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The crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came to a head Tuesday as five out of its seven aggrieved governors, in a major political earthquake, joined the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The PDP governors that defected to the APC are Mr. Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers), Alhaji Ahmed Abdulfatah (Kwara), Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano), Alhaji Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), and Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto).
Two other governors — Dr. Mu'azu Babangida Aliyu (Niger) and Alhaji Sule Lamido (Jigawa) — declined to move with their colleagues to the opposition party as they reaffirmed their loyalty and membership of the PDP.
The news of the defection of the governors, who together with other PDP bigwigs had walked out of the party's special national convention in Abuja on August 31 to form the New PDP, was announced yesterday at a press conference in Abuja by the National Chairman of the splinter group, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje.
Shortly after he broke the news of the defection of the group to the APC, 49 PDP members of the House of Representatives also announced that they were crossing over to the opposition party.
Baraje told reporters that the decision to defect to the APC, which had in the last four weeks embarked on shuttle visits to the aggrieved governors to lobby them to join the party, was taken at a meeting with the APC leaders, held at the Kano State Governor's Lodge in Abuja.
Kwankwaso, Abdulfatah, Nyako, Aliyu and Amaechi attended the meeting.
Lamido and Wamakko, who were on a visit to Senegal, were absent.
Baraje, who read a two-sentence communiqué, said: “A meeting of the leadership of APC and New PDP met this (yesterday) morning at the residence of Kano State Governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, in Abuja. After an exhaustive deliberation, the two parties agreed to merge in order to rescue our fledgling democracy and the nation.”
The communiqué was signed by APC interim National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, and Baraje.
Others at the meeting included the suspended National Secretary of PDP, Olagunsoye Oyinlola; a former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Dr. Sam Sam Jaja; former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu who is the national leader of APC; a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Bello Masari; and another APC leader, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, among other chieftains.
On whether with the joining of the PDP governors, APC would change its name, Baraje said: “All these are implications of merging. What they are telling you is that we have merged and we have agreed to merge.”
On the governors of Niger and Kwara States who left the meeting, Baraje said: “Please note that some of our members took permission to go out of the meeting; they did not walk out. You have seen the governor of Kwara, you have seen the governor of Niger; they all took permission to travel. In fact, some of us here are travelling now too, we only waited a little bit for this communiqué to be read because of you.”
Before the communiqué was read, Abdulfatah and Aliyu had left the venue of the press conference and minutes later, the Niger State governor issued a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Ndayabo Danladi, dissociating himself from the defection.
It was however gathered that his Kwara counterpart had to excuse himself from the press conference because he had a flight to catch as he was said to be travelling to London.
Wamakko's spokesman, Malam Sani Umar, who feigned ignorance on whether the governor had also left PDP for APC, said he had gone to Senegal to attend a conference of African mayors on enhancing constitutionalism and rule of law in Africa, holding under the auspices of the African Union Commission.
But Aliyu, in the statement by his spokesman, said he would remain in PDP.
Danladi said his principal was shocked at the announcement of the merger of New PDP and APC even before a final decision was taken on the matter and denied that he was present at the meeting where the merger deal was sealed.
He explained that talks were still ongoing with President Goodluck Jonathan and he would await the outcome of the negotiations before taking a final decision on whether to defect or not.
Lamido also spoke in the same vein, saying he would remain in the PDP and fight injustice within the party.
"Despite the fact that my party, the PDP, is embroiled in a serious crisis, especially with the bad leadership of Bamanga (Tukur), that will not necessitate me to renounce my party. My family and I are currently under a huge political heat wave and campaign of misinformation aimed to smear our reputation and we have been adjudged guilty in the court of public opinion by the gullible and the misinformed.
"This will not intimidate me or harass me out of PDP. I will not give anybody the pleasure to engage me by his term. I will still maintain my position as the leader of PDP," the governor's Director of Press, Alhaji Umar Kyari Jitau, said in a statement in Dutse.
It was however learnt that Lamido’s decision to stay in the PDP might not be unconnected with the investigation of his children by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged money laundering.
Besides, it was also gathered that the decision of Lamido and Aliyu to remain in PDP was strategic as they, along with more governors, were expected to join their New PDP associates next year.
A source in the group said Aliyu came to identify with them and left because he had somewhere to go, adding that he had promised to join them in January.
