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Alhough the 1999 Constitution allows for a multi-party system, the continuous depletion of the opposition parties is gradually turning the country into a one-party state. Assistant Editor EMMANUEL BADEJO, who has been monitoring the trend reports
A little over a year to the next general elections, the country’s opposition parties are not as robust, organised, determined, and effective as should be expected. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has enough internal challenges to give the opposition an opportunity to show that they can do better. But, rather than put the APC on its toes through constructive engagements, opposition chieftains. The late are joining the ruling party.
In a growing democracy like Nigeria’s, the role of the opposition is to question, criticise, challenge and audit the government of the day and make it more transparent and accountable. Even if the twin objectives are not immediately achieved, the opposition exists nonetheless to put the government in power on its toes.
A virile opposition is one of the key features of a parliamentary system of government. In the presidential system, the opposition provides checks and balances. It is a kind of alternative government; a counterweight, providing such balance that could safeguard the integrity of the political process.
But, behind the scene, what is at stake is the quest for power. In an ideal setting, the opposition provides the people with a choice, by positioning itself as a viable alternative to the government in power. Today, much is left to be desired in terms of how the opposition parties have been engaging the APC. Rather than checkmating the ruling party, the main opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) is engaged with its own squabbles.
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Prior to the delisting of over 60 parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the electoral umpire had over 90 political parties on its register. Amongst them, only three – the PDP), the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Young Progressives Party (YPP) have representation either at the executive or legislative arms of government.
Indeed, many of the other registered parties are relatively unknown. Analysts describe them as ‘mushroom parties’ because they go to sleep immediately after major elections.
The tag, opposition party, actually came in the First Republic, when the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) and the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) formed the Federal Government and the Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group (AG) left the Western Region as Premier to the parliament at the centre to lead the opposition.
Notwithstanding the numerous challenges at the time, the first and second republics, were said to have had a rich culture of opposition politics.
Awolowo of the Action Group and later, the Unity Party of Nigeria, as an opposition leader, confronted the ruling government with hard facts and figures and an alternative vision of how Nigeria could be rescued. The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Malam Aminu Kano and Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri – opposition figures at various times – also stood for something.
In the Second Republic, with its presidential system, there were many opposition parties, but the most vocal of the five political parties namely, Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) and Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), was the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) headed by Awolowo.
For 16 years, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) occupied the helm of affairs and ruled the country between 1999 and 2015. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn into office after the election in April 1999. Pundits said the first four years of the Fourth republic experienced robust politicking because of quality opposition.
The then Alliance for Democracy (AD) made a clean sweep of the electoral positions in the Southwest geo-political zone of the country. It was the same story for the then All Peoples Party (APP) that controlled most of the core northern states.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) had a better spread as it won in the majority of states in the north-central, south-east and south-south geo-political zones. This development led to a healthy rivalry between the parties.
At the National Assembly, records show that debates, resolutions and that legislative and executive arms of government rivalry were at their best during the 4th National Assembly.
The reason is not far-fetched. Pundits said there was healthy competition among the lawmakers. Their respective parties philosophies were the driving force coupled with the fact that they wanted to impact positively on the lives of the electorate on whose mandates they were voted into office.
But, the opposition in the Southwest whittled down, as the then AD that held sway in the region fell for the ethnic card the then president Olusegun Obasanjo played in hoodwinking most of its political leaders with the devious objective of integrating the south-west into national politics. This occasioned the sweep clean of by PDP of all the states in the region, with the exception of Lagos State.
The entry of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the run-up to the 2003 general elections had put PDP on its guard in the Southeast. The APGA presented an alternative platform to politicians from that zone.
In spite of PDP’s stranglehold on the zone, APGA then controlled two of the five states in the zone.
Going by these results, it is quite obvious that the PDP had gained greater ascendancy or has risen considerably in strength. Apart from the fact that more than 15 other political parties could not win governorship election at the state level, the two hitherto opposition parties namely the ANPP and AD suffered a significant decline.
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The ANPP’s governorship election success had reduced to seven from nine in 1999 and AD’s governorship election success had plummeted from seven in 1999 to just miserable one state. The APGA, which had hoped to capture all Igbo five states, was able to garner victorious votes in only one state.
Then, opposition, pundits noted, it was not cohesive, as those that should have given the PDP government intense opposition played along the regional divide.
