Five of the rebel governors, who had been fighting to effect change in the leadership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party finally dump the party and cross over to the All Progressives Congress. Can their decision upset the political equation in the country?
| By Olu Ojewale | Dec. 9, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IN THE end, they all bowed to the inevitable. The decision by the renegade members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to join the opposition All Progressives Party, APC, on Tuesday, November 26, was more or less a fait accompli. But the decision has also shown that, even the renegades, who were supposed to be like-minded people, could not speak with one voice in the matter. Out of the seven aggrieved governors, two of them have so far refused to jump ship to the rival party. This, perhaps, seems to have lowered expectations in some political circles. In his historic announcement, Abubakar Baraje, leader of the factional PDP, said that the group of seven governors had joined the APC, thereby raising the number of the states controlled by the main opposition party to 18 as against 16 now controlled by the ruling party. It later turned out that only five of them were fully committed to the movement.
Prominent members of the ruling party who have moved to the APC are governors Chibuike Amaechi, Murtala Nyako, Abdulfatah Ahmed and Rabiu Kwankwaso of Rivers, Adamawa, Kwara and Kano states. Others are former governors Bukola Saraki, Abdullahi Adamu and Timpreye Sylva of Kwara, Nasarawa and Bayelsa states, respectively. The rest were Sam Sam Jaja and Timi Frank, former deputy national chairman and youth leader of the factional group.
Defending his decision to join the APC, Amaechi said he dumped the PDP because President Goodluck Jonathan failed to address issues raised by the G 7 governors. The governor, who spoke on Wednesday, November 27, at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, assured that the APC would protect the interest of all Rivers State people, adding that the state had suffered untold neglect by the government of President Jonathan.
“Rivers State must know that for me to have taken that decision, I had looked at the general interests of Rivers people. I was not elected to lead Nigeria, I was elected to lead Rivers State and I had looked at the interests of Rivers people and have seen that these interests were not protected in the PDP. I have seen the fact that we are losing our oil wells in Etche, in the Kalabari areas and that the more they continue to pilfer these oil wells, the more we will continue to lose our wealth,” he said.
Similarly, Nyako said no decent people would want to remain in the PDP with the way it is being run. The governor, who spoke in an interview on his arrival at Yola Airport, insisted that the PDP and its leadership had disappointed Nigerians both at home and in the diaspora by its high level of impunity and injustice coupled with complete absence of internal democracy and rule of law. “No Nigerian no matter his level in the society today is comfortable with the way and manner the country is drifting. The image of the country is completely eroded at the international level and yet the PDP led government and its operators are in Abuja making noise… We have written the PDP several times over this injustice and impunity. We have been negotiating for the past one year. We have been meeting with them but no positive result,” Nyako said.
Apparently, Babangida Aliyu and Sule Lamido, governors of Niger and Jigawa states, respectively, did not share their colleagues’ sentiments. Shortly, after the announcement, the two governors cried foul, stating that they were not part of the movement to the APC. Aliyu, who attended the meeting held at Kano State Governor’s Lodge in Abuja, but left before its conclusion, fired the first salvo saying he was shocked that his name was mentioned as one of those who had dumped the PDP for the APC. Speaking through Danladi Ndayebo, his chief press secretary, Aliyu denied in a statement on Tuesday that he was at the meeting where the decision to formally join the APC was sealed. He insisted that talks were still ongoing with President Jonathan and would like to await the outcome of the negotiation before taking a final decision.
Lamido, on his part, said it was inconceivable for him to abandon the house he helped to build just because of some leaks. In a statement issued by Umar Kyari, his director of press, Lamido asked rhetorically: “Have you ever seen where a landlord leaves his house for tenants, who did not even know how the materials used in building the house were sourced?” The governor acknowledged that although the party was no longer a comfortable place for him and some other persons, he was not ready to abandon it. His statement said in part: “While my party is currently embroiled in a serious crisis, especially by the Bamanga Tukur style of leadership with impunity, that does not necessitate me to renounce my historic authority to anybody. It is true that I and my family are currently under a political heat wave and campaign of misinformation and smear to the effect that my family and I are adjudged guilty in the public court by the gullible and the ill-informed. This will not intimidate or harass me out of the party. I will not give anybody the pleasure of engaging me by his term… for now I wish to state that I remain the living father of the PDP, aluta continua. We remain in the PDP; we have not gone anywhere; we are not going anywhere. We will remain and fight the injustice in the PDP, till the end.”
