Nigerian politics has been thrown into turmoil by the mass defection of members of the ruling party just months away from the general election, writes Adwoa Korkoh.
On a single day last month nearly 50 legislators representing the All Peoples Congress (APC) crossed the floor to join the opposition People’s Democratic Congress (PDP).
Thousands of rank and file members have followed suit in what has become a well organised body blow to President Muhammad Buhari’s bid to win a second term in next February’s poll.
Many are disappointed by his failure to significantly turn around the economy and root out corruption, two of the key campaign pledges that swept him to victory in the 2015 elections. A third was to improve national security, but the Boko Haram insurgency and attacks by Fulani herdsmen on farmers in middle-belt states continue to prove difficult to contain.
Seventy-five-year old Buhari’s frequent bouts of ill health that has seen him spend weeks abroad seeking medical treatment have also been a cause for concern.
Two former presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, have both publicly called on him to make his first term his last due to his “lack lustre” presidency.
The rift within the APC has been brewing for some time with two of its most high profile members, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president, and Rabiu Kwankwaso, one time governor of Kano State, dumping the party last year. Both are vying for the PDP’s presidential ticket in the coming primaries.
Defections are nothing new in Nigerian politics where personal ambition routinely trumps political principle. In the run-up to the 2015 poll a number of senior PDP figures, including Abubakar and Kwankwaso, jumped ship for the APC, a move that contributed to the PDP being dramatically booted out of office after being in power for 14 consecutive years.
All eyes are now on Yakubu Dogara and Bukola Saraki, leaders of the lower and upper houses of the Nigerian parliament respectively. They have been blamed for inciting the crisis within the APC to undermine Buhari but have not defected. Saraki, a former governor of Kwara State who has just been cleared of corruption allegations following an investigation initiated by Buhari, is another politician who flipped-flopped from the PDP to the APC before the last election.
According to Mannir Dan Ali, editor-in-chief of Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper, the defections do not mean that Buhari is staring defeat in the face. “The only reason the president and his party may just win next February is that the opposition has yet to put up a credible alternative,” he said in the BBC’s Letter from Africa column last week.
“There are also Nigerians who are unlikely to be able to bring themselves to vote for the PDP, blamed for creating a lot of the mess during its years in power.”
This week Buhari had something to celebrate though when influential senator Godswill Akpabio bucked the trend by defecting from the PDP to the APC during a rally of his supporters attended by party big-wigs. Akpabio’s shock move follows differences with Emmanuel Udom, whom he handpicked to succeed him as governor of Akwa Ibom State in 2015.