In Nigeria at the moment, political analysts have said it is rather unfortunate that we neither have a constructive nor a disruptive opposition. Whatever we have, they said, that may look remotely as any form of opposition is weak, uncoordinated, and ineffective.
Though many maintained that, our political parties are internally polarized, politics has become evil, our political leaders do not know where to draw the line, hence, you find many of our politicians, who are bereft of ideas and consequently, they easily dump their politics whose tickets they clinched to occupy their seats. Also, some said that the way we practice politics in this clime is so crude, as the ruling party has so much power at its disposal with which it emasculates the opposition.
According to sources, the last time we witnessed what looked like organized opposition, even if it was disruptive, was ironically through the All Progressives Congress (APC). In 2013, a number of political parties formed a synergy with civil society groups to become the All Progressives Congress (APC) and adopting an “oppose, oppose, oppose” strategy, they managed by 2015 to get the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party out of power.
Following PDP’s fall, virile opposition, according to sources, has been on the decline. Pundits said instead of the leading opposition party to retool to square up with the ruling party, it has been contending with one intra-party issue or the other, leading to things falling apart in the party.
Analysts said that it is even a party that, most of its members have defected and are still cross-carpeting across the country to the ruling party, while many of its founding fathers now prefer to be known and addressed as statesmen, and the party’s strong mouthpieces have all been cowed into silence by a ruling party that is wielding power like a whip.
Socrates Mbamalu said there are no vibrant and effective opposition parties, just opportunistic parties and political players, adding: “In 2019 elections there were 91 registered political parties many of which not many Nigerians had heard about. None of those parties plays the role of the strong opposition party.
Nigeria’s politics, he added, was unfortunately fueled only by elections and opposition parties start making noise during the campaign period, saying, it is more damning than the PDP is silent in the face of repression and is complicit in committing crimes against ordinary Nigerians.
To him, it is more telling that most of the 91 registered parties only jump into action during elections and return to their business as usual approach after they lose, only to come back four years later clamouring for votes.
“This repeated cycle has done more damage to Nigeria’s democracy, which has since silenced civil organisations that come to speak out against the government. In Nigeria, there are no opposition parties, just opportunistic parties” he submitted.
He said Nigerian politics has not been ideology-driven for a while, that is one explanation, but it is also possible that the remaining PDP members are hedging their bets and secretly planning to join the APC.
This, according to him, is the case because the ruling APC is now in charge of state resources – and that is a major attraction for Nigerian politicians.
Some have also alleged that the opposition is fizzling out on the nation’s political landscape because the APC has been hounding PDP members and the Jonathan administration, and making it difficult for anyone to come up with progressive, opposition ideas. While the new PDP, failing in its role as an opposition party, cedes the initiative to the APC and merely reacts through statements that do not even make much impact, others like APGA and YPP hardly criticize the ruling government.
In the states across the federation, opposition members often forget what their role in the legislature is supposed to be as they join the queue of lawmakers trooping to the Government House to collect favours from imperial Governors.
While smaller opposition parties barely get heard of, the former ruling PDP, which is projected to lead the takeover, is yet to bring on board anything new to assuage their taste for alternative leadership.
There have not been roadmaps to convince Nigerians that they can provide an alternative. They have not been able to give convincing reasons to sway the loyalty of some Nigerians away from their tents and even to those who still remain.
Although some political parties are planning a coalition or merger, the inability of the opposition to put out a purposefully driven opposition gives room for scepticism.
Citing the case of Uche Secondus, the suspended chairman of the PDP, public affairs analyst, Magnus Onyibe said the ruling party has been using intimidation and coercion to whittle down opposition in the country. He added that the shifting of the political tide in the opposite direction or against the run of play in Nigeria is simply a symptom of the fact that democracy as we are practising it today, has lost its values, fervour and bearing.
In other words, like a meal without salt and pepper, which is usually tasteless, politics in Nigeria is now clearly bereft of philosophy or principles, hence, the traditional or natural lines between the conservatives and the progressives no longer exist.
Nigeria’s politics is unfortunately fueled only by-elections and opposition parties start making noise during the campaign period.” He added that: “In plain language, the current ruling party dangled a carrot to politicians from the former ruling party that if they join the current ruling party, the probes/ investigations into their period of stewardship, would be dropped.
He added: “Since it is a claim that has not been denied by the ruling party, and in fact, for those who have taken advantage of the offer, the promise has been kept. It goes without saying that the third arm of government, is most likely being complicit in killing democracy via sleight of hand.”
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