Nigeria opposition vows new era after ruling party defections

19 December 2013 Last updated at 17:00 CET


By Ola Awoniyi


Abuja (AFP) – Nigeria’s opposition said Thursday the country should expect a more accountable democracy after the party which has ruled since 1999 lost its majority in parliament.

Thirty-seven lawmakers elected as members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) defected to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) on Wednesday, stripping the PDP of its majority in Nigeria’s 360-seat lower house.

“I think there is a window of hope after 14 years,” APC spokesman Lai Mohammed told AFP, a reference to the PDP’s complete dominance of national politics since military rule ended in 1999.

“The PDP can no longer take the electorate for granted,” Mohammed said, with 2015 general elections looming. “We should have a more competitive, accountable democracy.”

President Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP has suffered a series of unprecedented political blows in recent months, including the defection of five powerful state governors in November.

After Wednesday’s mass party-switch announced by the speaker of the house the PDP was left with just 171 members.

The lawmakers who defected have drafted a petition which seeks to block a court from declaring the seats vacant, a legal move the PDP is expected to pursue.

The petition, seen by AFP, also contains the names of 22 PDP senators from the upper house, indicating they may also be planning to quit the party.

The PDP has 74 senators in 109-member upper house and losing its majority there would plunge the party and Jonathan deeper into crisis.

But analysts said it was premature to celebrate a new era of accountability and questioned whether the APC is actually motivated to clean up a government regularly ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt.

“There are no ideological differences between the two parties,” said Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders.

The lawmakers defected because they were “disgruntled” with the PDP and were resorting to “antics” to settle personal scores.

“They want to take their pound of flesh by joining the APC,” the anti-graft crusader told AFP.

The APC is led by former Lagos state governor Bola Tinubu, widely accused of stealing public resources during his 1999-2007 tenure.

The party’s other top leader and potential presidential challenger is Muhammadu Buhari, who headed an iron-fisted military dictatorship from 1983 until his ouster two years later.

The APC insists that the PDP is crumbling because Jonathan has allowed graft to flourish, failed to improve infrastructure, including electricity supply, and bungled the fight against Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group that has killed thousands since 2009.

But some analysts argue that the real divisions in the PDP are linked to Nigeria’s 2015 presidential and parliamentary polls.

Jonathan has so far refused to declare his plans but is widely expected to seek re-election, even as he has faced mounting pressure within his own party to stand aside.

He has been accused of breaking an unwritten rule in the party which calls for the presidency to rotate between Christians from the south, like Jonathan, and Muslims from the north.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and top oil producer, roughly divided between a mostly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north.

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