Besides, it is believed that Lamido has decided to go through the peace talks with the President, based on the advice of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, his political godfather. According to sources, the outcome of the peace talks would guide Lamido’s decision either to dump the PDP or not. It was also learnt that Lamido had been indecisive because of some promises from the Presidency on the fate of his sons, who were recently arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for money laundering. The Presidency was said to be offering a soft-landing for the governor’s children, if he should renounce his alliance with the new PDP.
It appears that the one thing that, perhaps, discouraged the governor from moving to the APC is the fact that the EFCC is poised to take his two sons, Aminu and Mustapha Lamido, to court soon. The governor’s children were arrested in Kano, on Thursday, November 14, for fraud involving billions of naira belonging to the people of Jigawa State. It was learnt that the EFCC traced about N10 billion to the accounts of companies of which the governor and his two sons were alleged to be directors and signatories to the account. The alleged transactions took place between 2007 and this year.
Indeed, not everyone who has been at loggerheads with the leadership of the PDP is willing to jump ship yet. One of the prominent members of the renegade group who also has not moved is Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president. Reacting to the decision of the Baraje group to dump the ruling party, Abubakar said it was as a positive step. In a statement in Abuja on Tuesday, November 26, the former vice-president said: “I believe in a true democracy based on freedom of association as guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution. I also long for a day where we celebrate a multi-party system where political parties make improving the lives of Nigerians their top priority, instead of our current politics of corrupt cronyism and personal destruction. Today’s news is a positive step in both directions.”
Whatever be the case, Bamanga Tukur, national chairman of the mainstream PDP, has found the development a little bit unsettling. While expressing shock at the audacity of the governors to join the opposition party, Tukur said they had gone too far by the defection, but insisted that the door of negotiation and dialogue was still open to them. In a statement released by his media aide, on Wednesday, November 27, Tukur said: “There is always a limit to demonstration of anger. If anger can cause you to pack all your bags and load and then move into the home of your arch opponents, that, to me, is an anger so misdirected and it is unfortunate. We cannot ask anyone not to leave the party if he so decided. After all, soldiers go, soldiers come. If anyone leaves the PDP, many more people will join. It happens every time.”
The PDP leader, who was on a visit to China, appealed to aggrieved members to remain in the party and join hands with the PDP leadership to salvage it. Tukur also assured the aggrieved G7 that the PDP would always be ready to receive returnees back into its fold. “Let us put behind us the crisis and bickering so that the president and leaders of the party can concentrate on governance and delivery of the dividends of democracy to all,” he said.
But in his reaction, Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary of the PDP, was combatant. In an advertorial in a national daily newspaper on Thursday, November 28, Metuh said the defectors had abandoned a mainstream ruling party to embrace “a narrow group of ethnic and religious bigots whose main intention is to unleash a state of anarchy on Nigeria.” According to him, the PDP is unconcerned by their departure which has helped to rid the party of “detractors and distractions.” He said now that the “agents of distraction have finally left our ranks,” members should close ranks and remain focussed. “We wish to remind our members that from the rulings of the court, there are no factions whatsoever in the PDP. In the eyes of the law, the PDP remains one and an indivisible entity under the leadership of Alhaji Dr. Bamanga Tukur, CON… We assure all Nigerians that the PDP will continue to grow from strength to strength and will definitely emerge stronger from this event,” he said further. While commending those who have remained with the party, he assured them that the rescheduled peace meeting with President Jonathan would now hold on Sunday, December 1. Nonetheless, he reassured all members of the party that the doors still remained open to address all grievances.
Ahead of the meeting, it appears that the PDP is not afraid of also using the stick. On Wednesday, November 27, the National Disciplinary Committee set up by the party leadership, in its report, recommended the expulsion of Baraje, Sam Jaja and Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the embattled national secretary of the party. The members of the renegade group which called itself new PDP, were suspended on November 11, for what the leadership of the party described as anti-party activities. Baraje was the national chairman of the new PDP while Jaja was his deputy. Oyinlola was the national secretary of the Baraje faction. But the court of appeal in Abuja ruled on November 6, that the former Osun State governor be reinstated as the national party but, instead, he was suspended along with others. Ebenezer Babatope, deputy chairman of the committee, announced the decision at a press conference. But based on the order by the court, Oyinlola has refused to join the APC with his comrade-in-arms.
