The defection of politicians from one political party to another is not new in Nigeria. But, the recent spate of defections, mainly from the opposition parties to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), is happening at such a dizzying rate that it may have adverse implications for the next general elections. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI examines the trend and its consequences for the polity.
About two years to the next general elections, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), the biggest opposition party in the country, is fighting for survival. The party has not been able to stand its ground and play its constitutional role in the last six years, following its loss of power at the federal level. Typical of Nigerian politics, its members have not shown enough commitment by espousing the principles of the party and working towards repositioning it as a viable alternative to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Rather, they have been leaving the party in droves since it lost the presidential election in 2015, in search of greener pastures in the ruling party. The irony is that Nigeria deserves a strong, vibrant opposition to play its conventional role in the polity to deepen democracy. But, the PDP is being swept by a tsunami of defections; its members are joining the APC at a dizzying rate. At the rate they are joining the ruling party, Nigeria would soon become a one-party state.
The two-term governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel became the latest high-ranking official to leave the PDP two weeks ago, when he formally joined the APC, from the opposition party. Like others before him, Daniel claimed, in a message he sent to his supporters, that the move is in the best interest of “our people”. His justification: “Our cause is just, well-considered, not for any personal gain or aggrandisement but in the overall interest of our people. What we all need to do is to be active and proactive with our responses as there will be no time for the briefing.
“We all know what has happened to the intractable problem in the Ogun State PDP over the last decade or more with no end in sight. We can see the unfolding crisis in the Southwest and the national situation does not look any better. The situation in the country also calls for serious engagement across the board. Not that there won’t be challenges in the other parties but all considered and the benefit of what I know, this is the best thing to do now. If the dynamics change at any time we will take it as it comes. Regards to all!”
Daniel, who was former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s campaign manager during the last general elections was received into the APC at his Asoludero residence, in Sagamu, Ogun State by five governours of the party: Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), and Abubakar Bello (Niger).
Build-up to 2023:
His defection to the APC might not be unconnected with the gradual build-up towards the next general elections in 2023, when the presidential ticket in the two major parties are expected to be zoned to the South after President Muhammadu Buhari must have completed the maximum of eight years allowed by the constitution. To be fair to former Governor Daniel, he left the PDP after the last general elections when he announced that he was quitting partisan politics. That was after he endorsed the then-new helmsman in Ogun State, Governor Abiodun who was the candidate of the APC, following an open declaration that he worked for the ruling party during the election. He was later to add that he was being pressurised by his supporters to lead them to the APC.
Similarly, another former Southwest henchman of the PDP, Senator Iyiola Omisore, has also dumped the party that brought him to the national limelight. Like that of Daniel, Omisore’s defection a day after that of the former governor, from the Social Democratic Party (SDP), did not surprise anyone. He had emerged as an important ally for the APC during the 2018 governorship election in Osun State when he joined forces with the ruling party to defeat the PDP during the supplementary elections in some units where the initial results were nullified due to the violence that rocked the contest in those areas. Omisore only made his membership of the APC official last week.
But, it was the botched defection of former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, alias FFK, that had generated a lot of interest. Governor Yahaya Bello had claimed that Fani-Kayode had joined the APC. The former minister was earlier reported to have met with the Kogi State governor and the APC Interim National Chairman, Mai Mala Buni. Bello, in a two minutes video, claimed the former minister had dumped the PDP for the APC.
But, reacting to Governor Bello’s claim on his Twitter handle, @realFFK, Fani-Kayode said he had not left the PDP for the APC. “Though we have had meetings across party lines and we are in a season of political consultation, I have not left the PDP,” he said. Before then, former Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose had defended Fani-Kayode, saying the former minister confided in him that he is not leaving the PDP for the APC. He said: “What they are saying is not true; FFK is going nowhere. I have spoken to FFK about six times. I’m 100 per cent sure.”
Fayose said during an interview on Channels Television that those quitting the PDP for the ruling party and others planning to leave are driven by covetousness. Commenting on Umahi’s defection, the former Ekiti State governor said he has achieved a lot on the platform of the PDP and that defecting is not an option. His words: “Anyone who leaves PDP for APC at this time must have been taken away by his own covetousness. I’m over 60. What do I want to become? I was governor at 42. All the opportunities anybody could offer, the PDP offered me. I will not go to APC. What is missing? Some people chose to be dishonourable. Not me. I will rather go and be the husband of my wife, Feyisetan Fayose, and my son.”
