Beckoning 2019: Boycott and defections

Not long ago, PDP foolishly threatened to boycott the 2019 general election. The carpet-crossing episode has raised PDP’s hope of returning to power in 2019

Duro Onabule

As history of defection of politicians from one party to another goes in Nigeria, the latest carpet-crossing by members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) falls short of the standard impact of the past. The record was set in the defunct Western Region at Ibadan in 1952 when Nnamdi Azikiwe’s NCNC was left stranded as Action Group formed the government. Ten years later (1962), in the midst of the Action Group crisis in the same Western Region, the erstwhile ruling party (Action Group) lost many of its elected members of the House Assembly to Chief S.L. Akintola’s newly-formed United People’s Party (UPP).

Still in coalition with opposition NCNC, Chief Akintola’s government was so fragile that he soon virtually consumed almost all of NCNC’s members in the House of Assembly to form another new ruling party, Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). Only one NCNC member of the House of Assembly, Chief Richard Akinyemi, refused to cross the carpet.

In 2014, the determination was not just to dislodge former President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP from office but more notably to return the presidency to the North, in view of the allegation that Jonathan breached a 2011 gentlemen’s agreement to that effect. When the political blow of the carpet-crossers landed, it was fatal for both former President Jonathan and the PDP. The party’s major support base, the North, fell like autumn leaves to the newly-formed APC.

Compared to the usually seismic effect of carpet-crossing in the past, the latest from APC to PDP has not been as widespread or earth-shaking, despite the preceding media hype. Fourteen senators and 36 House of Representatives members. Even among the 14, a senator has since recanted. Little wonder that both party chairman Adams Oshiomole and President Muhammadu Buhari dismissed the carpet- crossers with contempt. Buhari wished them well while chairman Oshiomhole assessed them as mercenaries. Overconfidence? That clearly applies to both sides. Even if all APC senators joined PDP, there could also be voters’ backlash, as most of the senators got elected on the Buhari/APC bandwagon. Inevitably, other senators, admittedly well known, were elected on their personal merit. Can such merit aggregately cost Buhari the presidency? Very doubtful.

While the carpet-crossing from APC to PDP was on-going, a resident of Gombe in Gombe State sent the following text: “Our decision as of today is that if Baba Buhari will gather us and tell us that we should not vote for him because he will not vote for himself, we will still vote for him.”

READ ALSO: The scattering of the brooms

Are there National Assembly members from Gombe State contemplating crossing the carpet to PDP? That Gombe resident represents ordinary voters up country, the real electorate who turn out on election day to discharge their obligation.

Incidentally, no matter the criticism of the carpet-crossers (from APC to PDP), we must recognise their guts in standing out to, as we say down South, own up to their respective father’s name. For once, they are contesting next elections on the platform of PDP rather than APC once again only to cross to PDP or resume their anti-party activities.

Furthermore, does APC deserve any sympathy for being hit by carpet-crossers? APC deserves no sympathy. The party was continuously warned many times in this column not to embrace carpet-crossers from PDP. The warning was ignored. It is, therefore, amusing that APC majority leader in the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, now cites a Supreme Court judgement, which unseated a certain former House of Representative member Abegunle, who crossed the carpet from Labour Party. In their so-called 8th Assembly, the APC admitted carpet-crossers from PDP without qualms. Supreme Court authority must apply against PDP carpet-crossers as well as APC carpet-crossers.

Whether APC likes it or not, those among its members in the National Assembly who crossed the carpet to PDP are gone for good. The carpet-crossers merely ridiculed the APC all along. Otherwise, were they ever members of the APC? If they ever were, then they quit APC on the very first day National Assembly elected its leaders when the carpet-crossers (from APC) openly conspired with their supposed PDP rivals as they ridiculed (APC) national leadership to disregard the party’s preferred list for National Assembly leadership. After that episode, who among the carpet-crossers could be regarded as party member, let alone loyalist?

READ ALSO: APC won’t negotiate with political machinery – Oshiomhole

In reacting to the carpet-crossing, both President Buhari and chairman Oshiomole might appear defiant and hawkish. Did they have any other choice? The flagrant disregard of the party’s preferred list for National Assembly leadership was bad enough. Even if that was overlooked, how about the consequent abuse of those positions? Delay in passing annual budget, padding of budget, withholding of confirmation of nominees of the Presidency, the constant threat of impeaching the President, illegal amendment of the Electoral Act with the aim of manipulating the general election, transformation of National Assembly into a virtual sovereign arm of government to usurp or at least rival the Presidency in the administration of the country?

