Bread and butter politics: How gale of defections unsettles opposition parties in Southeast

The obnoxious reign of politicians without principles, and political parties without ideology is taking shape in the Southeast. Today, the supposed voices of the opposition are decamping into the ruling parties for pecuniary reasons, with the so-called democracy fast dovetailing into a one-party state across the region, LAWRENCE NJOKU reports.

When will you defect? This appears to be the singsong among politicians in the southeast region, as the movement from one political party to another for greener pastures has continued to gain momentum.

Thirteen months after the conclusion of the 2023 general elections, the southeast region has become the hotbed of politicians defecting from one party to another. And the movement has been so easy because political parties in Nigeria lack ideology.

As it happened in 1999 when notable politicians in the region moved in droves to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), thereby swelling the region to a “PDP zone”, a similar scenario is playing out with the level of rush into the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

An investigation by The Guardian revealed that no fewer than 20 prominent politicians, who contested in the last elections have changed parties with their supporters and many more on their way.

No part of the country has witnessed the level of defection within this time than the southeast. In fact, it involves those who have won or failed in their elections, having been described as “spent forces” by their parties or angling for political appointments. Some also have pending cases at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), thinking that once they joined the ruling party, “their sins would be forgiven.”

Of the political parties involved, however, APC is profiting the most and is still looking forward to more politicians joining its fold in the coming months. This is accentuated by the fact that the party holds the carrot and stick privileges to dispense.

The gale of defection began with Ifeanyi Ubah, the senator representing Anambra South in the National Assembly. Ubah, who won his re-election on the platform of the relatively unknown Young Progressive Party (YPP), had last October carried the mandate of the party to APC.

He was closely followed by former Senator Uche Ekwunife, who was the PDP senatorial candidate in the Anambra Central senatorial election last year, but lost the contest to incumbent senator, Victor Umeh of the Labour Party (LP). Also is former Senator Stella Oduah, who was PDP senatorial candidate for Anambra North but lost to the incumbent, Tony Nwoye of the LP.

Uba, who won his seat on the platform of YPP, told those who cared to listen that he defected to the ruling APC because of the desire to join the party at the centre to bring dividends of democracy and renewed hope to his constituency.

Since joining APC, he has been struggling to remain relevant and curry favour of those leading the party at the national and southeast regional levels.

Ekwunife, who enjoyed eight years at the senate on the platform of PDP, has been rewarded with an appointment as Director General of the Southeast Governors Forum (SEGF), led by Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma, who is also the leader of the APC in the region.

Oduah, who was also in the Senate for eight years, on the PDP platform, recently announced her defection to the APC “because of the appointment of Governor Uzodimma as the Coordinator of the party in the southeast region”, stressing that Uzodimma’s efforts in trying to bring development to the region should be encouraged. She also stated that she was attracted by the commitment of President Bola Tinubu to the infrastructural development of the southeast, as well as his inclusive policies.

While Ubah and Ekwunife were still trying to settle down in their new found party, the PDP senator who represented Ebonyi Central district from 2015 to 2023, Obinna Ogba joined the APC.

Ogba was a PDP governorship aspirant in the 2023 elections. He lost the election to incumbent governor, Francis Nwifuru of the APC. He, however, described APC as a very strategic and irresistible party.

The former senator claimed he defected with his over 5,000 loyalists across the 13 local government areas of the state. His defection came barely one week after PDP’s former aspirant; Obinna Nwachukwu decamped to the ruling party with his 2,000 loyalists in the state.

Last week, the senatorial candidate of PDP for Ebonyi central zone, in the last year’s general elections Lazarus Ogbee, also defected to the APC.

Like Ogba, Ogbee also lost in the 2023 senatorial contest to Emeka Kenneth Eze of the APC.

Ogbee, who was a former member of the House of Representatives, representing Ezza South/Ikwo federal constituency, said he defected with over 3,000 loyalists, stressing that his movement to APC marked the end of PDP in his Ezza South council.

He was joined by the former PDP House of Reps candidate for Ohanavo 1 constituency, Mark Makwe. He also lost his election in 2023 to the current occupant, Nkemkanma Kama.

Even when the party did not win the election in Abia State, some members of the PDP, led by former Chief of Staff to the governor, Anthony Agbazuere, defected to the party last week.

