The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has been gripped by a fever of cross-carpeting. Publicly, the party is saying it will not lose sleep. The most dramatic statement yet was by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, that providence is removing stones from the party’s rice, the same rice they have been eating for three years now.
Late-night statements by party leaders suggest that if the party is sleeping at all, it is doing so with one eye open. With Senate President Bukola Saraki and three governors out and a few more almost sure to leave the APC, it’s not only rice stones that the APC will have to worry about. The stones already lodged in the party’s intestines might just be as deadly. The APC is getting a taste of its own medicine and the party is not finding it exactly funny.
When the party is not busy pretending that it is too preoccupied with the weighty affairs of state to worry about the defections, it is busy fudging the numbers, giving false hope that it remains the unshakable majority party and there’s nothing to worry about. But beneath the surface lies a cauldron of anger, vengeful spite and the urge to get even.
The blockade of the homes of Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu; the shuffling of the Kwara State chapter of the APC; and the crude and pathetic attempt to impeach Governor Samuel Ortom – all bearing the mark of state agents – are warning shots that defectors are in for a hard, dangerous time.
At the last count, 50 or more APC tadpoles in the National Assembly, roughly one-eighth of the active total members, had shed their tails of indecision and emerged as PDP frogs. The metamorphosis will reach its most hilarious point when candidates for key positions, especially the presidential and running mate tickets, are chosen at the PDP convention.
Yet, even at this stage, the APC feels cornered.
Whatever its pretensions to the contrary, the APC believes that unless it can raise the defection bar to suicidal heights and possibly make scapegoats of a few defectors or potential defectors, more defections will follow and not even the electoral maths by Festus Keyamo (SAN), would save the party at the next election.
Defectors should expect hell, with little or no relief at all from the courts or the constitution. When the five former PDP governors left their party to form the nPDP and later moved in their numbers to join the APC, they did so in defiance of the restraining provisions of Section 68 of the constitution.
They simply declared that the PDP had become factionalised and unfit to stay and were warmly embraced by the APC. Either out of complacency or because of infection from a terminal disease, the PDP let the defectors go.
In hindsight, it was a mistake that the party would regret, and one which the present APC beneficiaries are determined not to repeat. The APC would do whatever it can to make the defectors miserable if they insist on defecting and useless if they manage to stay. It’s a case of damned if you leave, damned if you stay, and damned if your name was even mentioned to leave.
But why should anyone shed a tear? Cross carpeting and desperation to stop it is not a Nigerian thing and whatever politicians here or their cousins elsewhere may say, when their survival is threatened, politicians will put on their face masks first before sparing a thought for Johnny.
According to an account in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies published seven years ago, in 1966 when the former Vice-President of Kenya, Odinga Odinga, broke with the ruling KANU and formed the Kenya People’s Union (KPU), 28 MPs followed him and crossed the floor to the KPU.
The government of Jomo Kenyatta was threatened with collapse. It immediately responded by passing a constitutional amendment forcing all MPs who had left KANU to recontest their seats in a by-election.
This constitutional provision was "borrowed" from Malawi, where it was first adopted by a constitutional amendment in 1964 when the ruling party was faced with the same situation as faced by KANU in Kenya.
The study under reference also indicates that since the 1990s when a major wave of political liberalisation began in Africa, 26 out of 45 countries have implemented anti-defection laws either in their constitutions or in their electoral laws.
They range from Sierra Leone, which perhaps has the strictest (a politician is deemed to have defected by merely voting against his party) to the “transfer market” system in South Africa, where there are two 15-day window periods in every legislative season when legislators may defect, though the defection must represent not less than 10 per cent of the total number of seats held by the party that the defector is leaving.
The history of defections in Nigeria dates back to 1951 when members of the NCNC defected to the AG to prevent the NCNC candidate, Nnamdi Azikiwe, winning the majority in the Western Regional Assembly. Defection or party hopping was also rampant in the Second Republic, yet this was a time when the parties even had an appearance of ideological differences.
There have been concerns about whether or not party hopping weakens the party system, the legitimacy of parliaments and perhaps voter confidence in democracy.
Political opportunism is a matter for concern. But there is no strong evidence to suggest that countries with strong anti-defection laws, like Malawi, for example, where merely forming a pressure group in parliament could be grounds for expulsion from a party, have a more stable political system than countries with less stringent anti-defection laws.
Apart from lack of internal democracy, other common reasons for defection are pork barrel and clientele politics. But it’s nothing to lose sleep about. Over time, the parties will evolve and find better ways of dealing with internal discontent or lose their support base as citizens become more engaged with the system.
One of the ways, for example, could be to strengthen the party statutes as in France and Italy, but note that even this novelty has not made the Italian system defection-proof.
However we may despise defectors today, the fact is that Nigeria’s main parties remain special purpose vehicles with hardly anything separating them. And we love them just the way they are. Move the names and party symbols around a bit and you’ll get the same outcome. The parties exist for the sole aim of getting power by means fair or foul, with no guiding principles, no worldview and no vision of how to organise society.
When defectors leave, there’s no need to question why because the only difference between where they are going and where they’re coming from is the party symbol. The parties are a reflection of who we are at this time.
Since constitutional restraint has failed to stop defectors from enjoying the sport, APC, the party at the receiving end today, may seize this uncomfortable moment to review its statutes and clean up its act, instead of burying its head in the sand. The adversity, if not wasted, may well be a good chance for self-renewal.
Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network