Fourteen All Progressives Congress (APC) senators dumped the ruling party yesterday. The party saw the handwriting on the wall. Its leaders tried frantically to avert the crisis. But, their strategy apparently failed. The last-minute persuasion was either weak or too late. The big platform became decimated as no fewer than 14 senators and 37 House of Representatives members jumped ship.
Their next port of call for 11 of the defectors is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) , their natural habitat, which they deserted almost four years ago to team up with the APC. Three of them went to the African Democratic Congress (ADC). One of the defectors did not name his new party. There was jubilation in the main beneficiary opposition party. In the APC, opinion is divided on the defection. To analysts, the defection portends danger to the ruling party. But, some of the defectors may have also made some miscalculations. Both the APC and PDP may be facing an uncertain future.
To justify their exit, the defectors have successfully created an impression of cracks in the party. Since the constitution permits members to defect from a crisis-ridden party, the carving out of a ‘Reformed APC’ suggested division, which could warrant defection and attempted balkanisation. The goal of the defectors is twofold – to disorganise and create confusion in the APC and discredit President Muhammadu Buhari through sustained propaganda ahead of next year’s elections.
Yet, the alternative solution being canvassed by the defectors are unclear. They are not armed with superior ideological argument. Neither are they fighting for the masses. The combatants are scheming for more access to state power and resources. The welfare of the people is secondary.
The defection marked the trial of the Adams Oshiomhole leadership. Following the emergence of the former labour leader and governor of Edo State as national chairman, it was expected that he would deploy his persuasive talents and win back the hearts of the APC hardliners. Comrade Oshiomhole, it was said, swung into action. He was said to have made consultations and persuaded the aggrieved chieftains to sheathe their swords, but without success. But, as he proceeded with the peace moves, his utterances about the activities of the ‘Reformed APC,’ led by Buba Galadiama, were highly inflammatory. The chairman described the would-be defectors as inconsequential elements without a record of honour.
Full of bravado, a combative and fork-tongued Oshiomhole still trivialised the defection, shortly after it was announced. He likened some of the defectors to politicians who cannot win election on their own strength. He assured that the legitimate complaints of those who have genuine grievances beyond butter and bread, but have shunned the carrot of defection, would be favourably considered by the party.
For many party elders, it is a moment of sober reflection. Reality has dawned on them that APC could only brace for a difficult future. Gone were the euphoria and confidence of 2015. As some members are leaving the platform, gladiators from other parties are not coming to the party. While APC is not keeping its old friends, it is not making new friends. Thus, the party has to gird its loins as the country warms for next year’s general elections.
Following the shrinkage of the numerical strength in the Senate, the ruling party no longer enjoys a comfortable majority in the Upper Chamber. The retrogressive status change may worsen the executive/legislative relations in this quarter. The heart and body of the APC Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who is being projected by his supporters as the main issue in politics as at now, is in the PDP. His foot-soldiers are his advance party to the PDP. Having adjourned the Senate plenary till September, aggrieved defectors will have a sufficient to concentrate on their post-defection plots. Between now and then, the debate on the electioneering bill is put on hold.
In retrospect, the defection may not produce instant effect beyond the perceived alteration of the APC’s status in the parliament. Instructively, when the defectors were in the APC, they acted as opposition leaders. Their opposition to the presidency was hostile and intense than their PDP counterparts.
To observers, history may be repeating itself. In 2014, prominent PDP chieftains had left the party in droves to team up with the Buhari forces to abort the second term ambition of former President Goodluck Jonathan, who insisted on a second term in clear violation of the party’s zoning formula and in utter sensitivity to the popular and justifiable agitation by the North for power shift. The APC became a platform for strange bed fellows. The old and new members were not united by similarity of ideas. What was paramount in their minds was federal power. In post-2015 election period, no effort was made to embark on party reforms or erase the pre-election cleavages, which the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the nPDP and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) represented. There was no evolution of the party caucus. During the National Assembly leadership election when President Muhammadu Buhari was expected to seize the moment, he was somehow aloof because he did not foresee problem working with whoever emerged the leadership. He has said in his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015 that belonged to nobody, but to everybody.
The second phase of the defection may coincide with the resumption of plenary by the Senate. It may be close to party nominations for general elections. The climax will be the defection of Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara. Unlike 2015, many governors may not defect. There may be no mass defection. Apart from Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal and his Benue counterpart, Samuel Ortom, who are still weighing the options, the APC Governors’ Forum is solidly behind the party and the president.
As the defectors retrace their steps to the PDP, there are some hurdles to cross. There is no position they were promised in the PDP which is not guaranteed for them in the APC, except the presidency. PDP leaders are excited at the APC’s misfortune. But, not all of them are ready to yield their space for the ‘new comers.’ In Benue State, governorship aspirants on the platform of the PDP have warned Ortom against returning to the party.
How far will the defection affect the fortune of the APC? There are indications that Kwara State is back as a PDP stronghold. This is due to the Saraki factor. Owing to his popularity and his support base, the state will gravitate towards the PDP in next year’s election. The implication is that Saraki and the other two senators in the Northcentral state will retain their seats in the Upper Chamber, if they are fielded as candidates of the PDP.
Also, in Benue State, the defection of Senator Barnabas Gemade, who represents Benue Northeast, is a major blow. If Gemade and Senator David Mark (Benue South) combine forces, the efforts of Senator George Akume (Northwest) may not be enough to retain the state for the APC in next year’s poll.
It may be a different ball game in Kogi State. Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), who has returned to the PDP, may have to jostle a ticket for re-election with a member of the House of Representatives who have shown interest in the senatorial slot under the PDP. But, if the tempo of support for President Buhari is sustained in the district, and Senator Smart Adeyemi, is fielded, it may be difficult for Melaye to retain the position.