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Mass defection: APC IN FRESH TROUBLE

For Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the joy over victory in the 18 June Ekiti governorship election has been tempered by the gradual and dangerous decline of its fortune in the National Assembly with the defection of its members in both legislative chambers to the opposition parties. The gravity of the concern about the problem was reflected in the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari had to call the lawmakers rumoured to be contemplating joining those who have depleted the ranks of APC senators to an emergency meeting. The President, it was gathered, had told the senators that they must ensure that APC maintained its majority in the Senate even as he promised to address their concerns.

Yet, it is doubtful if the President can do anything to bring succour to the lawmakers who adjourned last week till 9 July for the Eid-el-Kabir festival with many, including Senate President Ahmad Lawan still unsure of their political future.

READ ALSO: Why I quit APC, by Senate leader, Yahaya Abdullahi

Lawan’s name was missing in the particulars of candidates certified to run in the 2023 elections published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

APC had submitted the name of the Senate president to INEC as its candidate for Yobe North District.

However, the Senator did not participate in the primary election of the candidate for the senatorial district as he was busy at the time pursuing the 2023 presidential ticket of his party. Consequently, Bashir Machina was elected the candidate for the Senatorial District.

But after he failed to clinch the presidential ticket of the APC, Lawan, who had been in the National Assembly since 1999,  had in the past few weeks attempted to snatch the ticket from Machina.

The Senate president had employed all strategies in the book, including enlisting the support of the Abdullahi Adamu-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC to get the ticket from Machina who had at every turn insisted that he was not ready to give up his mandate. Nevertheless, the Adamu-led NWC submitted Lawan’s name to INEC as its candidate for the senatorial district.

In the same boat with Yobe North was Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District where efforts of Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, to snatch the senatorial ticket from a retired Deputy Inspector General Udom Ekpoudom has also failed.

Also affected was Governor Dave Umahi who had also contested in the presidential primaries of the APC. His younger brother had contested for and won the ticket for the Ebonyi South District primary election of the party while the governor was busy fighting for the APC ticket.

However, after he lost in the presidential primary, the party cancelled the senatorial primary election in the Ebonyi South District. It rescheduled another one for June 9, 2022, where Umahi emerged as the winner.

Though Umahi’s younger brother has not disputed the outcome of the election,  the governor’s name was missing when INEC published the list of the successfully nominated candidates of political parties last Friday.

But as was shown when INEC published the names of the candidates, it was a futile effort for the three former APC presidential aspirants. An official of the INEC said while the APC failed to submit the names of the winners of the primaries the commission supervised, it submitted the name of candidates who cannot be accepted because they did not take part in the primaries.

Hence, there was no valid nomination from the party for the three Senatorial districts. According to INEC, accepting such candidates would amount to a violation of the 2023 Electoral Act.

It’s Adamu’s Mess

INEC sources said the next option for the two parties is to go to court.

But analysts said going by the way the court endorsed INEC’s exclusion of the party from the governorship and other elections in Rivers and Zamfara states in 2019 because of rancorous primaries, the APC might have again shot itself in the foot.

Some party members blamed the party chairman for what is already looking like a loss of the three senatorial seats by the APC long before the 2023 election.

They noted that Adamu, for instance, had threatened Machina with severe sanctions if he refused to surrender his ticket to Lawan.

Adamu had claimed that the party was supreme and as such, can give its ticket to anybody for any election. He had also not managed the bid to substitute the candidates for Akpabio and Umahi very well, party sources said.

Greedy Governors

However, the biggest problem facing the APC, as was shown since the resumption of the National Assembly after the party primaries was the gradual erosion of its strength in both chambers of the National Assembly.

The series of defections has reduced the number of APC senators to 66. The parties represented in the Senate now have 43 members. There are speculations that between 18 and 22 other Senators of APC may jump ship to the opposition parties in the next few weeks.

The situation is the same in the House of Representatives where some of the over 50 per cent of the lawmakers who failed to get return tickets have been informing the leadership of the Green Chamber of their defection to other parties where they will contest in the 2023 election.

Yet, analysts said the APC is only reaping from the impunity that characterised primaries in which Adamu himself was a major player alongside the governors. Adamu as the chairman of the APC Reconciliation Committee had sanctioned the takeover of structures of APC across the states by the governors.

As APC chairman, he has also not demonstrated willingness to confront the governors, especially as they hijacked the structure of the party for their benefit and that of their cronies during the primaries of the party across the country.

