Nigerian Senate president Bukola Saraki on Tuesday quit the ruling party and joined the opposition, dealing yet another blow to the country’s leader Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid.
“I wish to inform Nigerians that after extensive consultations, I have decided to take my leave of the All Progressives Congress (APC),” Saraki announced on Twitter.
Saraki, the nation’s third-highest ranking politician, said he would return to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party he dumped for APC in 2014.
“Today… I return to the party where I began my political journey, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),” he said.
The opposition PDP has welcomed a raft of defections of APC lawmakers and other politicians into its fold in recent weeks.
Last week, 14 senators and 37 members of the lower chamber House of Representatives left the APC, on the last day before parliament adjourned for a recess. There are 109 seats in the Senate and 360 in the House.
Most of the defectors were believed to have joined the PDP on the promptings of Saraki.
Earlier this month, more than 30 parties, including the PDP, said they were forming a new alliance, while a splinter group formed within the APC of disaffected party members.
They called Buhari’s stewardship of Nigeria in the last three years “a monumental disaster”.
Buhari and his APC party have until now been seen as in a stronger position to win presidential and parliamentary elections in February.
But his opponents are picking up momentum before party primaries in August, amid mounting discontent at his style of government and handling of widespread violence across the country.
Saraki, 55, despite being a member of the ruling party, has had a running battle with the government.
He believes he has been marked out as a critic and rival by the presidency. Many of those under investigation or on trial for corruption are PDP members.
Saraki himself defected from the PDP to the APC before the last election.
A two-time governor of his central home state of Kwara between 2003 and 2011, Saraki was tried for alleged corruption on account of his stewardship.
He is also facing police investigation over a recent bank robbery in Offa, in the state.
Earlier this month, Saraki was cleared at Nigeria’s Supreme Court of the corruption charges, which he said were politically motivated.
His supporters believed his troubles started when he plotted with PDP senators to clinch the Senate presidency in defiance of APC’s choice for the top job.
Although Saraki is rumoured to have presidential ambition, he has yet to make it public.
Also on Tuesday, Abdulfatah Ahmed, the current Kwara governor and a Saraki loyalist, announced his defection to the PDP.
He said the APC “can no longer serve as a platform for achieving the aspirations and expectations of my people.”
Both Saraki and Ahmed had dumped the PDP to form the APC, an alliance of several fringe parties that ousted then president Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP from power in 2015.