15 senators, 36 Reps quit Nigeria’s ruling party

Mass defection may signal turbulent future for country ahead of 2019 poll
LAGOS, Nigeria: At least 15 Nigerian senators and 36 members of the House of Representatives quit the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on Tuesday, snatching away the APC’s majority, and signaling a turbulent political climate ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls early next year.
The senators officially wrote a letter to the Senate leadership to declare allegiance to the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in a move likely to provoke a legal tussle on the status of their seats.
“We hereby inform that we are changing our political affiliation from the APC to PDP,” 14 of them wrote in a joint letter read by Bukola Saraki, the Senate president. Saraki later read a separate letter from Senator Abdulaziz Nyako announcing his defection from the ruling party to the PDP.
The defectors include controversial Senator Dino Melaye, who is facing multiple criminal charges, and the influential Rabiu Kwankwaso, a former governor and incumbent senator from northwest Kano state.
The 36 representatives also wrote a joint letter confirming their exit from the APC, citing alleged division within the party, with 43 of them jumping to the PDP. The remaining four joined the little-known African Democratic Party, a platform backed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Tuesday move may be only the beginning of mass defections from the APC following grumblings within its fold after several top notches lost out in the party’s recent convention. Saraki and others may also quit the party in the coming days.
The defections have left the ruling APC in the minority in the parliament as the PDP now has 61 senators versus the APC’s 41, while other fringe parties have the remaining three. Some four other seats are vacant on account of deaths or court cases. The tally at the House of Representatives is not yet clear.
But the defection may not go unchallenged, with the ruling party likely to ask the court to declare the seats of the defectors vacant in conformity with a ruling of the country’s Supreme Court. According to the court, defectors must show that their party is officially in crisis and fragmented to retain their seats.
The defection came hours after video footage emerged of police vehicles purportedly blocking Saraki’s residence, a day after he was summoned to appear before detectives probing his alleged links to an armed robbery incident in which at least 31 people were killed. There were also claims of cops blocking the residence of Ike Ekweremadu, deputy Senate president.
Saraki claimed the police action was meant to prevent parliament from sitting and frustrate the defection of some lawmakers.
Police denied they were blocking Saraki’s residence, but the country’s anti-graft agency has asked Ekweremadu to appear for questioning over an alleged money laundering case involving the opposition politician.
The senate is currently adjourned until Sept. 25.–AA

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