Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has in the past months experienced a slight rise in the rate of defection of its members to the ruling All Progressive Congress Party (APC).
At least eight PDP members have officially moved to the APC, including a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; a former PDP National Chairman, Barnabas Gemade; a former senator, Isa Misau of Bauchi State; and a serving senator representing Adamawa North, Ishaku Abbo;
Others are current members of the House of Representatives member, namely Datti Yako of Kiru/Bebeji federal constituency of Kano State; Ephraim Nwuzi of Omuma Federal Constituency Rivers State; and David Abel of Sardauna Federal Constituency in Taraba.
Perhaps the most remarkable among the defections was that of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State.
They all gave varied reasons for dumping the PDP on whose platform they were elected into their various positions.
For instance, Mr Umahi, who is also the Chairman of the Southeast Governors Forum, claimed he decamped from the PDP because the party was not considering picking its presidential candidate from the zone, which is yet to produce the nation’s leader since the return of democracy in 1999.
Some attributed their defection to the crises and factionalisation of the party in their states.
The rising number of defections from the party in the last few months has expectedly raised concerns over its fortunes.
One of those worried is Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.
While projecting that more members would leave the party, the governor, who has been at different times accused of teleguiding its leadership, blamed the development on the conduct of the national working committee.
But, the PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, assured that the party “remains firm and strong”, describing the development as inconsequential.
The position of the national chairman notwithstanding, the party has gone ahead to initiate a process of reconciling its aggrieved members apparently to forestall further decampments.
The reconciliation committee chaired by a former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is to embark on a reconciliation tour to mediate in the disagreements amongst its members across the country.
In any case, analysts say the recent gale of defection from the opposition party may not be disconnected from a purported gentleman agreement on zoning of offices ahead of the 2023 general elections as well as the agitation for restructuring of the nation’s polity.
Founded in 1998, the PDP, won all the presidential elections conducted in the country until 2015 when it lost to the APC.
During the period, it also maintained a tradition of rotating the presidential power between the north and the south.
Members of the party who ruled the country, in line with the unwritten agreement, are Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) from the south; Umaru Yar’Adua (2007-2010) from the north; and Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015) from the south.
To be sure, this is not the first time the PDP would experience mass defection by its members.
Although the recent defection of PDP members may not directly impact on its outing in the 2023 general elections, which is still a little over two years away, the party had in the past been hit by mass defections which shook its foundation.
In November 2013, some of its governors, mainly from the northern states and a former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, defected to the newly-formed APC following disagreements with the party’s leadership, which was backed by Mr Jonathan.
The governors were Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Rabi’u Kwankwaso (Kano), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) and Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara).
The governors were members of the defunct ‘New PDP’, alongside their two colleagues, Sule Lamido (Jigawa) and Babangida Aliyu (Niger), who remained in Nigeria’s ruling PDP.
The “New PDP” led by a former acting national chairman of the PDP, Abubakar Baraje, came into being on August 31, 2013 when the governors left the party’s convention at Eagles Square in Abuja midway to hold a parallel convention at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre.
At the press conference where they announced the birth of the new PDP, Mr Baraje said the leaders of the party came together to rescue it from undemocratic tendencies of the National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur.
“We address you today as leaders of the PDP, who are worried by the increasing repression, restriction s of freedom of association, arbitrary suspension of members and other such violations of democratic principles by a faction of our party led by Tukur,” Mr Baraje said.
Few weeks after the governors defected, a number of the party’s senators and members in the House of Representatives followed suit.
In January the following year, 11 senators left the PDP for APC, citing division and factionalisation as reasons for dumping the then ruling party.
The senators that defected were Bukola Saraki (Kwara Central), Shaba Lafiagi (Kwara North), Mohammed Ndume (Borno South), Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West) and Magnus Abe (Rivers South East), Wilson Ake (Rivers West).
Others were Bindo Jubrilla (Adamawa North), Abdullahi Gobir (Sokoto East) and Alhassan Aisha Jummai (Taraba North).
In the House, the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, moved to the APC with about 37 members.
Apart from the disagreement with the PDP, there was also the problem in the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), which had re-elected Mr Amaechi as chairman and Abdulaziz Yari, the ANPP governor of Zamfara State as deputy.
But the PDP leadership backed Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State as chairman of the Forum and Olusegun Mimiko as deputy.
Incidentally, the entire crisis festered at the time Mr Jonathan was planning to contest the 2015 presidential election, which on its own, fuelled the defection of many of its members, especially from the north.
Many northern elders had argued that the region should be allowed to produce the next to president following the death of Mr Jonathan’s predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua.
Mr Yar’Adua, a former Katsina State governor, was barely three years into his first term of four years when he died on May 5, 2010.
Those who left the PDP for this reason had argued that since the presidency was being rotated between the north and the south, Mr Jonathan should not run.
It was speculated at the time that APC, the product of a merger of four opposition parties, would field Muhammadu Buhari, also a northerner from Katsina State, as its candidate in the 2015 presidential election. It did.
Mr Jonathan lost the elections to Mr Buhari thus making it the first time in the history of Nigeria that an incumbent president would loose re-election bid.
The result of the election showed that APC secured 25 states, while the PDP clinched 10 states in the general and off-cycle gubernatorial elections held in 2015, 2016, and 2018, in Anambra, Bayelsa, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo, and Osun states.
A struggle as opposition
The PDP, now operating as an opposition party, has in the last five years, found it hard to sell itself to the general public. Indeed, the party now finds itself defending the policies and programmes it established when it was the ruling party.
