By CHUKS OLUIGBO & INIOBONG IWOK
Clarence Seward Darrow, the late American lawyer and leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union, once said, “History repeats itself, and that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.”
The events of the past few weeks in Nigeria’s political scene bear out this epigram.
Reminiscent of the events preceding the 2015 general election in the country, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has in a space of less than two weeks lost many key politicians elected on its platform to the major opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
In 2013, the current flowed in the opposite direction. In what many political analysts called an earthquake, five aggrieved governors of the PDP, in one fell swoop, joined the then newly-formed APC after staging a walkout on the PDP national convention in Abuja.
Governors Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano, Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers States were soon joined by the current Senate President Bukola Saraki, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Abubakar Baraje, former acting national chairman of PDP, Sam Sam Jaja, former PDP deputy national chairman, among many others.
Similarly, most of the House of Representatives members and senators from the states of the defecting governors also joined the APC.
It was a deadly blow that the PDP is still struggling to recover from.
Now the reverse is the case.
While the APC has never really enjoyed internal cohesion since its formation in 2013, when the former Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), breakaway elements of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and the then New PDP (the five governors and the allies), came together in what is still being referred today as a marriage of convenience, the current whirlwind has its roots in the party’s ward, local government and state congresses held in May.
The congresses left a bitter taste in the mouths of many members across the state, and it was hoped that the national convention and the emergence of a new national leadership would heal the wounds. Rather, the convention of June 23 and 24 seemed to have widened the crevices.
The aftermath of the national convention saw the announcement by a bloc in the party, the Reformed APC (rAPC), that its members were defecting to the PDP due to perceived marginalisation and persecution of its members in the ruling party. The bloc subsequently teamed up with a coalition of political parties in the country which signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the PDP to field a common presidential candidate for the 2019 general elections.
Following shortly, 15 senators and 37 members of the House of Representatives defected from the APC to the PDP and other smaller parties.
In Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau, a former presidential aspirant, and his loyalists as well as those loyal to Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, one of the defecting senators and presidential aspirant, deserted the APC and took abode in the PDP.
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom equally announced his defection to the PDP with some members of the state House of Assembly loyal to him.
Last week Tuesday, Senate President Bukola Saraki defected to the PDP, along with Kwara State Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, joined by all the local government chairmen in the state, 23 members in the state House of Assembly, and commissioners.
In Sokoto, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, a former Speaker of the House of Representative, also defected to the PDP accompanied by 18 members of the state House of Assembly and other close allies.
Ahmed Ibeto, a serving ambassador to South Africa, flew into the country, renounced his membership of the APC and resigned his appointment. After initial denial, Bolaji Abdullahi, national publicity secretary of the APC until his defection, formally announced that he has joined the PDP.
While the debate rages on as to what real impact these defections would have on the outcome of the 2019 elections, there is no doubt that the political equation in the country has already changed as APC’s loss has become PDP’s gain.
For many Nigerians, however, it is déjà vu. The only difference is that in 2013 it was PDP’s loss and APC’s gain.
When the tempest struck PDP, the then ruling party put up a bold face and underestimated the impact of such mass exit from the party. In June 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan told the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC) at a meeting that the exit of the five former PDP governors, whom he described as “inconsequential” along with their supporters, would not be felt by the then ruling party.
“I am not sure they can win their ward in an election because some of those states are totally PDP states. When you think that you are this and you are that and you probably think you will leave with the whole state, by the time we arrive, you get to know that others are behind to continue with PDP,” Jonathan said.
“All what I am saying is that PDP is still solid, PDP is still the dominant party, our rallies show very clearly and surely that this party will win our elections free and fair,” he added.
The result of the 2015 general election, however, clearly showed that those defectors were not inconsequential. Less than two years after its formation, the number of APC governors rose from 14 to 22, the party became the majority in the two chambers of the National Assembly, and also succeeded in dislodging an incumbent to win the presidency, something unprecedented in Nigeria’s political history.
Even the APC acknowledged the role of the nPDP governors in its 2015 victory.
On May 19, 2015, at a valedictory dinner organised by the Progressive Governors’ Forum in honour of the then outgoing Governors Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, Musa Kwankwaso of Kano, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, and Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto, Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha said the November 2013 defection of five governors from the PDP to the APC was a major factor that determined the APC’s victory in the 2015 general election.
“Make no mistake about it, without the five governors that joined the APC in 2013, we would not be here today,” Okorocha said.
By coming to the APC, he said, the defecting governors transformed “a fledgling opposition into a national political movement”.
“The moment the PDP lost five governors was the moment it lost the presidency and its planned 60 years in power,” he said.
In the wake of its recent losses, the APC is exhibiting the same arrogance of power that cost the PDP dearly. Adams Oshiomhole, national chairman of the APC, has referred to some of the defectors as “mercenaries” who have no real electoral value.
Clearly, history is on playback and the APC has found itself on the same path where the PDP found itself in 2013/2014. This time around, however, political observers are not sure yet whether or not the present situation would cost the APC the presidency in 2019.
“The defection may be a bad signal for the APC, but it is too early to say. The game has just begun; you know we are used to fire-brigade approach. I foresee realignments in the polity after the party primaries,” Lawal Pedro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former attorney-general of Lagos State, said in an interview with BDSUNDAY.
“In Nigeria, political equation can change in a month; we have seen that over the years. Can you rule out further defection to the APC? Politics in Nigeria is not for service or party ideology; it is based on who can satisfy his stomach or personal ambition.
“So, until Nigerians change that mindset, things would not change and we would not see development to humanity. But I actually do think we should wait after the party primaries before we decide or say the way the elections would go,” he said.
Emmanuel Onah, political strategist and senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos (UNILAG), agreed that though the defections would affect the APC’s chances in next year’s elections, it was too early to call.
“Obviously, this defection would affect the chances of the APC in the elections, but this is just the beginning of play for 2019. Other individuals who would be aggrieved in other parties would equally join APC,” Onah said.
The university don said defection, a normal occurrence in the country’s political space before any general elections, was healthy for the polity, adding that it was a way for politicians to vent their frustrations rather than brew violence within their parties.
“Defection is a normal occurrence before any major election. Politicians often look at their chances, their prospects; where it is not good, they now look at where they can get more opportunity and where it is better,” Onah said.
“But it is also expected that some people would defect from PDP to the APC. It is something that would happen across board before or after the conventions. It is just because the APC just had a national convention and these people now know that they would not get their party’s ticket. If the other parties do their convention, I am sure similar things would happen,” he said.