Gale of defections, exuberant APC and worried PDP
BY ADEKUNLE ADE-ADELEYE
When two-term governor of Ebonyi State David Umahi defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in November 2020, the opposition PDP was unaccustomed to being spurned, let alone be capable of expressing the pain of rejection. On Thursday, the party suffered a similar blow when Cross River State governor Ben Ayade, another two-term PDP governor, defected to the ruling APC. He took along with him half of the state’s lawmakers. Again, the scorned opposition has kept a brave, quizzical face. Last year, responding to Mr Umahi’s defection, the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman, Walid Jubrin, had counseled his party to try to assuage feuding party leaders. Discussions, he admonished, would not hurt anyone. He has not yet spoken about the new blow, nor is it clear that PDP leaders and party chairman Uche Secondus have learnt anything from what is rising to be a gale.
Neither Mr Umahi nor Professor Ayade defected without first exhibiting their frustrations with their party. Whether those frustrations were tangible enough to trigger defection is not clear. But because they are both two-term governors, it is suspected that their decisions were probably prompted by post-2023 politics. As governors, they automatically become valuable to the APC, especially on account of the strong-arm politics Nigerians play during elections. By extrapolation, and regardless of their indifference to their losses, the PDP will be right to suspect that the defections of two governors would either complicate or weaken their chances in the next elections, particularly at the state level. But for the defectors to become assets on the scale envisaged by the APC, the ruling party will have to dexterously manage the complications certain to be introduced into the politics of their state chapters.
Last year, Sen Jubrin expressed some optimism about the fortunes of the PDP, notwithstanding the defection of Mr Umahi. He had said: “Today, the entire South-south zone belongs to the PDP. We are happy about it. In the same way, we must ensure that we do all that is necessary to listen to the Igbo and discuss with them as a family. It is not politically right to keep quiet, while other political parties are making overtures to them. They are humans and have interest to protect.” If he feared that the Ebonyi setback would be replicated less than a year later, he did not betray it. It was sufficient that he basked in the euphoria of keeping the entire South-South homogenously PDP. But the reasons given by Mr Umahi for his defection should have alarmed the party, particularly because no one could make head or tail of his arguments. It was like clutching at a straw, any straw. For a party that had done so well for Mr Umahi, it is hard to justify his complaints.
Mr Umahi rationalised his defection with circumlocutionary glee: “I want to clear the air that I never sought (for) PDP presidential ticket and I will not. So whoever said that I moved to APC because they refused to zone the ticket to me is being very mischievous. Even if PDP promises somebody presidential ticket how does it work where over 8000 delegates will be voting?…There are a lot of qualified persons from Southeast. Some people say I was promised lots of things by the APC, there was no such discussion. APC never promised me any position; they never promised Southeast any position. However, I (use) this defection as a protest to injustice being done to Southeast by the PDP … It is absurd that since 1999 going to 2023, the Southeast will never be considered to run for presidency under the PDP.”
Prof Ayade’s defection also came with circumlocutionary ease. He claims that his state has been “reduced to want in body, spirit and in soul, and a state whose revenue and resources had been taken … and territorial boundaries … tampered with.” Then he argues that it is his “responsibility to re-link Cross River State to the centre.” Finally, leaving his audience flummoxed, he adds the clincher: “Having seen the commitment and the sincerity of Mr. President; having seen the progress made so far and the tension created by social media manipulation; and having recognised the issues and challenges in the state and nation; it is my responsibility as the leader of the people in Cross River State, to do the needful, to assist Mr. President to succeed.” It is pointless interrogating Mr Umahi’s excuses and Prof Ayade’s angst. They wanted a new political husband; now they have him. Let them enjoy their romp.
Their problem, it seems, is their former husband, the PDP. At the moment, the opposition party is virtually leaderless, and whatever goes for its ideology remains indistinguishable from that of the APC. Lacking in charisma, seduced by querulous governors like Rivers State’s Nyesom Wike, abandoned by its former presidential candidate Abubakar Atiku, unable to come to terms with its loss in the last presidential election, and chary of embarking on the soul-searching and purges needed to remould the party and ready it for the next elections, it is not surprising that some of its leading lights are jumping ship and clambering onto the decks of the equally decrepit APC ship whose tattered sail cannot fetch any wind. Perhaps next year the PDP will snap awake and hope that the talisman with which it mesmerized the electorate back in the day would prove potent again against the clumsy foot-dragging and ebbing legitimacy of the APC.
Three quick takes. President Muhammadu Buhari has written to the National Assembly to ask for their approval for a $6.18bn (N2.3trn) loan to finance part of the N5.6trn 2021 budget deficit. They will oblige him; for apart from being supinely acquiescent to his wishes, by assenting the 2021 budget months ago, they also invariably committed themselves to whatever plans the government will propose to finance the deficit. By January 2021, Nigeria already owed close to $32bn, much of it procured in less than 15 years, with the current administration relying virtually on dizzying amount of loans to work its razzmatazz. They do not think of any other way to achieve anything except by loans, and they justify its ratio as a percentage of GDP as well as ignore every argument against what is building up into debt peonage. This burdensome point was roughly where Nigeria was in 2005 when ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo secured $18bn debt relief for the country.
Last Wednesday, the Senate began considering a bill to criminalise payment and receipt of ransom for the release of anyone abducted or kidnapped, imprisoned, and wrongfully confined. Sponsored by Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi, the bill seeks to amend the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2013, and has scaled second reading. It is naturally silent on criminalising the government for failing to perform its most important and sacred function — the security and welfare of the people. The government has failed woefully in its responsibility to protect the people, and the victims, who do not have control of the security forces, are now to be criminalised for standing in the yawning gap created by an awkward government. Having read too much economics, the senate seeks to attack the problem of kidnapping from the supply side. It should instead seek to criminalise legislative folly.
Nigerians seem to be heaving a great sigh of relief that Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, has probably been done in by the rival Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), a feat the Nigerian military was unable to accomplish in about 12 years since Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of the sect, was murdered in custody. ISWAP is deadlier, more ideological, deliberately more refined, and infinitely more implacable. Not only did ISWAP unhorse its rival with vastly less ordnance than the Nigerian military boasts of, it also proved tactically adept in that bloodied region. Now, with the inconvenience of Boko Haram out of the way, the ISIS-backed, better funded, and well equipped ISWAP can focus on Nigeria. Nigerian political elite, some of whom have flirted foolishly with religious politics or theocracy for decades, are going to have the battle of their lives.
Source: The Nation