22 senators set to follow suit
Court restrains Tukur, Mark from declaring seats vacant
Atiku to consult associates before deciding on joining party
By Chuks Okocha, Muhammad Bello and Omololu Ogunmade
The political crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) continues to take a toll on the party as 37 House of Representatives members of the PDP Wednesday announced their defection to the rival All Progressives Congress (APC).
As the lawmakers in the lower chamber pledged their loyalty to APC, 22 of their colleagues in the Senate are preparing to do the same.
In order to pave the way for their defection, 79 of the lawmakers have obtained an order from the Federal High Court, Abuja, restraining the National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Bamangar Tukur, Senate President David Mark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from declaring their seats vacant when they eventually defect to another political party.
However, it was not just in the National Assembly PDP saw its dominance weakened, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, a stalwart of the party, met with the APC leadership yesterday and announced that he would consult with his associates before deciding whether to join the opposition party or not.
The latest defecting House legislators who are from Kano, Sokoto, Rivers, Kwara, Bauchi and Katsina joined their colleagues to reduce the strength of the ruling PDP in the lower chamber.
With the defection of the 37 legislators, the APC now has 174 members up from 137, while the PDP lawmakers have shrunken in number from 208 to 171.
It is believed that once the shift is complete and more PDP members defect, there will be a change in the composition of the House leadership, a move already favoured by some APC members.
However, the APC is yet to attain a simple majority in the House, as it requires 181 members.
The defectors transmitted their decision to the House via a letter they jointly wrote, which was read at plenary by the Speaker, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal.
According to the legislators, who cited relevant sections of the constitution, which empowers them to relocate from the party on which platform they gained membership, they explained that they quit the PDP because of the crisis that has rocked the party in recent times.
In a related development, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has Tukur, Mark, Tambuwal and INEC from declaring the seats of the National Assembly members vacant when they eventually defect to APC. The move is preparatory to the planned defection of 22 senators.
However, the senators are yet to formally write the senate president as required by Senate Standing Rules on their decision to defect from PDP.
Yesterday’s court order, which was issued by Justice A.R. Mohammed and obtained by THISDAY, said the decision was sequel to a motion filed by 79 lawmakers in the National Assembly, including 22 senators, seeking an order restraining the defendants from declaring their seats vacant.
The order reads: “The second and third defendants should be asked to maintain status quo on any proposed deliberation to declare the seats of the affected and interested plaintiffs vacant, at least, pending the hearing and determination of the plaintiffs’ motion for interculotory injunction.
“It is directed that the parties and in particular the second and third defendants shall maintain the status quo on any proposed deliberation to declare the seats of the affected/interested plaintiffs in this suit vacant, pending the hearing and determination of the plaintiffs’ motion for interlocutory injunction already served on them.”
The judge consequently fixed January 22 for hearing on the matter.
The 22 senators named as plaintiffs in the case are Bukola Saraki (Kwara Central), Bello Gwarzo (Kano North), Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), Senator Magnus Abe (River South-east), Wilson Ake (Rivers West), Senator Shaba Lafiagi (Kwara North), Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central), Aisha Alhassan (Taraba North), Ali Ndume (Borno South), Ahmed Zannah (Borno Central) and Simeon Ajibola (Kwara South).
Others are Bindowo Jubrilla (Adamawa North), Abdulaziz Usman (Jigawa North-east), Danladi Sankara (Jigawa North-west)), Abdulmumuni Hassan (Jigawa South-west), Hassan Barata (Adamawa South), Umaru Dahiru (Sokoto South), Ahmad Maccido (Sokoto North), Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto East), Garba Mohammed (Kano Central), Isa Galaudu (Kebbi North) and Ahmed Alkali (Gombe North).
Some of the senators listed as plaintiffs in the matter had earlier dissociated themselves from the defection plan, saying their names were only written among aggrieved senators because governors of their states were at the forefront of the plan to defect. Those in this category include Ajibola.
On the other hand, others such as Hassan have said though they believe in the course of other senators in this camp, they would rather stay back in PDP to fight perceived injustice instead of defecting to another party.
Meanwhile, Atiku who met with the leadership of the APC yesterday, said he would consult with his political supporters and associates to decide whether or not to join the APC.
He spoke yesterday after a meeting lasting over an hour held at his Asokoro residence in Abuja with the leaders of the APC led by the interim National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari; former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, former Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff; Senator Annie Okonkwo, Senator Nazif Sulieman, incumbent Governor of Borno State, Shettima Kashim, and Ibrahim Kassim, among other APC chieftains.
The meeting started at 11.20 am and ended at exactly 12.26 pm.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, the former vice-president, who described the meeting as fruitful, said he has always supported a two-party system in the country and that he would consult with his political associates to decide whether or not to join the APC.
According to him, “We want to let you know that we had a fruitful discussion on a two-party structure. We welcome the formation of APC. Most of us have been friends and political associates for over two decades. I will call my stakeholders across the country. We will take a decision and then address the press and let you know.”
Commenting on the outcome of the meeting, Akande said: “All of this morning, we had a meeting of comrades in politics. We have been meeting from time to time. We came here to cement the comradeship and it is well cemented and we are moving together to work for this country.”
In his comment, Buhari said the visit to Atiku was part of the ongoing consultations embarked upon by the leaders of the party.
He said they would consult former President Olusegun Obasanjo to officially inform him of the circumstances surrounding the formation of the APC.
THISDAY gathered that Atiku will meet with his political associates this weekend or early next week, defect as he is expected to give the APC delegation his decision on whether he would or not.
But a source, who was at yesterday’s meeting, noted that the body language of Atiku at the meeting suggested that he might join the opposition party.
The former vice-president was the presidential candidate of the Action Congress (AC) in 2007, but lost the election to late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
He later returned to the PDP in 2010 and then contested the 2011 PDP presidential primary election against President Goodluck Jonathan, who defeated him to emerge the presidential candidate of the PDP.
Atiku’s move to APC may not be unconnected to the belief that Jonathan is favoured to emerge the presidential candidate of PDP in 2015, should he decide to contest.
It was gathered that if eventually Atiku defects to APC, then there is the likelihood that the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) would join APC.
But as one of Atiku’s aides cautioned: “What compelled the former vice-president to leave the AC back to PDP is still there, I doubt whether he will join APC. When the meeting is called, all of us will say our minds.”
But one of Atiku’s loyalists, Prince Tonye Princewill, believes that Atiku is better off remaining in the PDP, as his seeming flirtation with political parties would not put him in good stead of a statesman.
According to him, “Atiku remains the best presidential material we have. But he will not keep jumping between parties to prove it. He should be prepared to help Jonathan now and in 2015 so that the rest can recognise that he is a statesman, especially as APC now has the likes of (Murtala) Nyako and co.
“Everyone should remember the role the northern governors played in 2011. Some of us can never forget it. APC has proved that it is not about change, it is about continuity. I would rather we have four more years of a reformed PDP with Atiku playing a supporting role than eight more years of a reconstituted APC.
“Nigerians know change when they see it and APC is not it. Atiku doesn't need me to tell him.”
Princewill regretted that the crisis in the PDP is what has been pushing prized members out of the party,
“I blame PDP. If they lose Atiku, they can only have themselves to blame. The fact that he has not joined APC for this long is a sign. Any good politician who cares about Nigeria cannot be happy with the options,” Princewill said.