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• 15 senators, 37 reps members defect
• Deserters have no electoral value, says Oshiomhole
• Atiku, CAN, others condemn police blockade
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has downplayed its loss of majority seats at the Senate, following yesterday’s defection by 15 lawmakers to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The drama was also replicated at the House of Representatives where 37 legislators abandoned the ruling party.
While the plot to jump ship was already anticipated, an early morning blockade by security operatives at the residences of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu seemed to have hastened the action.
It is believed the barricade was part of a plan to checkmate the defection.
The police had on Monday invited Saraki for questioning over his alleged involvement in the April 5 Offa robbery incident. But before this could happen, armed policemen took up positions, sealing off his street.
It was allegedly to prevent Saraki from going anywhere else except the police station.
The plan failed nevertheless, as Saraki mysteriously appeared at the chamber and presided over the decisive session. His deputy, barred by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Services was not as lucky.
The senators who crossed to the PDP are: Barnabas Gemade (Benue), Dino Melaye (Kogi), Shaaba Lafiagi (Kwara), Mohammed Shittu (Jigawa), Monsurat Sunmonu (Oyo), Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi), Suleiman Hunkuyi (Kaduna), Usman Nafada (Gombe), Adesoji Akanbi (Oyo), Ibrahim Dambaba (Sokoto), Isa Misau (Bauchi), Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara), Lanre Tejuoso (Ogun), Rabi’u Kwankwaso (Kano) and Senator Abdul-Azeez Murtala Nyako (Adamawa).
While 32 of the House of Representatives members mainly from Kano, Kwara, Kaduna, Kogi, Sokoto and Benue defected to the PDP, four others from Oyo State moved to the African Democratic Congress (ADC). One, Emmanuel Orkev-Jev, simply resigned his membership of the APC.
APC national Chairman Adams Oshiomhole shrugged off the loss as inconsequential. “The party that I am privileged to chair is not worried at all. We are not disturbed. I am not going to miss my sleep and we will go into the campaign,” he said.
Emerging from a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, Oshiomhole told State House correspondents: “As the national chairman, I am committed to listening to very legitimate grievances and engaging all those who are aggrieved. But I insist that I will not miss a sleep one minute over mercenary activities.
“The thing going on is that you have a lot of so-called big masquerades with very little and no electoral value. I have tried my best, which I think I needed to do, to give people comfort, those who claimed to be aggrieved. But those who have other hidden agenda that are not negotiable, I am not going to be able to appease.”
Asked what he thought about the implication of the defection, he said: “If people have chosen that it is more politically convenient to suspend the process of legislation ahead of time because it is not convenient for their political interests and choose to insubordinate the Nigerian national interest for that purpose, it is their choice. If there are implications, it is for the Nigerian nation not for APC.”
The APC chairman said he could not comment on the siege at the residences of Saraki and Ekweremadu, because it was a matter within the purview of security agencies.
The party’s national publicity secretary Bolaji Abdullahi urged APC members to remain calm. He said the party would continue to consolidate on its “majority status” in the build-up to next year’s elections.
“APC remains in firm control of 25 of the 36 states of the federation and maintains a clear majority in the federal House of Representatives and state assemblies,” he added.
Reacting also, Buhari said he does not hold any grudge against the defectors and wishes them success in their future undertakings.
In a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, he urged party members not to despair but see the defection as a seasonal event that happens whenever an election is near.
He expressed commitment to the values of democracy and freedom of choice, and willingness to work with all members of the National Assembly, irrespective of their political parties.
But displeased by the action of the security agencies, the PDP accused Buhari of turning the country to a fascist state.
National Chairman Uche Secondus said the APC-led government was deploying security agencies with a view to overthrowing the leadership of the National Assembly and make the legislature comatose. He, therefore, called on Nigerians to speak against this “gross violation of the constitution and attempt to disrupt the democratic process and institutions.”
PDP’s, National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “We want Nigerians to note the resort to intimidation by this government and we urge all democrats all over the world to condemn this act by the APC and President Buhari.”
The police action drew further condemnation from a former vice president and PDP presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar. “The news of the sieges on the residences of the Senate President Bukola Saraki and his Deputy Ike Ekweremadu is both troubling and unsettling. No democratic nation ought to treat the leadership of its parliament like common criminals in the course of a political disagreement,” he said.
Gombe State Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo described the action as a manifestation of tyranny in a democratic system, saying: “I condemn in its entirety the siege on the houses of the Principal Officers of the National Assembly by officers and men of the Nigerian Police.”
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) denounced in “strong terms the way the police were deployed in subjecting the leadership of the National Assembly to needless embarrassment and harassment. The action of the police is a siege against democracy.”
Also criticising the siege, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Sebastian Hon, said: “This is descent to fascism. All lovers of democracy and our dear country must resist this, using all lawful means. Remember how the jugular of the judiciary was aimed at, in the guise of fighting corruption. Now, after failing to blackmail the National Assembly or failing to destroy it through smear campaign, its leadership is being targeted, using the same security forces, who are being paid using tax payers’ money. This is totally unacceptable in any democratic setting. I condemn this in no mistaken terms.”