POLITICS OF PARTY DEFECTIONS, ETHINICITY AND EFFECT OF 2015 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN NIGERIA
The practice of carpet-crossing, defection or party switching appears to have become an undying attribute of party politics in Nigeria. Carpet crossing by Nigerian politicians is dated back to the
First Republic particularly in 1951, a decade to Nigeria’s independence in the defunct Western Regional House of Assembly (Adejuwon, 2013). For him, it was an overnight affair when several members of the defunct National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), led by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe decamped to the Action Group (AG), led by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, purposely to deny Zik and his party, the majority in the Western Region House of Assembly, which he required to form the government in Western Region. With that decamping, AG was able to form the Government in the region. Also, in that same first Republic, another Premier of the that same Western Region of Nigeria, Ladoke Akintola left the then Action Group in a crisis rooted more in personality clash but explained as personal principles and his conviction to advance the Yoruba race into the Nigeria’s mainstream politics to form UNDP and enter into an alliance with Northern People’s Congress (NPC).
Subsequent republics are not exempted from defections and carpet-crossing. For instance, in the old Ondo State during the Second Republic, Akin Omoboriowo, the then Deputy Governor of United Party of Nigeria (UPN) led government of Michael Ajasin defected and joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to become its gubernatorial candidate (Okparaji, 2010). Explaining this long history and the consolidation of the trend in Nigerian political system, Mbah (2011:3) observed that political party defection has become an increasingly permanent feature in the Nigerian democratic experience. In fact, for over a decade now since the country returned to democratic governance (1999), party defections and political instability are the greatest challenges confronting Nigeria’s democracy. The usual practice in the past has being for politicians to defect to other parties with promises of election tickets if they fail to secure party nominations during their own party’s primaries. Some who felt disenchanted or denied of a level playing ground, defect to participate in the election, with some still having the intention of returning to their parties. This has being the practice during election periods especially since 1999. The most recent major defection is different from the usual experiences. It appeared to have heralded an irreconcilable stance of major political
gladiators in the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Indeed, the formation of splinter unit (New PDP) on August 2013, under Kawu Baraje leadership typified the degree of disillusionment among the party bigwigs in PDP. Thus, absence of internal party democracy seems to have contributed to party defections in Nigeria. Indeed, this gives rise to unhealthy power contest and intra-party feuds. Arguably, while it could be stated that the defection by these members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party in 2013 to opposition party could be linked to 2015 elections, there is overwhelming evidence that crisis of internal party prompted the exodus. As a result, intra-party squabbles, disputations have continued to energies the growth of what could be seen as a sordid act of party defection. As was seen, the recent massive party defections in Nigeria and the muzzy struggle that characterized the act were very fierce and intense, almost cutting the breath of the party politics in Nigeria. Indeed, the situation in the other parties, especially the party they defected to is not in any way better. There seems to be absence of internal party democracy in virtually all political parties in Nigeria which always raise another; the issue of question of ideology.
Following from the above, it is important to note that party defections are not exclusive character of one party in Nigeria. It is a general practice. Thus, the magnitude of the current defections and its impacts on the body polity raises fundamental questions on the
manifestation of the trend and sustainability of Nigerian democracy. Evidently, it shows a clear indication that the phenomenon has the capacity of either derailing Nigerian democracy or reinforcing opposition with the capacity to provide a guide for democratic consolidation. In fact, its persistency, ubiquity and growth could provide a bleak future on the sustainability of party politics in Nigerian political system. Considering its implications on quality of governance, peace, stability and the challenge of sustenance of Nigeria’s democracy, this paper seeks to establish the critical link
between defections arising from internal party crisis and the extent it has impacted on sustainability of Nigeria’s democracy.
Hornby (2000:657) defined Politics as “The Science and Art of Government”. It is the Science dealing with terms, organization and administration of State or part of one and with the regulation of its relation with other State. Politics is one of the oldest social sciences, in fact, second to religion. The world was derived from two Greek words, ‘Polis’ meaning ‘City State’ or ‘Politics meaning ‘a free born’. According to a Greek Philosopher Aristotle who coined these words, in Markle (1967:32) he saw man as a political animal. He stated the three guiding principles to politics, thus:
1. It involve a state
2. It requires entering into relationship with other people as a way of satisfying man’s unlimited wants.
3. It involves rival groups as to make it competitive.
Leshe (1970:6) defined it as “…a sphere of purposeful behaviour through which we seek to live better than we do now, while Markle (1967:12) defined it from two perspectives. Positively he said, “Politics is a noble quest for good order and justice” while negatively he said, “Politics is a selfish grab for power glory and riches.”
