Defection, Counter-defection & Imminent Re-drawing of South-south Political Map


    Tunde Rahman

    Carpet-crossing, decampment, defection or whatever name it is couched has been part of our body politic for such a long time that its end is hardly conceivable. In plain language, it connotes the repudiation of a political platform one had earlier espoused and embraced and, in some cases, through which one had been elected into a particular public office, and the joining of another one. Notwithstanding this seemingly negative attribute, defection may not necessarily be a bad thing. It may even be done for good. A defector, for instance, may have suddenly realised he had all along belonged in the wrong group or realised the association he once promoted or identified with may have dumped those fine ideals it once professed. What is appalling about abdicating one party for another is the way and manner the action is often undertaken in our clime, bereft of any altruistic underpinning. The comportment of some defectors and the end defection is designed to serve are even more dismaying.

    A few analysts have attempted a comparison of some defections recently witnessed in the country when some 14 or so Senators left the governing APC for mostly opposition PDP and a flurry other defections followed. After the14 Senators announced on the floor of the Senate they were moving out of APC, Senate President Bukola Saraki, known to be APC only in name since he fraudulently ascended the Senate leadership position, expectedly joined them. In the days that followed, however, Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who is former governor of Akwa Ibom State, also sensationally defected from PDP into APC.

    Now, it has been argued that Akpabio’s singular defection embodies a higher political credence than that those of Senate President Saraki and the other Senators combined. His defection is something that would pass for a counter attack in the game of football. Akpabio’s move is a big blow to the PDP; it’s akin to a dagger in the heart of the opposition party. The PDP got 14 Senators including Saraki whose grip on the Senate presidency has become weak and rickety, the APC in return grabbed the Minority Leader, the PDP Leader in the Senate, and with that, also symbolically won the control of perhaps not only the Akwa Ibom home-state of former governor Akpabio and the entire South-South. This is why it seems so. Akpabio is that highly regarded political leader in the South-South geo-political zone with a crushing grip on the politics of Akwa Ibom State where he erected most of the key infrastructure on parade today and successfully installed his erstwhile Secretary to the State Government Udom Emmanuel as governor in 2015, at the expiration of his own tenure. His defection has given the APC a huge inroad into the South-South where the party seems non-existent, signalling an imminent change in the power configuration in that geo-political zone.

    Akpabio’s defection is also remarkable in one other important way. Upon his decision to defect, the former governor wrote a letter to the Senate and the PDP caucus in the Chamber, relinquishing his position as Minority Leader, taking the path of honour and by so doing demonstrating to the other defectors the respectable way to handle such a situation. This, in my view, represents a new high in the matter of defection. It is perhaps due to his bewildering political influence and the noble way he went about his defection that the APC National Chairman Comrade Adams Oshiomhole labelled Akpabio an uncommon defector. Akpabio’s act would pile more pressure on some of the defectors particularly Senate President Saraki who left the APC but has stubbornly refused and in fact has been engaging in all kinds of subterfuge to not relinquish the office he obtained on the APC platform. Not surrendering a crown or an office acquired through an earlier association with a party whose membership one has now repudiated, in my view, raises a huge moral issue and remains a moral burden on the occupant of such an office. For how long will such defectors, for how long will Saraki for whom such moral issue holds no importance, hold on in that office? Time will tell.

    But beyond the apt lessons in defections, Akpabio’s declaration for APC last Wednesday at the township Stadium in Ikot Ekpene, his hometown, was exciting. The crowd was massive. The rally was grand. Dignitaries thronged the occasion in their hundreds. There were also great speeches. In attendance among others were the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha who represented Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, APC National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Comrade Oshiomhole, Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki, Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan and some other distinguished Senators as well as Ministers and other top government functionaries.

    At the rally, Osinbajo declared that treasury looters would no longer be allowed to return to power. Asiwaju Tinubu took a swipe at former President Olusegun Obasanjo for kicking against President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, alleging that Obasanjo was part of the PDP that ran the country for 16 years without results. Energetic Comrade Oshiomhole pronounced Akpabio the new leader of APC in Akwa Ibom State, stating that Akwa Ibom people were united that in 2019, under the leadership and guidance of Akpabio, the state would join the “states of progressive governance”. On the defection and Akpabio’s honourable act, Oshiomhole said: “What other people are afraid to do, Akpabio did it after deep reflection. He listened to the yearnings of his people, by sacrificing the title of Minority Leader of the Senate, to join the APC. Akpabio did what Senator Bukola Saraki is unable to do and he has shown that the people of the South-south zone can be different, where it matters. We can stand up and be counted.”

    He added:”I know that with your membership of our great party (APC), we will benefit from your uncommon transformation qualities you demonstrated while you were the governor of this state. You are an uncommon defector.

    There are ordinary defectors, who want to move, but they want to steal the crown. We have an uncommon rally in Ikot Ekpene”. Responding, Akpabio said he decided to join the APC “in the national interest” and to support President Buhari whom he described as a man of integrity and a nationalist. “I decided to join the APC at this time because I am a nationalist. In times like this, everybody should support to bring peace to our dear nation; to stop the killings and ensure employment of our teeming youths. With my declaration, uncommon change has come to Akwa Ibom. We believe that the South-south cannot stand alone on its own. We need to collaborate with others. I consulted. What I have done today is to take the people of the South-south to the centre.”

    But the move that culminated in Akpabio’s final decision to cross over to APC did not come from the blues. It was a properly coordinated affair, apparently initiated by the APC National Leader Tinubu who was engaged for many months in series of meetings and discussions in Lagos and Abuja with the former governor. When the deal was finally consummated and he was set to declare for APC, former governor Akpabio headed for London to meet President Buhari who was then holidaying in the United Kingdom. He later returned to Abuja for further deliberations with Asiwaju Tinubu ahead of his declaration. This was barely three days to the declaration rally in Ikot Ekpene. Confirming the eventual success of the initiative Asiwaju started, Akpabio reportedly told the APC leader, as he sat down in audience with him at his Abuja office that he was “back for final consultation and meeting where it all began.” And without being asked to do so, those around them in that office immediately began clicking their cameras and positioning their mobile phones to take the momentous photographs.

    –––Rahman, former Editor THISDAY on Sunday, is Media Adviser to Asiwaju Tinubu.