, since he obviously serves at the pleasure of the Executive arm, separation of powers be damned. It brings up all the familiar fears about a federal police that is too close to the Executive for comfort, and is merely a continuation of the pattern seen in places like Rivers state – where Commissioner Joseph Mbu was used to intimidate Rotimi Amaechi – and several other examples. Clearly, the message remains that falling foul of the executive arm will see the police used against you.
Second, the IG is clearly poorly suited to being an interpreter of the law, because of all the cross carpeting done, no seat has been declared vacant by the courts, nor is it likely that will happen soon. In addition, in the specific case of Tambuwal, the Constitution has this to say in Section 50(2):
The Speaker the House of Representatives shall vacate his office -
If he ceases to be a member of the House of Representatives otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of the Senate or the House of Representatives; or
When the House of which he was a member first sits after any dissolution of that House; or
If he is removed from office by a resolution of the House of Representatives, by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the members of that House.
Therefore, as my learned friend Tex points out here, Tambuwal can either declare his own seat vacant, or be removed by two-thirds of the 360 members (240), a number the PDP do not currently possess.
The foregoing will then make it obvious why the Speaker chose to delay his defection till this moment, and embark on recess immediately after. The recess will allow for the necessary politicking by house members in their constituencies, but also allow Tambuwal to secure his position for the remainder of his tenure, by co-opting the support of his colleagues. He is no stranger to such an exercise, having out-flanked the Presidency’s chosen candidate in 2011.
Many agree that the honourable thing to do would be to resign as Speaker, pending another vote in the chamber, and a very likely conclusion to this particular 2015 sub plot could be a renewed vote of confidence in his leadership of the house, either through voice vote or actual casting of ballots.
While it is not certain that is how events will play out, Tambuwal’s reputation as a rather shrewd and savvy politician will only be enhanced should he retain his place as Speaker up till the elections.