2019: Why APC still has an Edge Over PDP Despite ‘Gale of Defections’

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Obasanjo, Buhari and Tinubu

Nigeria experienced a lot of political events in the past few days; and things happened so fast, it was hard to keep track of events.

If one will attempt to summarize all the political events of last two weeks, it will be that the PDP is happy and that APC is also happy.

The PDP can be said to be happy because their former members who moved to the APC in 2014 have now largely returned to their fold. They in turn have welcomed them back with open arms. The Publicity Secretary of the party was quoted on the TV saying that “the PDP is enjoying a buoyant harvest”.

The members of the APC also claim to be happy because they now know who their true members are. They say that those who left have used their positions before to slow down the performance of the present APC administration, and the aftermath of their exit is not so much different from their previous presence in the party.

While a lot of people have celebrated the defections one way or the other based on their political, religious and ethnic sentiments in favor of one party or another, what will be clear to any discerning political observer is that the parties have a lot of work to do with regards to those defections.

On the part of the PDP, they now have a very robust presence of presidential candidates in their fold. Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Ibrahim Shekarau, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal all of whom decamped from APC to join them, are all expected to contest for the party’s ticket. There is talk that Bukola Saraki will join the fray as well. Those four join Sule Lamido and Ahmed Makarfi who both have never left the party since its formation in 1998, and will all slug it out for the right to carry the PDP flag in the 2019 presidential elections. What PDP cannot afford is for any of these gladiators to leave the party again, if the process of selecting the flag bearer is not honest and transparent.

Going by PDP’s history, expect troubles to follow the outcome of their presidential convention. Beyond that, people like Atiku, Kwankwaso and Tambuwal are all driven by their personal ambition and the fact that another 4 year term of Buhari will see power returning to the south for another 8 years. This means that to actualize any presidential dream, they may have to wait till 2031 before getting a good chance to become Nigeria’s president. This explains why they would have left the ruling party to join the opposition more than any conflict any of them may be having prior to defection. As such, it is not out of place to expect one or two of them to move out of the PDP in furtherance of their individual political ambitions. To this end, it may still be difficult for the PDP to have a united front comprising all of its heavyweight returnees rooting for it by election day in 2019.

For the APC, it holds an advantage still, in the race for to produce the president of the country in 2019. This is because, its candidate in the race is already known. There is no fallout expected from its presidential convention and as the election gets closer, it may be able to turn the tide of defections in its favor, if it again entices those aspirants who would have lost out in the race for the presidency in the PDP to pitch their tent once again with APC. However, whether it gets back those members who defected or not, the core segments that formed the APC remains intact. President Buhari remains an idol in the Northwest and Northeast regions of the country, where he is expected to win again, irrespective of which northern candidate the PDP fields. The APC in the southwest has grown in leaps and bounds since the 2015 elections and now controls the governorship of all the states in the region, in part due to the hard work of Bola Tinubu and also because the party chose the right candidates in all those elections as well. Now it is clear that the APC is heading into the next elections, still maintaining the core that formed the party.

Beyond that, getting Godswill Akpabio to join APC is a masterstroke that the PDP would not have been expecting. Any observer of the appointments made by PMB in the Niger-Delta would have noticed how he has focused a lot on Akwa-Ibom. Ita Enang Udo Udoma, Nsima Ekere, Akpan Udoedehe, Okon Umana Okon are all top appointees of PMB who are all from Akwa-Ibom state. Adding Godswill Akpabio to that list will definitely raise the profile of APC in Akwa-Ibom capable of enabling it win in the state in 2019. If the party is able to do well in 2019 in Akwa-Ibom, it then increases the number of states where it is popular in the South-South to two, given that it has always been in control in Edo state.

Does this mean the defections will have no effect on its chances in the next election? The answer is no. The APC lost almost all of its structure in Kwara, and despite the old PDP structure in the state moving in its direction, it faces a task that has not been achieved in the state since 1999, which is to defeat the Bukola Saraki political structure. The party won in Benue state in 2015 and may lose it in the next elections due to the spate of killings in the state and the fact that the FG has been blamed (whether right or wrongly) for it. A similar story may play out in Plateau state where the governor is holding firm to the party but will face a very strong challenge in 2019.

APC has also not done much to increase its chances of winning in the South-Eeast despite that it has had a lot of defections into its fold in the region, the latest being that of a serving senator from Ebonyi state.

The Political Calculations

All the defections from the APC to the PDP by prominent politicians may have gingered the opposition and bolstered its chances of winning in 2019. But at this stage, it is nothing more than a brighter chance than hitherto. It cannot be described as a clear edge in the coming elections of the PDP over the APC. While some may want to categorize this in the same box as the gale of defections that hit the PDP in 2014, during President Jonathan’s era, the truth is that they are not the same in a lot of cases. I will explain.

In 2014, Kwankwaso moved all of the PDP structures in Kano, merged it with that of CPC which was the second most popular party in the state to form the APC structure. That movement included all of the state house of assembly members and all its federal legislators. Today, his return to the PDP is not on the same level. Only six House of Assembly members are reputed to be loyal to him, along with the Deputy Governor. All the other major political actors are remaining with the state governor and President Buhari. Prior to Kwankwaso’s movement, the governor had already eased out all of Kwankwaso’s men from the state’s party executives.

In Benue, the governor may have moved, but the state executive council of the party was already revolting against his governorship of the state and he was not promised an automatic ticket by a state APC leadership that is still under the control of former governor, George Akume. So while the APC is clearly weakened by the defection of a governor along with 22 of the State House of Assembly members, the party is still intact and its leadership believes it can produce a better performer in the next election. I still expect APC to lose the presidential election here though.

In Sokoto, Governor Aminu Tambuwal said he consulted far and wide before deciding to defect to the PDP but he seemed to have forgotten to consult his political benefactor and predecessor, Aliyu Wamakko who while carefully choosing his words in reaction to the governor’s move, staged his own political rally to lay down a marker that Sokoto still belongs to APC. His stance is buoyed by the fact that 12 members of the State House of Assembly remain in the APC, as is the deputy governor and the party executives in the state. And if the crowd that attended the rally on Saturday August 4 was anything to go by, then APC’s chances of reclaiming the state governorship seat as well as winning the presidential election in 2019 are still brighter than that of PDP.

What is also clear from all that has happened in the last ten days is that the APC seem to have an ace up its sleeves and reacted quickly enough to all of the movements that happened away from the party by quickly reorganizing its structures so as to not create vacuums as well as striking back to pluck some bigwigs from the PDP before the latter could settle down to bask in the euphoria of those who joined it from the APC.

Having said this, we expect more twists and turns before election day. Both parties still have a lot of work to do to ensure it comes out victorious in the presidential race, no matter who seems to have an edge presently following the opening of the political transfer window.