There was a row in the Senate yesterday, following the defection of Ondo South senator, Yele Omogunwa, from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The manner the defection was announced forced PDP senators to stage a walk out when Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, overruled the demand by PDP senators to declare Omogunwa’s seat vacant.
The development may have dealt a blow to the cordial relationship between majority APC senators and their minority counterparts in PDP.
Saraki read a letter by Senator Omogunwa to announce his defection from PDP to APC.
The letter indicated that Omogunwa wrote the letter before last Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State.
Omogunwa staid he was defecting from PDP to support the governorship candidate of the APC in the just concluded election.
Saraki dramatised the defection to the disaffection of PDP senators in the chamber.
Minority Leader Godswill Akpabio promptly raised a point of order, citing Order 43 of the Senate Standing Rules, which empowers a senator to make an explanation on any given subject.
Akpabio prayed Saraki to declare the seat of Omogunwa vacant in line with the 1999 Constitution (as amended)
The Minority leader insisted that the only reason allowed by the constitution for defection was existence of crisis in a party, which led to division or polarisation in the party.
Akpabio noted that there was no leadership crisis in PDP following a Supreme Court judgment, which he said acknowledged the Senator Ahmed Makarfi’s caretaker committee as the authentic leadership of PDP.
He insisted there was no division in the party that could provide justification for Omogunwa’s defection from PDP to APC.
Saraki, who seemed unimpressed by Akpabio’s position, ruled him (Akpabio) out of order. This did not go down well with PDP senators.
The submission of Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) seemed to have further provoked PDP senators.
Melaye, who justified Omogunwa’s defection, cited Section 68 (g,h) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
He noted that Omogunwa’s defection was in order in view of division in PDP.
Senator Peter Nwaboshi (Delta North) raised another point of order, claiming Melaye’s intervention was a breach of procedure, especially since the Senate President had ruled on the issue.
The situation degenerated into a row as senators were shouting.
Following prolonged altercation, the PDP senators walked out in anger.
Akpabio, at a news briefing, said: “What happened this morning; you just saw what I may regard as a protest walkout by the PDP caucus of the Senate and the reason is obvious.
“The essence of both chambers – House of Representatives and Senate – is that we are lawmakers, we cannot be law breakers and we believe in the rule of law.
“One of our colleagues, Senator Yele Omogunwa, decided to jump ship, maybe out of the excitement of the Ondo (governorship) election, which the PDP is challenging.
“He did that not take into cognisance the recent Supreme Court’s decision settling the issue of the chairmanship of the party, which had been an issue in the last few months.
“That issue was settled in favour of Senator Makarfi’s leadership, which was set up at the Port Harcourt convention.
“The moment that happened, it means the PDP as a family has no division. The Supreme Court does not recognise any division in PDP as of today because the issue has been settled.
“And then, one of our colleagues decided to walk out. Of course, the constitutional provisions are clear; that where there is no division in a political party and a member of the House of Representatives or a senator decides to jump ship and defect, such person should automatically lose his or her seat.
“The Senate president or Speaker ought to declare the seat vacant.
“So, we made a passionate appeal to the Senate president to do the needful; to take the legal step to stop political ‘rascality’ in Nigeria and for us to have a settled caucus, not just of the PDP but of the APC, so we can face the business that we came here to do.
‘’Another colleague of ours stood up to interpret the Supreme Court decision, saying it was on the issue of Ondo election and not on the issue of the chairmanship of the party. The moment the Supreme Court made the pronouncement, it was clear.
“If the Supreme Court does not recognise the chairman of a party, there is no way the candidate of that chairman would be accepted. It goes with other incidental decisions.
“We felt that for today, the way we see it, is that maybe our contributions are not wanted and the excitement of the ruling APC is that they can do it on their own. I don’t think that will augur well for democracy.
“So, we have to make our point clear to the nation; that, yes, we do not support political ‘rascality’ and this is not the right time for somebody to defect, realising that the party is one.
“If he wishes to go and support his governor-elect, he has the right to resign from the seat and give our seat to us and the legal process will follow and we will fill the vacancy. It is not for him to jump from a corner of the chamber to the other to support his governor-elect; it is not for him to do so.
“He ought to resign and go there to become a commissioner or a special assistant or adviser; not to trade the seat of the PDP.”