That notwithstanding, many Nigerians have seen the defection of the former PDP members to the APC as a measure to strengthen the party, which invariably leads to an emergence of a two-party system. Adeseye Ogunlewe, former minister of works, said the development would afford Nigerians the opportunity to choose from the best. Analysing the situation, Ogunlewe said: “It is in two parts: the first one is that it is good for our democracy because there will be a very strong opposition now to the PDP. It will afford people to alternative choice. What is good now for the two political parties is to bring out their manifesto, let the people assess them and then, let us see the one people will choose.”
Besides, Ogunlewe said the decamping governors should be able to tell their supporters that they would have to compete with the people they had known to be in the opposition. “They may get there and their host may be hostile to them after they decamp because you can never outsmart the people you are meeting there. They may not accept them because they also want to survive. Some of the governors cannot contest again because they are outgoing governors and so, in another six months, they will be irrelevant,” he said.
In welcoming the decision of the five governors to join the APC, The Nation newspaper in its editorial of November 28, titled: ‘A historic moment’, said unlike the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, it was the first time that Nigeria would have a de facto two-party system, which everyone would see as enduring. To justify their existence, the paper said the two major parties must demonstrate that theirs is not about persons or tribe. Rather, “the parties ought to show to us what distinguishes them. Otherwise, we shall have the old script of Nigerian politics where a disenchanted member of a party can swivel to another and be embraced. That makes the parties sties rather than shelters of ideological faithful.”
It went on: “We do not want a party system that fritters away over tribe, faith, the hubris of big men and the failure of values. Neither should President Jonathan prostitute it with his dictates nor should the new party falter through internal contradictions. Never has the future of our country depended on one moment than now and never has it relied on two organisations than the APC and PDP as they try to turn a balance of power to advantage.”
For now, the balance of power seems to tilt in favour of the PDP as it controls both government and the National Assembly. Anyone who thinks that on the strength of the current development, members of the new PDP in the National Assembly can just walk over to join the opposition APC may find himself in trouble. The constitution demands that for anyone to leave his party to join another party, the party on whose platform he was elected must be factionalised. No court in Nigeria has so far ruled that the ruling party is factionalised. Section 68(1) (109(1) of the 1999 Constitution clearly states that: “A member of the Senate or House of Representatives (House of Assembly) shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if- (g) Being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that house was elected: Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored.”
So, for the legislature, the Constitution is clear: in attempting to cross to another political party, he must prove that a division in his political party exists or a merger of that party with another or factions in the party. Even then, he cannot successfully crossover to another political party until the presiding officer of the House – Senate president, speaker of House of Representatives or speaker of House of Assembly, as the case may be – endorses the move.
Section 68(2) (109(2)) states that: “The President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may be, shall give effect to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, so, however, that the president of the Senate or the speaker of the House of Representatives or a member shall first present evidence satisfactory to the House concerned that any of the provisions of that subsection has become applicable in respect of that members.” So, it will be unwise for any of the legislators who want to join the APC to do so now without risking his seat being declared vacant by the PDP.
While the 1999 Constitution spells out restrictions on legislators’ cross carpeting, it is silent on the issue as it relates to members of the executive, that is, the president, vice-president, governor and deputy governor. That means the status quo will have to remain for now at the National Assembly where the PDP faction members are expected to keep their peace. But some lawyers have also argued that it is signal to the ruling party that it would henceforth have to work very hard to pass any legislation in the assembly.
The departure of the renegade members is similarly seen as making the coast clear for Jonathan to get the much-desired re-election ticket of the PDP. The renegades have been solidly opposed to the president’s re-election plan, which ran contrary to the thinking of the party leadership. The faction has repeatedly argued that Jonathan signed not to re-contest the office in 2015. The group also wanted Tukur to be removed as the national chairman of the party. These two cardinal demands had created a wedge between the Presidency and the PDP leadership on the one hand and the Baraje faction on the other. All entreaties by the president to make the faction see reasons to change its minds fell on deaf ears. Sources said Jonathan had to suspend filling the vacancies in the federal executive council in order to accommodate the candidates of the rebels if the peace had succeeded as envisaged.
