By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
It was salt upon injury for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. At a time when the party was still trying to resolve the crisis in its national leadership, the party’s lot in the House of Representatives sank further after two of its members defected from the party to the All Progressives Congress, APC last Wednesday. The defection of the two lawmakers came a day after the end of the nine-day lockout of staff and officials of the party out of the national secretariat by the police. The police claimed to have acted to prevent any of the factions contending for the party’s leadership from taking over the national secretariat.
The two men who crossed the carpet were Dr. Tony Nwoye from Anambra State and Emmanuel Udende from Benue State. The development reduced the strength of the PDP in the House as its numbers sank from 140 to 138 even as the strength of the APC rose from 213 to 215.
The two defectors in their separate letters to the Speaker cited what they claimed as the division of the party at the national level as their reason for the defection. The justification by Nwoye and Udende is in line with Section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 constitution which gives National Assembly members the leverage to defect if the party through which they were elected is factionalised.
The BoT Secretary, Chief Ojo Maduekwe apparently determined to stop the APC and others rebels in the PDP to use the same window was forced to counter the claim in a late night press statement on Wednesday saying that the party was not factionalised. However, beyond the legal bluster is the fact that the PDP presently does not have a recognised national executive, a fact that Nwoye and Udende took opportunity of to further their immediate political aspirations.
For Nwoye, a former national president of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, a former chairman of the Anambra State chapter of the PDP and its immediate past governorship candidate, the crisis was like a Godsend given assertions by his associates that his party worked against him in the last governorship election. Many Anambra PDP stakeholders had complained that at the time of the 2013 election that President Goodluck Jonathan did not fully embrace Nwoye and that the presidency at that time had a quiet understanding to return the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA candidate, Mr. Willy Obiano who was the candidate of Jonathan’s close political ally, Mr. Peter Obi. Obi in fact subsequently left APGA to head Jonathan’s ill-fated campaign in the Southeast.
Dr. Nwoye who recently qualified as a medical doctor, it is alleged, is determined to fulfil his governorship aspiration and may have decided to seize the opportunity of the division in the party to move over to a more stable party given the leeway provided by the constitution. For Nwoye who has until now maintained his political structure in the PDP in Anambra State, the exit from the PDP could be an opportunity to better leverage his resources in a more stable political platform. Nwoye’s recent experience in PDP had not been wholly pleasant.
Against the opposition of some prominent PDP leaders he had been declared as a member of the House of Representatives after the 2011 election but the then House leadership under Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal at the last minute refused to inaugurate him. Again he had emerged as PDP governorship candidate in 2013, but the PDP refused to back him in the election. It was as such not surprising that when he took the form to contest again in the 2015 election that he did not make a show of it probably not to attract the wily conspirators.
By decamping at this moment, he has probably positioned himself in a stable platform ahead of the decisive contest. For Rep. Udende, who also decamped; it is a coming home given his close relationship with Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State. It is, however, a matter of great irony as Udende represented the Katsina Ala Federal Constituency that was once occupied by the immediate past governor of the state, Mr. Gabriel Suswam. The gist is that after Suswam was elected in 2007 that he helped to stop the then member representing the constituency, Nzenda Iho from getting a second term in 2011. Instead of Iho, Suswam was reported to have backed Udende, who won the PDP ticket and won it again in 2015.
However, by 2015 the quarrel in the Benue chapter of the PDP led to Ortom exiting the party and defecting to the APC just about the last day of that party’s deadline for the purchase of governorship nomination forms. Ortom by sheer bravado was able to win it. Udende according to sources had sought to prevail on Suswam to allow a level playing ground in the PDP, but the former governor was said to have stoutly stood against Ortom, who eventually defected and won the governorship election.
From that point, the battle line was said to have been clearly drawn. Udende according to sources even as a PDP House of Representatives candidate did not just back Ortom, the APC governorship candidate, but also supported some of the party’s other candidates. He has only just returned home!