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Nigeria's ruling party unruffled by defections

28 November 2013, 10:42

Abuja - Nigeria's ruling party said on Wednesday that it was unfazed by the defection of powerful state governors to the main opposition, despite it tipping the balance of power in the run-up to elections in 2015.

Seven governors first broke with President Goodluck Jonathan's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in August this year, largely in opposition to his expected bid for re-election in about 18 months' time.

Jonathan, who has not yet declared his candidacy, is a Christian from the southern Bayelsa state.

An unwritten rule in the party is that its candidate should rotate between the mainly Christian south and the majority Muslim north.

The main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) announced on Tuesday that all seven rebel governors had joined the party, although there were reports that two, or even three, had not yet decided.

The PDP said in response that while it recognised the right in a democracy for freedom of association, the defection was a positive move as it rid the party of potentially damaging in-fighting.

"We wish to state categorically that the PDP remains unperturbed as we are now rid of detractors and distractions," it said in a statement published in national newspapers.

"We urge all our members nationwide to remain focused and close ranks, now that the agents of distraction have finally left our ranks."

Based on the reports of five defections, the PDP, which has controlled the federal government in Abuja since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999, now controls 18 states, while the APC has 16.

The smaller All Progressives Grand Alliance and Labour Party control one each.

In parliament, the PDP has 208 of the 360 seats in the lower House of Representatives and 74 of the 109 in the upper house or Senate.

Lawmakers, however, are not obliged to follow the example of their governors and cross the floor.

State governors in Nigeria are powerful figures and carry weight in the selection of presidential candidates, while the number of states controlled by a party provides an indication of likely national electoral success.

The APC is claiming that the defections strengthen its hand for the 2015 vote, dealing Jonathan a blow and indicating an erosion of support for his party.

‘Huge consequences’

Clement Nwankwo, director of the Policy and Advocacy Centre in Abuja, said that the development was likely to have "huge consequences" as the general election approached.

"For the PDP to lose five governors in one day to the opposition party is a huge political statement," he told AFP, adding that for PDP to claim otherwise was "disingenuous, possibly even delusional".

Nwankwo said governors exerted a high degree of influence in Nigeria and had the necessary clout to turn results.

"They have the resources to encourage people to vote one way or the other. The political process is largely controlled and directed by money. We can't underestimate it," he added.

Osisioma Nwolise, head of political science at the University of Ibadan, agreed that governors still wielded power and influence but added: "I don't see how [the defections] will much affect the president if he wants to contest next year.

"The governors did not get the mandate of the electorate to join the APC. They just decided to move.

"It's possible the electorate might vote for the APC governor at the state level. But in the national election, they could still vote for the PDP...

"There's no guarantee... The fact that these governors moved to the APC doesn't really mean that their states are going to vote for the APC for the presidential elections."



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