Country Risk

Presidential ambitions of defectors from Nigerian ruling party likely to weaken resurgent opposition’s chances of unseating incumbent

09 August 2018
Nigerian Senate president Bukola Saraki during a hearing of corruption charges against him at a code of conduct tribunal in Abuja on 22 September 2015. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Nigerian Senate president Bukola Saraki has become the highest-profile deserter to have left the ruling All Progressives Congress for his old party.
  • Saraki is one of many presidential aspirants now in the People’s Democratic Party, which risks undermining its re-election chances through factional disputes in choosing a candidate.
  • Upheaval in parliament and a focus on the February 2019 election implies further delays to key legislation, particularly additional sections of the Petroleum Industry Bill.


The former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on 31 July secured the long-expected but key defection of Senate president Bukola Saraki from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party.

Saraki had maintained a consistently fractious relationship with the APC executive since engineering his nomination in 2015 against the wishes of President Muhammadu Buhari. Following that move, in which he gained support from former colleagues in the PDP, Saraki spent the next three years also fighting charges of false declaration of assets, before the remaining three counts were dismissed by the Supreme Court on 6 July. The former Kwara state governor was followed out of the APC by the current governor Abdulfatah Ahmed. They were joined the next day by serving Sokoto state governor Aminu Tambuwal and APC spokesman Bolaji Abdullahi.

This swift sequence of events was only one development in a fortnight of intense political upheaval which has seen a series of defections from Buhari’s APC. On 24 July, the final day of parliamentary business before the summer recess, 14 senators and 37 members of the House of Representatives announced their move from the APC, with 12 and 33 respectively joining the PDP. The key figure was former Kano state governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, a serving senator who was runner-up to Buhari for the APC nomination in 2015. The following day, the defectors were joined by Benue state governor Samuel Ortom, who has been bitterly critical of the government’s failure to take action against herders who have killed hundreds of farmers in his state in 2018, and across the Middle Belt.

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