*Tambuwal, 23 lawmakers to defect in Sokoto Wednesday

*Fifth columnists forced me out, says Senate president

*Abdullahi: I’m still in the party

Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) continued to stew in crisis Tuesday as Senate President Bukola Saraki, Kwara State Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed and Nigeria’s Ambassador to South Africa, Alhaji Ahmed Ibeto, finally left the party and returned to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Saraki’s defection ended weeks of speculations about his political future even as leaders of the APC, including President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, redoubled efforts to persuade him to stay back in the party he helped to form in 2013.

But the Senate president, who first announced his exit on his Twitter handle, followed by a statement signed by him, said their interventions came a little too late, explaining that fifth columnist had done too much damage before they stepped in.

But in an ironic twist, the APC rose from its National Working Committee (NWC) meeting Tuesday night, issuing a query to the departed Saraki on alleged anti-party activities.

“We told you these people are irredeemable jokers,” a Saraki supporter said to THISDAY Tuesday night, “They are querying someone who is no longer under their control.”

The party may issue more queries as the Sokoto State Governor, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, too moves over to the PDP Wednesday in Sokoto.

A reliable source said he would be doing so with 23 of the 30 members of state House of Assembly.

Ahmed was the first to opt out through a statement by his media aide, Dr. Muideen Akorede, in the afternoon in Ilorin, saying that his people’s aspirations and expectations were no longer realisable in the APC.

Saraki in a lengthy 20-paragraph statement said he was forced out of the party by fifth columnists.

According to him, some national leaders of APC who were opposed to resolving the crisis within the party through dialogue served as fifth columnists which led to his leaving the party eventually.

His words: “There are some people in the party leadership hierarchy, who did not think dialogue was the way forward and therefore chose to play the fifth columnists. These individuals went to work and ensured that they scuttled the great efforts and the good intentions of other leaders of the party. Perhaps, had these divisive forces not thrown the cogs in the wheel at the last minutes, and in a manner that made it impossible to sustain any trust in the process, the story today would have been different.”

Saraki said it took him a long time to quit the party, adding: “If anything at all, I have tarried for so long and did all that was humanly possible, even in the face of great provocation, ridicule and flagrant persecution, to give opportunity for peace, reconciliation and harmonious existence.

“Perhaps, more significantly, I am mindful of the fact that I carry on my shoulder a great responsibility for thousands of my supporters, political associates and friends, who have trusted in my leadership and have attached their political fortunes to mine. However, it is after an extensive consultation with all the important stakeholders that we have come to this difficult but inevitable decision to pitch our political tent elsewhere; where we could enjoy greater sense of belonging and where the interests of the greatest number of our Nigerians would be best served.”

Further justifying his defection and taking full responsibility for this decision, he emphasised that it was a decision “that has been inescapably imposed on me by certain elements and forces within the APC who have ensured that the minimum conditions for peace, cooperation, inclusion and a general sense of belonging did not exist”.

“They have done everything to ensure that the basic rules of party administration, which should promote harmonious relations among the various elements within the party were blatantly disregarded. All governance principles which were required for a healthy functioning of the party and the government were deliberately violated or undermined. And all entreaties for justice, equity and fairness as basic precondition for peace and unity, not only within the party, but also the country at large, were simply ignored, or employed as additional pretext for further exclusion,” he said.

He, however, gave kudos to both Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, for their efforts in ensuring that he remained in the party.

Saraki announced that he was returning to the PDP that he left four years ago, which has learnt from his past mistakes.

He said: “For me, I leave all that behind me. Today, I start as I return to the party where I began my political journey, the PDP. When we left the PDP to join the then nascent coalition of APC in 2014, we left in a quest for justice, equity and inclusion; the fundamental principles on which the PDP was originally built but which it had deviated from. We were attracted to the APC by its promise of change. We fought hard along with others and defeated the PDP.

“In retrospect, it is now evident that the PDP has learnt more from its defeat than the APC has learnt from its victory. The PDP that we return to is now a party that has learnt its lessons the hard way and have realized that no member of the party should be taken for granted; a party that has realised that inclusion, justice and equity are basic precondition for peace; a party that has realised that never again can the people of Nigeria be taken for granted.

“I am excited by the new efforts, which seeks to build the reborn PDP on the core principles of promoting democratic values; internal democracy; accountability; inclusion and national competitiveness; genuine commitment to restructuring and devolution of powers; and an abiding belief in zoning of political and elective offices as an inevitable strategy for managing our rich diversity as a people of one great indivisible nation called Nigeria.”

Announcing his own defection, Ahmed’s media aide said: “Following due consultations with the people, and in response to calls by major stakeholder groups in the state, Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, today defected to the PDP,” adding: “Having realised that the APC can longer serve as a platform for achieving the aspirations and expectations of his people.”