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Hounding of political dissenters

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Hounding of political dissenters

In the past three weeks, Nigeria’s democracy has again been under threat. That is as political activities ushering in the 2019 general elections begin to take shape. With the defections of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, 14 senators, 37 members of the House of Representatives and Governors Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Samuel Ortom (Benue) and Abdulfattah Ahmed (Kwara) from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the gloves appear to have been removed in the battle to unseat President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 or to deny him a second term in office.

We believe that only a political neophyte would not take such moves seriously, considering the weight of the personalities involved and the possible implications of their moves. We recall that in the run-up to the 2015 general elections, most of the same characters had defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to APC, leaving PDP distraught.

There is no doubt that their exit with some other political actors that are still left in APC today was the turning point in the unmaking of PDP as the ruling party at the centre. We recall that on October 28, 2014, Tambuwal, then speaker of the House of Representatives, had defected to APC from PDP and adjourned sitting in the House from that day to December 3, 2014. He served out his tenure as speaker until May 2015 when he was sworn in as the Governor of Sokoto State. We also note that Tambuwal denied the move until he eventually did, ostensibly because he was scared of losing his position as speaker. We recall also that many members of the House and some senators followed him to APC.

The result of the defections was the loss PDP suffered in 2015, which ushered in APC as the ruling party at the centre and the majority party overnight. Four years after, the table seems to be turning in the other direction. Saraki, Tambuwal, Ahmed, Ortom, among others, have returned to PDP now, with APC baying for their blood.

Ordinarily, we would not be worried by the tears of APC as it was expected that the party would not be happy with the development. But we are worried that the body languages of leaders of the party and the Presidency, suggest that the defections are being taken more violently than it was done in 2014. How do we explain the siege laid to the houses of Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, on the morning the defection games began at the National Assembly? We found it curious that it was the same day the police decided to invite Saraki for questioning on the now famed Offa robbery incident and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), invited Ekweremadu for questioning on some alleged financial crimes.

They were not allowed to answer the summons before their houses were barricaded by security agencies. Since then, Saraki has been questioned by the police while EFCC had quizzed Ekweremadu over the charges. In Benue State, Ortom is facing impeachment. But, by far, the scariest are the utterances of the Presidency and the national leadership of APC, who have branded the defectors as thieves, criminals and bad elements, who did not deserve to be in APC in the first place. We are worried that Nigerian politics has come out as one played without principles. We are worried that politicians are constantly chasing personal interests above collective interests.

But we do not believe that politicians become brigands, thieves and criminals overnight just because they opted for other platforms to serve their personal interests. We consider the hounding of people based on political differences and the criminalising of such people because of differing political views as sheer intolerance of democratic dynamics.

We do not subscribe to the impression that one political party is a saint while others are sinners. We say so strongly because we know for sure that save for one or two persons that are in APC today, majority of its key players came from other political parties that are today regarded as sinners. We do not believe that APC is a purgative political party, where its adherents are cleaned of their sins. Neither do we believe that PDP, for instance, is a party of criminals. Rather, we subscribe to the views of ordinary Nigerians that Nigerian political parties, especially the big two, are different faces of the same coin.

What we expect from APC now is not to be hounding those who left it. Rather, we expect the party to move towards wooing more people into its fold and convince Nigerians on why it should be the party of choice in 2019. We do not expect that a political party that claims to be populated by progressives would be threatening the democratic process by its utterances and actions. It would only amount to crying soured grapes. For PDP, we also expect that receiving more members is not enough. The party has been in power for 16 unbroken years before 2015. Nigerians were not happy with the performance.

More than ululating loudly over its new catches, we expect the party to tell Nigerians why it must be trusted again. Either way, we believe that democracy is at stake, which is what Nigerians want. Neither APC nor PDP would be forgiven for truncating it. We insist the game must be played within the rules.

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