In the latest blow to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, 11 senators from his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have defected to the opposition, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The departures come after 37 members of Nigeria’s lower house defected to the APC last year, ending the PDP’s parliamentary majority; five influential state governors also jumped ship.
The senators cited “factionalism” within the party as the motivation for their defection. But anger within the PDP has been growing for some time, spurred on by rumors that Jonathan is planning to run for a second term in 2015. (Unspoken party rules dictate that the Nigerian presidency alternates between a representative of the Christian south and one from the Muslim north.) Jonathan’s not-so-subtle presidential ambitions sparked a political scandal last month, when former Nigerian president — and erstwhile Jonathan supporter — Olusegun Obasanjo advised voters to choose a less corrupt candidate. APC lawmakers, boosted by the wave of defections, then called for Jonathan’s impeachment.
That motion has little bite, not with the PDP still holding the Senate majority. But it’s hard to see the ruling party rebounding quickly from the recent blows. The PDP is lagging in popular support, and finished behind the APC in a key state election held in late 2013, which is viewed as a strong indicator of the president’s popularity.
Jonathan is not backing down. The president is already working to strengthen the party by appointing allies to key ministerial posts, and sacking the unpopular PDP chairman Bamangar Tukur. But the defected members responded this week that despite the change in party leadership, they have no intention of rejoining the PDP “no matter the level of maneuvering, coercion or enticement.” The PDP, in turn, accused the opposition party of issuing a “clear and direct call for anarchy.”
With at least six more senators expected to defect in the coming days, further chipping away at the PDP’s majority, look for the tit for tat squabbling to continue — paving the way for a messy fight to the ballot box ahead.