As a science or art of governing through legitimized government which means indispensable social organization established in every society for the purpose of formerly enacting, codifying and enforcing the laws and values of a particular society. Glenn M. Vernon (1962:52) asserts that: Government is unique among social institutions in that it typically has society compliance with its laws. According to Uju (1987:6) Government operates on three levels, with respect to Nigeria. These include:
1. The Executive Arm. This is the arm that implements policies made by the Legislatures: The Army, the Police, the Prisons and the Civil Service are here.
2. The Legislative Arm: This organ is responsible for making laws in the land. These include the National Assembly and various state House of Assembly.
3. The Judiciary: This organ of government has the sole responsibility of interpreting laws.
A definition of ethnicity the researcher considered more appropriate in the context of this paper is that which was propounded by Chinua Achebe. According to Achebe (1983:8) “Ethnicity is discrimination against a citizen because of his place of birth” In Nigeria the word ethnicity and tribalism are used interchangeably. In Nigeria it has been associated with tribal sentiments which run over before the country interest in all major areas of our national economy.
POLITICS OF PARTY DEFECTIONS
Part defections or Party-switching is any change in political party affiliation of a partisan public figure, usually one currently holding elected office. In many countries, party-switching takes the form of politicians refusing to support their political parties in coalition governments. Politically, Nigeria did not have a strong institution that could enable the political system to face challenge of governance in a systematic way. The success of democratic experiment in a country can be attributed to a political party that has a strong mass support and leaders that have interest of the nation at heart. Nigeria had political parties built along religions and leaders that were naïve and selfish (Achebe: 1964:13).
In the 1964 elections the two main alliances for the election were Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) comprising the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and its client parties NNDP, NDC, MWDF, the other alliance was the United Progress Grand Alliance (UPGA) formed by the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) and Action Group (AG), NEPU and UMBC. In spite of the national cross regional appearances of the alliances, the two camps presented a North and South constellation of forces. The mainstay of the NNA was NPC whose motive was the consolidation of Northern hegemony. The UPGA on the other hand was a Southern coalition whose primary objective was to halt hegemony. These forces have produced Awoists, Zikists and Sardaunas and the trend continues today.
ITS EFFECTS ON THE 2015 PRESDENTIAL ELECTION IN NIGERIA
In the 54 years of Nigeria’s independence, different political systems have been tried and implemented. But current lack of “clear-cut ideologies,” selfish interests of lawmakers and politicians, failure to pay attention to genuinely pressing problems is the worst period for us, Unjoerated Onwukeme, Naij.com’s guest contributor, argues. It seems that, ahead of the 2015 elections buzz and tension, a season of political defections has started and is affecting our policies negatively.
“In recent weeks, it’s been a season of political defections all over the country. All the political parties have had their own share of political defections, but it seems the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are benefitting from this latest development.
“Political analysts are yet to come to terms with Governor Olusegun Mimiko’s defection from the Labour Party (LP). This was the platform he used to win the governor ship election in Ondo State in February 2009. This was the platform he was re-elected on in October 2012 for a second term, making him the first Ondo State governor to win a second-term election.
“A well-known son of Ndi Igbo [Igbo people], the immediate and controversial past governor of Anambra State, Dr. Peter Obi, was tagged by many as “the cat with nine lives” during his reign in the Awka Government House from March 2006. Impeachment and political miscalculations made him lose his seat but each time court rulings were always in his favour. He was re-elected as governor for a second term and served from February 2010 to February 2014. Observers may not be surprised with his latest defection to the PDP because he was accused severally of hobnobbing with the ruling party during his reign as governor of Anambra State.
“In August this year, Uche Ekwunife, the member representing Anaocha/Njikoka/Dunukofia Federal Constituency in the House Of Representatives, dumped the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) along with other APGA House of Representative members, from August 2014 till date we have witnessed series of defection that kept mouth wagging.
“The latest tendency of political defections is contrasting to what was obtained in the First Republic, when major political parties of the era (like the Action Group (AG), the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC)) had a clear-cut ideology. Even in the Second Republic, the five major parties also had definite ideologies which they pursued fervently. The Third Republic, when the country experimented a two-party system (the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC)) saw a great distinction in policies and ideologies. Political analysts and historians posited it was the last time political parties operated along ideological lines.
“When the transition from the military rule to civilian in 1998 kicked off, we saw the emergence of three major political parties: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alliance For Democracy (AD), and All People’s Party (APP). Many believe these parties were formed without clear ideological policies, which turned political defections to an every-day affair.
