Nseobong Okon-Ekong, Segun James and Shola Oyeyipo write that a torrent crises of all shapes have shaken the All Progressives Congress to its very foundation
As the Nigerian political equation continues to tilt towards the bizarre and the unpredictable, the situation is already changing bookmakers’ permutations. The fluid state of affairs emerged from the recent defection of federal lawmakers, largely from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Though not as well celebrated a fraction also changed political affiliation to the African Democratic Congress (ADC) and the United Progressive Party (UPP).
Overwhelming details of which party now controls the majority in the Senate between the APC and PDP is expected to emerge when the lawmakers resume from break in September. By that time, many of the lawmakers who were waiting in the wings would have made good their switch; from one party to another. Then the picture will be clearer.
All the leading political parties are working hard to win over prominent figures with electoral assets. Already there are calls on Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu to vacate their seats in line with the provision of Section 50 (2) of the Nigerian Constitution, which stipulates that “The President or Deputy President of the Senate or the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall vacate his office: (a) If he ceases to be a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, as the case maybe, otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of the Senate or the House of Representatives; or (b) When the House of which he was a member first sits after any dissolution of that House; or (c) If removed from office by a resolution of the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the members of the House.”
Feelers from the Saraki camp indicate that the Senate President will not quit his position. To them, defecting to another party is not one of the ways a Senate President could lose his position. So, their calculation is that he would retain his seat until June 2019 when the ninth Senate would elect its presiding officer and new principal officers.
The power play between the ruling party and the main opposition will continue to intensify because whatever Saraki and his allies are banking on, members of the APC too a game plan that they are keeping close to their chest. Already, the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives had claimed that there was a secret plot by some Senators led by Senator Ali Ndume, Senator Adamu Abdullahi and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, to illegally impeach the Senate President.
It is not clear on what ground that would be but prominent Lagos lawyers, including Mr. Yinka Farounbi, Mr. Akinwale Ojo and Mr. Onyekachi Ubani, in separate chats with THISDAY, agreed that the proviso attached to section 68(1)(g) is equipped with a way out for those jumping from a party to another.
Section 68(1)(g) of the 1998 Nigerian constitution (as amended) stipulates that if someone whose election was sponsored by a political party becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected, such person should vacate his seat.
But the proviso attached to the subsection, states that, “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.” The prerequisite has remained a cover for defecting lawmakers.
For instance, in the case of Hon. Ifedayo Abegunde, the Supreme Court decided that there was no crisis in the Labour Party and he had to lose his seat. The clear segregation within the APC led to schism at the national level. Many defecting members are counting on this as a covering should their action be challenged in court by their parties.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Yinka Farounbi, is of the opinion that politicians will continue to have their way cross carpeting and not getting punished as long as the constitution remains as it is.
“The constitution says if you cross carpet your seat must be declared vacant. The same constitution gave conditions under which they can cross carpet and there will be no sanction. The fundamental thing question is the ability to prove that there is crisis within the party. All of them have been citing one crisis or the other and if you look at it, there is no way they will not be covered by those crises.
To many keen watchers of the polity, the APC lacked the needed cohesion to form a strong political party from the onset. It was a hurriedly concocted arrangement targeted mainly at ousting former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Different gladiators, who were propelled by various ambitions, shelved their differences to achieve their ultimately aim to wrest power from the PDP on the APC platform, which they succeeded at achieving. But problems quickly set in when time came to share the profit of their political adventure.
Since 2015 when APC, which is a merger of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a part of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), took over governance at the centre, the power play between the Buhari, Tinubu, Kwankwaso and the Saraki blocs has been very fierce.
What could initially be termed as pockets of rebellious actions assumed open and conventional dimension when Saraki claimed the Senate President position against the aspirations of some elements in the APC.
While the likes former Lagos State governor and National Leader of the APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu were seen to have been edged out of the scheme of things, particularly with him and the former National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun at each others throat, Saraki attributed his trial at Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and the recent attempt to link him to the Offa robbery to “political persecution,” former Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who was the runer-up to President Buhari during the party’s presidential primary had a tough time in the party.
These strong undercurrents of resentment found a platform for expression when after several postponements, the APC finally went for its congresses. That was when it became that it was not well with the party in many states. In, at least, 24 states, including states like Lagos where it was hitherto believed that Tinubu authoritative influence kept everyone in check, showed signs of widening crack. Those who lost out refused to be pacified. The party was in this fractured state when it went to its national convention in Abuja. Of course, the tell-tale signs breakup was everywhere-fisticuffs, rowdiness and dissent.
Outwardly, there was a semblance of settlement as many erstwhile contenders stepped down for a consensus arrangement that prevailed all the way up to the office of the National Chairman, which was won by former Governor of Edo State Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. This appeared to be the final straw.
To perfect the defection of other political office holders, it must be established that there is crisis in the ruling APC and that was the gambit by Benue State, Samuel Ortom when he declared for the PDP.
The floodgate of defection that hit the ruling party has claimed the likes of Senate President Saraki and that of the Governors of Sokoto, Aminu Tambuwal and Kwara State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed.
President Muhammadu Buhari, through his spokesperson, Femi Adesina,
quickly dissociated himself from any role in the widely condemned plot by minority APC lawmakers in Benue State to remove Governor Samuel Ortom.
Twenty-two of the 30-member Benue State House of Assembly are of the PDP, but the indication that the ruling is fighting back was when some eight members out the 30 member Benue State House of Assembly, in a brazen move, stormed the chambers assembly complex, allegedly in connivance with the police, in an attempt to impeach Governor Ortom after he defected from the APC.
Explaining why he opted to defect for the PDP Ortom said: “I had issues with the leader of the APC in Benue State and while the national leadership of the party was trying to resolve it, the party in the state embarked on aggressive campaign of calumny against me.” The issues are surely more than that.
The incessant and unmitigated killings of Benue citizens, which pitched the governor against the presidency was part of his displeasures. In fact, at a point he said there will be no campaign for the 2019 elections in the state if there is no solution to the clashes between herdsmen and farmers. He was also disgruntled that while he invited President Buhari to console the people of Benue over the killings and destruction of their property, the president did not honour the invitation.
Governor Ortom announced his exit from the APC on July 25, the day he was due to meet with the leadership of the ruling party in Abuja over the crisis in the Benue chapter of the party. A week later, Governor Ahmed announced his defection to the same PDP and he left with practically all political office holders in the state.
After that, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal became the third APC governor to exit the party after his Benue and Kwara state counterparts. There are feelers that more governors may still be leaving the ruling party.
In Imo State, it was a different ball game. During the time of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun as chairman of the APC, the state governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha had lost out in the political game in the party. The party leadership had recognised the faction of the party loyal to the deputy governor. Governor Okorocha was left in the cold.
But not surprisingly, after Mr. Adams Oshiomhole became the party’s national chairman, the table turned with Okorocha bouncing back and wresting the party’s system from his deputy. Angry at his deputy’s disloyalty, Okorocha instigated members of the State House of Assembly to start impeachment moves against the deputy governor. This move has however been halted by the court.