He explained that the reason Aliyu did not join them for now was because he was not sure how sincere former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, was in identifying with the aggrieved governors.
He said: "Although the former military president feigns to be with them, he (Aliyu) does not seem to trust him and fears that the moment he leaves to join the APC, Babangida might take over the PDP structure to undo him, since he is also itching to make his son, Mohammed, governor. Therefore, he is waiting for the appropriate time to leave the PDP."
On Lamido, the source said the governor had some things to sort out before leaving the PDP, adding that the picture would be clear by January when more governors would join them, including the five that had been said to have identified with the New PDP but whose identities were kept secret for now.
Speaking after Baraje had read the communiqué, Tinubu said the merger with the New PDP was good for the overall interest of democracy in the country.
According to him, “It is a good rescue mission for our fledgling democracy, it is a must for the country, is very necessary and we are happy about that.”
As soon as the news of the defection of the governors broke, their Edo State counterpart, Adams Oshiomhole, headed for the State House to meet Jonathan.
The meeting, held behind closed doors, started around noon and ended at about 1.20pm.
At the end of the meeting, the governor declined to speak with reporters talking to journalists.
Shortly after the announcement of the defection of the governors, 49 out of the 67 members of the PDP in the House of Representatives, whose governors have joined the opposition party, also followed suit.
A statement by a member of the group in the House, Hon. Suleiman Abdurahman Kawu Sumaila, said legislators from Adamawa, Kano, Kwara, Rivers and Sokoto had gone with their governors to the APC.
Of the 49 defecting lawmakers, Kano has the highest number of 14, followed by Rivers with 13, while Sokoto has 11. Adamawa and Kwara have six and five respectively.
The other lawmakers who are still staying in the PDP because their governors have not defected are 18 from Jigawa and Niger States.
Before the defection, the PDP had 70 senators and 204 House members while APC had137 members in the House and 34 senators.
It was however, a different ball game in the Senate as THISDAY learnt that New PDP senators are divided over whether they should follow their governors to APC.
Ten of them, a source said, had opted out of the splinter group.
Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, yesterday said the defection of the governors had not affected the PDP caucus in the upper chamber, as no senator has formally informed the Senate of his defection.
Ndoma-Egba, who said it was still unclear how the defection would affect the PDP in the Senate, added that the rule guiding defection in the Senate was clear as any senator crossing over to another party has to state in clear terms the reason for his defection.
Section 68 subsection (1g), stipulates the condition under which a lawmaker could defect and keep his seat.
It says: "A member of the Senate or the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if… being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected; provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or faction by one of which he was previously sponsored."
The defection has also revealed a major crack in the ranks of New PDP in the Senate as some of them, notably Senator Simeon Ajibola (Kwara South), have distanced himself from the group.
He also disclosed that no fewer than 10 of the 22 senators in the New PDP had opted out.
According to him, two senators from Niger State and another one from Adamawa have not attended any of their meetings since inception and therefore won’t go with them.
He listed such senators to include Senators Zainab Kure (Niger South), Awaisu Kuta (Niger East) Bello Tukur (Adamawa Central)
However, reacting to the defection of the governors yesterday, PDP welcomed their decision, saying "it is within the rights of any Nigerian citizen to associate with anybody he/she deems fit."
According to the party, by the open declaration, the governors "have unveiled their true intent which most Nigerians suspected ab initio. They have chosen to abandon a broad-based national platform and embraced a narrow group of ethnic and religious bigots whose main intention is to unleash a state of anarchy on Nigeria."
"We wish to state categorically that the PDP remains unperturbed as we are now rid of detractors and distractions. We urge all our members nationwide to remain focused and close ranks, now that agents of distraction have finally left our ranks," it added.
The party said contrary to the impression members of the splinter group were trying to create, the courts have ruled that the party was not factionalised just as it reiterated its commitment to the peace process embarked upon by the president, which it stated was on course.
Notwithstanding the PDP assurances, the splinter group yesterday said with the defection of the governors, the party was in trouble.
It called upon Jonathan to prepare his handover note, as he would lose in the 2015 presidential election, if he runs.
In a statement by its spokesperson, Chief Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, the New PDP said with the defection to APC, PDP had become a minority party in the country.