Fifteen Nigerian senators quit the ruling All Progressives Congress party on 24 July, making it a minority in parliament’s upper house, indicating worsening rifts in President Muhammadu Buhari’s political camp. Senate President Bukola Saraki said 15 senators had “decamped”, without giving details. The move comes weeks after a faction of Buhari’s ruling APC party said this month it no longer supported his government. Kogi Senator Dino Melaye, former Kano Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso and 13 other senators defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Senate President, Bukola Saraki made the announcement on Tuesday during plenary. Other Senators include Barnabas Gemade(Benue), Shaaba Lafiaji(Kwara), Rafiu Ibrahim(Kwara), Abdulazeez Nyako(Adamawa), Monsurat Sunmonu(Oyo) and Usman Nafada(Gombe). Also, Senators Suleiman Hunkuyi, Ibrahim Danbaba, Ubale Shittu, Isah Misau, Suleiman Nazif, Soji Akanbi. It leaves Buhari with a minority in the upper house for the first time since he came to power. The defection came after security operatives stormed the Abuja homes of Saraki and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. The Senate President’s convoy was blocked by the security operatives while he was about leaving his residence in an attempt to prevent him from making it to the National Assembly building. Saraki was to appear before the police today for a further investigation into alleged killings in Kwara state.

A soldier and policeman were among the people killed by suspected bandits along Kaduna-Abuja road on 22 June. The suspects also robbed and abducted many people near Gidan Busa village on the highway. Sadiya Idris, a professor at the University of Abuja and former Katsina education commissioner also lost her life. Several others, including the orderly of the army officer, reportedly sustained injuries from gunshots. Witnesses said the incident, which took place at about 7 pm and lasted for at least an hour, was carried out by a team of at least 10 attackers wielding sophisticated weapons. Policemen at a nearby checkpoint were alerted but could not confront the suspects. Many people travelling to and from Kaduna have long abandoned the road for faster and safer train services.

Court proceedings were stalled in the southeastern state of Imo on 23 July as lawyers of the Owerri branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) commenced three days of protest against alleged police brutality on their members. The NBA Chairman, Damian Nosike, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) after the protest that the lawyers decided to boycott the courts for three days. An Umuneke Magistrates’ Court in Ngor-Okpala Local Government Area on 19 July struck out a charge against three armed robbery suspects after two lawyers, Emma Eke and Chukwuemeka Anyanwu, objected to their arraignment. Consequently, police officers allegedly led by the DPO of Ngor-Okpala, I.E. Moses, the same day invaded the court and rearrested two of the three suspects, as one escaped, and also arrested the lawyers. The lawyers were later arraigned on 20 July on charges of aiding the escape of the suspects and complicity in the matter. The state police commissioner, Dasuki Galandanchi, called the NBA protests “shameful” and a “product of ignorance.”

The Lagos State Government on 23 July announced that the joint security task force set up by the Federal and state government to clear trucks on the Oshodi-Apapa highway will continue operation for the next 30 days. The Commissioner for Transportation, Ladi Lawanson made this announcement to journalists in Ikeja after a meeting between Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, regulators and industry stakeholders. Lawanson said shipping companies sanctioned for non-compliance on the utilisation of holding bays in the ports will receive a grace period while the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing would immediately commence palliative measures on bad portions on access roads in the Apapa district. Tank farms without adequate loading bays within the next 30 days will be sanctioned, the government said, while it promised to complete work on the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Trailer Park in Orile in a month’s time.

Suggestions

  • Tuesday’s mass defection is a shot in the arm for opponents of the President generally, and the PDP in particular. The very public failure of attempts to detain the Senate President and thwart the decampment has also cast the administration in a negative light. The clear use of law enforcement officers by the presidency to wage political battles has created a groundswell of public sympathy for Saraki. While the defection of legislators is important, it is of a lesser order of political impact than would have been created by defecting governors. State governors remain the most influential power brokers in Nigeria as far as ground level political operations, including voter turnout and power brokers are concerned. It is conceivable that some governors will also defect to the PDP. How many eventually switch allegiances will be a more accurate measure of how seismic the opposition’s impact will be in the next polls. Regardless, the defection of legislators has both symbolic and substantial import. It highlights the diminishing authority of the president and the APC’s loss of its aura of invincibility. The 2019 polls promise to be more competitive than the 2015 edition. It is noteworthy that Saraki himself has not defected. This is probably a strategic delay meant to deflect any legal or political challenges to his position as SP. It also reflects a depth of strategic political calculation that has so far been missing from the presidency’s own manoeuvres.
  • The collapse of internal security is now extending its footprint from rural areas, where banditry mostly prevails, to federal highways – the connective arteries of the country. It is significant that the Abuja-Kaduna highway is within two hours of the country’s capital, and links Abuja to the major cities of the North. Official indifference and the apparent inability of law enforcement officials have emboldened criminal gangs to take their activities further afield with ever greater impunity. Without a focused and determined effort to address the glaring deficiencies of the security architecture, Abuja might find itself increasingly hemmed in by these gangs. Beyond this, the trajectory of violent crime is pointing to a scenario in which road travel between urban areas becomes severely restricted, if not impossible due to escalating banditry. This will have a huge adverse impact on local economies which rely heavily on the socioeconomic pollination generated by trade, travel and the transport industry as well as impact domestic investment flows.
  • The incident in Imo, like the police’s conduct at the homes of the Senate and Deputy Senate President in the federal capital raises important and uncomfortable questions about the commitment of Nigeria’s security services to respect for established procedural conduct, the rule of law and the courts. The Nigeria Police Force under Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris appears to have grown more belligerent in its engagement with important stakeholders in the society, even with due regard to the force’s historically poor record on human rights and due process. The IGP’s disregard of oversight and criticism and in one known case, even directions from the President; human rights violations by members of key police units, most prominently the anti-robbery squad, as well as the force’s inability to deal decisively with a multitude of security challenges, especially the Pastoral Conflict has fuelled popular discontent and prompted the National Assembly – an institution the police chief holds in contempt – to begin the process of decentralising policing. It would also seem that state police commissioners are taking a cue from their boss, the police chiefs of Ekiti (election security monitoring), Kwara (a spate of bank robberies) and Zamfara (communal violence) have recently come under heavy criticism for either actions or public comments made in response to high profile incidents. As the country prepares for elections in which state police chiefs will, history suggests, come under pressure to superintend over acts of malpractice, the prospects of what might lie ahead leave real cause for worry.
  • The fact that Lagosians have had to suffer for such a long time before the government decided to do something is telling. That the move to clear the trucks came after a flurry of press reports when the reality was well known is even more indicative of the kind of governance that exists in Lagos, and Nigeria as a whole. It is important to note that the measures that have been announced are at best palliative and unless the structural issues that lead to trucks appearing on the roads repeatedly over the past few years are dealt with, expect the trucks to return in no time. Fundamental to this is the refusal of the government to diversify port traffic from Lagos’ two ports. Nigeria’s economic capital is collapsing under the weight of a rapidly growing population and the level of commerce it has to shoulder in part because other economic centres, as well as the country’s four other major ports, are not being developed. We hope the metropolis does not go past its breaking point before serious action is contemplated.