Rift opens in Nigeria’s ruling party as elections loom

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Lawmakers in Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have formed a breakaway group in what is expected to be a prelude to defections as elections approach next year.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s former ally, Buba Galadima, on Wednesday announced the creation of a group called the Reformed All Progressives Congress (rAPC).

The group claims to gather disaffected APC members from across the country, with representation at local government and state level as well as in parliament.

Galadima accused the former military ruler and his government of failing to deliver on key pledges to improve security and tackle corruption.

Buhari’s stewardship of Africa’s most populous nation has been “a monumental disaster” and the government shown itself to be “rudderless, inept and incompetent”, he added.

“It has rather imposed dictatorship, impunity, abuse of power, complete abdication of constitutional and statutory responsibilities, infidelity to the rule of law and constitutionalism,” he told reporters in Abuja.

The announcement comes after months of infighting in the APC, with battle lines drawn behind Buhari on one side and the two parliamentary speakers on the other.

Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara both switched sides from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before the 2015 election that brought Buhari to power.

But they are still viewed with suspicion by APC leaders.

Party grandees have tried to mend fences with the disgruntled lawmakers but talks broke down.

The rAPC is made up of APC members who failed to secure positions in the recent party congress as well as some state governors. Saraki and Dogara have made no public announcement.

Under Nigerian law, lawmakers’ seats have to be declared vacant if they defect to another party but not if they align themselves to an internal faction.

New APC chairman Adams Oshiomole has opened fresh talks with Saraki and his supporters, appealing for them to remain with the party.

Buhari is seeking a second, four-year term of office at elections in February next year.

The development recalls a similar move in the PDP of former president Goodluck Jonathan before the last election in 2015, which led to mass defections to the APC.

Cheta Nwanze, an analyst with SBM Intelligence in Nigeria’s financial hub, Lagos, told AFP: “The move has been long expected.

“What remains to be seen is how this will impact the re-election chances of President Buhari next year.

“The move certainly makes his chances of winning the north-central (region) more difficult,” he added, referring to Middle Belt states that swung to the APC last time around.

“Already, President Buhari’s popularity in Benue, Plateau and large parts of Nasarawa states are at a low, thanks to the pastoral conflict,” said Nwanze.

A resurgence of violence in a long-running conflict for land and resources between mainly Christian farmers and nomadic mostly Muslim herders has killed some 1,000 since January.

A loss of support in central states would make it even more crucial for Buhari, whose stronghold is in the mainly Muslim north, to win votes in the mostly Christian south.

Buhari won the key prize of Lagos last time round but not by much.

The backing of APC founder and political godfather Bola Tinubu was seen as crucial but ties have reportedly been strained between the pair.

Nwanze added: “Just as important is how the PDP will handle the ambitions of these returnee members as its primaries approach.”

The most well-known figure to announce his intention to run is Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president and perennial presidential hopeful.

He switched sides from the APC to PDP earlier this year. More candidates are expected to declare in the coming months.