Victory of democracy? Well, partially

Let’s be absolutely clear. The Court of Appeals reinstatement of Governor David Umahi’s term on Thursday, March 31, 2022 was solid case law. It has since been followed by the Federal High Court on Thursday April 7, 2022 in the case of Cross River State Governor Professor Ben Ayade. The judgment in the Umahi case was as categorical as possible; unanimous. The lower court’s creative attempt to circumvent an earlier Supreme Court ruling on this issue was dishonest and was rightly upheld. Remember, this column has done an unbiased analysis of where the hammer should fall: Umahi: Individuals have mandates, not parties (PUNCH, March 15, 2022). It was written: “A warrant is a public trust given by the electorate to an official for a period”. Political parties in Nigeria do (fortunately) not operate a ‘list’ system, in which parties present a list of their candidates to the electorate in order of preference, the votes cast are then allocated by them according to the rank of the candidate on the list. This type of system does not have universal appeal. The few countries that use it do so for historical reasons specific to their local realities.

Giving an electoral mandate to a political party in Nigeria would result in a ransom to the head of every elected executive in the country. The beneficiary party would be free to pull the rug out from under any leader it is not happy with, at any time of the day or night. Governors would effectively govern at the request of their political parties. Their own individual consciences can hang, pronto! No ifs, no buts. Plus, they would effectively become ventriloquist models for their parties.

The governor would still be in office but not in power. The article concluded by saying that the trial court’s decision was “an affront to democracy. It must (and will be) cancelled”. And that’s the case. But is this really a victory for democracy as Umahi, Ayade, APC and many others have claimed? Yes, one might say, in a sense. But, on closer inspection, it is more of a rallying cry for democracy. Let me explain.

A mandate is a trust given to a political leader by the electorate to act on their behalf, using their knowledge, experience and wisdom for the benefit of their fellow citizens. In an ideal world, the candidate would have gone through a rigorous selection process before being chosen as the candidate for the party. The party’s mission is to govern on the basis of a manifesto and a set of policies to which its candidates (or standard bearers) must subscribe. It is therefore a bit tricky to totally dissociate the electoral mandate from the individual or his party. In many ways, this is a joint venture. There are as many people who would vote for a candidate solely on the basis of party affiliation as there are people who would similarly vote for a party solely on the personality and stature of its candidate.

This is akin to the position of the director of a large “blue chip” corporation and its shareholders. Investors are attracted to public companies based on their performance and future growth projections. The personal attributes and credentials of the director of these companies also play an important role in whether or not investors become shareholders. But, ultimately, the director is the one who has the mandate to direct the affairs of the company and is held accountable for his stewardship at the annual general meeting of the company, where he can be removed. of his functions.

In the political domain, the governor, for example, has the mandate to govern in the interest of all. The voters are the shareholders who can choose to renew the mandate at the end of the politician’s mandate. The analogy becomes intriguing when a business leader moves to join a competing company. Should he lose his privileged access to the market because he abandoned the company that made it? Absolutely not. A company may indeed have “created” and given importance to someone, but that does not translate to “owning” them. Similarly, a governor may have achieved fame (and in some cases, fortune) on the back of a political party, this should not translate to which party “owns” him or his mandate. A governor should never be fettered by party demands in the performance of his public duties. To do so would be to betray the public trust. That said, there is a huge moral question raised by this. Political parties tend to invest heavily in their candidates and rightly expect to reap dividends by partnering with a winner. If there is sacred trust between the politician and the electorate, is there not also such trust between the candidate and his party? Does society want politicians with no moral scruples, who would walk across the carpet and abandon their party on the slightest of excuses and for no other reason than their own excessive ambition?

The answer to the question is emphatically no. So where should the line be drawn? What is the right balance in all of this? In many Western democracies, political parties are “surprised”, sometimes by extremist elements. And, for the chosen one, this creates a dilemma. Stay inside and fight or exert the courage of your conviction and leave? Many see it as a case of shit if you do, and shit if you don’t.

So, Nigeria is not dealing with anything particularly strange in politics with defections from one party to another. The main difference, however, is that it happens with alarming regularity than anything seen or experienced in the West. So the solution is this. When a governor or someone else chooses to follow his instincts or his conscience and abandon the party on whose platform he rose to power, his mandate should be revalidated.

It is not a question here of losing mandates in the event of defection, it is a question of “revalidation” and that is not and should not be the business of the judiciary. Therefore, there should be a mechanism for the electorate to have a say. The best and fairest way to achieve this would be an amendment to the Elections Act 2021 to include a “reminder” clause. Once there is a defection and a petition from at least one-third of the electorate in the defector’s constituency has been collated, this will automatically trigger the “recall” of the chosen one, in this case the governors Umahi and Ayade.

They should have faced the electorate in a recall vote on the platform of their new party, the APC. In this way, they have the opportunity to reconnect with their electorate. Conversely, the aggrieved party, the PDP, also has the opportunity to present different candidates in the two cases and to advocate with passion and conviction for voters to remove “disloyal” governors. If, however, they won the recall vote, their defection would have been justified. Otherwise, the electorate would have righted the wrong by expelling them. A recall vote is the nuclear button in the loyal hands of the electorate. It emboldens a politician of conviction, while it punishes the selfish and the opportunist. Occasional overnight defections would become rare as democracy grew stronger.

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