News / Africa

Nigeria's Ruling Party Faces Political Challenges in 2014

Goodluck Jonathan, President of Nigeria (center), in Nairobi, Kenya, Dec. 12, 2013.
Goodluck Jonathan, President of Nigeria (center), in Nairobi, Kenya, Dec. 12, 2013.
Anne Look
Nigeria saw a major political shake-up in 2013 with the opposition coming together and governors and parliament members defecting in droves from the ruling party.  Analysts see serious challenges ahead for President Goodluck Jonathan and his party this year as the country gears up for presidential elections in 2015.

2013 saw a new opposition emerge in Nigeria -- one that is more united and more defiant than anything the country has seen since military rule ended in 1999.

This mega-party is called the All Progressive's Congress, or APC.  Key figures from both the opposition and the ruling PDP party have flocked to its ranks since July.

APC politicians, like Hajiya Hafsat Mohammed Baba in Kaduna, said people wanted change.

"And that change, the way we see it, is inevitable.  It is coming and it will come very soon…. Politics is a game of numbers and we are increasing by the day," he said.

Five of Nigeria's powerful state governors recently defected to the APC from the ruling party, including those from voter-heavy states like Kano and Rivers.

Also, 37 members of the lower house of the National Assembly have switched from the PDP to APC, taking away the PDP's majority.

APC politicians and analysts said that they expected to see as many as seven more governors, as well as members of the National Assembly's upper house, the Senate, defect to the APC in early 2014.

"Definitely, People's Democratic Party has never had it so bad because to be elected president of this country even if you have the majority of the votes, the law says that you must have 24 states out of 36, two-thirds of them," said Political commentator Abubakar Sufiyan Osa Idu Al Siddiq.

But he and other analysts said that this rapid influx of members to the APC could be a double-edged sword.

"It was supposed to be a new platform that would bring hope to Nigeria by challenging all that we say was wrong with the PDP.  Yet this same party is extending its hand of fellowship, moving from one part of the country to the next, bringing these same bad guys, these same discredited politicians, these same thieves, whatever title you want to use for them, [they] are the same persons they are bringing into the APC…. These are the same old stock who will never change," said head of the political science department at the Delta State College of Education, Isitoah Ozoemene.

Members of the ruling party, like Saidu Usman Gombe of the Northern Youth Awareness Forum, said the newly-expanded APC would implode.

"This opposition party, they are deceiving themselves, even in the party, that opposition party, there is a lot of clash.  They will crack.  They will break down completely before [the end of] 2014," he said.

The People's Democratic Party, or PDP, has run Nigeria since 1999.  It has been the only party to have a national presence from the highest posts in the country down to the country's 774 local governments.

Dissatisfaction with President Goodluck Jonathan - especially with his efforts fighting corruption and his violation of an unwritten PDP rule to trade off the presidency between northerners and southerners - has been a key driver of the defections.

Analysts said President Jonathan was more isolated than ever.

Some speculate that he could face an impeachment attempt in 2014 as the opposition gains ground in the National Assembly.

2013 didn't exactly end on a high note.  In December, his political godfather, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, denounced him publicly in an 18-page open letter that ripped apart Jonathan's performance in office and told him not to run in 2015.

The presidency hit back saying that letter was irresponsible, untrue and aimed at fueling defections to the opposition. 

It is impossible to say whether it's too late for the PDP to turn things around and reconcile with its prodigal members before 2015, but analysts say elections up ahead are going to be interesting and could transform Nigeria's political landscape. 

Ardo Hazzad contributed reporting from Bauchi, Ibrahima Yakubu from Kaduna, and Hilary Uguru from Warri, Nigeria.

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