The refusal of Senate President David Mark to read the defection notice submitted by 11 senators on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has been condemned by some prominent lawyers, who argued that he lacks the powers to stall the affected lawmakers’ move to the opposition – All Progressive Congress.
On Tuesday, Sen. Bukola Saraki, Sen. Aisha Al-Hassan, Sen. Magnus Abe, Sen. Wilson Ake and Sen. Abdullahi Adamu had announced their defection alongside six other senators – Shaba Lafiagi, Ibrahim Gobir, Jibrilla Bindowo, Danjuma Goje, Ali Ndume, and Umar Dahiru – during plenary.
The senators had notified the upper chamber in a letter they forwarded to Mark informing him of their defection to APC, but he surprisingly refused to read the letter on the floor of the Senate.
The affected senators’ insistence to have their letter read on the floor of the senate during plenary was frustrated by the senate president, who argued that the matter was already pending before a court and would therefore contravene a standing rule that bars the senate from discussing such issues.
However, a report by SUNDAY PUNCH indicates that the lawyers faulted Mark’s move.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Konyinsola Ajayi, in a telephone interview argued that the senators had the right to defect if they wanted to as long as they did so within the ambit of the provisions of the constitution.
He said, “The Senate cannot stop their defection. They really cannot do anything about it. They are just playing games. It is not for Mark to determine that they cannot defect; he is not a court. He can’t determine who can or cannot defect. The more important question is whether anybody can defect, without compromising the provisions of the constitution”.
Speaking in the same vein, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) took it a step further as he stated that the affected senators did not even need to write a letter in the first place notifying the senate president of their defection.
“Senators can defect if there are grounds for it in the law. They don’t even need to write a letter. All they need is to notify the leadership of the Senate. And once they have notified the leadership of the house, it is done”, he said.
Awomolo added that it was of no significance whether Mark read the letter or not.
Another SAN, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, also added his voice to the debate as he said the senators were within their rights to associate freely.
His words, “My opinion is that no one can stop them. Freedom of association is still there. Every Nigerian has a right to associate with anyone and can be a member of any political party that he or she wants.
“The failure to read the letter does not mean they are still members of PDP. It’s just a mere formality before the Senate. It doesn’t affect their right to join any political party of their choice. Their right cannot be taken away by mere rules of the parliament”.
The lawyers also picked holes in the motion by the Chairman of Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang asking the senate president to declare the 11 senators’ seats vacant for defecting.
In his argument, Mr. Fidelis Oditah (SAN) cited a court order issued in December, stating that the status quo concerning defecting lawmakers be maintained. He said it would be contemptuous to go against the ruling.
He said, “These senators and some members of the House of Representatives obtained an order asking their chambers not to take any step to declare their seats vacant. It is not saying they cannot join another political party.
“What they were concerned with, and what Justice (Ahmed) Mohammed of the Federal High Court appeared to have directed, was that their seats should not be declared vacant”.
Awomolo noted that it was not the responsibility of the senate president to declare the senators’ seats vacant as canvassed by Enang.