Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara state. [PHOTO CREDIT: @officialdrbellomatawalle]

Political pundits have argued that one of the factors that worked against Atiku is the constant defection as many have seen him as someone who they can’t trust with their votes because he is desperate to get into office. Is Matawalle about to set a record in this regard?

Barring a last-minute change of plan, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State, who got his seat under the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), will defect to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Although the governor has not come out publicly to state his intention, reports are flying all over that he is on his way to the ruling party.

As the election season is drawing near, defections of heavyweights are expected. This is what will make the election process interesting but moving over to the ruling party may just be political suicide for Matawalle and here are some reasons.

Supreme Court Verdict 

On May 24, 2019, the Supreme Court voided all votes cast for the All Progressives Congress (APC). In its judgement, the panel, headed by Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Tanko Muhammad, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recongise candidates of the political parties that came second to take over as the duly elected contestants.

Prior to the verdict, INEC had declared the APC governorship candidate, Muktar Idris, as winner of the election, saying he polled 534,541 votes to defeat Matawalle who garnered 189,452 ballots.

In compliance with the apex court’s verdict, Matawalle was sworn in as governor on May 29, 2019. Since the PDP was considered winner of the election by the court, crossing over to the APC could make Matawalle lose his seat because the court did not recognise APC as the winner of the election. Cross over to APC could set the tone for legal battles that may leave him high and dry in the end.

APC Did Not Conduct Any Primary Election In 2019

The basis upon which the Supreme Court voided the votes of the APC in the election is its failure to conduct a primary election. Internal crisis in the party had made it impossible for the APC to conduct its primaries within the period that INEC stipulated. The controversy among leaders of the party in the State led to the inability to hold the primaries.

While Governor Abdulaziz Yari’s faction claimed they held congresses and produced candidates, Senator Kabiru Marafa’s faction held that no primary held.

INEC had disqualified the party from the election but allowed APC participate after a High Court sitting in Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, ruled that the governing party actually conducted primaries and should be allowed to present candidates. But the Supreme Court eventually overruled the lower court by voiding APC votes and Matawalle benefitted from this. Turning his back on the process through defection is pure contradiction and could be seen as undermining the decision of the Supreme Court, which he has benefited from.

Crisis In APC

Crossing over to the APC can be seen as moving from frypan to fire. Although it seems as if the gladiators in the party have sheathed their swords, there are indications that they may return to the warring path as we move closer to the 2023 election. Yari and Marafa are major stakeholders in the party and there is no doubt that they are plotting to use the next general election to stage a comeback as both men are currently out of power.

Matawalle, who is more or less a king in the PDP, will find it hard to take the reins of the party under APC. Yes, the leadership of the party may recognise him, being the governor but the influence of Yari and Marafa can never be underestimated. Imagine a situation where both of them team up against him in the party, it will be very difficult for him to get things done his way. No governor wants to depend on any party member to have their way. All of them want to be fully in charge of their parties. The PDP currently offers him a free hand but it will be worse under APC.

Image of the APC

The APC, which is in charge of the country, is currently at its lowest ebb on many grounds, especially on issues of insecurity and Zamfara is one of the worse hit. There’s hardly any week without cases of banditry and kidnapping and there’s no gainsaying the goodwill that the APC enjoyed is fast eroding. Many have said it publicly that they regret voting for the party and would look the other way round in 2023. On the other hand, the PDP has been building on the weakness of the APC to warm its way into the heart of Nigerians.

In Zamfara, the ban on mining and declaration of the state as a no-fly zone angered many stakeholders, including Matawalle. The people expected the Federal Government to take a more proactive measure but the action worsened their plight and they have not minced words in rejecting it. As it stands now, voters are now waiting to express their anger with the party, which has not protected them as they expected. Even if Matawalle survives defection, he may still be shown the way out in 2023.

The Atiku Factor

Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is a strong man in Nigerian politics, no doubt about that. He has been in the presidential race since 1993 when he lost the ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Atiku is vast and he has succeeded as a businessman and and to a great extent, a politician. But despite several attempts to get into the highest office in the land, he has not succeeded.

One of the factors that has worked against him is cross-carpeting. Atiku lost the 2007 election under the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). In 2011, he lost the bid to clinch the PDP ticket and in 2014, Buhari defeated him at the APC presidential primary. In 2019, he ran against Buhari as candidate of the PDP, but lost.

Political pundits have argued that one of the factors that worked against Atiku is the constant defection as many have seen him as someone who they can’t trust with their votes because he is desperate to get into office. Is Matawalle about to set a record in this regard?

Sheriff Lawal writes from Abuja.

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