Political party, defection otherwise known as “cross-carpeting”, “party crossover”, “party switching” or “political prostitution” is a serious source of concern to the development of democracy, popular participation and good governance in Nigeria.
The way and manner in which Nigerian politicians defect from one party to the other, has not only constituted democratic nuisance, but has continued to raise serious concern among stakeholders, on the sustainability of democracy in the country.
This irritant democratic behavior lends credence, to lack of clear ideology among most political parties, lack of internal democracy, corruption, greed and dogged pursuance of selfish interest as against the common interests of the society.
Unfortunately, party defection has become a political norm in Nigeria’s democracy and it has created confusion, uncertainty and total lack of direction in political parties and governance.
Though politics of defection is synonymous with liberal democracy worldwide, but Nigeria’s case is exceptionally outrageous.
It is true that, party defection is a phenomenon that occurs even in the so-called advanced democracies.
For example, Winston Churchill of Britain remained one of the foremost political defectors in the history of Britain. He first joined the British parliament as a Conservative in 1901, defected to the Liberal in 1904, and defected back to the Conservative in 1925.
In India, the problem of political party defection became so alarming, that the country had to enact laws against defection in 1973, 1985 and 2003.
These laws provided that a person could be disqualified from serving in parliament for withdrawing membership of his original political party. So defection is not new to liberal democracy the world over.
This is because, democracy promotes the principles of fundamental human rights, the freedom of individuals’ political life and the people’s rights to unrestrained access to participation in the policy processes.
The beginning of politics of defection in Nigeria is traceable to 1951, when several members of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), defected to the Action Group (AG) just to deny Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and his party (NCNC), the majority in the Western Regional House of Assembly, which the party required to form government in the Western Region, although, there were some isolated cases, here and there, when individuals and groups were coerced into defecting to other political parties.
Some members of NEPU were forced to defect to either NPC or withdraw from partisan politics as a result of their attachment to the establishment.
The cases of Maitama Sule (Dammasanin Kano) and Alhaji Musa Magami were typical examples. Thus, threat or subjection to political repression, was a serious factor that contributed to politics of defection.
During the Second Republic, Ahaji Ibrahim Waziri defected from Nigerian People Party (NPP), to form Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP), when his bid for the Presidential nomination seemed to be threatened.
The Governor of Kano State, Alhaji Muhammadu Abubakar Rimi had to defect from his People Redemption Party (PRP) to the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), to be able to contest election for the second term. Thus, politics of defection is synonymous to liberal democracy anywhere in the World.
The argument is that, the system guarantees fundamental human rights of individuals, including the right to choose what is best for them. However, the rate of party defection in the Fourth Republic is so unprecedented such that most stakeholders in the polity become very much concerned. And indeed, the level of party defection exposes the total ideological bankruptcy of most members of Nigeria’s political parties, and the centrality of the pursuit of political power as against any other reason why people join politics.
Since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in 1999, all the major political parties in Nigeria have one internal crisis or the other. These crises often, degenerate into serious and irreconcilable conflicts, divisions, and factionalization, especially between 2006 and 2018 which marked the peak of both intra-party conflicts and inter party defections. At the initial stage, the scene was dominated by intra-party fraction, mostly associated with inability to observe internal democratic principles in most of the political parties, but later the situation grew to inter-party defections and mostly from the opposition to the ruling party. During the prelude to the 2015 general election, the unhealthy power contest within ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) prompted incessant defections of prominent members of the party to the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC).
As mentioned earlier, lack of respect for party ideology is seen as the leading source of politics of defection.
Party ideology, which is supposed to be a practical belief system that justifies chosen political order for the society, explaining in practical terms, the best way the party intends to tackle social challenges and moving the country forward, seems to be not upheld or respected in most of our political parties.
And the simple reason is that, Parties in Nigeria are portrayed as lacking in clear vision and focus on transformation or rather the will to live up to such party characteristics. As such they are virtually the same in terms of attributes and characteristics except the PRP.
This is as against what obtains in the so-called advanced democracies, such as U.S.A. and Britain, where most Nigerian politicians draw inspiration from.
Political parties in those countries have been known to exist on sustained ideological bases.
Parties were not just platforms for ascending to political power, but constitute ways of socio-political identification as well as means of mobilization and a unifying factor.
Therefore, clear ideological stand of a political party, plays a major role in unifying people of different cultures, ethnicity, religion, gender and orientation to a common destiny. This is one of the good examples Nigerian political parties ought to have emulated from those countries, especially taking into consideration our multicultural setting.
But unfortunately, ideological bankruptcy in our political parties has reduced them to mere tools of ascending to public office.
