The mood in the Senate after the sweeping defection of APC lawmakers to the opposition PDP

Perhaps, it is safe to infer at this juncture that the die may have been cast as far as 2019 is currently situated. The path to next year’s general election is swiftly assuming an offensive dimension. No doubt, since the journey to the 2019 elections began, no other time had been as defining as last Tuesday, which boasted quite many events in one day – all geared towards the next round of national elections. On that day, the executive and the legislature finally broke loose their evident and time-honoured animosity. The police as a critical institution of state also showed their hands as an otherwise partisan stakeholder. There were too many defections in just a day. What with the pushback by the ruling party? That was equally instructive because it came with its peculiar message. All this can be the ultimate game-changer in next year’s elections, write Olawale Olaleye and Onyebuchi Ezigbo

One of the markers of the 2015 polls was the election crisis of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), which was then led by a former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi. The then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did not recover from the result of that election, which was later enmeshed in another political arithmetic crunch of 16 being considered greater than 19.

But before the election and its resultant effect, there were a few peace overtures tailored towards managing the crisis, because it was clear that head or tail, an election at the time was certainly inauspicious. It was also because both the loser and the winner might have to part ways at the risk of an election because, for the first time, the presidency took a strange interest in who headed the NGF. It was just what happened.

However, in the thick of the crisis, a certain attempt was made, which could have rested the calamity that eventually characterised the outcome of the election. A former chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih had met with Amaechi and bounced off him, the need to have a meeting point for peace sake and also to save the party. Amaechi was not averse to the idea, but not without certain conditions.

He was said to have suggested to ‘leader’ as Anenih was called to tell then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to suspend all efforts at removing him and let him return peacefully. However, after a year as NGF chair, which by calculation meant his second term, he would resign on his honour and then, Jonathan could put whoever he wanted there.

The leader didn’t think it was a bad idea for as long as it would help calm the already tense atmosphere. Truly, when he allegedly got to the president and ran the outcome of the meeting by him, the president too didn’t think it was a bad suggestion and agreed with the leader on its implementation.

As leader was about to leave, a certain South-south governor came in and as one of the cliques running the show, the idea was also run by him. But he saw no sense in it and asked the president to throw it out. “Let us go to the poll, we’ll defeat him,” he allegedly confidently told Jonathan. And the innately shifty Jonathan too changed his mind on the spot and opted for an election, thinking they had it all covered.

Unfortunately, they all ended up with a bloody nose, with a result that proved 16 was greater than 19 as the counterforce of a former Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang crept in. that singular event marked the first time the presidency suffered avoidable but debilitating defeat in the run-up to the 2015 elections on account of poorly conceived counsel from trusted allies.
More importantly, what that development revealed was that such was the kind of guidance that people, who were close to Jonathan at the time, gave till he was ushered out of office on May 29, 2015, without clearly sculpted winning strategy.

But more instructively, what that presupposed was that much more than the effect of poor leadership typified by utter ineptitude, the Nigerian problem had always been that of followership, which lacks the capacity to speak truth to power and be the compass for leadership especially that leadership, more often than not, rose from amongst the followership and therefore might not be better than they are too. This much, some of the events of last week, confirmed.

It does not require a soothsayer to tell that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is currently not just walking a tightrope, but palpable contradiction, genuinely failing to learn from the circumstances that brought it to power. As it is, its current disposition to these developments does not seem to be a function of naivety but its inability to truly comprehend some of the prevailing dimensions.
While ordinarily the situation is not beyond solution, but as it was in the days of Jonathan, some persons close to power appear to have assumed the place of spoilers and rather than assist to decimate the velocity of the increasing disaffection within the political class, they have adopted PDP’s failed approach, which discountenances the weight of the opposition, yet, without a thorough analysis of their own strengths and weaknesses.

With such attitudinal disposition, the road to 2019 is not a pleasant one for the APC neither is it going to be a smooth run for the opposition. In other words, whilst this turn of events does not really guarantee an automatic win for the opposition, what is currently unsettling the turf would have been amenable to remedy but for the arrogance of leadership, which has made it very difficult than it ordinarily is, thereby stoking an unsavoury state of play. But then, what are these issues?

The APC was last Tuesday hit by the mass defection of its lawmakers both at the National Assembly and some state assemblies in a manner so unprecedented in the history of party politics. At the end of the day, 14 senators left the party on Tuesday.

While 12 defected to the PDP, two went to the African Democratic Congress (ADC). Fifteen Senators including Dino Melaye, Lanre Tejuosho and Barnabas Gemade, on Tuesday wrote formally to the Senate leadership intimating it of their defection from the APC to the PDP.
Senate President Bukola Saraki, who read the defection letter jointly signed by the 15 Senators at plenary, listed the defectors to include Senators Abdullahi Danbaba, Shaba Lafiagi, Ubali Shittu, Rafiu Ibrahim, Soji Akanbi and Suleiman Hunkuyi. Others are Senators Isa Misau, Monsurat Sunmonu, Bayero Nafada, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Suleiman Nazif and Abdulazeez Nyako.

Although Tejuosho has recanted, more others in Benue State have joined the defection train. The gale of defections continued to sweep through the yard of APC as one of its governors, Dr. Samuel Ortom of Benue State, left its rank to rejoin his former party, PDP.
The Benue situation is likely to be replicated in Imo State, where the Deputy Governor, Mr. Eze Madumere, and some other key members, including Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, a former National Organising Secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso, and Senator Ben Uwajumogu, are said to be under pressure to join the ship.

Following the defection many of its members in the National Assembly, the ruling party appeared jittery having lost substantially its strength if not the majority status in both legislative chambers. At first, the response of the national chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole was contemptuous. But his volte-face was at variance with that of President Buhari.

The President, in his reaction, expressed a total commitment to the values of democracy, freedom of choice, as well as his willingness to work with all members of the National Assembly, irrespective of their political parties. His point was that no one of the defecting federal lawmakers had any specific grievances against him or the government he leads and that he did not harbour anything against any of them. But he boasted that their movement would not affect APC’s electoral fortune.

“As the saying goes, all politics is local. We understand that some of the distinguished and honourable lawmakers have issues with their home states, especially on zoning, which bars some of them from seeking another term in their constituency”.
On its part, the PDP emerged as the major gainer in the unfolding political realignment. With the likelihood of its taking over as majority party if the current political trend is sustained, PDP can now hope to approach the 2019 election with a measure of confidence.

Also, as part of its strategic moves to drive a new political coalition that would enable the opposition parties to unseat the APC, the PDP is considering the possibility of a name change. The proposal to set up a mechanism to achieve this was approved at the National Executive Committee meeting of the PDP last week. Although the party had earlier rejected such suggestions, the current wave of a coalition of opposition forces appears to be altering all the previous calculations.
Proponents of a name change for the PDP are hinging their argument on the alleged negative image of corruption that it had attracted since losing power at the centre. For those harbouring this view, getting a new name for PDP would help drop any image baggage it may have attracted in the past.

But those opposed to the idea were very vehement that the party does not require to get rid of its name to win back the trust and support of Nigerians. They point at the case of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa that is gradually outliving all its founding fathers.

According to their argument, the ANC continues to enjoy the love and support of the South African people despite being led by some bad leaders at some point in its trajectory.

In reality, a political party is supposed to develop into an enduring institution with strong ideological leanings, not a loose organisation that fidgets at the slightest electoral misfortune or that changes its name at the whim and caprices of few political opportunists. Perhaps, the party may have realised the sensitive nature and the need to be cautious in handling the matter, hence the decision not give the committee any deadline.

PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said: “We are not talking of time frame here now because we have no time. Tomorrow we can come out and say this is what we have decided.”

It was apparent where the support for the change of name is coming from based on what happened immediately after the PDP adopted a resolution to pursue the change of name. This was when the lawmakers from the Reformed All Progressives Congress (rAPC) jumped ship to identify with the main opposition party.

It was said that some of the former bigwigs of the PDP, who wanted to return to the party had given conditions, one of which is that the party should effect a change in its name and to do away with all the negative practices that may have given it the bad image.
Beyond the issue of change of name, an agreement was also being sought on how to secure party tickets for defectors or at least create enabling environment for accommodating the returnees. On the planned name change, Ologbondiyan whose responsibility it was to relay the outcome of the PDP NEC meeting said a template had been approved by the party for every state chapter on how to handle the fusion of new members into the PDP.

He said even the NEC applauded the fusion of rAPC into PDP and approved the alliance entered into by the party with other 39 political parties. According to him, a certain percentage of party structure has been approved for states where a serving governor is one of the new members, adding, however, that the National Working Committee (NWC) was not inclined to imposing any structure on any state chapter.

Just before the major political realignment that took place at the National Assembly on Tuesday, there was a shameful drama that saw the Police re-enact one of their deplorable anti-democratic acts. The Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, had on Monday invited Saraki to appear before the Police Special Anti-Robbery Unit in Guzape police station to answer questions over his alleged involvement in the Offa robbery incident.

But rather than wait for the Senate President to respond to its invitation, the police team arrived very early in the morning and barricaded all entry and exit points to his residence. The convoy of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was blocked by a detachment of men from the Police Force. The police later got off the road and allowed Saraki’s convoy to leave his residence but before then, the Senate President had already found his way to the National Assembly.

Saraki was not the only one that faced the police assault because the residence of his deputy, Senator Ike Ekwerenmadu was also under siege by another set of Police and DSS detachment. It was alleged that the motive of the early morning clampdown was political. According to pundits, there already plans by some unseen hands in the presidency to effect leadership at the National Assembly on that day, particularly at the Senate.

Sources claimed arrangement had been made to get this done, even with a South-east senator already position as a successor-in-waiting to Saraki. Thus, the police invitation a day before was not an accident. Although both the police and the presidency had denied involvement in the development, no one has yet to be sanctioned for what put Nigeria in a bad light on Tuesday.

