A bewildered Nigerian public watches as politicians enact a flurry of deft maneuveurs that throw up interesting prospects. Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports
The high wire political drama which have engaged the country for sometime now took an interesting turn on Tuesday when a significant number of federal lawmakers in the National Assembly defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The switch of political party loyalty ended weeks of speculation on the political future of the legislators, who have been embroiled in different cases of misunderstanding with their political party. The unfortunate turn of events may have signaled the disintegration of the ruling APC, which began when talks between dissenting factions, the New PDP and later the Reformed APC and the leadership of the party broke down irretrievably.
A bewildered public is watching, perhaps amused at how their representatives have reduced the serious business of making laws and checking the excesses of other arms of government to a tea party. But the overriding notion is that the seeming commotion caused in the polity as a result of the moving back and forth from one party to another is a direct pursuit of where their different interest will be served before, during and after the 2019 general election.
Though a blanket statement about political persecution and not feeling safe within their former political groupings have been mouthed by these migrating politicians, it is safe to say that none of them has defined what safety means in this context and how it relates to the well-being of the people they were elected to represent.
For instance, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki believes that his trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal which lasted over three years and went all the way to the Supreme Court was a witch-hunting exercise by elements in the executive arm of government.
Like Saraki, other Senators like Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) and Shehu Sani from Kaduna State have had brushes with law enforcement agents ostensibly for their strongly held opinions which unsettle either their governors or The Presidency. The show of high-handedness by the executive arm of government has been labeled in many instances as a threat to democracy and a steady move towards despotism. This was the conclusion of many observers who condemned the siege by the police on the residence of Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu on Tuesday. Ekwremadu was summoned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with a letter written the same day.
The latest development has significantly altered political permutations ahead of the 2019 general elections.
The National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a bicameral legislature established under section 4 of the Nigerian Constitution. It consists of a Senate with 109 members and a 360-member House of Representatives.
The 36 states are each divided in three senatorial districts each electing one senator; the Federal Capital Territory elects only one senator.
On Tuesday, 15 senators belonging to the ruling APC said they were defecting to the opposition PDP.
The Senate President Bukola Saraki made the announcement during the plenary on Tuesday. Saraki read a letter from the 15 Senators who left, just as he said that he was also on his way out of the APC, confirming rumours that he had concluded his defection plans from APC sometime this week, a move that would leave the leadership of the Senate in the hands of the PDP.
Foreclosing opportunities for further networking, Saraki announced an eight-week recess till Tuesday September 25, 2018.
The senators that defected include Barnabas Gemade(Benue), Shaaba Lafiaji(Kwara), Rafiu Ibrahim(Kwara), and Usman Nafada(Gombe).
Others were Senators Suleiman Hunkuyi, Ibrahim Danbaba, Ubale Shittu, Isah Misau, Suleiman Nazif, Rafiu Ibrahim and Dino Melaye.
Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna State who many political pundits thought was going to leave the APC stayed back.
With this latest development, PDP is now the majority party in the Senate.
However, Senators Monsurat Sunmonu (Oyo) and Abdul-Aziz Nyako (Adamawa) have also defected to the African Democratic Congress (ADC).
In the House of Representatives, 37 members announced their official defection from the APC to the PDP.
The details include 33 lawmakers from Kano, Sokoto, Kwara, Kogi and other states, who defected from the APC to the opposition PDP.
The four others are from Oyo State who defected from the APC to African Democratic Congress (ADC). Their defection was announced by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara.
The defection drama continued to get more complex as Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State along with 21 of the 23 local government chairmen crossed over to the PDP midweek, saying the security and interest of their people could no longer be guaranteed in the APC. This is arguably the hardest blow launched at the APC in this season of defection. A couple of other governors like those of Kwara, Sokoto and Adamawa are strongly speculated to follow Ortom’s example in the not too distant future.
For now, it may be argued that the defecting politicians are protected by Section 68(g) of the Constitution which describes a defecting politician as, “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.”
Clearly, the disintegration of the crises-ridden APC provides a valid cover under which the defecting politicians can seek a safe berth in another political party.
In the days ahead, more influential members of the APC, particularly governors of various states are expected to take their leave from the party, re-enacting a similar scenario in 2013 when leading politicians and members of the PDP exited the party to enter a merger that resulted in the APC. With the known delinquent nature of the average Nigerian politician, it is not impossible that some of those defecting now may run back to their previous party, if they do not get a ticket to contest and return to the National Assembly. This is a possibility that these politicians are willing to gamble with.
In the days ahead, more influential members of the APC, particularly governors of various states are expected to take their leave from the party, re-enacting a similar scenario in 2013 when leading politicians and members of the PDP exited the party to enter a merger that resulted in the APC.