Voice of America (Washington, DC)

31 January 2014

Nigerian Senators, Former Governor Switch Sides

Abuja — Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party appears to be crumbling as five more senators defected to a powerful new opposition coalition. But some analysts said it's not just ruling party members adjusting allegiances ahead of 2015 presidential elections.

The People's Democratic Party, or the PDP, has been in power in Nigeria since the country transitioned from military rule to democracy in 1999. It is easily the most powerful, organized and well-funded party in the country.

But in recent months, the unshakable prowess of the PDP has been challenged as five governors and 37 members of the House of Representatives abandoned the party. They all joined a new party, the All Progressive Congress, or APC, which formed last year when Nigeria's major opposition parties merged.

"The battle within the party is intensifying," said Clement Nwankwo, director of the Democracy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja.

He said the battle began because Nigeria's many problems haven't been fixed or even addressed in the past four years under President Goodluck Jonathan. The country's poverty, insecurity, lack of electricity, and near-economic collapse in several regions are just some reasons the president's party is losing clout.

"Conversely, you have people who love the environment that he provides for their business, for their making money and so on. So they would do everything to keep him there. Including close aids of his keep saying to him, 'Mr. President, don't mind all of them. The PDP is a big machine. It's going to win elections," said Nwankwo.

But it's not just ruling party members that are changing allies.

This is Ibrahim Shekarau, an APC leader and a former governor of Kano state, holding a press conference alongside dozens of other northern leaders on Wednesday. He says they are all leaving the new opposition, to join the ruling party. He said the APC lacks "commitment, transparency and accountability."

Some observers say political moves made these days are more about jockeying for power than supporting policies. Onyiye Gandhi, a lawyer in the Niger Delta, the heart of Jonathan's support base. "This is politics. You only have permanent interests. There are no permanent friends," Gandhi explained. "There are no permanent enemies."

The elections are planned for early 2015 and Jonathan is widely expected to run. After his 2011 victory, nearly a thousand people were killed in post-election violence.

Hilary Ugaru contributed to this report from Niger Delta.

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