Realignment of forces:
Beginning from mid last year when former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara returned to the APC which he had dumped prior to the last general elections to date, there has been a consistent movement of politicians from the major opposition party to the ruling party. In Nigerian politics, it is often said that there is no permanent enemies and permanent friends but only permanent interests. The exodus of top PDP stalwarts to the APC has been mainly among politicians from the South. No doubt, all the movements could be described as a realignment of forces and they are geared towards 2023 general elections.
Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi late last year gave the APC a boost in the Southeast, which had proved to be difficult terrain for the ruling party to penetrate, when he joined the party and brought the tally of states within the broom family in the region to two, out of five states; the same number of states that the PDP currently has there. Umahi’s defection on November 11, 2020, rattled the PDP, not because the Ebonyi governor’s movement to the APC came as a surprise to anyone, but owing to the weighty allegations he levelled against the party and the indication that the other governors in the region are joining him in the APC soon.
Umahi said his defection to the APC was in protest against the injustice being done to the Southeast zone by the PDP. He said: “Since 1999, the people of the Southeast have been supporting the PDP in all elections; and at a time, all the five states in the zone were all PDP. More so, one of the founding fathers of the PDP, the late Vice President Alex Ekwueme is from the Southeast. As a result, it is absurd that since 1998 and going to 2023, the Southeast zone has never been considered to run for the President under the PDP. It is absurd.”
He believes the ruling party is more likely to appreciate the contributions of the Southeast to its electoral fortunes than the PDP. His words: “I think the APC is more amenable to working with the Southeast than the PDP, from all indications.”
The APC chapter in Abia State, also in the Southeast, has also benefitted from the spate of recent defections from the PDP and other opposition parties in recent times. For instance, the chapter became stronger on January 7, when it reportedly received not less than 2,000 members in Aba North Local Government Area. The new members were received by the former Governor Orji Kalu, who is also the Chief Whip of the Senate. The new defectors, according to reports, were received in Igbere by Kalu on behalf of the APC State Chairman, Chief Donatus Nwankpa and the Interim National Chairman, Buni.
A PDP member of the House of Representatives representing Ikwuano/Umuahia Federal Constituency of Abia State, Sam Onuigbo also dumped the party for the APC in mid-December last year, citing division and crisis in his local government chapter. Onuigbo’s defection was the fourth consecutive one on the floor of the Green Chamber within three days. All the other three lawmakers that switched platform that week had also joined the APC. Earlier, in November, over 500 members of the PDP and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) were also reported to have joined the APC in Abia State. Our correspondent reported that the defectors tore the membership cards of their former parties during a reception organised for them at Ikwun Ward of Ihechiowa, in Arochukwu Local Government Area.
Another notable politician that joined the APC family in Abia State last year is Dr. Alex Otti, the former managing director and chief executive officer of the defunct Diamond Bank. Dr Otti, who was the governorship candidate of APGA in 2015 and 2019 general elections defected in August. Others that joined the ruling party alongside Otti, according to reports, include Dr. (Mrs.) Uche Eme Uche, Chief David Onuoha (popularly known as Bourdex), Chief Chris Nkwonta (both of whom contested the Abia North and Abia South senatorial elections in 2019), Navy Commander MacDonald Uba (retd), former members of the state House of Assembly and a host of others.
Why are PDP and other opposition party chieftains joining the APC? Some of them are leaving the party position themselves for appointments. For others, it is a realignment of forces to put themselves in the best position to contest for one elective post or the other in the next general elections. Yet, for others, it is a strategic move to evade being probed for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), under the control of the Muhammadu Buhari administration which has made the fight against corruption one of its cardinal programmes.
