Not less than 40 Nigerian politicians – comprising state governors, federal and state legislators and influential party chieftains – have defected from one party to another in the last five months, the movements being mostly across the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The most notable transfers in recent weeks have included the migration of Samuel Ortom and Aminu Tambuwal, the governors of Benue and Sokoto states respectively, who were joined by the senate president, Bukola Saraki and 14 other senators in decamping from APC to PDP. While those defections hold the prospect of having a significant impact on the APC’s chances at the 2019 elections, a movement in the opposite direction by former Akwa Ibom state governor, Godswill Akpabio gives the ruling party some respite.
There have been less glamorous movements across party lines and one of the most intriguing for me was the defection of Gbadebo Rhodes Vivour, the Kowa Party chairmanship candidate for Ikeja local government chairman at the Lagos council polls held in July 2017, from Kowa to PDP within a year of losing the election.
Prior to suffering a major defeat at the local government election, Gbadebo put forward his graduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States as a selling point and roundly condemned both APC and PDP for lacking in ideals. In one interview with Premium Times, he expressed his belief in Kowa’s ideology of social welfare and modernism, which he could not find in any other party, to allay fears of decamping to a bigger party after winning the election.
In March 2018, while joining the PDP, Gbadebo told the press that he was joining the party because PDP had the structure to dislodge the APC and ‘deliver Lagos state from bad governance’. To be fair to him, he is correct in his analysis about the PDP’s chances being more realistic than that of the Kowa but it is also proper to point out that he let down those who bought into his vision of building a party on ideas and character as a way out of the rot that pervades the polity.
Gbadebo is just one of many seemingly idealistic new entrants who have thrown up their arms in surrender to join the establishment parties, more viable vehicles for their political aspirations. The more predominant thought of the Nigerian politician therefore is ‘self’ before anything else. It is therefore an open secret that the wave of defections has little to do with clashing ideals or the interests of the average Nigerian, as Tambuwal and Saraki have, for instance, attempted to project in their defection speeches.
Like politicians across the world, the average Nigerian politician is a dealer. He trades in fortunes and thrives on the sentiments of those who swear him loyalty and not necessarily on their thoughts. It is for this reason that less than a year to the general elections, the biggest debates in the political space have little to do with Nigeria’s fundamental structural defects or the best economic models to lift a ballooning population out of poverty. The biggest headlines have rather been about alleged intimidation and marginalisation within the political parties.
The dominant thought of the frontline politicians is winning the next election and many will do whatever it takes to win including the use of propaganda to control the thoughts of those they proclaim to serve. Their loyal followers will then go a step further to spread their words and fight their battles on television, radio, social media and every other space available to them. We are now fully in the time-space when members of the electorate need to be most discerning but having been let down too many times by the seemingly sane entrants into the polity, it is hard to blame many who will rather show apathy. It is however equally sad that owing to widespread lack and the sustained destruction of values, many will gladly queue up behind politicians with no clear maps to the Eldorado they promise in return for stipends.
The politicians are presently aligning with camps that offer them protection and the promise of better positions after the 2019 elections. They are whipping up sentiments while at it and enlisting popular support for proxy battles in the name of ‘defending democracy’ for instance. This is however another opportunity to remind them that the best argument for democracy is the enhanced welfare of the average Nigerian who should be able to access quality healthcare and have a fair chance at financial mobility because elected officials are making and implementing the right policies.
Nigerians in their thousands are suffering police brutality and dying on bad roads due to the failure of the executive arm of government at various levels and the inaction of legislative bodies saddled with oversight responsibilities. When the various individuals who operate these arms of government now threaten to impeach or dislodge one another from office in reaction to political differences, we must remind ourselves of the truth: they are simply toying with our emotions.
We must tell ourselves that politicians do not fight because of our interests when they expend energy on realignments for 2019 elections while they abandon the restructuring and fiscal federalism debates. We must also remind ourselves of the dramas we have seen before which now plays out with new characters. The wheelers and dealers in political power ply a familiar route that leads towards their selfish interests even though they may switch lanes to overtake one another. They will realign as soon as it becomes necessary to do so, as the most fundamental factor for them is the structure of the party that can deliver on their ambitions.
This is no time to go up in arms against fellow citizens who also suffer from the misrule of the political class regardless of whatever affiliations they boast of. It is rather time to ask the most important questions and rally round those who give the best answers and the truth is they do not necessarily have to look like they have the best chances at victory.