“The number of politicians who have defected from one party to another in this current regime is alarming. Many attribute this defection to the level of desperation of the politicians in pursuing an elective post.
“Muhammadu Buhari, the former military Head of State, has contested for presidency three times. Two times (in 2003 and 2007), with the All Nigeria’s People’s party (ANPP). Once, with the now-defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), which he founded in 2011. He is currently a member of the All Progressive Congress (APC). The APC was formed in February 6th 2013 in anticipation of February 2015 general elections through the merger of four political parties: the Congress For Progressive Change (CPC), the Action Congress (AC), the All Nigeria’s People’s Party (ANPP), and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). General Buhari is also aspiring to contest for the fourth time in the February 2015 Presidential election under APC.
“Atiku Abubakar, the ex-Vice president of Nigeria from May 1999 to May 2007, has been a presidential aspirant since 2007. While pursuing the highest seat in the land, he had moved from PDP to the now-defunct AC, the defected back to PDP. Now, he is the APC’s presidential aspirant.
“Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the controversial governor of Imo State, won the hardly-contested governorship election in Imo State in 2011 under the APGA. He has been member of almost all the political parties in Nigeria. He is also a one-time presidential aspirant. Governor Okorocha surprised everybody in February last year when he took his supporters from a faction of APGA and defected to the newly formed APC.
“Rotimi Amaechi, the controversial governor who became governor of Rivers State through Court ruling in October 2007 after he was controversially substituted before the election also joined the train of politicians that defected to APC late last year after an irreconcilable differences with the presidency that lasted for months
amidst conflicts and tension that almost consumed Rivers state.
“Rabiu Kwakwanso became governor of Kano State in 1999, but lost his re-election in 2003. In 2011, he was re-elected for a second term. Kwakwanso left the PDP for the APC arguing that neither the presidency nor the party leadership had shown any respect to him or his office.
“Chief Tom Ikimi, the former minister of Foreign Affairs under the late General Abacha, was the founding member and in board of trustees of the now-defunct APP. In September 2001, he defected to the PDP. In 2006, he was among the founding members of the now-defunct AC and led the party to win the governorship elections in 2007, and also in 2012 in Edo State. Ikimi was also saddled with the responsibility of heading the Merger Steering Committee of the defunct AC, ANPP, CPC and a faction of APGA that coalesced into APC. He fell out with the leaders of the APC, following his inability to clinch the party’s chairmanship position. In August 2014, he defected to the PDP.
“The pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, was the presidential flag-bearer of the now-defunct AC in the 2011 presidential election. He also defected to the PDP in August this year citing the pursuit of a “good cause” rather than selfish desires as his reason.
“Some attribute political defections to intimidation and lack of internal democracy in their party. Others attribute their political defections to lack of followership of their parties outside the shores of their region.
“Most politicians defect to other parties because of selfish interest. Why would Mimiko, who contested and won elections twice under the LP, defect to the PDP which gave him sleepless nights as governor of Ondo State?
“Some political observers cite pressure at the top as the reason for political defections. Others attribute it to political relevance. Peter Obi’s case was borne out of political relevance because his former party, the APGA, may not be able to achieve his mission: to be relevant and functional in the country. That is why he had to align himself with the current ruling party.
“This series of political defections is not good for our democracy. Many will agree that the defection of politicians in this dispensation, especially in the last three months, merely reflects the level of desperation for political relevance in pursuit of public office.
It has always been the practice in Nigeria’s unstable party democracy for people to defect to other parties with the intention to secure nominations from the party, and for a good number of them to return after elections to join the winning party to vie for positions in the government. The recent massive party defections by political gladiators in Nigeria were symbolic as it was the members of the ruling party that defected to opposition party and on a non election period.
From the analysis, it could be stated that one of the major challenges for sustaining Nigerian democracy in the fourth republic is the perennial defections arising from internal party crisis. With huge number of defections, the present republic is facing the problem of stability. This is mainly because of ideological deficiencies among parties and the drive by influential individuals to privatize a political party. Based on the above, this paper concluded that resolving the recurrent defection among party members or ending the persistent defection would demand rethinking and a paradigm change from the hitherto amalgam of political profit making allies representing political parties to erecting party systems that are ideological rooted. More importantly, is the critical role of the civil society groups and state agencies in reversing the present abnormality. Arguably, the beneficiaries of the present rot may pose serious obstacle in this direction. However, sustaining Nigerian democracy demands a sustained radical, social re-engineering, re-orientation and mobilization that would be directed towards inculcation of new values and essence of entrenching acceptable philosophy in the Nigeria’s party system.
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