The ongoing APC membership revalidation and registration exercise appear to be well-timed, as it is proving to be an opportunity for interested politicians to quickly join the ruling party at this point in time. Abuja-based Osigwe Omo-Ikirodah believes the Ebonyi State, for instance, probably recognises that he does not have much chance in securing the APC presidential ticket, which was the major reason he gave for dumping the PDP, the party that gave him the platform to achieve all his political aspirations at the state level. His major target, Omo-Ikirodah avers, may just be to partake in the sharing of federal spoils after the 2023 elections. He said: “With the exit of Buhari, there would be a totally new world order wherein the admittance for participation in the sharing would be hinged on your role in the party’s victory in the general elections.
“Therefore, it is only expedient that any second-term governor might likely dump his party for the APC, so he can be a beneficiary of the power-sharing in post-Buhari 2023. If you are in the shoes of Rotimi Amaechi, the former Rivers State governor who defected from the PDP to team up with the APC in his last days on the governorship seat and, as a result, is enjoying eight years of a lucrative ministerial portfolio, then you will not argue with my postulations.”
Legal practitioner and human rights activist, Monday Onyekachi Ubani is of the view that defections in Nigerian politics is all about personal interest and not about principle or ideology. His words: “Nigerian politicians behave like chameleons; they change colour when it suits them. They have discovered that, from the look of things, the APC is likely to continue in office at the federal level in 2023. That is why virtually every day we are experiencing defections that are making the PDP weaker and weaker. They have taken into cognisance the following factors: the party that is likely to influence the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the political party that controls the security apparatus and the one that controls the sharing of the national cake. It takes those three factors to win an election in Nigeria and, for now, they are in the hands of the APC. That is why they are all scrambling to join the party.”
Ubani, a former Second Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said this suggests that the political class in Nigeria has no principles and does not believe in ideologies. He added: “The ideology of any politician is what he can get at the end of the day. When the PDP was in power too all the factors worked in its favour. But, now the reverse is the case; the APC is the political party that is very attractive because all the three factors are in its favour.
“If in a democracy, we cannot have a multiparty system where people can have a choice, the implication is that we are sliding into a de facto one-party system and this will have adverse consequences for the country. We just witnessed what happened in the United States of America, where the Democrats have taken over power after a Republican president served for only four years. In Nigeria, it takes a long time to remove a party in power because all the factors are in its favour.
“This is not healthy; we should have a multiplicity of choices during elections. The system we are running, where one political party would boast that it will be in power for 100 years is very dangerous. This is because it controls the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Judiciary and what have you. This is not good for Nigeria, which prides itself as a country with a multi-party democracy.”
Ubani said the laws are too weak to regulate the switching of politicians from one party to another. He said: “Once you can adduce reasons that suggest that there is a crisis in your political party, the law allows you to defect. You can also be in the PDP during the day and sleep with the APC at night. It is very bad; you can win an election on the platform of a particular party today and the following week you jump to another party. Everyone considers it perfectly normal because there are no punishments to discourage such behaviour.
“The next general elections are already won and lost unless God intervenes. The way it works now, all men of timber and calibre are congregating in the APC all over the country, so the outcome of the election is pretty much well known; unless God changes the situation. The youth, which we expected to take charge of the situation the way they did during the EndSARS protest, have gone to sleep again.”
Enugu-based human rights activist, Dr. Jerry Chukwuokolo was even more severe in his assessment of the attitude of Nigerian politicians. He said the difference between the APC and the PDP exists only in their names. His words: “They do not have any ideology that separates them. The ideology of Nigerian politicians, in general, is ‘lootocracy’; they would join any political party that would offer them the opportunity to loot. In advanced democracies like the United States (US) or the United Kingdom (UK), a politician would tell you he is a Democrat, a Republican or a conservative or a liberal democrat, as the case may be and he would remain in his party for decades, irrespective of whether his party is in power or not. This is because he cannot see himself associating with politicians in the other parties, as long as his views remain unchanged.
“But, here we don’t adhere to anything like ideology. The political class here is a gang of looters. Therefore, any opportunity they have that can help them to continue looting would be considered a blessing. They have a rabid interest to amass wealth because that is why they entered politics, so anywhere they see the opportunity to actualise this ambition is where they would be. There are only a few exceptions to this rule.”