Agbazuere defected alongside immediate past Abia Commissioner of Information, Eze Chikamnayo; a former member of the House of Representatives, Uzo Azubuike; former Commissioner for Environment, Sam Nwogu; former commissioner representing Abia state in Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chimezie Okoronkwo; former Commissioner for Public Utilities, Eze Nwanganga; former Commissioner in Abia State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (OPADEC), Uzo Ihuka among others.

Their defection was confirmed in a statement by the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejiocha.

Onyejiocha had hosted a meeting of Abia APC leaders where the PDP members joined the party, stressing that it conformed with their determination to support President Tinubu.

Considered as loyalties of the immediate past governor of the state, Okezie Ikpeazu, no sooner had they left the party than the state chapter of the PDP described them as dead woods, hence, their defection had no impact on the party.

Abraham Amah, the PDP Vice Chairman who doubles as the Acting Publicity Secretary, stated that their defection was accepted with the understanding that they are entitled to their freedom.

“The Abia PDP truly appreciates the exit of these people, because, after the 2023 general elections, the party did a post-mortem on itself and came to the inevitable conclusion that the party needs to reinvent itself for the future.

“The only way for that to happen would be for the party to shed weight not by expelling some people, but for those responsible for its brief downturn to exit by themselves,” Amah stated.

But Amah wondered: “What should be a source of concern to Abians is why these people are leaving the PDP and rather than join the ruling party in Abia, which is the LP, they are joining APC, which is the ruling party at the centre. That alone speaks much about the character of the people who defected from the PDP.

In Enugu State, the gale of defection began with six members of the Enugu State House of Assembly elected on the platform of LP who formally announced their defection to PDP on March 28.

Those who decamped include the Chief Whip of the House of Assembly and member representing Igboeze North I, Ejike Eze; leader of the House and member representing Enugu North, Johnson Ugwu; and the member representing Enugu South Rural, Princess Ugwu.

Others are: a member representing Nsukka West, Pius Ezeugwu; a member representing Igbo-Etiti West, Amuka Williams; and a member representing Oji River, Osita Eze.

They hinged their defection to the “existence of irreconcilable division and incessant crisis within LP at the national level and across all the state chapters.”

According to them, “Regrettably, the party has evolved into a state of perpetual discord with various factions embroiled in legal battles thereby undermining its ability to effectively serve the interest of the people.

While the serving lawmakers were joining PDP in the guise that the platform would advance their interest in being the ruling party in the state, some notable members of PDP on the other hand were leaving the party to join APC.

Those who left the PDP to join APC include two-term senator, Chukwuka Utazi. He represented Enugu North district. He resigned his membership of the PDP in October last year. He was joined by a former Minister of Aviation, Fidelia Njeze, who was also at a time Minister of Defence and Ambassador to some countries.

When he was formally accepted into the APC last week, Utazi said he dumped PDP to realise the quest for Igbo presidency, stressing that, “as a national politician, I want to join politics at the centre. What we are doing in Enugu cannot take us anywhere.”

He said that it would amount to a sheer waste of time for people to continue to stay in PDP, adding that, “If you are not at the centre, you are failing. The only way to get Igbo presidency is to serve as a servant at the APC. I want to serve in the party. APC is the only way to join the mainstream nationally.”

Speaking with The Guardian, a political analyst, Humphery Nwodo, explained that the lack of ideology that characterised politics in Nigeria was the driving force behind the gale of defections.

He stated that politicians with ideology could make positive impacts on the polity without, “necessarily running into the government that is in power at the centre nationally or in the state”, adding that, “they will still run to other political parties if they are not getting the required attention in their current parties.

“This is why we don’t have credible opposition in our system. We have a lot of fair-weather politicians in the system; otherwise, tell me how somebody who has served in an elective office for eight years or been appointed to various agencies would want to quit his party if not to seek better opportunities somewhere.

“In some of these cases, the only impact they make is to get an appointment or secure a ticket for another election. We cannot grow our politics by running from one party to another. We need to learn to accept defeat and stay to plan another election, not running anywhere you think you can grab power.”

Nwodo, who is also the Coordinator for Southeast Professionals for Tinubu, further believes that it was too early for politicians in the zone to start jostling from one party to another, stressing “what they are doing now shows they have nothing to offer.”

He, however, stated that various opportunities the government at the centre is offering can add to this, as according to him, “You know that president Tinubu has not appointed members of the various boards and several others. You cannot benefit unless you are of the ruling political party.”

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