(OPINION)Matawalle: Political opposition and the Rule of Law -By Tonnie Iredia

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It is no longer news that Governor Bello Mattawalle of Zamfara state is now a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) having defected a few days ago, from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)under whose platform he was elected governor.

To those who have followed political developments in the nation, the likely movement of Matawalle had been a subject of commentaries for some weeks before he formally defected last Tuesday. He had given assurances earlier that he would never defect and was even reported to have solemnly sworn that he would never contemplate such an idea.

This dimension of religious testimony may not have exhibited good image but let no one forget that he is not the first governor to defect to the ruling party. Dave Umahi and Ben Ayade of Ebonyi and Cross River states respectively had moved earlier to the party in power at the centre. Many political analysts would not be surprised if Matawalle is not the last defector-governor before the next general elections in 2023.

When added to previous political defections that have occurred in the nation over time, one can say with an appreciable level of confidence that defections of politicians from one party to another have become a convention in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, that is not salutary because in many other countries conventions are more in use than constitutional provisions; certain daily occurrences found to be practicable and useful though not documented become integral parts of the political system in the form of conventions.

It is probably for this reason that Britain from where Nigeria was tutored runs what is described as an unwritten constitution. The British are able to do so because their day to day activities are governed by conventions making it inelegant to pick and choose some relevant provisions of a constitution to justify certain manipulations for political gain.

In Nigeria on the other hand, instead of relying on the spirit of a democratic system to keep the country in good shape, some politicians perpetuate illegalities by hiding under contrived internal party crisis to defect to the party in power.

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In the case of governors, they put up juvenile arguments to defend their incessant defections from one party to the other. The other day, Umahi said he left PDP because the party failed to zone 2023 presidency to his Southeast zone, whereas the APC he went to, is yet to do so months after he joined the party.

As for governor Ayade who claimed he left the PDP so as to support Mr. President, we insist he failed to consider the consequences of a one-party state should we all follow his footsteps. Neither Umahi nor Ayade remembered that the people who voted for them had PDP in mind during the election.

In short, defections from one party to the other in Nigeria have nothing to do with the wishes of the people to whom sovereignty supposedly belongs. Instead, it is for personal gains, as Nigerian politicians use their people to trade. There was thus no need to worry about Matawalle, whose turn it was to perform in Nigeria’s political drama before handing over the baton to the next actor, to keep the storyline intact.

There is indeed, no need for anyone to pretend to have been caught unawares by Matawalle’s performance. The governor, in my opinion, did what most Nigerian politicians in his circumstance would have done.

It is obvious he needs to secure a second term which he is likely to lose with the PDP ticket.  The governor therefore needed to either maintain neutrality or establish friendly disposition towards the APC. Some of his comments on certain recent developments confirm this.

First, on the issue of the management of mining activities in Zamfara state which some people felt was shady, he was quoted to have said that “South-South governors accusing me in the media are PDP governors and they are the same people who brewed controversy over the so-called Zamfara Gold, premised on deliberate misinformation and outright lies.”

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He pointedly attributed the defection of Governor Umahi, to “bad blood in the present Peoples Democratic Party” stating that he prefers to commend Umahi for “his bold decision rather than condemn him because everyone feels welcome only in a house where he feels comfortable.” Why would PDP not be circumspect after this?

Interestingly, the PDP, Nigeria’s main opposition party, which has lost 3 governors within a few months seems to prefer nagging to claiming its right. We are all aware that a political party is the only legally recognized vehicle in Nigeria for participation in elections.

One of the conditions expressly stated in the country’s constitution for electoral eligibility is for a candidate to be sponsored by a political party. Accordingly, every election victory belongs to a political party and not its candidate. When related to Zamfara, the winner of the 2019 governorship election was PDP not Matawalle.

Why then is PDP heating up the political system when it can follow the due process of law to reclaim its mandate? Is it because the party has no faith in the Nigerian justice system or is that it enjoys political noise making? This question is important because it also slept on its right in the cases of Cross River and Ebony states.

All it does all the time is to call press conferences and issue threats on how it would not take cheating but when the cheating is consummated, she goes cold. Could it be that PDP wants to win the gold medal for media trial?

A few days ago, the party went to the National Assembly to protest the nomination of a presidential aide as a national electoral commissioner. Good point but why is the party interested in only adopting the civil rights approach of street demonstration? Does that option extinguish its right to seek judicial interpretation of the public policies it considers illegal?

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Why is PDP afraid of the judicial process when it is known to have won many judicial battles in the land? Someone needs to tell the party that its failure to use the approved channel for ventilating political grievances is not only archaic, it also deprives our country from having a developed democratic system.

It is the duty of all opposition parties to keep the government on its toes through matured presentation of alternative policies as well as using legal avenues to stop the ruling party from democratic violations.

It is strange that infractions even in the political system are ignored in Nigeria by the opposition parties. Only 4 days ago, everyone saw how Senator Kabiru Marafa virtually tore his own ruling APC into pieces on national television with legal reasons for why a governor cannot act as a party chairman.

Should it take an APC member to wake up the opposition on any infraction by his party? Although Eyitayo Jegede APC candidate in the last governorship election in Ondo State made the same point in his election petition, he did so only to win the case. The PDP should have also raised the issue to make APC follow the right path and nurture Nigeria’s democracy.

The same is expected of all other parties but painfully they all seem to know and conscientiously follow the law only for winning elections. But because democracy is anchored on the rule of law, political actors have an obligation to ensure that everything is done according to the due process of law.

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