Civil society activist and president and convener of the Nigeria Voters Assembly (VOTAS), Comrade Mashood Erubami equally blames the 1999 Constitution for creating the grounds for the frequent defections being witnessed in recent times. He said the constitution is silent on punitive measures for members who defect from one party to another, “even where it is for opportunism”. He said Section 109(1g) only cautioned that such defection must be as a result of a division in the defector’s former party or as a result of a merger of one or two parties.
Erubami added: “Ironically, courts of competent jurisdiction have been reluctant to interpret this section against defectors who left their parties after causing division which they used as the reason for living. The ruling party appears to be targeting corrupt members of the opposition with electoral values to enhance its chances when election approaches and this has created ‘valid’ reason for the opportunistic migration we are currently witnessing.”
The VOTAS president blamed the weak fight against corruption for this development.
Against this background, he said there is a difference between the defections witnessed during the PDP era and the current ones into the APC as a ruling party. His words: “Politicians who defected from the opposition into the PDP did so to escape poverty, which was rampant in the opposition parties, especially at the time INEC stopped the payment of money to registered political parties as was the case before. Given the way state resources were diverted and amassed under the PDP with impunity, the tendency was for members of the opposition to want to be part of the rottenness and learn how to ‘chop’ and ‘chop’ into visibility and political reckoning.
“Whereas the current defections into the APC is foremost to exploit the weakness observed in the war against corruption, which appears to be against the core campaign promise made by the party. The fact that the anti-corruption war is a weak one may not be entirely the fault of the APC. The conspiracy between some legal practitioners and the judiciary where judges have become protectors of corrupt politicians is a contributory factor.
“Those who are defecting into the APC are members of the opposition who have either been exposed for corruption, jailed and released, or currently under trial but are suspicious that owing to their past, they might be jailed for corrupt practices. Politicians who have billions of fraud and money laundering cases hanging on their necks and yet undischarged are being registered with glee in the current registration exercise. They would want to use their defection to seek protection from being held accountable for old fraudulent acts committed from massive stealing or diversion of state funds. These are politicians who should be serving jail terms in different prisons but are walking the streets free because of the selective nature of the anti-corruption war and the grace of the corrupted judiciary.”
Erubami said once a country slides into a one-party state, it will be bedevilled with undemocratic practices. He said: “Government in a one-party state will deny opportunities for deliberative discussion and dialogue. Human rights will not be entrenched in governance, the laws will not rule and there will be inequalities in human liberty, while justice will seize to be a precondition for peace and insecurity will become the order of the day.”
Former National Assembly Liaison Officer to President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai has been involved in politics even before the country’s independence in 1960 and he understands the workings of Nigerian politics. He attributes the current frequent switching of political platforms to the fact that people are abandoning their occupation and investing in politics, which appears to be the quickest way of making money nowadays. He said almost everybody is in politics to make money and that only a few are interested in improving the welfare of the people.
He gives a comprehensive picture in the following words: “Politics is now a business; it is killing genuine business. Many people are taking to politics to make money; the essence of seeking power nowadays is to make money. Some of them do this by inflating or padding contracts. This is why many businessmen or professionals will either go into politics when they have sufficient money to invest or sponsor someone to contest for an elective position, whether as councillor, local government chairman, member of a state or National Assembly, governor or even to be president.
“If the businessman elects to sponsor someone, he will be looking for a way to be compensated with juicy contracts when the politician in question gets into office. The hope is that he will make more money at the end of the day. This is the reason you see people nowadays trooping from one party to another, particularly from opposition parties to the ruling party at the centre because power in Nigeria is more concentrated at the federal level. They make money as elected or appointed officials, such as ministers, special advisers or members of boards and parastatals.”
For instance, Yakasai, 95, said it was recently alleged that the money a managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) makes is more than that of a minister, as the recent allegations of embezzlement of huge sums of money at the NDDC suggest. He added: “The money is so huge; almost more than what the agency is spending on the actual development of the region. The commission proposes huge contracts, to build roads, bridges or provide electricity and these contracts are usually inflated. So, they make money through the padding of contracts.