Political parties have become organizations that survive on monetization as the basis for loyalty and support. This has also accounted for the incessant internal crises in the parties, which not only lead to defections, but also explained why in some cases, politicians defect to where they call “greener posture“ (baza su yi Azumi ba) that is even when there is no crisis bedevilling their own political parties.
Corruption is another major cause of politics of defection in Nigeria. Contemporary politicians emphasized primacy of political power over and above everything in politics. As against the views of the nationalist politicians such as Malam Aminu Kano, for instance, occupation of public office though desirable, but it is not an end in itself. That is why his ideas and contributions to socio-political development of the country are ever-lasting. To the present day politicians, the possession of public office is the ultimate and the most lucrative business in the country. Political office gives direct access to economic power. And presiding over the allocation of public resources allows one to plunder these public resources for personal ends. As such, desperation to hold public office as means of accumulating wealth or “empowering” group members or supporters, remains the primary objective of engaging in partisan politics. Thus defection by Nigerian politicians without justifications becomes an accepted norm.
Also associated with corrupt behavior of our politicians, is politicians that occupy public offices and looted public funds, defect to the new ruling party for cover-up. That is, their membership of the ruling party usually saves them from the anti-corruption agencies like EFCC and ICPC whom are to a greater extent reduced to political hounding dogs and tools or weapons used against the uncooperative members of the opposition parties.
The alarming rate of defection in Nigerian politics is also attributed to instability within political parties occasioned by lack of internal democracy. A popular trend in Nigeria is, politicians easily defect to other political parties, the moment they fail to secure party nominations during own party’s primaries. Winning party primary election and recognition of candidates for nomination or selection as flag bearer of a political party depends on the economic potency of the candidate, the strength of his political “godfather” or his support base from especially those in control of the government. Integrity and capacity of an aspirant does not matter. Some aspirants, who feel disillusioned, cheated or denied free and fair primaries, as well as those who simply lose out, defect to other parties so as to participate in the general elections, in fact, some of them with the intention of returning to their original parties after general elections.
A typical example, is the recent defection of the former gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) Kano State, in the 2019 general election, and some others, to the ruling APC without shame. Same Politicians defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to PRP when they did not emerge as the PDP gubernatorial candidates. PRP accepted them to contest the elections even as there were contestants on its platform, following rigorous screening conducted by its Committee on Research and Planning. When they lost in the general elections, they decided to dump the PRP, to defect to the ruling APC.
Indeed, this is a clear indication that, most Nigerian politicians are “political prostitutes” who lack integrity, vision and patriotism. There is no other way one could reasonably explain the defection of the Party’s gubernatorial candidate who was presumed to be honest, firm and patriotic, the like of Malam Aminu Kano, could defect easily from the only Nigerian political party with clear ideological stand, that is categorically out to emancipate the masses (Talakawa) and install equity and social justice; to the ruling APC, which obviously, from top to bottom demonstrated an unprecedented corruptive tendencies, incapacity and total disregard to the plight of the average Nigerians. A party which has clearly demonstrated its inability to deliver on any of its campaign promises regarding the security challenges of the country, fighting corruption and improving the economic wellbeing of Nigerians, a party, which has produced the most corrupt, clueless and fraudulent administration ever in the history of Kano State.
The use of money in liberal democracy permeates the system. Critics of the system always argue that, the contribution of money to political parties and candidates is an important way in which large corporations and wealthy capitalists influence politics and governance. While this argument is quite weighty, money politics is also an important factor in promoting defection in Nigeria. The use of money in politics is seen as necessary evils, but its negative effect as means of funding political competition has been a serious source of concern and so calls for serious re-consideration, if at all, the principles of popular participation is to be realized. The amount of money required by a candidate to be able to contest and win election, especially in presidential democracy, is so huge that, a candidate who has no access to such resources should simply forget about it, or if he is desperate, should defect to the ruling Party, where all his expenses would be funded from the public purse, or to move to a political party that has large concentration of wealthy personalities i.e. Ex-this, Ex-that, and Retired this, Retired that, where such huge resources could be accessed easily.
This political brouhaha could only be surmounted when the Nigerian electorate realizes the importance of owning a political party. PRP must conduct serious political reorientation and political education, as well as recruitment of select members of the public to actively participate in politics. They should be made to pay their membership fees, mobilize activists to make donations to election campaigns and insist that the leadership of their political parties must be honest, transparent and accountable for their actions or inactions.
They should be mobilized to retract their apathy toward partisan politics and be made to actively participate in the political process. This way would probably allow them to own the political parties, influence their programmes and ensure that political office holders respect their covenant with them.
By: Kano State Directorate of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP).