The saying that ‘there is no permanent friend or permanent enemy in politics but permanent interest’ aptly describes Nigerian politics. This seems to be tailor-made for the country’s politics in the Fourth Republic.
There is a tendency for political defections which usually tilt towards the ruling party at the federal or state levels. This, according to analysts, means that the era of political ideologies has made way for that of personal interests.
When politicians seek to get to offices of authority, they stop at nothing to put themselves in pole positions.
President Muhammadu Buhari contested for the presidency four times; twice with the All Nigeria Peoples Party, once with the Congress for Progressive Change and finally with the APC.
And since Buhari’s victory at the 2015 presidential poll, all roads in the political circle have pointed to the APC. It is worthy of note that the same roads used to lead to the PDP when it was Nigeria’s ruling party.
The gale of defections is still sweeping across the country following the APC’s popularity ahead of the general elections and its eventual emergence as the ruling party, with the PDP being the heaviest casualty, so far.
Some of the politicians who have since left the PDP for the APC include the immediate past Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba; the immediate past Senate Committee Chairman on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang; former Deputy Senate Majority Leader, Jonathan Zwingina; Senator Gbemisola Saraki; former governor of Edo State, Osarhemen Osunbor; the immediate past state chairman of the PDP in Bayelsa State; Col. Sam Inokoba (retd.); former Chief of Staff to immediate past Senate President, David Mark, Chief Agbo Oga; and former chairman of the PDP in Benue State, Lawrence Ugbo.
In October, thousands of PDP members in Kogi State, led by a former House of Assembly Majority Leader, Yakubu Yunusa, reportedly defected to the APC. The late governorship candidate of the APC in the state, Abubakar Audu, described the incident as the “death of the PDP in Kogi State.”
At least 500 members of the PDP also reportedly defected to the APC in Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State about a week ago.
Some of the defectors said after the PDP massively lost out in the last general elections, the state had received zero attention from the leadership of the party.
Mr. Mark Akor, who led the defection process, said they chose to join hands with the APC to further the ‘change’ campaign of the party.
But the situation was not always like this as there used to be a time in Nigeria when political parties were run based on ideology.
In the First Republic, members of major parties like the Northern people’s Congress, the Action Group, and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, believed in their parties’ ideologies and stuck to them.
Up to the Second Republic, parties like the National Party of Nigeria and Unity Party of Nigeria stuck to their ideologies. It was considered unthinkable for members of the parties to cross carpet the way party members do in the Fourth Republic.
For instance, the AG had a clear agenda to cater and look after the welfare and the well-being of the masses of the Western Region. As an opposition party, it had shadow cabinet, which was made up of party members appointed as shadow ministers to understand the workings of their various ministries and be as informed as substantive ministers.
This way, opposition parties could make objective criticisms and be well prepared for governance when they get the chance.
A lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, said the defection of politicians from a rival party to another at the time would amount to political suicide.
“In the days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and Alhaji Aminu Kano, there were political parties of ideology,” he said.
“It was politically unthinkable for you to be known as a member of the NPN and then be found to be in the UPN the following day. It would amount to political suicide to do such a thing. Now we have bread and butter politics and people who are only interested in what they will eat.
“So they will look for the political party where their bread can be buttered. Once they realise that their bread can no longer be buttered there again, they fly away again like butterflies because they are political vultures with no principles.
“It was unthinkable for Aminu Kano and his followers to be moving from party to party.”
If there was a time in Nigeria’s history when politicians stuck to the ideologies of their various parties, it then means that the trend of defections that have become widespread on the country’s political landscape has a beginning.
Some analysts have, however, put the blame on cumulative decades of military rule in the country.
According to them, the periods of military rule in Nigeria have taught politicians to abandon ideologies for self interests.
Describing the military style of governance experienced in Nigeria as crude, the analysts said it gave way to a tradition that encouraged the sharing of public funds among the people close to the government.
For instance, human rights lawyer, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, said the military mentality had stuck with politicians even though Nigeria has not had military rule since 1999, when a military government handed over power to a democratically elected President.
“During the period of the Awolowos, we had politicians who started from London, United Kingdom, so they had ideologies,” he said.
“Then we had military incursion into politics and it changed our political landscape. Governance was now about what people could get from it because as military head of state or governor, you would hold the yam and the knife and distribute the largesse.”
Oshoma described how the military mentality was carried over to the democratic dispensation, adding that many retired military officers have transformed to politicians.
He said, “Most of the politicians we have now were in the military or are those who never underwent the tutelage from the First Republic politicians.
“Even the ones who underwent the tutelage, when they tried to play politics of ideology and were excluded, they had no other choice than to jump into the mainstream where it was easy for them to share state funds.”
Politicians also defect to parties that offer them tickets to run for elections or a better chance to run and win elections.
For instance, former Oyo State Governor, Otunba Christopher Alao-Akala, recently joined the APC from the Labour Party, a move that is seen as a strategic positioning for the 2019 governorship election in the state.
After being defeated by the current state governor, Abiola Ajimobi, in 2011, Alao-Akala has openly courted the ambition to return to the seat.
Alao-Akala, a native of Ogbomoso, had defected from the PDP to the Labour Party in December 2014 because he was promised the party’s ticket to run for the state governorship election following the choice of the former to present a native of Ibadan as candidate.
He, however, lost as a Labour Party candidate and the popularity of the APC will surely offer Alao-Akala a better shot at his ambition if he is able to win the party’s ticket for the 2019 governorship election.
But Alao-Akala did not defect alone to the APC; he decamped with his loyalists in the Labour Party, weakening the party in the process.
Analysts said the situation in Oyo State reflects the general picture in many states and indeed, the entire country.
A senior lecturer in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Dr. Christian Chukwuemeka, blamed the problem on a number of factors, including “political nomadism, lack of internal democracy in parties and the inability of many politicians to play opposition politics.”
Chukwuemeka, however, said politicians do not often defect ordinarily except there are fundamental issues they are displeased with in their parties.
He said, “Nigerian political system is not being driven by any ideology, it is political nomadism whereby politicians will continue to graze the grass so long as there is fresh grass in a place. They were grazing the grass at the point when the PDP was in power and when it was exhausted, they migrated to another vegetation to continue with the process of eating the national green grass of Nigeria just like a typical nomad would do
“They do not care what name of a political party is, what they are interested in is ascending political power, so it is an end in itself instead of being a means to economic development which should normally be the end.
“Seeing the extent of the debate going on among contestants in the Republican Party in the US, to determine who will be the party’s candidate, it will be difficult to say somebody was not duly elected. They witnessed the process over a period of about one year.
“But in Nigeria, we don’t usually know when parties contest their primaries. Here, people would be compelled to step down and denounce their political interests, so there is the tendency for such people to defect to other parties.”
Political experts, however, painted a gloomy picture of the situation, saying that the defections are a threat to national unity and development.
For example, Chukwuemeka attributed one of the factors responsible for the recent agitations for the State of Biafra in the South East to the fact that people in the region saw themselves as part of the government of the immediate former President Goodluck Jonathan.
He said, “The people of the region saw the defections ahead of the general elections, particularly in North, as a ploy to weaken the Jonathan administration and were angered by his defeat at the poll by the APC, which they saw as an ethnic conspiracy between the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba to take power from the South-South/ South-East.”
He noted that the agitations had since led to economic downturn in the region, where many shops had been forced to shut down, thereby denying the people of income and the government of tax.
Oshoma added that the implications of the country tilting towards a one-party state include the tendency for the dominant party to become despotic.
“It will then be difficult to have an opposing voice, a correction voice that will be able to shadow and check the government in power,” he said.
He said the way to prevent Nigeria from fully becoming a one-party state is to implement laws and strengthen electoral laws.
“If there is a law that says once you defect from your party, you lose your seat, then that law should be implemented to the latter, irrespective of the political party involved,” he said.
“Also, we need to begin to strengthen our electoral laws to ensure that politicians that we vote into office are the ones with ideology and not bread and butter politicians that are decamping from one party to another.
“But when you defect to another party and it is easy for you to rig election and manipulate the process because of political machinery, then we won’t have a solution to all of these problems.”
In his view, Agbaje canvassed for an alliance by the youths, non-governmental organisation and human rights societies to form a strong party for the masses, which would push out “selfish and corrupt politicians.”