The APC leadership should, therefore, consider it a great relief that the carpet-crossers voluntarily quit the party. With the series of the subversive activities of the carpet-crossers since the APC assumed power in 2015, it would be politically suicidal of the party leadership to engage in any talk(s) of readmitting them. They should be free to seek re-election on the new party of their choice. The APC should rather take solace in Obafemi Awolowo’s immortal words that “whatever happens to a man is for his own good.”

On its part, the PDP should count itself lucky that the carpet-crossers from APC saved the party (PDP) from certain electoral disaster in 2019. Not long ago, PDP foolishly threatened to boycott the 2019 general election. Obviously, the carpet-crossing episode has raised PDP’s hope of returning to power in 2019. Such a prospect is not the issue. Otherwise, if the PDP had gone ahead with the boycott, APC would have won all elections throughout the country and the heavens would not fall. There is no electoral regulation anywhere in the world with provision for boycott. Such illusion of election boycott was shattered after the 1964 federal elections boycotted by the NCNC/ AG alliance under the banner of United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). The rival NPC/NNDP alliance won all the seats in the North and Western regions. Indeed, Chief T.O.S. Benson, who contested as an independent candidate attracted barely 500 votes. An election petition against the polls was dismissed on the ground that the electoral law did not recognise boycott.

And early this year, a Kenyan election petition tribunal similarly ruled that there was no provision for election boycott. An election petition tribunal had earlier nullified the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta on grounds of irregularities.

With the electoral culture in Africa guaranteeing victory for the candidate of the majority tribe, it was obvious that if the Kenyan elections were held 10 times over, Uhuru Kenyatta of majority Kikuyu tribe would always defeat his rival Raila Odinga of the Luo tribe.

Faced with that sure defeat, opposition leader Odinga boycotted the presidential re-run election, again on the ground of irregularities. Odinga lost the re-run election as the tribunal did not recognise boycott. That would have been PDP’s political misfortune had the party carried out its boycott threat.

READ ALSO: The Kenyatta-Odinga rapprochement

Despite the “free for all” aspect of the recent carpet-crossing episode, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s party, the ADC, could attract only four members of the House of Representatives. The party never took off and will still not take off at the 2019 elections. That was the message collected from the out-going members of the National Assembly.

Significantly, not a single senator from the South-South crossed the carpet from APC to PDP. Also, no House of Representatives member from the South-East joined in crossing the carpet from APC to PDP. Sign of prospects in the 2019 elections?

The police and EFCC are two law enforcement agencies that already caused Buhari avoidable image problems. Police handling of killings in the Middle Belt, especially in Plateau, Benue, Adamawa and Taraba, cost Buhari much popularity. And that was despite Buhari’s marching orders to the police hierarchy to halt the killings. Police authorities have behaved to type by choosing the eve of the carpet-crossing (of APC members) to remember that a key actor in the drama, Senate President Saraki, must come to clarify aspects of his statement on allegations against him by suspects in the Offa robbery/murder investigation. And the threat to employ all lawful means to ensure Saraki complied with the summon issued against him?

The EFCC is not better. This was the agency responsible for allegations of one-sidedness against Buhari in the fight against corruption. Yet, the same EFCC chose the early hours of the day
of carpet-crossing to unleash its (EFCC) operatives around the house of Deputy Senate President Ekwerenmadu for alleged money laundering. Why was the EFCC not bothered about the Deputy Senate President all along?

A senator was conspicuously missing from the list of carpet-crossers. In the very early days of the APC administration, Ali Nduma (ever snow-white) would have numbered among the first three.

He played a major role in the clandestine election of National Assembly leaders and was compensated with leadership of the Senate, instead of the party’s choice Ahmed Lawan. Ndume soon emerged
as a novice in political battles. He was returning from mid-day prayers when National Assembly correspondents confronted him with the fact that he had been rather discourteously sacked as Senate Leader. He could hardly believe it. Salt was further robbed into Ndume’s wounds when he was suspended for six months for daring to draw attention of the Senate to a newspaper’s report on the Senate leadership. At that stage, Ndume successfully quashed his suspension, which he challenged in a law court. Ndume was replaced with the party’s original choice as Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan.

In the recent carpet-crossing, Lawan, was ridiculously apologetic, and pleaded for reconciliation. Wherever was he on the many occasions of threats to impeach Buhari, or delay in passing budget, etc?

Even though official figure of the carpet-crossers is given as 14. Senate President Saraki has never hidden the fact that he is gone. Neither has Shehu Sani also hidden the fact that it is too late to be reconciled. He said that much on Channels Television. The number of the exciters should, therefore, be 16 senators.