“Politics is the only lucrative business in town nowadays. Usually when a politician gets elected into an office, whether as a councillor, local government chairman, member of state House of Assembly, governor, member of the National Assembly or the president, he hopes to get a huge return on his investment within the shortest possible time. What I read recently is that once you become a lawmaker, for instance, you will be required to fill a form and thereby provide details of your bank account to the appropriate department. Within a short time of being sworn in, a huge amount of money is paid into your bank account.”
Yakasai said the only way to change the narrative is to go back to the politics of ideology and national service. He said Nigerians who are dissatisfied with what is going on today must come together and strategise on how to rescue the nation from buccaneer politicians whose sole aim is to loot the national treasury in the name of politics. He said: “Politicians in opposition, even those within the ruling party that is not happy with the corrupt practices now going on, members of civil society organisations and Nigerians in general who are grumbling about the present state of affairs should team up not only to fight against what is going on in our political life but to form a strong political organisation that would provide itself as a viable alternative to the present happenings in the country and present themselves as candidates during elections.”
The elder statesman said the APC could not change the orientation it met on the ground when it took over power in 2015 because a number of its members were only looking for an opportunity to grab power and better their lot without any idea of how to move the country forward.
He said President Buhari may have had good intentions to implement good policies that will uplift the living conditions of Nigerians when he vied for the presidency in 2015, but he lacked the knowledge and experience of achieving his objectives. He added: “Let me give you a typical example. According to his former aide-de-camp (ADC) Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo (when Buhari was military Head of State), he spent two years without knowing what to do to achieve his dreams. He did not invite politicians to assist him because did not believe they have anything to offer him to achieve his objectives.
“Jokolo said a few friends of President Buhari were requested to come up with a programme for the regime to implement, but they could not do so up to the time the regime was overthrown. Even among politicians, it is only those that are genuinely looking for a change that can help. If Buhari had the wherewithal at that time, he could have done something that can lead to changing the situation for the better, like what President Joe Biden is doing now in the US.”
Yakasai enjoined Nigerians not to vote for politicians in the future based on sentiment but on their track records and capabilities to deliver on their promises.
The root of PDP’s woes
Today, it is the PDP that is in the eye of the storm. The root of the woes bedevilling the opposition party dates back to the period before the 2015 general elections. It all started with the registration of the APC at a time the PDP was embroiled in a debilitating internal crisis. At a point, some key members of the party defected to the then newly formed APC. As far back as August 2016, when he was campaigning to become PDP National Chairman, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi had warned other chieftains that the party would go into oblivion if they fail to embrace internal democracy.
Dokpesi, in an interview published at the time, said there was a need to rejig the party’s structure internally, to deepen democracy and provide a viral opposition to the APC. He said the party’s internal cohesion was weakened with the practice of handing over the leadership of the party at the federal and state levels to the president and governors. This tendency, he said, threw away the supremacy of the party.
He added: “In my NPN days if Chief Akinloye sat down as the chairman of the party, President Shehu Shagari did not sit down on the high table with him. There was mutual respect, the party’s policies and ideals were supreme; they took precedence. But, today, the reverse is the case. Meetings are hardly held in party offices; they are held either in Government House(s) or elsewhere. So, the emphasis on party supremacy, respect for party policies and ideas were missing.
“We came to a situation where leaders of the party, godfathers and the money bags were almost dictating who became a counsellor. They want to determine who becomes a president, governor, members of the National Assembly, those of state assemblies and even counsellors.”
Dokpesi’s intention was to review the internal structure of the party. But, he lost the PDP national chairmanship position to the current chairman, Uche Secondus. Whether he would have succeeded in his bid to return the party to the vision of its founding fathers is another matter.
As the ruling party at the centre, the APC remains the beautiful bride for now, with many chieftains of the PDP, particularly elected leaders negotiating to join the party. As at press time, Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed and his Zamfara State counterpart, Bello Muhammad Matawalle, among other governours of the opposition party, according to reports, we’re still negotiating to jump ship. But, this does mean that all is well with the APC; the crisis in many of its state chapters continue to fester. Interestingly, the crises are not unconnected to the PDP-style of leadership the APC has imbibed out of political expediency. The ruling party has been mimicking the opposition party in many respects, including the idea of making the president and governors the leaders of the party at the national and state levels.