The consequence was that the governors and other influential party chieftains in states where APC was not in power were able to hijack the tickets of the party for various positions for themselves and their cronies.

While most of the outgoing governors were successful in ensuring the emergence of their favourites as the gubernatorial candidates of their parties, they also snatched tickets of members of the National Assembly members either for themselves or their cronies.

Aggrieved APC lawmakers

Thus, most of the senators and members of the House of Representatives defecting from APC and to a lesser extent, PDP to the other parties are those who lost their tickets to machinations of their state governors or other chieftains of the party with the support of the Adamu-led NWC.

For example, the former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, with the support of Adamu-led APC NWC, was able to snatch the ticket for Edo Senatorial ticket from Francis Alimikhena who is one of the senators who have now left the party.

Alimikhena has now got the ticket of the PDP and will be contesting the senatorial district election alongside Oshiomhole in 2023.

In Niger State, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello snatched the ticket for the North senatorial from the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Abdullahi Sabi Aliyu for himself.

Aliyu had rejected the outcome of the primary, describing it as a complete violation of the guidelines and procedures for the conduct of the party primaries and the electoral act 2022 and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in a five-page letter of petition, personally signed by himself and addressed to the Chairman, APC Legislative Election Appeal Committee for Niger North Senatorial District.

According to him, the primary election was nothing but “inglorious and shameful charade”, all in the bid to force a sitting governor on the people as their senator. He accused the APC Primary Election Committee for Niger State, Dr Ray Murphy of allowing the use of fake and compromised delegates for the election.

But his protest fell on deaf ears. Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi was among the first lawmakers to announce their defection after the resumption of the National Assembly. Abdullahi had contested for the governorship ticket of Kebbi APC but failed to get a single vote against the National President of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Dr Nasiru Idris.

But the Senator representing Kebbi North had blamed his loss of the ticket on manipulation of the process by Governor Atiku Abubakar. “Yes, I have left the APC due to injustice by the Kebbi State governor. It is not just injustice; it’s a serial denial of rights and undemocratic rights which we reported to the party for more than 11 months. Nobody did anything about the manner the governor handles the party affairs in the state; imposing candidates and doing whatever he wants,” said the Senator.

He also accused the Adamu-led APC NWC of inaction: “The national headquarters of the party failed to bring order. We cannot just sit down and mortgage our own political career to the whims and caprices of one man. We thought the best thing is to leave the party.”

But he was not alone. Senator Adamu Aliero, a former governor of the state who has been representing Kebbi Central has also decamped from APC along with those sympathetic to his cause after he lost the primary for the Kebbi Central Senatorial ticket.

The decampees include three members of the House of Representatives: Bello Yakubu Relisco, representing Birnin Kebbi, Kalgo and Bunza Federal Constituency; Muhammad Umar Jega, representing Gwandu and Jega Federal Constituency; and Abdullahi Zumbo, representing Dandi and Arewa Federal Constituency. 

Aliero, it was learnt, was angry that the Kebbi State governor failed to respect the gentleman’s agreement that he would produce Bagudu’s successor in return for surrendering his senatorial ticket to the governor.

In a statement, Aliero said he and his supporters moved because the governor was getting “away with the fraudulent activity of compiling a list of delegates for the recently conducted congresses and national convention.”

Aliero and Abdullahi repeated these claims in their separate letters of resignation from APC to the Senate. Aliero, in his letter, said he decided to abandon the APC because Governor Bagudu has bastardized “the party and electoral processes in the state which are now characterised by high-handedness and unfairness.”

On his part, Abdullahi, traced the trouble in Kebbi APC to last July “when the governor illegally decapitated the state leadership of the party, imposed unelected ward, local government and state executives of the party.” The former Senate majority leader added that “having failed to get justice in my former Party, the APC, I have jumped ship to the PDP together with our teeming supporters in a struggle to democratically bring to an end the misrule and tyranny currently gripping Kebbi State”.

However in Plateau, the process of snatching the APC ticket for the Southern senatorial district of the state was smooth for Governor Simon Lalong as the incumbent, Prof. Nora Dadu’ut had long indicated that he would not be seeking a second term.

In Ogun, associates and friends of Governor Dapo Abiodun who is now firmly in control of the state chapter of the APC kicked out loyalists of his predecessor, Ibikunle Amosun in the battle for the party’s ticket.