The uncompromising position of the renegades lends credence to speculations that some of them were actually nursing some political ambition of going to higher offices. Prominent among the ambitious ones are said to be Wamako, Lamido, Aliyu, Amaechi and Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives. All the five were said to be eyeing the presidency. But recently, Aliyu said he was only interested in going to the Senate after finishing his second term in 2015. If that should be the case, it creates room for the rest to slug it out with any other ones already positioning themselves in the APC to get the presidential ticket. The eventual development would either confirm or rubbish analysis of some political observers who viewed the emigration of the rebel as an avenue to feather their nests rather than advance the cause of democracy.
Itse Sagay, a senior advocate of Nigeria and a law professor, said the movement of the five governors to the APC was only to help the rebel governors, especially the northerners among them, to realise their personal agenda. “Concerning the Northern governors decamping to the APC, I really don’t think it is a loss to the PDP. If you look at these rebel governors, with the exclusion of Rotimi Amaechi, you will find out that their agenda is a very narrow agenda, a very personal one. And that agenda is for the North to produce the president so that a Northerner can control the Niger Delta oil and Lagos State VAT and so on.” Sagay also warned the APC to be careful as the governors might be exporting trouble into the party.
Sharing the same view, Bamidele Aturu, a human rights lawyer, said the movement of the rebel governors to the APC had proved to Nigerians that there is no clear-cut difference between the political parties in Nigeria; and that Nigerian politicians are only self-serving. Although the defecting governors were said to have signed an agreement with their new party leadership about power sharing formula, some of the loyal party officials who have been holding forte in various states of the federation may have cause to resist their imposition. Realnews learnt that the rivalry between Buba Marwa, a retired brigadier general and former gubernatorial candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in Adamawa State, in the last election, and Nyako is still very much alive.
But since Nyako, whom he contested the governorship seat against in 2011, is no longer eligible for the post in 2015, this may lessen Marwa’s opposition. But there are rumours making the rounds that Nyako would want one of his children to succeed him, which may bring him in collusion with the former military governor of Lagos State. Until the APC leadership visited the state last month and reconciled them, both Marwa and Nyako were infamously at loggerheads over the affairs of the state.
Besides, it would be foolhardy for the APC leadership in the state to think that because Nyako is willing to join forces with Marwa, it can control the state. Tukur as the national chairman of the ruling party has a lot of influence in the state, and so is Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president. But the combination of Tukur and Bonnie Haruna, former governor of the state, who remains solidly in the PDP, is seen as a good omen for the ruling party.
Haruna, who was elected with Abubakar as deputy governor but later assumed the governorship position on the appointment of Abubakar as vice-president, has since parted ways with his former boss after leaving office. Although Abubakar is part of the renegade group, he is reluctant to join in the expedition to the APC, rather, he is expected to return to the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, which was registered as a political party in September, this year.
The situation for Kwakwanso in Kano is similarly daunting. The APC machinery in the state is in the firm grip of Ibrahim Shekarau, former governor of the state between 2003 and 2011. Kwankwaso and Shekarau are known archrivals. It was Shekarau that stopped Kwankwanso to be re-elected in the 2003 governorship election. But Kwankwaso later turned round to defeat Shekarua’s protégé in the 2011 governorship election to return to the office. This, a Kano APC chieftain explained, was why Shekarau has kept silent and has abstained from APC’s romance with the aggrieved governors of the PDP. Besides, according to sources, some prominent members of the APC have warned the leadership of the party to perish the idea of handing over the machinery of the party to the governor. “We are not against the PDP governors that want to join us, but we are simply saying that there should be an agreed sharing formula,” one of them was quoted as saying.
As if to add salt to the injury, the leadership of the APC that visited Kano about three weeks ago to woo Kwankwanso was said to have done so without informing Shekarau. This prompted Odigie Oyegun, former governor of Edo State and a chieftain of the APC, to tender an apology to the former governor. Oyegun, who in company of others, was in Kano on Monday, November 18, said they were in the state to debunk rumours that the leadership of the APC wanted to handover the party to Kwankwaso. “Let me emphasise here that under no circumstance did the leadership undermine the APC and its leader in Kano, Mallam Shekarau. The reason is very obvious; one is that Kano is important to us, it is significant to APC.”
While acknowledging the role played by Shekarau in the merger which gave birth to the APC, Oyegun said: “He played a key role in what the APC is today. There is no way that the party will throw away what it knows and what it has. Four of our national leaders that included Bola Tinubu, Bello Masari, Yusuf Ali and myself met Shekarau at his private residence in Abuja to apologise to him and we requested that we visit his supporters in Kano to appease them.” Oyegun was accompanied to the state by Abdul-Aziz Yari Abubakar, governor of Zamfara State, Aminu Bello Masari, former speaker of the House of Representatives, and Yusuf Ali, former national chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP.