Curiously, as the police blockade was going on at his residence, Saraki had found his way to the National Assembly chambers to preside over the day’s business. How he was able to beat the security lockdown in his house has earned him huge admiration from a majority of members of the public, who have come to admit that he is currently the best at the game of politics.

One report had it that he might have outsmarted the Police by staying away from his house the night before they came looking for him, while another narrated how he boarded a taxi in disguise to get to the National Assembly on that fateful day. As embarrassing as this ugly incident was, it seems those behind it are not remorseful. What was even more embarrassing was the denial by the police authority that it knew nothing about the shameful blockade of Saraki’s residence.

The police rather insisted it would take appropriate measures to compel the Senate president to appear before it. The Force Public Relations Officer (PRO), Jimoh Moshood, who would not confirm Saraki’s claim that he had responded to the police’s queries in writing, told journalists that the force’s earlier position on the matter subsisted.

“We have already said that police will take appropriate actions within the ambit of the law. We still stand on our earlier statement”. When asked what the police would do if Saraki failed to comply as it was over 48 hours since their ultimatum expired, he said the message was clear enough as they would “take appropriate actions within the ambit of the law”.

Saraki had stated in an earlier response on Monday that the invitation to him by the police to report to a station in Guzape over the Offa robbery investigation was “a mere afterthought, which is designed to achieve political purpose”.
He claimed he had it on good authority that the police had already decided on the suspects to arraign in court in Ilorin, Kwara State Wednesday based on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mohammed U.E., and that the turnaround to invite him was a ploy aimed at scoring cheap political points.

“I have been reliably informed that the police invitation was planned by IG as a ploy to stop an alleged plan by some senators and House of Representatives members from defecting from the All Progressives Congress (APC). It was also said if I was detained between Tuesday and Wednesday; that will abort the so-called defection plan.

“While I continue to maintain that the issue of my position on the 2019 elections is not a personal decision for me alone to make, it should be noted that all these concoctions and evil plot cannot deter me. Those behind this fresh assault will fail as I have nothing to do with the robbery incident or any criminal matter for that matter,” he said.
Saraki accused the police of corrupting and politicising the investigations into the Offa robbery incident. He added that they have turned it into an instrument for the party in power to suppress perceived opponents, witch-hunt issue for blackmailing people from freely choosing which platform on which they want to pursue their ambition and a matter for harassing the people whose exit from APC would harm the chances of the party in the forthcoming elections.
But what had looked like a “moment of madness” was halted by the intervention of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.

Malami said, “I am aware that following a request made by the police on June 13, 2018, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) of the Federation had written a legal advice dated June 22, 2018, in which he stated on page 5, paragraph (f) that For the Senate President and the Kwara State Governor, this office is unable to establish from the evidence in the interim report a nexus between the alleged offence and the suspects.”

Still, Malami’s intervention didn’t deter the IG, who sent some of his men to interrogate Saraki in his office on Thursday for over two hours. Reports thereafter stated that Saraki had maintained his argument and maintained his innocence. But of course, observers hold the view that the IG and his ally, Jimoh, an indigene of Kwara State, who seemed to have taken the Saraki matter personally, are not likely to back off regardless until they cook up something else.

What this means in essence is that it is not yet Uhuru for the Senate President as far as the police is concerned as it appears that the IG has a personal animosity with Saraki, a situation that is buoyed by Jimoh’s evident but understandable resentment for Saraki as one who hails from Kwara, where the Sarakis hold the ace. So, it is expected that soon, the police would launch another attack on the Senate president and those who sympathise with him.

The picture presented in the run-up to 2019 is not a pleasant sight to behold. The fact that some of the events sculpting the path to 2019 appear to share closely with those that designed the fate of the 2015 elections raise genuine concerns about the political leadership and their blindness to the common lessons of history, particularly recent past political trajectory.

It may be correct, therefore, to say that 2019 is not going to happen with a distinctive character trait. The signs are too evident to say otherwise. How the Nigerian leadership travels the same route time and time again without any restraint or exhibition of ingenuity in the treatment of familiar issues is baffling let alone a leadership that may be totally unaware of happenings around it.

The fear that currently grips events and exercised by a majority of the people is that the president may not be aware of some of the happenings around him as well as those behind them and such is disturbing. But that is not as worrisome as the mere thought that the president might even lack the political understanding to interpret them, thus leaving the collective fate of the Nigerian people in the care of the locusts, who nurse personal agenda. With the 2019 battle now one of ego and survival, it is trite to expect that there would be more disappointing shows from all camps, such that may reduce the collective value of the Nigerian people and present her political leadership as totally inadequate to handle the menacing challenge.

The game, really, has begun in full throttle and the equations are subject to constant changes till the ship of state safely berths at the shore of 2019. It is, however, the choice of the Nigerian people to decide what they want, which in turn is expected to inform their choice of leadership in next year’s election, because ultimately they shall remain at the receiving end and therefore, must be wary of the consequences of their choice.