After the failure of efforts to stop the long anticipated defections (Nigeria Politics & Security – 23.07.18) from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to opposition parties, such desertions finally came to fruition, but not without drama and some intrigue. Late on the evening of 23 July the Senate President Bukola Saraki received an invitation from the police to report to the their headquarters at 08.00 the following day to answer questions in relation to the ongoing investigations into an armed robbery that took place at Offa in Kwara State.
As he prepared to leave his official residence to answer the summons on 24 July, police cars surrounded his home and prevented him from leaving the house. Simultaneously, a similar situation was taking place at the residence of the deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, whose house was also surrounded by men from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the State Security Service (SSS). He had similarly received a letter that morning of 24 July inviting him to report to the EFCC over corruption allegations. However, he was also prevented from leaving his official residence.
Meanwhile Senators began arriving at the chamber for the day’s plenary session. Initially it appeared as if they were mainly pro-Buhari senators and rumours started going round that there was a plan to impeach Saraki. According to its rules — if both the Senate president and the deputy president are absent — the house leader presides over affairs. Because he is a pro-Buhari senator the expectation was that Saraki would immediately be impeached and replaced while he was still being held by the police.
Despite anticipating this, however, Saraki walked into the chamber as the plenary was about to start at 10.00. It is unclear how he managed to escape the siege but there are rumours that he had been pre-informed by unnamed sources of the police plan to detain him. He had therefore sneaked out of his house at midnight to the Senate while leaving his phones in the house to make it difficult for him to be tracked.
The convoy attempting to leave the house in the morning — which was blocked by the police — was just a decoy. Saraki presided over the day’s plenary session and aborted the plans to have him impeached. He also announced a list of 15 APC senators that had indicated that they have defected to, mainly, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the African Democratic Congress (ADC). However two senators said that their names were wrongly included on the list. Saraki was not among those jumping ship but he is eventually expected to do so. After the defections were announced the Senate adjourned further proceedings to 25 September.
It was a similar situation in the House of Representatives where 37 APC representatives announced their defections, with 32 joining the PDP and the remaining four joining the ADC. On 25 July — while the party was still coming to terms with this — Benue State’s Governor Samuel Ortom announced that he was also defecting to the PDP as had been expected (see Nigeria Politics & Security – 23.07.18). Until 14 October — when Ekiti State’s governor elect, Kayode Fayemi, is sworn in — this has reduced the number of APC governors to 23 and increased that of PDP governors to 12.
The APC’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, has said that the defections would not affect the party’s chances in the 2019 elections. However it was the defection of five governors from the then ruling PDP to the APC that helped the later win the 2015 election. Now, with the defections in the opposite direction, it is most likely to impact on the outcome of next year’s elections. Buhari’s support base remains strong in the North but it is on very shaky ground outside the core North. The defections have further dimmed his chances of winning next year and the APC’s prospects of retaining national power.