“I want to emphasise it here that the national leadership will never turn its back on the APC leadership in Kano. No state will be undermined by the party because our struggle is to wrest power from the PDP,” Oyegun said. Responding, Shekarau thanked the leadership for accepting its mistakes and making amends. “I have no option than to accept the apology for the party to move forward. Our door is open; we are not against anybody joining the APC because we have no ill feelings,” he said.
If, indeed, Kwankwaso and Shekarau can work together, Kano is likely to go in the way of the APC. But the influence of some PDP leaders such as Ghali Na’bba, former speaker of the House of Representatives, Kabiru Gaya, former governor of the state and now a serving senator as well as Abba Dabo, former managing director of the rested Triumph newspapers and former secretary to the Kano State government, among others, is believed to be so strong that it would be difficult to predict how the state will vote in 2015.
Kwara State is another place where the governor is likely to be resisted. Dele Belgore, a scion of the Belgore family, was the governorship candidate of the defunct ACN in the 2011 election. Automatically, he is now a force to reckon with in the APC. It looks inconceivable to expect him to step aside and allow Governor Ahmed to take over the leadership of the party he helped to build in the state. What perhaps, makes the case of Kwara intriguing is that the governor would be spending one term in office by 2015, and may want to re-contest. This is not likely to go down with Belgore who contested against him in 2011.
What also makes the situation dicey is because the image of Bukola Saraki, former governor and a serving senator, looms large in Kwara State politics than even the governor. “The stakeholders in Kwara State are against the planned handover of the party structures to the Governor Ahmed-led PDP government or Bukola Saraki, who is his godfather. The stakeholders believe that if the governor of the state is defecting to the APC, there should be an agreement and not just the handover of the party structures to him, as if we don’t exist. Before the governor and his godfather, Senator Saraki disagreed with the PDP, there were people in the state that were funding the APC,” an APC leader was quoted as saying. What perhaps, may swing the pendulum in favour Saraki and his godson is, perhaps, the support of Lai Mohammed, interim national publicity secretary of the APC, if they work as team. But it would be politically risky to underestimate the influence of Isah Bio, former sports minister, who boasts that the time has come for the people of Kwara to put an end to the Saraki political dynasty.
In Niger State, if Aliyu eventually summons courage to join the APC, he is not expected to encounter serious opposition in the party. But then, there are expected to be some pockets of resistance especially from Ibrahim Musa, the only CPC senator, and David Umoru, its former governorship candidate in the 2011 election, who were the backbone of the defunct party. It is suspected that they would not likely hand over the leadership of the party to the governor without a fight. Even if he succeeds in heading the APC, the combination of Abdulkadir Kure, former governor of the state and the strong leadership of Jerry Gana, former minister of information, in the PDP, may work against his interest.
Going to the APC was more or less a fait accompli for Amaechi. Already, the governor was like a fish without water as the PDP structure had been removed from his grip. The state assembly has been comatose in the past three months and thereabout, and neither does he control security in his state. Recently, the governor was said to have called on some of his supporters together, including past and present speakers to ask them to follow him to the APC. But they told him that it would be suicidal to abandon the ruling party and shift to the new party. The governor was said to have been advised to take things easy before jumping the ship. Some members of the APC in the state are said not to be favourably disposed to having Amaechi as their leader just because of his position as state governor. Besides, Nyesom Wike, supervising minister of education, appears to be all over the place stringing the PDP together behind him. Wike has also been using Amaechi’s frosty relationship with Patience Jonathan, wife of President Jonathan, to win more support for himself and the PDP in Rivers State.
Although the kind of agreement reached between the defectors and their new party has not been made public, it is difficult to rule out the heavy handedness of Bola Tinubu, former Lagos State governor, leader and financier of the APC. Analysts don’t regard Tinubu as a democrat especially in the way he has been meddling in the affairs of the states currently controlled by the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, which joined two other parties to form the APC.
With the departure of five out of the seven renegade governors, will the political temperature of the country come down? That is one interesting question that a lot of Nigerians would like to have an answer. Can it also bring to an end the crisis within the PDP to enable President Jonathan to seriously face governance? Time will tell.