In practising democracies across the world, there are pretenders and contenders. The pretenders represent those countries that legislate parties into existence and forbid the right of their citizens to freely associate, form their own parties and use them as vehicles to canvass for votes to enable them acquire political power to serve their people. It may interest you to know that China, North Korea, Russia etc are purporting to be democracies. Most of them are one-party states with great irritation to opposition parties. Majority of African and Middle East countries adopted the one-party system immediately after their independence. Nigeria also romanced with this system when President Ibrahim Babangida legislated two political parties, the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention, into existence. The government wrote their manifestos for them and largely decided who they wanted to run on those platforms. General IBB cancelled the primary and general elections of politicians he didn’t like and gave any reason he liked for cancelling them. He cancelled the gubernatorial elections of Lagos, Enugu and some other states in the nineties. Cancelled the presidential primaries of both SDP and NRC won by Shehu Yar Adua and Adamu Ciroma and ultimately cancelled the general election of June 12th won by MKO Abiola. He succeeded in these because the parties were his own and we were just pretenders then to democracy.
Democracy is government of the people not government of the people of government. Pretenders to democracy impose the people of government on the people. If you are not amongst the people of the Supreme Spiritual Leader of Iran, you will not even be allowed by him to contest for elections, yet they are pretending to be democratic. The true test of democracy is when the people are allowed to freely associate and form their own political parties and contest for powers in a free and fair elections under a multi party arrangement. The presence of opposition parties becomes the distinguishing feature of a genuine democracy. The opposition parties are the contenders for political power. Two-party system is not a system where two parties are allowed by law, it is a system where two parties are dominant. It is common knowledge that most multi-party system evolve into a system where two parties are dominant, one, the ruling party, and the other, the opposition party. It is so in UK and US, two leading democratic nations in the world.
In Nigeria, from 1960, we have operated a multi-party system with a virile opposition, except during IBB’s political contraption which failed woefully, and ended in the cancellation of the whole political process. From 1999, we joined the comity of democratic nations in establishing a multi-party democracy. Three parties met the conditions for registration established by the decree issued by the departing military junta prior to the promulgation of the 1999 Constitution. The three parties were PDP, APP and AD. PDP emerged the ruling party, while the APP and AD emerged the opposition parties. APP and AD entered into alliance to contest the Presidential election against the PDP in 1999 but missed the opportunity to continue providing a virile opposition to PDP after the presidential election by not continuing with the alliance. They went their different ways and today, one of them, APP, has been wiped out of the political map of Nigeria, while the other, AD, has become politically irrelevant. When the opposition are not united, they fall.
The promulgation of 1999 Constitution ushered in greater freedom in the registration of political parties and witnessed the proliferation of political parties thereby weakening the opposition the more. It is instructive to note that whenever the opposition parties are weak, the ruling party becomes more ineffective and inefficient because it knows that it will retain power no matter what it does. They become more corrupt and insensitive to the yearnings of the people and their members. They become authoritative and impunity rules them. They get too arrogant and live in the island of belief that they can rule forever. PDP at the height of its absolute power declared that it will rule for 60 uninterrupted years in Nigeria.
No reasonable politician who understands the working of democracy and the importance of the opposition will wish that the opposition be emasculated. Even members of the ruling party are more respected by their leaders when there’s in existence, a viable alternative or a virile opposition. It is in a strong opposition that the ruling party finds the vires to yield the dividends of democracy to the people. When major opposition political parties came together for the first time in Nigeria in APC, they defeated the ruling party, PDP. Now the table has turned and the ruling party has become the opposition party, not in 60 years but in 16. When the opposition is united, they stand.
The opposition party must be a strong critique of the ruling party. This is not being insulting or defaming of the ruling party. It is not a game of name calling of the principal officers of the party. This is an intentional, intellectual, critical analysis of the current policies, actions of the government with a view to revealing the weak links of the issues involved and making people realise how inept or incompetent the policy planners are. The opposition must not stop at criticising, it must go further to proffer alternative solutions to the problem. The whole idea of opposition party is to provide alternative option of leadership and leaders to the people. It entails not just convincing the people that the policies of government are bad, but that they are prepared to provide better alternatives. The people do not vote for the opposition because the ruling party is bad, they vote for them because they are better. Democracy operates in the comparative.
