Inter-party defections in politics, generally, is a liberty availed to politicians, and such defections are ideally done based on principles, ideology and public interests. The motive behind defections matter a lot as it depicts the future of a state’s polity, socialization, and orientation.
The act of defection in Nigeria has assumed a worrisome dimension. It is often hinged on the pursuit of political power, and the desperation to hold public office in order to assert influence or accumulate wealth. Pundits describe the defections in the country as seamless because political parties in Nigeria do not embody ideological differences that shape and differentiate their outlook from the other parties. Therefore, they remain mere vehicles to negotiate political relevance and power.
Many political actors also consider party defections as a sign that the political parties have begun to weaken in a state or region. This happens when political bigwigs leave the political parties with their entourage of political supporters with an inherent purpose to establish prominence in the other party, while displacing the stronghold of the other party.
When Governor Alao Akala, former Governor of Oyo State, left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the All Progressive Congress (APC), it was because of long-held political grudges that pertained to the Governorship ticket of the party. Therefore internal wranglings between the big ‘elephants’ in the party may cause defections when it is not well managed. A case in point is the relationship between Governor Ganduje and former Governor Kwankwaso whose rift led the latter to join the Peoples Democratic Party after he had once defected to the APC with his once-loyal deputy.
Nigeria has a long list of politicians who have defected to other parties, and a few of them include: Alhaji Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi, former Governor of Zamfara state, Ali Modu Shariff, former Governor of Borno state, and late Alhaji Usman Albishir of Yobe state, all of whom have defected from the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
The trend of political defections may be seen as a means of self-preservation, as well as a bid to further self-interest in the political arena. For some political ‘big wigs’ it will be best to be on the side of the winning party so as to play a part and gain the opportunities of the dominant party. This affords the defector recommendations as ministers, commissioners, heads of offce, directors, among others.
Defection is also possible because there are no deep loyalties to the party. This is exemplified in the former Governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau. Governor Shekarau pledged his allegiance to ANPP, stating that, ‘I swear to Almighty God, that even if I will be the last person to remain in ANPP, I will not leave to any political party. I rather resign from politics completely than to betray the assurance given to us by Kano people on the platform of ANPP.’ Mallam Shekarau, despite his sworn loyalty to the ANPP, decamped to PDP, and then from PDP to APC, where he later contested and won the position of Senator in his constituency.
Some politicians moreover defect on grounds of irregularities within the party. Yakubu Dogara, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bauchi State, stated that he was leaving the PDP due to undemocratic practices within the party. This was his reason for quitting the PDP. He disclosed that his defection was a matter of urgency as the issues of governance failure in the state (Bauchi) has led him to seek equality and good governance in the APC.
This urgency to play politics at the centre is behind the intention of such politicians as Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President of Nigeria, who has defected repeatedly. He defected from PDP to APC, and later defected back to PDP. He moved again to APC in the year 2015, and then back to PDP in 2019 all in the bid to become Nigeria’s President. This is also seen in the defection of Dave Umahi, Governor of Ebonyi State, who from PDP has now defected to APC. Umahi perhaps feels that the political and cultural survival of the Igbo Presidency rests on the urgency to decamp to the ruling APC. Following the Governor’s decision, Hon. Chris Usulor, a representative of the Ezza South Constituency in Ebonyi State House of Assembly, has made his stance known. He said that he won’t join Governor David Umahi in his plan to join the All Progressive Congress (APC). Hon. Usulor opined that the governor’s position on the presupposition that the next president may likely come from South East is supposedly justified, but that the PDP will be more inclined to give the party’s presidential ticket to the PDP.
The honorable in his statement said, ‘Our governor called us and gave us the liberty to make our choice whether to join APC or remain in PDP. There was no compulsion, it was a decision we are to take on our own without any influence.’
He said, ‘But the striking thing there is that the reasons he adduced is something any South-Easterner should put in his heart. The marginalisation of the southeast should be key in our mind.’
He added by saying that, ‘Notwithstanding, personally I took a stand that having been in PDP since 1999, I find it difficult to move to another party this time around. I think that agitation, I believe within me, will be done in PDP too.’
Hon. Usulor also disclosed by saying that, ‘Right now nobody has moved with the governor because nobody has officially decamped from the PDP. We are all still in PDP, but we had a press conference where we gave the PDP leadership seven days’ ultimatum to zone the president to the southeast which they didn’t comply with.’
Usulor said , ‘Defection is constitutional, right to freedom of association. But when you are defecting from one political party to another, you should be able to give people convincing reasons.’
The politics of party defection has become trendy among politicians who recycle themselves from one party to the other. Even at the detriment of the country, it poses a negative threat to the ideological frameworks expected of a growing nation-state and continues to perpetuate old hands in Nigeria’s democratic system. As fickle as it may seem, it reduces politics into a game of camps who have no higher cause than to acquire power and influence.
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