For example, former governor Gbenga Daniel won the ticket for the Ogun East Senatorial ticket to defeat the incumbent Senator Lekan Mustapha, who polled 29 votes.

Also, the Chief of Staff to Governor Dapo Abiodun, Shuaib Salisu won the ticket for Ogun Central Senatorial, excluding the incumbent former Governor Amosun from the next election. In the same vein, Lagos West Senator, Olamilekan Adeola, won the Ogun West Senatorial ticket of the APC. Adeola, polling 294 votes to defeat the incumbent senator, Tolu Odebiyi, a loyalist of Amosun who scored no vote.

In Kano, Ibrahim Shekarau, the Kano Central Senator had earlier defected from the APC to NNPP following the hijack of the APC structure by Governor Abdullahi Ganduje. With his exit,  the APC ticket for Kano Central has gone to  Abdulsalam Zaura, a loyalist of Ganduje.

Shekarau who currently represent Kano Central in the Senate has had many of his associates in the state House of Assembly and House of Representatives defecting to the NNPP from the APC.  The mass defection from APC to NNPP which has a former governor of the state, Rabiu Kwankwaso as its presidential candidate has led to fears that the ruling party may not be able to retain the most populated in the country in 2023. Also, in the South-West APC, four members of the House of Representatives and a senator lost in the primaries to people believed to be close to Governor Kayode Fayemi.

For example, the APC senator representing Ekiti North Senatorial District, Olubunmi Adetumbi,  was defeated by Cyril Fasuyi, who led the party’s campaign for the June 18 governorship election.

In the same vein, Peter Owolabi representing Ekiti North Federal Constituency 1 lost his ticket to Akin Rotimi, a former senior special assistant on strategic communications to the state Governor Kayode Fayemi.

Furthermore, APC member of the House Representatives representing Gusau/Tsafe Constituency of Zamfara, Kabiru Ahmed lost the ticket to Alhaji Sanusi Garba Rikiji, a close associate of Governor Bello Mattawale.

Ahmed has defected to the PDP, where he was given the ticket to re-contest the seat. The lawmaker said he was cheated by the leadership of his former party, hence, he decided to further his political interest elsewhere.

Similarly, Ahmed Fulani lost his rep ticket to  Zubairu Abdulmalik, an associate of former governor of the state, Abdul Aziz Yari. He defected to the PDP where he would contest the 2023. Ironically, the lawmakers had defected with Governor Matawalle to the APC last year. They have now returned to their former party.

While some of the lawmakers had chosen to remain in the party despite the perceived injustices done to them, others have jumped ship. There are also fears that even the aggrieved lawmakers who choose to remain may no longer be loyal to the APC. This is in addition to the possibility of their working against the party in the 2023 election.    

Adamu Worried, But Clueless

The party is worried about the gradual erosion of its strength in both chambers of the National Assembly.

The fear is that the party will certainly lose its majority thus making it difficult for it to push its agenda through the legislature for the remaining months of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure.

Such mass defection may also be detrimental to APC’s quest to win the 2023 election.

The danger the defections pose to the APC as the ruling party and its 2023 ambitions was reflected in the worried look of Adamu when he addressed journalists after meeting with senators at the National Assembly last Wednesday.

“The issue of defection is an unfortunate development when it happens but this is a season where there is all sort of behaviours in the political space and ours is not an exception,” Adamu told journalists after the closed-door meeting with the lawmakers.

“In every election year, this kind of thing gives cause for stakeholders to sneeze and Nigeria is no exception so is the APC, no exception. I don’t care about what is happening in other parties, my focus is on the APC.

“But we all know that the occurrence is not only happening in the APC, but it’s also happening across other political parties too. And because we are the ruling party, our problems are exaggerated before the public,” Adamu who added that he doesn’t know if the problem of defection would persist in the party said.

“There is no responsible leader that would not be worried when he loses one member not to talk of two. At the moment we are faced with the stark reality of our problems. I have committed my colleagues at the National Assembly to face the problem squarely and see the problem as solvable. We are in politics, I don’t know what would happen tomorrow, nobody does,” he concluded.

While Adamu may be clueless on how to tackle the growing disaffection, it was gathered that the party’s presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu had opened talks with some of the lawmakers to convince them to stay on. This, according to sources, was in realisation of the potential danger of mass dumping of APC to his 2023 ambition.