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
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
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
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.
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
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."