Governor Bello Matawalle recently formally announced his defection to the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) in Zamfara State. Speaking at a rally in Gusau, Matawalle said that he had been nursing the ambition of leaving his party, the PDP, for several reasons. His words, “I am now the leader of APC in Zamfara State and I am ready to work with each and everyone wishing to contribute to the rapid development of the party in the state.”
The National Caretaker Committee Chairman of APC, Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State was accompanied by 13 governors to congratulate Matawalle for defecting to the party.
Two senators representing Zamfara State – Lawali Anka (Zamfara West) and Sahabi Ya’u (Zamfara North) – Stephen Odey representing Cross River North also defected to the APC recently.
Many analysts opined that by the time all the defections are officially made and carried out in the Senate, PDP which started with 44 senators at the beginning of the 9th Senate in June 2019, would have only 37 Senators, while APC which started with 66 Senators would increase to 71.
29 May 2021 made it 22 years since Nigeria has been enjoying uninterrupted democracy. The challenges encountered and growth recorded so far have contributed immensely in ensuring the sustenance, stability, and consolidation of the system of governance in the country.
In 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) emerged as the major political force in Nigeria’s political space and won the presidential election against an opponent who ran on a joint platform of two political parties namely: Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All People’s Party (APP).
Similarly, the PDP won the majority of the state and legislative positions in that particular election, consolidating its position as the dominant force in Nigerian politics. Up until 2013, there were only pockets of feeble regional opposition from parties such as Alliance for Democracy (AD), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP), and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), among others. The PDP was largely unmatched by any other party in size, reach, capacity, financial muscle, influence, and popularity.
The party basked endlessly in the euphoria of the enviable position it occupied at the top of the political chain as it won 4 Presidential elections on the trot (1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011). It also won the majority of the states and National Assembly seats; claiming an emphatic landslide in most of the elections.
The one-time chairman of the party, Vincent Ogbulafor, who at a particular period within this domineering streak assumed the role of a seer had stated unequivocally that the PDP will win presidential elections for the next 60 years! He was erroneously foreseeing a period of one-party domination in the country for many decades. That prophecy that was made in 2008 has been proven to be untrue. In just 7 years, the PDP colossus collapsed abysmally.
The 2011 elections perhaps served as an eye-opener to most of the parties in the opposition that the PDP will continue to win elections unchallenged if nothing is done to halt the trend. When Goodluck Jonathan defeated his closest opponent in that election, Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC, with over 10 million votes, many had thought there was little hope for the opposition to defy Ogbulafor’s prophecy if the issue was not dispassionately addressed.
Two years after that election, leading political heavyweights from the major opposition parties decided that there was strength in unity. Regardless of their different political philosophies, they came together to establish a virile national opposition party that was nurtured and developed to effectively battle the PDP in the 2015 presidential elections.
The All Progressives’ Congress (APC) was formed and the rest is history. Since the period that the APC wrestled power from the PDP in a spectacular and unprecedented fashion in 2015, the political space has witnessed more inter-party movements than the period between 1999 and 2015.
Many Nigerian politicians have been branded in several quarters as lacking political ideology as they only join or leave political parties when their personal political interests are concerned.
From 2015 till date, we have witnessed many cases of prominent politicians leaving the PDP to join the APC, only to reverse that particular step again after a few years. The trend is as laughable as it is unfortunate.
The 2015 elections underpinned the importance of a vibrant opposition in a democratic setting and established that its role in deepening democratic systems cannot be over-emphasized. Apart from putting the ruling party on its toes, holding it accountable for its actions and inactions, it also put reasonable pressure on the ruling party to enhance its performance. A vibrant opposition also serves as an option for the electorate when the ruling party fails to live up to its manifestoes and responsibilities.
The freedom of association extends to political parties and there is nothing illegal in changing political parties. But for candidates elected on the platform of a political party to change suddenly to the other parties without a concrete cause betrays the trust of the electorate who placed the elected official in that position through the vehicle of that particular party.
More specifically, there are provisions in the constitution that prevents elected officials from defecting, except in a situation where there is division in the political party in which they were elected. Most Nigerian politicians ignore this and suffer no consequences. This partly explains why the trend continues unchecked.
The last few months have witnessed a large scale of defections from the main opposition PDP to the ruling party, the APC. Governor Umahi of Ebonyi State, who is the Chairman of the Southeast Governors Forum, defected to APC in November 2020. The Governor claimed that he defected due to series of injustices meted out to the Southeast zone by the PDP.
Prof Ben Ayade, Governor of Cross-River State followed also defected in May 2021. He dumped the PDP for the ruling party. He did not allude to any injustice but declared that he switched parties because he was not well-respected in the party. He added that he also joined because of President Buhari’s nationalistic disposition and he felt the need to join hands with him in efforts to move the country forward.
It seemed he was suggesting that to work effectively with the President, a Governor needs to be in the same political party as him.
It is important to note that both Governors left the PDP despite the fact that the party was not suffering any internal wrangling that could have rationalised their cross-carpeting moves. Also disconcerting is the derelict manner in which most State House Assembly members and other political appointees of the defecting governor flock along in droves to the new party.
Recently, two members of the House of Reps from Cross Rivers State and a leading Senator from Delta State, Peter Nwabaoshi also defected to the APC from the PDP. Nwabaoshi’s case was particularly curious as he was ushered into the Presidential Villa by Mai Mala Buni to meet the President immediately after jumping ship. The move came to many observers as a surprise with revelations later showing that the Senator had exited the party due to a political disagreement with Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa.
The most ludicrous case of defection came from Zamfara State. Two Senators from the state defected from the PDP to the APC in a letter read by Senate President at a plenary session. The plan was that the defection will serve as a prelude for the incoming cross-carpeting of the state governor, Bello Matawalle who will join the senators in no distant time.
The Zamfara scenario is particularly distinct because the PDP only came into power in that state because of a Supreme Court ruling that nullified the primaries of the APC thereby disqualifying all its elected candidates in the 2019 elections and handing over all elected positions to the runners-up in the election. In this case, the PDP was the lucky beneficiary as it got the Governorship and National Assembly positions on a platter of gold.
The PDP which has been licking its wounds in sombre quietness at losing Umahi and Ayade could not afford the same reclusiveness with the Zamfara debacle. The party immediately dissolved the Zamfara State Executive of the party and was also vociferous in declaring the defections as illegal. It also threatened the Zamfara contingent with intense legal actions that will result in loss of seats if the defection is not reversed immediately. The warning fell on deaf ears as the Governor defected publicly and flamboyantly in a grand event attended by many top politicians in the ruling party, leaving the PDP is at loss on how to salvage the situation.
The hypocrisy of the Nigerian politicians and the political culture that has been promoted across all major political parties is that parties at the winning end always welcome high profile, political office holder-defectors. The PDP thrived on it for many years, and the APC is taking its turn. Unfortunately, the joke is on the ordinary Nigerians whose votes are made inconsequential. Many Nigerian politicians are simple lacking in trust and integrity, and the leading political parties continue to exhibit their deficiencies in matters of ethical principles.
The country is fast approaching another period of intense partisan political activities as 2023 draws closer. Many of the recent defections are based on 2023 permutations, even though the defectors will not admit that. But there is a need to sustain the landmark recorded in 2015 when the opposition was so rock-sturdy to the point that it succeeded in unseating a party at the centre with the help of Nigerians who subscribed to the opposition’s offer of change. Such would only continue to occur if there is a strong or viable opposition to turn to. Nigeria should not regress to a period of one-party domination.