Gale of defections and the Buhari factor By Sufuyan Ojeifo

President Muhammadu Buhari


The coming together of political forces of the oppositional hue in the build-up to the 2015 general election portended a grave danger for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In any case, the behemoth, which the PDP typified at the time, had imprudently and lightly treated the ill-omened development and paid dearly for it.

The PDP was brought down in prostrate surrender to the supremacy of the rainbow coalition of opposition parties that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC) on which platform Muhammadu Buhari clinched his historic victory over Goodluck Jonathan. That defeat of an incumbent president was novel in the annals of the nation’s presidential elections.

Indisputably, the defection of five governors of Rivers (Rotimi Amaechi), Kano (Rabiu Kwankwaso), Adamawa (Murtala Nyako), Kwara (Abdulfatah Ahmed) and Sokoto (Magatakarda Wammako) as well as speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, was the crown capping of the intricate political dynamics, calculations, permutations and treacheries that conspired to expose the underbelly of Jonathan’s presidency.

Jonathan’s incumbency factor, his seeming sure-footed candidature, his custody and superintendence of the sixteen-year old power heritage of the PDP, the platform on which he contested, suffered collateral damage. The tsunami, which the 2015 general election exemplified, swept off many PDP candidates for other elective offices. Even though he won his election, David Mark lost his senate presidency on account of PDP becoming the minority party in the senate.  

The strategic natures of the public offices occupied by the five governors and the speaker had added gravitas to their decision to exit the PDP. Jonathan was said to have committed, in the main, the original sins of scorning zoning arrangement and reneging on his purported unwritten promise not to seek re-election in 2015.  There were ancillary foibles of the administration that foisted it on a petard, to wit: insecurity that was accentuated by the Boko Haram insurgency; and, corruption that was said to be writ large in the management of the nation’s public finance.

Sufuyan Ojeifo

As a matter of fact, the overwhelming Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast zone rendered the Jonathan presidency helpless. In his entire term of office, his administration was portrayed as incapable of protecting the lives and property of the citizenry. For the citizenry who had been benumbed by the incessantly mindless and horrendous maiming and killings by the insurgents, nothing was more expedient than a change of leadership. 

In a clear two-horse race between a northern Muslim and a southern Christian that the 2015 presidential election approximated, the choice of Buhari by a vast majority of the electorate was conversely the rejection of Jonathan. The outcome of the election was the product of the intercourse between essential popular support for Buhari and the factor of integrity that popularised his brand. Basically, the Buhari factor is, without a doubt, sui generis. The factor had, in the few weeks of his inauguration as president, produced a domino effect in apt summation of its wider chain reactions.

But then, it should be pointed out that the Buhari factor also enjoyed critical support for it to sustain its historic precociousness that has created and defined a certain “idyllic” northern electoral base from where he usually gets about ten million secured or guaranteed votes. The fact that the votes could not clinch for him the presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011 underscores certain limitations. His outlook was provincial until 2015 when utilitarian political strategies were deployed to transform him into a national, nay cosmopolitan brand via the public relational strategy funded by some southern APC leaders.  A further limitation in 2019 may be the presentation of a northern Muslim presidential candidate by the opposition.

Reflectively, some other influential politicians who defected from the PDP to the APC also, largely, added their essential bootstraps to the momentum that sustained the Buhari phenomenon in its vast flourish. Consider former vice president Atiku Abubakar, former governor of Kwara, Senator Bukola Saraki, who would later emerge as the senate president in 2015, former governor of Nasarawa state, Senator Abdullahi Adamu and former national chairman of the PDP, Senator Barnabas Gemade.

Today, ahead of the crucial 2019 general election, the 2014 historical defections that somewhat culminated in the defeat of Jonathan are being witnessed. Atiku, Kwankwaso, Gemade, et al, are back in the PDP. More defections are expected to take place in the next few weeks. Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, are primed to return to the PDP. So far, fifteen senators and thirty-seven members of the House of Representatives had last Tuesday defected from the APC at their respective plenary sessions.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo-inspired African Democratic Congress (ADC) received two senators and four representatives who defected from the APC to raise the stakes and ignite high-wired politics that would define the shape, content and texture of the political alliances and the 2019 presidential race. Last Wednesday, the governor of Benue state, Samuel Ortom, also defected from the APC to the PDP with ten of the 18 APC members in the State House of Assembly, 13 of the 24 local government chairmen and 276 councilors. He now has 22 members of the 30-member house behind him. Governors Tambuwal of Sokoto state and Abdulahmed Fatah of Kwara state are strongly believed to be headed back to the PDP.

The circumstances that informed their respective decisions to egress the APC could not be mitigated by the party through reconciliatory gestures.  The defectors have their different issues, which the APC under the leadership of Adams Oshiomhole exerted itself to engage and deal with. While it succeeded in pacifying some; those that could not be pacified decided to jump ship. The gale of defections is what has energised the 2019 presidential race.  It is more than a common occurrence on the eve of a general election as rationalised by President Buhari. Similar coalition that produced his presidency in 2015 was uncommon.

That the APC is not hurt by the defections as being claimed by pro-Buhari elements cannot be true. The oppositions are building around the strategic hub of the PDP to couple a countrywide coalition force to dislodge APC and Buhari in 2019. There is a religious commitment to the 2019 anti-Buhari campaign. The political mission is benefiting from the near apostolic zeal by Obasanjo who has successfully mobilised and has continued to follow-up on his consultations with the Yoruba leaders of the southwest zone on the need to effect a change of what he described as incompetent and nepotistic leadership. Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, had also forcefully weighed in with a proposal for young generation of leaders to step in the saddle of governance in Nigeria.

Former Chief of Army Staff and one-time minister of Defence, Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma had accused the military of colluding with armed herdsmen (bandits) to carry out ethnic cleansing in the middle belt and other states in the country; and, had called on Nigerians to defend themselves against the aggressors. There are individual points of divergence and disagreement that are either in the selfish or national interests. The political elite and the hoi-polloi have their grouses against Buhari just as they had against Jonathan in 2015.   For the elite, it is the struggle for power and accommodation of interests, but for the hoi-polloi, it is welfare issue, hunger and weak purchasing power occasioned by bazaar-canteen economic model (price indeterminacy).

Jonathan did not survive in 2015 because his candidature was largely damaged. Will Buhari’s candidature, supported by the forces of APC leaders and members nationwide, escape indictment by the coalition of forces massing against him? While the oppositions appear upbeat, the APC leaders believe that the Buhari factor is still solid to win re-election in 2019.

  • Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist writes via

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