The planned defection of His Excellency Bello Mohammed (Matawallen Maradun), the Executive Governor of Zamfara State, from his party PDP, to the opposition APC, had heightened tension and generated heated debates. Some see the defection as illegal while some see it as morally reprehensible. I belong to the latter category.
There are quite a number of things that are morally right but legally prohibited. There are also things that are morally wrong but legally permissible. The defection of a sitting Governor is one of it.
Sections 68(1)(g) and 109(1) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended) clearly prohibited sitting Senators, Members of the House of Representatives and Members of Houses of Assembly of States from defecting to other political parties before the expiration of their tenures and spelt out the legal consequences. The Draftsmen deliberately omitted the office of the President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor, for reasons best known to them. That’s one of the injustices of our justice system- selectivity.
Similarly, Section 188(1) to (11) of the Constitution deliberately refused to recognize defection of a sitting Governor as one of the issues to qualify for impeachment. Therefore, issue of carpet- crossing by Governors is more of morality than legal.
In the case of Matawalle, he can choose not to defect for fear of unknown and the challenges he is likely to face in the APC, but not on the basis of any legal hindrance. He has the right to belong to the political party of his choice, in the exercise of his right under Section 40 of the Constitution and in the absence of any clear provision in the Constitution or Electoral Act that specifically prohibits sitting governors from defecting to another political party before the expiration of their tenure.
I read the arguments of those advocating that it is illegal for a Governor to defect. I also read the record of proceeding and all the orders made by the Supreme Court under which Matawalle was returned as the Governor of Zamfara State in 2019. There was no where the court, either directly or indirectly stated that Matawalle must remain in the PDP until the expiration of his tenure.
It is a settled principle of law that it is the party which sponsors a candidate in an election that wins the election, not the candidate. But once a Governor takes oath of office, it is no longer his political party that is running the office but the candidate. The issue of political party, in my humble opinion, is overtaken by event.
Whether or not my opinion is correct is left to be decided by the court. Whoever is aggrieved by the defection of Matawalle should approach a court of law for interpretation.
Under the principle of interpretation of the Nigerian statutes, it has been established and well settled that “the express mention of one thing in a statutory provision automatically excludes any other stipulation which would have been excluded by implication”. See the case of OPIA VS. INEC & ANOR. (2014) 3 SCM, 175.
In my opinion, Matawalle is morally obligated to remain in the PDP until May 29th 2023. However, he is legally free to defect to APC or NRM or any political party of his choice at any given time.
Bello Galadi is the immediate past Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Gusau Branch (covering Zamfara State) and President of Bello Galadi Foundation.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily