Position of the Law on Decamping


The friction between the executive and members of the Rivers State House of Assembly peaked when 27 members of the Assembly decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party on whose platform they were voted, to the All Progressives Congress (APC). For as long as democracy has existed in Nigeria, politicians have “decamped,” a word used interchangeably with  ” cross carpeting.” 

Historically, cross-carpeting can be traced to parliamentary practices, where lawmakers leave the political party they are elected for the opposition party. In places like Australia, it can be a temporary disagreement when a member of parliament temporarily sides with the opposition on some issues against his party. In Nigeria, however, this practice is not restricted to legislatures. There are examples of Governors elected on Party A’s platform seeking re-election on Party B’s platform, like Governor Obaseki of Edo State, who was initially elected on the platform of the APC in 2016 and subsequently decamped to the PDP, where he got re-elected for a second term in 2020. When politicians cross-carpet, it means political parties, which are the only ones allowed under the law to field and sponsor candidates, lose not only their members but also the mandate of the people who voted for them and the candidate, meaning every resource they deployed for that election has come to nought.

Legal perspective

To check this practice and bring some sanity, the National Assembly amended the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to restrict lawmakers from cross-carpeting with the sanction that any lawmaker who does so vacates his legislative seat. Section 68(1) (g) states that “A member of the Senate or the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected;” 

The corresponding section for the State House of Assembly is Section 109 (1) (g). However, there is a proviso to Section 68 (1) (g)  and 109 (1) (G), respectively, and it is that “Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored;”

In the case of Rivers, after decamping, the Rivers State House of Assembly declared the 27 lawmakers’ seats vacant in line with the provision of Section 109 (2), which States that the speaker of the House shall give effect to the provisions of 109 (1) (G) where such vacancy happens. In this instance, by writing to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). 

In the past, when cross-carpeting occurred, and the leadership of the legislative houses and the cross-carpeting member(s) were of different political parties, the courts had to declare those seats vacant as the administration was unwilling to do it. There is also the problem of interpretation of the law as to what constitutes “division in a political party,” as stated in the proviso.    Politicians have been seen to interpret that section quite liberally. The National Assembly must also find a solution to Governors’ decamping because the law is silent. While the right to associate is freedom recognized under our laws, it should be done within reason to protect the mandate of the electorate and political parties from unscrupulous politics. 

To discourage cross-carpeting, the National Assembly must, as a matter of urgency, amend Sections 68(1)() and 109 (1) (g) by removing the proviso. There should also be a provision where Governors should vacate their seats upon decamping to another political party. There should also be a mechanism where the lawmaker’s position who decamps is declared by another entity other than the speaker to forestall instances where the speaker refuses to declare a seat vacant after cross-carpeting due to party affiliation.  The courts must also interpret the provision of the sections of the law on cross-carpeting strictly, as the law intended, and not subject such cases to technicalities.

This article was written by Amina Miango, Project Manager, MINE/LDJ