Some people call it treachery, others call it strategy, but everyone agrees that it has become a regular feature of Nigeria’s melodramatic politics.
In Nigeria, one of the major signs of an election season is the defection of politicians from one party to another colloquially referred to as cross-carpeting.
The term originates from the British House of Commons, which is configured with the Government and Opposition facing each other on rows of benches. In consequence, a member of the Parliament who switches from the governing party to one in opposition (or vice versa) also changes which side of the chamber they sit on by crossing the carpet separating them.
Nigeria is in the Fourth Republic; a fourth attempt them establish democracy, which started in 1999. As Nigerians head to the polls on February 23 to vote in a president, Today’s Echo examines the greatest cross-carpeters of the fourth republic:
- Atiku Abubakar
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party is a record cross-carpeter haven changed political parties four times within the past 20 years of the fourth republic. Atiku is one of the most experienced politicians in the country. During the short-lived military experiment with democracy in 1993, he was one of the front-liners in the Social Democratic Party (SDP). At the onset of the fourth republic in 1999, Atiku ran as Vice presidential candidate to Olusegun Obasanjo under the umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and won. By 2006, it had become obvious that he could not realised his political ambition in PDP because of a vicious fall-out with Obasanjo. In 2007, Atiku crossed to the Action Congress(AC) and contested in the presidential election. He lost the election, placing third after Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
Atiku again, crossed the carpet back to the PDP and contested against President Goodluck Jonathan for the party’s ticket for the 2011 presidential election. Afterwards he joined politicians like Bola Tinubu, Muhammadu Buhari, Bukola Saraki to form the All Progressives Congress(APC), the party which wrestled the power from Jonathan in 2015 and installed Buhari as president. Four years later, Atiku is back in PDP, and now contests for the presidency against the man he helped install into power
2. Bukola Saraki
Saraki is one of the people that helped install Buhari into power but are now working to replace him. Having changed camp twice in the past seven years, Saraki is seen as a hero by many and as a traitor by others, depending on whose camp you are in.
Saraki hails from a politically influential family that has controlled Kwara state politics for several years. However, that did not stop him from chasing his own destiny and eventually overthrowing his father’s dynasty. In 2011, Bukola Saraki contested for Senate against his sister, Gbemisola Saraki and won, despite losing his father’s support. Since then, he has been a force to reckon with in Nigeria’s politics, growing even stronger after his father’s death. Saraki defected to the APC in 2014 to be part of the alliance that swept Buhari into power. He emerged Senate president under controversial circumstances and became a rebel within the party. Two years into his tenure as Senate president, Saraki became the subject of a protracted Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) trial after being accused of corruption. He went back to the PDP in 2018 alongside other politicians including Kwara State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara and Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal. Like Atiku, Saraki is a highly ambitious man. Unfortunately, the former defeated him at the PDP presidential primaries last October.
3. Orji Uzor Kalu
Perhaps no other person has headlined Abia State politics in the fourth republic better than former governor Orji Uzor Kalu. An accomplished businessman, Kalu is the chairman of SLOK Holding and the Daily Sun and New Telegraph newspapers. He has been in three different parties since 2007. Between 1999 and 2007, Kalu was in the PDP as the governor of Abia State. After a fallout with president Olusegun Obasanjo due to his presidential ambition, Kalu was arrested by the EFCC in 2007 as a sitting governor and later released. He eventually left the PDP to be a founding member of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA). He contested for the 2007 presidential election as PPA’s flagbearer and came fourth. He defected to the ruling APC in 2016. Kalu has a corruption ₦7.65 billion fraud case with the EFCC.
4. Rabiu Kwankwaso
Former Governor of Kano State, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso is another eminent cross-carpeter in Nigerian politics, haven changed parties twice in the past five years. Kwankwaso has been an important part of Northern politics since 1999 when he became Kano State governor under PDP. He has his own grassroot support base known as Kwankwassiya movement. Known by their red caps, members of the Kwankwassiya have always moved to any party Kwankwaso migrates to. After losing his re-election bid to Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP in 2003, Kwankwaso was appointed Minister of Defence. He became Kano State Governor again in 2011 and completed his tenure in 2015. He was one of the five PDP Governors who defected to the APC in 2014 to help install Muhammadu Buhari as president. Kwankwaso defected back to the PDP as the 2019 election approached. After losing in the primaries to Atiku, he has been instrumental in rallying support for him in the North.
5. Musiliu Obanikoro
Former Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro became a Senator under the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2003. Since then, he has been changed party twice. After PDP overran the South-West in 2003, he was appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo as a member of the 2004 Amirul-Hajj Committee.
In April 2007 Musiliu Obanikoro ran for governor of Lagos State on the PDP ticket but lost the election to Babatunde Fashola of the Action Congress (AC). Subsequently, the late President Musa Yar’Adua appointed him as High Commissioner to Ghana in 2008. Afterwards, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him as Minister of State for Defence. He migrated to the ruling APC in 2017 amidst involvement in a N4.7b corruption case by the EFCC.