Last week, Mohammed Ali Ndume, the Senator representing Borno South in the Nigerian Senate and a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), insisted that his party still maintained the majority position in the Senate despite the end-of-July’s defection of 15 APC Senators to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Ndume even predicted that seven senators affiliated to the PDP were ready to join APC in an opposite move that would readjust the balance of power in the Nigerian senate. But none of that happened yet and last week turned out to be more disastrous for the presidential party, as it continued to witness mass defections on all tiers of government, now putting at risk President Buhari’s reelection bid next year.
The highest profile resignation of the week, after that of the governor of Benue state in the previous week, was that of Senate President Bukola Saraki, who officially defected to the PDP on 31 July. In a statement, Saraki said “While I take full responsibility for this decision, I would like to emphasize that it is a decision that has been inescapably imposed on me by certain elements and forces within the APC who have ensured that the minimum conditions for peace, cooperation, inclusion and a general sense of belonging did not exist. They have done everything to ensure that the basic rules of party administration, which should promote harmonious relations among the various elements within the party were blatantly disregarded.” Upon joining PDP, Saraki was quickly appointed national head of the party.
For Kwara State Governor Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, who also resigned from APC, his defection and that of the Senate President was due to “the Federal Government engaging in political persecution and victimization of the party’s leadership.” He suggested that there was a witch hunt by federal authorities against them. Indeed the Nigerian police have accused the two of being involved in a bank robbery attack that led to the death of 33 people. The robbery was carried out against four commercial banks in April 2018 at Offa, in Kwara State. The leader of the robbery gang, Ayoade Akinnibosun, who heads the Liberation Youth Movement of Kwara State, was reported by the police to have confessed that the attack was essentially masterminded by Saraki and Ahmed. Police harassment escalated, to the point that the two men decided to move to the opposition.
For Saraki however, the defection serves two critical goals: In the first, it is clearly an opportunity for him to run against President Buhari in 2019, a move he could not have taken had he stayed with the APC. Running as an opposition politician means that he no longer needs to be loyal to the incumbent president.
The second outcome relates to Saraki’s need to be protected as federal authorities continue to probe into his affairs, accusing him of having ties with criminal gangs. Staying at the APC party did no provide him with sufficient guarantees of protection and President Buhari apparently could not [or would not] intervene to stop the police investigation into the Offa bank attack. By moving into the PDP and becoming its national leader, Saraki gets more protection and forces the federal government under the APC control to be more cautious.
But apart from Saraki, defections from APC spiked last week. Sokoto Governor Aminu Tambuwal was one of the defectors. He said he made such a decision because the Nigerian economy is not showing any real signs of improvement, faulting his former party for being unable to fix it. Also in Sokoto, 18 of the 30 members of the State House of Assembly defected from APC, strengthening the ranks of the opposition. In Kwara, in addition to the governor, 16 APC-affiliated Local Government chairmen resigned from the party, as a wave of defections was carried by dozens of other political office holders at the third tier of government, including council chairmen, vice chairmen, Speakers, LG secretaries, supervisory councilors, 193 elected councilors and other political appointees. Also in Kwara, 23 members of the State House of Assembly jumped to the PDP, further hurting APC’s standing in that state. The defectors were led by Speaker of the House Ali Ahmad, who said the decision was reached because the disillusion within the APC.
The implosion of the ruling APC is now a major wildcard on the Nigerian political scene, and in relations to the country political risk outlook. The APC party has seen a substantial erosion among its power base not only at the national level but also at the local and regional levels. Defections from the President’s party have been announced among the country’s most prominent political figures, leaving President Buhari in a difficult situation where he will likely face a pushback from voters on the basis of his achievements since 2015 and the fact that his supporters in the political world have abandoned him. On the opposition side, Senate President Saraki is highly likely to announce a presidential bid. And he will undoubtedly use politically devastating attacks against the incumbent president, including a security situation completely out of control and a national economy in turmoil.
The reaction of the APC-led administration could be severe and even violent, using the federal government means to crackdown on opposition. The coming weeks and months promise to be fraught with risk, and violence could dangerously escalate. As we start this week (second week of August), federal authorities have began to flex their muscles against defecting APC politicians. A drama has been unfolding at the National Assembly in Abuja, following a raid by federal agents affiliated to the Department of State Services (DSS). DSS officers have been harassing legislators and their staff, preventing them from accessing their offices. The opposition blames the ruling APC and the presidency for masterminding the blockade of the senate. But in a swift reaction, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is currently Acting President while Buhari is on leave in the UK, ordered the dismissal of the head of DSS, Lawal Daura, stating hat “the operation against the Senate was unauthorized, and is a gross violation of constitutional order, rule of law and all accepted notions of law and order.”
Meanwhile, APC senators have been holding meetings to plot the impeachment of Senate President Saraki. Nigerian journalists said the National Chairman of APC has been asking the lawmakers to sign the impeachment paper that would help remove Saraki.
As the political environment worsens, the level of violence from other sources of conflicts in Nigeria remain elevated as well. Both the Boko Haram and the herdsmen crises appear to be permanent. Added to these, is the impact of mass criminality and banditry affecting states like Zamfara and Kaduna. Authorities have been deploying troops and large contingents of security agents, but with politicians busy looking to secure their political careers ahead of the 2019 elections, there has been no comprehensive strategy to tackle insecurity, apart from adding more boots on the ground. Nigeria is going through some turbulent waters and that could at least until the February 2019 elections.