PDP, from 1999, never convinced Nigerians that they were good, but this did not translate into victory for the opposition, until 2015, when the opposition led by APC convinced Nigerians that they were better. The perception of corruption of PDP, insecurity and economic backwardness in Nigeria were made manifest by the propaganda machine of the then opposition party, APC. They described PDP as confused, clueless and corrupt. They promised to end insecurity challenges in Nigeria in three months, fight corruption and improve the economy if elected. The PDP government, under tremendous pressure by the opposition, upped their efforts in fighting insecurity, that, close to the election, it achieved in six weeks what it failed to achieve in six years. The victories of the army were so swift that within 6 weeks of the postponement of general election, the insurgents were driven to the outskirts, making it possible for elections to be held in all the states of the federation. This is the benefit of virile opposition.
The PDP lost the election suddenly and was totally unprepared for the burden of opposition. They had become so enmeshed in wealth and power that they forgot to make the necessary mind adjustment needed for life in the opposition. The impunity that worked for them as a ruling party was not dropped as opposition party. Immediately PDP fell by the ballot, one expected PDP to make a clean break from the past and present fresh faces in their line of executives to convince the world that it is not business as usual. It unfortunately slid into intractable leadership struggle that brought caretaker committees on the party, one after the other. It took the intervention of the Supreme Court to save the PDP from collapse.
The tendency of PDP replacing the former godfathers with new godfathers have not helped this tottering opposition party. Governor Wike, almost single-handedly, brought Secondus on PDP. Today, he is almost single-handedly fighting to remove him. When Governor Wike was playing father Christmas to install Secondus, the PDP National Chairman did not notice it, but now Secondus is insinuating that Governor Wike is playing father Christmas to remove him. The truth is that what you compromise to get, you compromise to keep. The position of the Chairman of PDP was micro zoned to South West, but the godfathers took advantage of multiple candidates from South West to smuggle Secondus to the seat to do their bidding. Secondus may have refused to compromise to keep what he compromised to get and this had led to the unfortunate situation that has pitched him against his godfathers. PDP Governors are escaping to APC to evade the rampaging effects of PDP godfathers on the party.
The penchant of PDP holding unto its former officials rendered some of them vulnerable to criminal proceedings in answer to some of their actions in the past, thereby, painting them in the light of continuing corruption, even in the opposition. Secondus, the PDP National Chairman, has been accused by some of the PDP members of embezzling billions of naira. The former PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisah Metu, was put out of circulation for a while when he was sent to jail for corrupt practices. He was freed by the Court of Appeal but the dent on the party was already there. If PDP had recruited fresh faces after they lost election, this scenario would have been averted. Recently, 6 members of the PDP National Working Committee resigned suddenly and called on Secondus to resign. Secondus refused. As a compromise between warring parties, the National Convention, formerly slated for December, was brought forward to October. Tell me what is so urgent about PDP National Convention that they cannot wait till December for Secondus to peacefully and quietly conclude and save the party from disarray.
This is the bane of the opposition in Nigeria that there’s a perception of lack of integrity among their rank and file. The time they would have spent providing quality opposition, they utilise in fighting amongst themselves. Many PDP stalwarts believe that their party has failed as an opposition party. If a party fails as a ruling party and fails as an opposition party, that party may be awaiting evacuation by the pallbearers. This is not so good for democracy and PDP can still salvage itself from collapse. It should consider going into alliance with other emerging parties by modifying its ways and even its name to give a semblance of a new life. It should use the opportunity of the next Convention to bring in new executives without baggage of the past. It should forsake godfatherism and release the leadership of the party to the people. It should start putting the ruling party on edge to ensure better performance of the government. Today, there’s no virile opposition and this is not a good omen for democracy.
The post Imperative of a virile opposition party in a democracy appeared first on The Sun Nigeria.