Following last week’s defection of Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle from the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the National Working Committee (NWC) of the former has approved a legal team led by a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Godwin Kanu-Agabi, to challenge the defection.
But a massive crowd of PDP supporters yesterday treated Zamfara State Deputy Governor Mahdi Gusau, who remained in the party, to a tumultuous welcome in the state capital, Gusau.
The legal action, THISDAY gathered, was not limited to Matawalle, as it would also challenge the legality of the defection of members of the national and state assemblies from Zamfara State.
Kanu-Agabi would lead a team of lawyers, including Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), when the suit challenging the defections would be filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja this week.
A PDP source said, “A combined reading of Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution and the pronouncements of the Supreme Court in Faleke v. INEC (2016) are clear in holding that it is the political party that stands for election, that votes scored in election belong to the political party, and that the candidate nominated to contest at an election by his party acts only as the agent of his party.”
Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution states, “No association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”
The legal team would also be relying on Sections 179 and 181 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and their implications and status in law, taking into account the Supreme Court judgement of June 2019 that brought in Matawella as the Zamfara State governor.
PDP would seek the interpretation of the entire Section 68 of the constitution as regards members of the National and State assemblies, who also defected from PDP to the APC with Matawalle.
Section 68 states, “(1) A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if –
“(a) He becomes a member of another legislative house.
“(b) Any other circumstances arise that, if he were not a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives, would cause him to be disqualified for election as a member…
“(e) Save as otherwise prescribed by this Constitution, he becomes a member of a commission or other body established by this Constitution or by any other law…
“(f) Without just cause he is absent from meetings of the House of which he is a member for a period amounting in the aggregate to more than one-third of the total number of days during which the House meets in any one year;
“(g) 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; 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.”
While some senior lawyers insist that no law prevents an elected governor from leaving for another party, some argue that the governor should relinquish his mandate on account of the platform with which he came into office.
Meanwhile, PDP supporters, who came out in large numbers to welcome Gusau, carried placards with the inscriptions, such as: “APC is prohibited for us, we remain in PDP,” “With Mahdi new Zamfara is possible,” “Zamfara is PDP, PDP is Zamfara.”
The PDP supporters blocked the Tsafe-Funtua road.
Those who accompanied the deputy governor included his father, Gen Aliyu Gusau, and PDP caretaker committee members.
Addressing the party faithful at his residence, Gusau enjoined them to remain calm, stressing that the defection of the governor would not affect the chances of the party in future elections. He maintained that as the highest political office holder in the party, he had become the leader of the party in the state.
A PDP caretaker committee member and former publicity secretary of the party, Alhaji Faruku Ahmad Gusau, who spoke to THISDAY said, the large crowd that came out in solidarity with the party showed that PDP was on ground in the state. He stated that no amount of intimidation would make them defect to APC, saying people should watch, as PDP would soon bounce back in the state.
The former publicity secretary dispelled insinuations that all the state House of Assembly members had moved to APC with the governor.