Nigerian Ruling Party Majority in Peril as Lawmakers Defect

Thirty-seven lawmakers of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party moved to the opposition All Progressives Congress, threatening the ruling party’s parliamentary majority.

The lawmakers cited the emergence of “divisions and factions” in the ruling party, also known as the PDP, as their reasons, Speaker Aminu Tambuwal said during yesterday’s session, reading from a letter written by the defectors.

“We’re inching toward the majority, it’s just a matter of time,” Lai Mohammed, spokesman for the APC, as the main opposition party is known, said today in a telephone interview in the capital, Abuja. More will join from the House of Representatives by the New Year and “hopefully more members also from the Senate,” he said.

With the change, the APC now has 172 members to the PDP’s 171 in the 360-member House of Representatives. The remaining seats are shared among smaller opposition parties and independents. The ruling party retains its majority in the 109-member Senate. Five out of 23 state governors elected on the platform of the PDP quit on Nov. 26 to join the APC.

Voting Patterns

“Parliamentarians don’t really vote en bloc as party representatives,” Gregory Kronsten, head of macroeconomic and fixed income research at FBN Capital, said today in a phone interview from London. “So the fact that a number of them have crossed the floor doesn’t necessarily change voting patterns.”

The move could trigger more defections, or shifts in the opposite direction, the Poole, U.K.-based risk consultancy Drum Cussac said in e-mailed comments today.

Both parties “will likely try to entice additional lawmakers in the coming weeks to obtain the 181 seats required to control the House,” it said.

PDP spokesman Olisah Metu called the lawmakers’ defection “treacherous and a huge betrayal” in a statement on the party’s website. “The PDP remains unshaken by the departure.”

The naira weakened for the third day in a row, and was down 0.55 percent to 160.83 to the dollar by 1:03 p.m. in Lagos, the commercial capital. The Nigerian share index was down 0.10 percent.

Oil Producer

With increasing membership gains, the APC has emerged as the party capable of dislodging Jonathan’s PDP, in power in Africa’s biggest oil producer since 1999, from office in elections due in 2015.

Nigeria depends on crude exports for about 80 percent of government revenue and more than 95 percent of foreign income. Qua Iboe crude, one of the country’s best-selling grades, traded at $113.16 at 1:02 p.m. in London.

A southern Christian who won elections in 2011, Jonathan, 56, hasn’t said if he will run in the next vote. His administration is battling Islamist militants of the Boko Haram group in the north, rampant oil theft, falling revenue from crude oil exports and piracy off Nigeria’s coast.

Jonathan is facing the biggest test of his three years in office after the central bank questioned the lack of accounting for $50 billion in oil revenue and a former leader criticized him for failing to tackle corruption.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a stalwart of the PDP, said in a letter to Jonathan this month that he has failed to tackle graft and security threats in the country of more than 160 million people. He also accused him of widening a split between the mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south in a bid to retain power.

Obasanjo’s criticism came after Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Lamido Sanusi wrote Jonathan a letter alleging that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. is withholding more than three-quarters of oil revenue earned from January 2012 to July this year. The cumulative effect has been to dim Jonathan’s chances of winning Nigeria’s election scheduled for 2015.

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