Defection is not new in the Nigerian political environment and history. Nigeria has a political history of defection of party members from one political party to another right from the pre – colonial era. But the rate at which politicians defect to other parties in this era is alarming.
Is the trend healthy for the political development in Nigeria? Does it portend stability for our nascent democracy?
This is unlike during the famous early morning defection of Convention of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC) elected members to the Action Group on the floor of the Western Nigeria House of Assembly in 1951. Defection has characterized the political landscape of Nigeria. It is usually normal in politics to defect to another political party if there is a crack in a political party or division as the case may be.
At the rate politicians defect from one party to another, it won’t be long before Nigeria is turned into a one-party state. Since the ruling All Progressives Congress defeated the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2015 general election, a gale of defections is fast hauling a once formidable party, or so we thought, into extinction.
Long before the return of democracy, Nigerian politicians have been known to hold no scruples when it came to dumping a political party to which they had once sworn allegiance. Indeed, for our politicians, the saying that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies but permanent interest is a truism. Since the First Republic, when the first mass defection occurred, politicians have been known to ditch their parties so long as their interest is no longer served.
I have often wondered at the rate our politicians switch party allegiance without giving a thought to democratic values that demand loyalty to party ideology. How can the country build the values inherent in a democracy when politicians switch political parties at the drop of a hat and when it suits their personal and group agenda?
At the inception of this democracy, the PDP was the strongest of the three other parties. It was the party to beat. Politicians would give anything to be card-carrying members of a party that termed itself the largest party in Africa. The party even boasted it would rule for 60 years. That gave credence to its formidability.
The party was so dominant that it had a national spread that was unmatched by other political parties which only had a regional spread. Many even thought the dominance of PDP at that time might turn the country into a one-party state. But even at that, parties like the All Nigeria Peoples Party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance and the Action Congress of Nigeria held influence at some state levels with considerable number of seats in the National Assembly. But with the successful merger of the major opposition parties leading to the 2015 elections, the APC and the PDP emerged as the two dominant parties. The dominance of the two parties meant that the country became effectively a two-party state.
With the 2015 elections, fiercely contested by the two major parties, one had thought the contest would evolve the much needed democratic culture needed to develop a healthy inter-party competition as we have seen in advanced democracies such as the United States of America where the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have a long history of producing political leaders who have made the country a bastion of democracy.
One had also thought that our politicians would realise the importance of growing a sustainable party culture. But soon after the elections, the PDP began to crumble with massive defections of its members. With the continued defections, our democracy is being put at risk. The defections are worrisome and portray Nigerian politicians as selfish, myopic and visionless.
PDP failed to institutionalize leading to its abysmal outing during 2015 general elections. Instead of building a strong party, they build very strong and influential party members. The party became only a tool to achieve political ambitions. At the state level, the governors, for example, controlled all the levers of power. It is thus not surprising that the party began to crumble as soon as the powerful individuals left the party. Another impediment that may hamper the PDP resurgence is the corruption scandal rocking the party.
Unless the PDP reforms itself to challenge the APC, Nigerians may be confronted with the possibility of going into the next general elections with a weak opposition. This may be good news to the ruling APC but in the long run, it does not do our democracy any good. Although there is possibility of a new opposition party if PDP does not buckle up soon enough. The defections are instructive and show that politicians are selfish and will jump ship when they consider their interest threatened. In Anambra State, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife who had had her election nullified weeks ago has defected to the APC. Ditto for Chief Jim Nwobodo, Alao Akala, Rasheed Ladoja and most recently, former senate president, Dr. ken Nnamani. The list is endless.
There is also a sense in which one sees these defections as a way of seeking protection. This argument feeds into the widespread belief that defecting to the ruling party protects politicians with corruption cases hanging on their necks from prosecution. The argument to support this is that there are many politicians in the APC today who have been indicted of corruption but are walking free. Unless the APC debunks the claim and wipes its fold clean, the revelation does the party no good.
Accepting allegedly corrupt politicians who defect to swell its ranks also puts a question mark on the party’s change mantra. As the country continues to evolve a democratic culture, our politicians must observe democratic norms of building strong political parties as a bulwark against arbitrariness and bad governance. For our democracy to strive, we need an enduring and strong opposition party.