By Emmanuel Oladesu, Deputy Editor
Throughout the world, politicians gravitate towards winning parties.”
That was the opinion of the colourful politician, Dr. Kingsley Mbadiwe, a stalwart of the prescribed National Party of Nigeria (NPN), while defending the defections from opposition parties to the ruling party in the Second Republic.
The remarks of the flamboyant politician were laced with hyperbole as he reacted to the defections of Akin Omoboriowo, Soji Odunjo, Sunday Afolabi, Busari Adelakun, Sikiru Shitta-Bey and their supporters from the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to the NPN.
The defections generated controversy because the defectors were perceived as Awoists and ideologues, who crossed over from their progressive family to cohabit with strange bedfellows in the conservative camp.
History was merely repeating itself in the Second Republic. In the First Republic, the progressive camp had been hit by defections, following the split in the banned Action Group (AG) at the Jos convention. To have an edge in regional politics, Premier Ladoke Akintola’s new party, a fusion of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and a regional faction of National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), formed the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) and sealed an alliance with the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC).
However, the premise for the first historic defection in colonial Nigeria was said to be motivated by ethnic consideration. The rivalry between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had peaked ahead of the first regional elections in the defunct Western Region. The legislators, who were supporters of the two leaders, were not elected on the platforms of the AG and NCNC, but on the platforms of township and community associations.
The colonial authorities only recognised political parties. As the lawmakers took their seats, many supporters of Zik showed up as AG chieftains, and Awo, whose party now commanded the majority, became the Leader of Government Business, to the consternation of Zik, who had hoped to become the premier.
An aggrieved Zik cried foul again when he could not proceed to the House of Representatives because NCNC legislators refused to step down for him. In a fit of anger, he relocated from Lagos to the Eastern Region, mobilised the Igbo numerical strength against Prof. Ita Eyo, an Efik and Leader of Government Business, who he displaced, and became premier. Eyo could not resist. Therefore, he defected to a smaller party. The rest is history.
The analogy shows that defections are driven by the desire for relevance and survival in the slippery political field.
The trend of defections that pervaded the pre- independence era, and the first and second republics could only be nipped in the bud by the introduction of two party system in the Third Republic. In that ill-fated dispensation, there was no significant defection from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to the National Republican Convention (NRC).
The current dispensation marks the total collapse of ideological culture. Except the now weakened Alliance for Democracy (AD), political parties had move away from ideological pursuits. Their arrowheads are only united by the pursuit of power, with the parties merely serving as vehicles.
Yet, the AD, which appeared to be a semblance of an ideological platform, being as it were, an incarnate of UPN, later became decimated when it was confronted by politics of nominations, challenges of internal democracy, battle for supremacy among its leaders and other internal contradictions. For example, in Ondo and Ekiti states, core Awoists, including Mrs. Mobolaji Osomo and Chief Samuel Kolawole, left AD for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), following unresolved complaints about governorship nominations ahead of 1999 elections.
As from 2002, some National Assembly members-Senators Wahab Dosunmu, Seye Ogunlewe, Onimole, Femi Davies-capitalised on the Afenifere/AD crisis to quit AD.
In 2007, politicians started changing allegiances with the speed of lightening. Self-interest and battle for survival were projected over the collective interest of the party.
The Fourth Republic is replete with accounts of serial defections, with the defectors living up to the dictum: there is no permanent friend or foe in politics, only permanent interest. Thus, in 2007, Vice President Atiku Abubakar defected from the PDP to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). In 2010, he returned to PDP. In 2013, he returned to ACN, which later fused into APC. Ahead of the 2019 poll, he went back to PDP.
Senator Uche Ekwunife had traversed APGA, PDP and APC in the course of her political career.
From being a sympthatiser of the defunct ANPP, former Senate President Bukola Saraki moved to PDP, and later APC, and later retraced his steps to PDP. Also, Sokoto State Governor Waziri Tambuwal came from PDP to APC and he later returned to PDP.
In Nigeria, a split in any party often heralds bitter electoral contests. Defection from ruling parties may result into decimation, increasing and bitter media war and propaganda. Tension is unleashed on the polity ahead of general elections.
In mature democracies, defections are rare and infrequent, owing to the retrenchment of ideological politics driven, more than national than personal interest.
Generally, defections in Nigeria are premised on five factors-the poverty of ideology, personal interest and ambitions, division in the party, lack of internal democracy in political parties and weakness of crisis resolution mechanism.
Reflecting on the impact of ambition and personal interest, Hilke Rebenstorf, in his work, titled: “Political Interest: Its Meaning and General Development,” described political interest as the most towering motivation for political participation in a democratic setting. The subsisting interest could provoke loyalty and prepare an individual towards the rigour of politicking because power is not served a la carte. Interest is also the baseline for identification with the party and sustenance of commitment to a platform. The implication is that waning interest in a party may be a prelude to defection.
Also, interest is the foundation of ambition and the quest for power at any level. Ambition connotes an intention to engage in competition and necessary intra-party conflicts and inter-party antagonism. Therefore, when it appears that candidates are imposed, the process becomes less competitive and injurious to ambitious politicians, especially in the absence of a consensus climate.
The defence of personal interest is at a cost to group interest. But, politicians in Nigeria usually hold on to their interests because many of them perceive politics as an occupation, and not a vocation. They embrace politics as an avenue for private accumulation instead of opportunity for diligent service to the community, state and country.
Political parties usually have agenda for transforming society. It may be the offshoot of their ideology, beliefs, vision, mission and goals. Ideology is critical and since a political party is an association of like minds united by similarity of ideas, individual members are expected to demonstrate loyalty and commitment to the ideology of the party and play significant role in its espousal. Ideology is a compass; it gives direction and encourages ideologues to produce strategies for implementation of manifestos. Ideology is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. Ordinary, manifestos should derive from the ideological learning. This makes ideology is a distinguishing and predictable feature of the party system.
Conflicts and conflict resolution are essential features of party system. Disagreements among chieftains may lead to polarisation, fragmentation, division and factionalisation of parties. Politics of exclusion and monopolisation of party power by few individuals in the party may lead to resentment, bitterness and defection.
Indeed, many political parties lack the capacity to achieve internal cohesion, due to the weakness of crisis resolution mechanism, which permits the aggrieved to ventilate their grievances and attract assurance about political security within the organisation.
A major source of division and protracted crisis is the the lack of transparency in the intenal processes of political parties, including congresses, nomination and distribution of reward for membership. Party primaries, congreses and conventions are usually rancorous, leading to post-primary crisis and a floodgate of litigations.
Also, the dictatorship of party leadership may not engender trust. Party leadership is usually transformed into a conclave of few leaders whose activities may alienate members, or certain blocs within the party, based on internal squabble for the control of party machinery, promotion of divisive caucus interest and misuse of party apparatus and resources.
The leadership of a political party is very critical to how it is shaped, how it can withstand destabilisation tendency and how it can foster party supremacy and discipline.
Judging by the Nigerian experience, a key element of defection is the bandwagon effect. The defection of a party big wig is accompanied by a seeming mass defection of members who belong to his caucus or those who see him as a sort of rallying point.
Therefore, many defectors can hardly comprehend the motivation for defection beyond the withdrawal of party chieftains they adore.
A political scientist, Boniface Ayodele, observed that defections have become permanent features of political parties, adding that “the greed and self-interest of politicians are responsible.”