Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, looks at the implications of defections from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was declared dead by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the days after its ouster from power after 16 years. The internal crisis that followed lent credence to that assertion until the Supreme Court ended all issues concerning its ensuing leadership tussle giving its defunct National Caretaker Committee the leeway to reorganise, rebrand and reposition the party. The succeeding national leadership, under Prince Uche Secondus, seems to have built on that as it has apparently made the once detested “party of the corrupt” more attractive to the point of receiving in its fold, APC’s Senate President Bukola Saraki, Governors Samuel Ortom and Aminu Tambuwal of Benue and Sokoto, respectively, and many other high profile former APC members.
Even though defections from the ruling party had long been speculated, more so after the birth of the factional Reformed APC (R-APC), there were many skeptics who waited with bated breath to see if indeed those expected would pull off the bold move. In the last few weeks, the movement from the APC to the PDP had been phenomenal, starting with the mass defections of APC members of the National Assembly to the PDP up to the point where the party in control of the leaderships of both chambers of the legislature is now a subject of controversy. The PDP believes that many more governors elected under the APC, are on their way to the former ruling party
Last week, the party demonstrated its ample hospitality when it organised an emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) to welcome the defectors and ratify new rules that will guide its primary elections to accommodate all interested aspirants, whether new or old members. It was a triumphant entry for Saraki, Ortom, Tambuwal and the other horde of defectors from the APC as they were treated to a tumultuous reception by party workers, supporters and well wishers at the Wadata Plaza, Abuja national secretariat of the PDP. But observers are wondering how possible it is for the party to manage the huge egos that are returning to the party alongside those already entrenched in it. Saraki, Tambuwal and their co-returnee, former Kano state governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso are expected to join in the race for PDP presidential ticket against former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, himself a relatively new defector from the APC; Gombe state governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo; former Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the PDP, Senator Ahmed Makarfi and former Minister of Special Duties, Kabiru Turaki (SAN).Others already in the race are former Jigawa state governor, Sule Lamido; former Kano state governor, Ibrahim Shekarau; former Sokoto state governor, Attahiru Bafarawa; educationist, Dr. Ahmed Datti and the outgoing governor of Ekiti state, Ayo Fayose, even though he is outside the area the post has been zoned to.
It does not look as if the party hierarchy is worried yet about the potential clash of big egos as it is preoccupied with receiving and making the new entrants feel welcome. But Saraki has an inkling about what may happen and set out to deliberately address the question of acceptance during the NEC meeting. While he noted that it is easy for the national leadership of the party to accept defectors, he is of the belief that it may be more daunting at the states, local governments and wards. And therefore, he has pleaded for acceptance and unity to enable the PDP to achieve the goal of a better country for Nigerians.
He argued: “It is only when we reach that promised land that this sacrifice we are making comes good, when we see a better tomorrow for our people. Because it is easier here in Abuja. But when we get back to our constituencies, please, let us continue to open our arms and receive the numbers that will give us victory come February 2019 because it is for a better tomorrow for the lot of Nigerian people. This sacrifice that we are all making, is just the first part because we are doing this for Nigerians and that exercise will not be complete until we make a better country for our people.” The Senate President is, however, happy to return to the political party where he started his political journey. “We will have a day for speeches, we will have a day to say many things but for me, I’m happy to be back to the political party where I started my political journey. For me, I’m back,” he declared.
Observers say the Federal Government and the APC have been unable to accept the spate of defections with equanimity and there is fear that given the experience of Governor Ortom on whom an attempt was made to serve an impeachment notice by a minority segment of the state house of assembly, aided and abated by security agents, the unhappy Federal Government and the ruling party may subject the defectors to a rough time in the run-up to next year’s elections. However, Governor Tambuwal has challenged the government to bring it on. He vowed that the opposition will vehemently resist any attempt by the ruling party to trample on the rule of law as he observed during the PDP NEC meeting that Nigeria is not a banana republic where people can be framed for daring to belong to a different setting. His words: “Only three days ago (during his declaration for PDP), I did say that Nigerians will not accept prison yard democracy, especially whereby people will be framed up on the simple account of disagreement on political leanings. It’s simply unacceptable. And we cannot allow our country to drift further. It is not about anybody, it is not about any interest, this is about the country. We must retrieve it, we must reposition this country and restructure for the benefit of Nigerians.
“When they talk about defection, I begin to wonder, when we defected the other time, did they complain? When I hear that some people were trying to break into the chambers of the Senate, to steal the mace and install a pseudo Senate president, I wondered whether they actually know the rules of our democratic engagement. It is not a gestapo. We are in a democracy and the constitution of this country is very clear that members of the Senate and House of Representatives can choose from among themselves their own president of the Senate and Speaker. It is a conference of members of the two chambers and if the members have confidence in the Senate president, they are free to retain him and so be it with Speaker Yakubu Dogara. Nobody should be afraid, and we must respect due process and rule of law if we are in a democracy. Nigeria is not a banana republic and we will not take that from anybody. If you try it, we will march out our own forces in the country and jam you. We cannot afford to allow anybody, no matter how highly placed, to toy with the fate of more than 200 million Nigerians.” Ortom, who believes that he is being persecuted for daring to dump the ruling party, spoke of attempts to subvert Benue State and government and regretted that he has benefitted little from his association with the APC, to which he said he had lost everything he took into the party and has emerged from it poorer.
Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP’s National Publicity Secretary said, the party has taken note of all concerns raised by the highly respected and committed leaders of the party, as it concerns accommodation of interests as well as new alignments, and has since taken extensive measures that would ultimately ensure that no person or group is, in anyway, short-changed. Ologbodiyan said while the PDP appreciates and values such concerns, “it is instructive to inform that the national leadership of our party has already envisaged the challenges of an enlarged family and has since made adequate arrangements that would effectively cover all interests for the task ahead.”
The party spokesman added: “The repositioned PDP has amply learnt from the past. All members must therefore dispel every fear in relation to control of our structure as well as processes for selection of candidates for election, especially on the choice of our presidential candidate, as such will be handled with the strictest adherence to the principles of internal democracy and zero tolerance for imposition. Our great party has now, more than ever before, become a centre of the new patriotic and broad-based engagements by overwhelming majority of Nigerians, across board, in the renewed democratic realignment that places priority on rescuing our nation from the misrule of President Muhammadu Buhari and his anti-people All Progressives Congress (APC).”
Whereas the APC has the colossal misfortune of being stuck with a very unpopular and unimpressive Presidential candidate, who has brought unpardonable pain and anguish to millions of innocent citizens, the PDP remains open, as the only dependable platform for all Nigerians, across board, to democratically and transparently coalesce and throw up that credible pan-Nigerian President and a government of national unity to move our nation out of the woods which we have been plunged by the dysfunctional APC.” The PDP therefore urged all members to join forces with millions of compatriots who it says are already rallying on its rebranded platform to achieve this collective quest, which has become to them, a national emergency, come 2019.
As the party’s wish is gradually being realized, it is hoping that it can contend with the potential difficult challenges it presents at all levels of its structures. It knows that it cannot afford to make the wrong move, otherwise, cynics, say, what it thinks is a blessing may just turn out to be a curse.