In the early years of the APC reign, the government repeatedly bashed the PDP for alleged mismanagement and misappropriation of public wealth, which led to scandals such as the Malabu oil deal, the Dasuki multi-billion arms deal, amongst others.
Mr Secondus, in 2018, publicly apologised to Nigerians for mistakes the party made while in power for 16 years.
“We admit that we have made several mistakes; we have passed through all our challenges and have acquired the experience no other party can boast of.
“We were sanctioned by Nigerians at the polls in 2015; let me use this opportunity to apologise for our past mistakes,” Mr Secondus had said.
However, shortly before the 2019 polls, the party began to regain strength with the return of its former members from the APC, including three governors.
For instance, Mr Tambuwal (Sokoto State), Samuel Ortom, (Benue state); Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State, all re-joined the PDP from the APC.
Also, 49 members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate including Messrs Saraki, Dogara, Kwankwaso, Dino Melaye, Isa Misau, and others all moved from the APC to the PDP.
The defection by the legislators followed an alleged move to unseat Mr Saraki as Senate President, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, whose homes were blocked by operatives of the State Security Services (SSS).
— The Nigerian Senate (@NGRSenate) July 24, 2018
Consequently, the party grew stronger and prepared for the 2019 elections with hope of defeating the ruling party after it picked Mr Atiku as its presidential candidate at the PDP’s 2018 convention held in Port Harcourt.
The party however lost the 2019 presidential elections scoring 11.2 million votes and winning 17 states and FCT, while Mr Buhari of the APC scored 12.2 million votes and winning 19 states.
Of the governorship elections held in 29 states of the federation, in March last year, the PDP won 14 states, and APC secured 15 states. The opposition party later clinched Zamfara State through the Supreme Court in May last year, and lost Imo State, via the same courts on March 3, leaving the scores same.
While in the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship off-season elections that were conducted nine months after, precisely on November 16 last year, the APC initially won both states elections – but the PDP later regained the oil-rich Bayelsa state through a Supreme court’s ruling on February 13, that sacked the APC governor-elect barely 24 hours to his inauguration.
The development gave the PDP a close marking with 15 states while the APC held on to 16 states.
The Edo and Ondo governorship off-season polls were held in September and October this year. The PDP won in Edo, while the APC secured Ondo State, leaving the PDP with 16 states and the APC with 17 states.
The PDP was able to add Edo State to its fortunes after the governor, Godwin Obaseki, decamped to the PDP in pursuit of a governorship ticket after he was disqualified from the APC following his disagreement with his predecessor, Adams Oshiomole, a former national chairman of the APC.
Now with the exit of Mr Umahi, the PDP is left with 15 states while the APC now holds 18 states.
While the Electoral Commission, INEC, is yet to conduct governorship elections in Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun states, as their state governors’ tenures are expected to end in 2021, the PDP during its 90th NEC meeting, expressed hope to strengthen its gubernatorial fortunes by winning the coming elections.
Also in the meeting, the opposition party said it could have secured Kogi, Osun, Ekiti, and Imo state if they had not used the federal might to intimidate voters.
Did anything go wrong?
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, say nothing has gone wrong with the party following the recent defection of its members.
He said the affairs of the party remain stable and the NWC would continue to stabilize it.
He however accused the ruling APC of luring PDP members to leave the party.
“The party is stable and we (NWC) have made the party a very viable platform which many Nigerians are attracted to despite the mistakes of the past. So for us, we had a couple of defections,” Mr Ologbondiyan told PREMIUM TIMES.
“But the game plan of the APC which is to divide the party along the line stands defeated as we speak because those who they have lured out of our party have discovered they went on a wrong way because the party remains intact, indivisible and united and it’s waxing by the day.
“Nothing has gone wrong with the party and I say it with all sense of clarity – as far as the party is concerned there is no division. Maybe one or two persons felt that they may not be able to achieve their ambition or their interest,
“To us at the PDP, we find that very strange because even Governor Umahi, who spoke about the right of the southeast to attain the presidency, (it) is clear to him that there are even discussions that (have not attained) the level at which he was deciding upon. So, at the party, we remain democratic.”
But the APC Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, faults PDP’s claim.
He said, “The PDP members have seen it that they all want to belong to the centre, so when you look at it the opposition party PDP has no light for the future.
“Also, to make it clear to Nigerians, the APC is not making offers for people to join the party, it is just that they (PDP) have seen that it is about being progressive.”
A thing of the norm by politicians to decamp for interest
A political analyst, Jide Ojo, says the issue of decamping of politicians to other parties, especially the ruling party has become a norm in the nation’s political system for a long time.
“We all know that in politics, there is no permanent friendship. What is permanent is interest. So when people (politicians) see that their interest would be more protected in another party, they move into that party,” Mr Ojo told this newspaper.
“The issue of defection has been a thing for a long time. Recall that the Alliance of Democracy AD, APGA, many of them were lodged into PDP – and therefore crippling the opposition. So ahead of every major election, even under the guise of national unity, the PDP used the instrumentality of that to cripple the opposition party.
“Recall that Ahmed Abdulkadir, a former national chairman of AD, was given a political appointment by the PDP government. Several other ANPP opposition stalwarts were also given appointments.
“Perhaps they saw that PDP was seen as Saudi Arabia and they saw that their party was Siberia.
“It has been the major characteristic of Nigerian politics for politicians to migrate to the ruling party, either at the state or the federal level.
“Even when there are no crises at the national level of the party, they claim or create one for themselves for whatever reasons. They use it as a reason to jump at the ruling party.
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