Even as the dormant Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) is reportedly bestirring itself ahead of the 2015 polls, political opposition is coalescing or pretending to coalesce to generate sufficient synergy to unhorse the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Ahead of the impending battle, opposition arrowheads - General Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) - are working out an alliance that would probably see the parties presenting common candidates in the 2015 elections. LOUIS ACHI examines the unfolding build-up.
A major problem the opposition political parties have had to contend with since inception of the Fourth Republic is a curious inability to plan ahead and the propensity of shooting themselves on the leg. More often than not, they always waited until the last minute before opening talks for either alliances or mergers. This flawed footing had always played into the happy hands of the ruling party.
But currently, it appears that the leadership of the two main opposition parties, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), have resolved to plan ahead of time. The other key opposition party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), is from all indications stepping up its new warm disposition for alliances or possible mergers.
Recently, the CPC leader and its presidential flag-bearer in the 2011 election, Muhammadu Buhari, visited the ACN leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in Lagos to chart the way forward. That visit was significant in that it was the first of such after the breakdown of the merger talks in the run-up to the April 2011 general election.
Pundits knowledgeable in opposition politics in the country believe that given Buhari's political trajectory, his early preparations for the 2015 elections is an indication that the opposition wants to get things right this time around. It is significant to note that Buhari did not wait to be courted by other opposition parties. Rather, he is the one who is reaching out to them, which analysts say, it is "a major breakthrough in the opposition's quest to present a common bloc".
Though the details of that meeting were not made public then, it nevertheless sends a strong signal to the ruling party that the 2015 elections will definitely not be a tea party. Confirming this position, a source at the meeting recalled some prior history to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY: "You may recall that both Buhari and Tinubu have repeatedly called on the opposition to commence early preparations with a view to forming a strong alliance that will wrest power from the PDP.
As you know, our past experience has shown that late commencement of talks of any sort, be it merger or alliance, adversely hampered the actualisation of a workable alliance among the opposition. Therefore, it is in line with this agenda and the need to actualise the formation of a formidable alliance that would defeat the PDP that the opposition leaders have started contacts among themselves."
Significantly, in the exercise of his right, a certain Prof. Cyriacus Njoku had approached an Abuja High Court, challenging the propriety of President Goodluck Jonathan contesting for the 2015 presidential election. A counter-affidavit filed by the counsel to President Jonathan in the suit pointedly deposed that his client (President Jonathan) was doing his first term in office, a confirmation that the president could still exercise his constitutional right in vying for the office in 2015.
"The 1st defendant (Jonathan) is currently doing his first term of four years in office as the President of Nigeria as provided by the 1999 Constitution as amended. The 1st defendant's status and position is formidably backed by the 1999 Constitution. The Constitution of Nigeria only makes provisions for a President to contest for not more than two terms of four years each. The Constitution recognises the executive president's tenure of office to be four years," the counter-affidavit read in part.
In any case, the Abuja High Court fixed October 18 to determine whether or not President Goodluck Jonathan is eligible to contest the Presidency in 2015. Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi fixed the date of judgement after entertaining arguments from parties to the suit filed by Njoku. Arguing in court, counsel to Jonathan and that of the PDP, Mr. Christopher Paul and Mr. Kelechi Normeh, respectively, contended that the plaintiff failed to disclose any reasonable cause of action that precipitated the suit.
They argued that Jonathan was currently doing his first term of four years in office as the President of Nigeria as provided by the 1999 Constitution as amended.
For good measure, the PDP further maintained that Jonathan had not indicated or announced anywhere whether in words or in writing that he would contest the presidential election in 2015.
Consequently, they insisted that the plaintiff was bereft of the locus to seek such declarative orders against Jonathan.
Meanwhile, the plaintiff who argued through his counsel, Mr Ugochukwu Osuagwu, urged the court to discountenance the preliminary objections by the defendants and decide the case on its merit. Though the presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, in a bid to diffuse the tension in the polity, had said that his principal was yet to give thought to 2015 elections, the opposition leaders appear to have read beyond the surface. For them, the cat had already been let out of the bag.
Let the battle begin
For Buhari, this continuous slide to anarchy, represented by the extreme security challenges, should be contained by the opposition by offering an alternative government. The alleged rigging of the elections by the ruling party, he said, had robbed the polity of good leadership. He, therefore, warned the ruling party that any attempt to rig the 2015 polls, as had been done in the past elections, would lead to disastrous consequences.
His words: "We had decided, together with the party leaders, that by the year 2015, God willing, it's either the government does justice in the conduct of the elections as always claimed by them or it will be a fierce bloody battle. The magnitude of corruption and insensitivity in Nigeria's leadership is legendary, but there is a storm of awareness. God willing by 2015 something will happen. They either conduct a free and fair election or they go a very disgraceful way". Speaking figuratively, the CPC leader had referred to the Federal Government as "the biggest Boko Haram".
The level of corruption in the government circles, especially the petroleum industry, and the seeming inability of the President to bring the culprits to book, is of great concern also to the opposition. As a one-time Minister of Petroleum Resources, the CPC leader is of the conviction that only a corrupt leadership would watch its appointees commit such crimes without bringing such persons to book. Why the issue should be taken more seriously, the ex-general said, is because the petroleum industry is the live-wire of the nation.
"This kind of thing can only happen under the type of Nigeria's current leadership. Nowhere in the world can such things happen now, and nowhere in the world can government increase the cost of petroleum product by more than 120 per cent. It is most insensitive. Besides, the air people breathe, the next important thing to them is petroleum products," the CPC leader further noted.
The time, according to the ACN leader Ahmed Bola Tinubu, does not call for lamentation. Rather, it is time to brace up for action if the situation must change. "We fought for democracy, we won it, they gave it to us and, from 1999 till date, a particular political party is in power and what have we gotten? Lamentation, poverty, lack of motion, sorrow, excuses and lack of development. They should quit. We are tired of lamentation. We must stop complaining; let us come to a market square and confront this government if they are not ready for reform," the ACN leader charged.
Former governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, a leading light in the opposition camp, is convinced that there is no justice and respect for human dignity in the PDP-controlled Federal Government. The party, he said, is using the agencies of the state to intimidate and force members of the opposition to either join them or abandon their cause.
The former two-time governor on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples' Party (ANPP) shares the same aspiration with his other colleagues in the opposition; that it is time the PDP behemoth was cut to size.
Enter the PDM
Even as opposition's plot thickens, associates of late ex-Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Maj.-Gen Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, have intensified efforts to revamp his political machinery ahead of the 2015 general election. It can be recalled that the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), the political machinery of the late Yar'Adua, a frontline politician of the aborted Third Republic, is one of the political groupings that formed the ruling Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) in 1998.
According to reports, a reluctant former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has declined open identification with moves to revamp the late Yar'Adua's political group. But reports disclose that other members, including former Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, met in Abuja last week to fine tune the new plot. Other top members of the group such as a former Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Titi Ajanaku; former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, and Ambassador Yahaya Kwande reportedly attended. Still, other attendees were former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Chief Dubem Onyia; Mrs. Zainab Boni Haruna, wife of former Adamawa State Governor, Mr. Boni Haruna; and A.A. Matawellen Hadeija.
LEADERSHIP SUNDAY further gleaned that although the invitation to attend the meeting was extended to Atiku, he chose to stay away. His reticence is being linked to the role members of the PDM played in 2011 during the PDP presidential primary where the late Yar'Adua's political associates supported President Goodluck Jonathan against him. The former chairman of the group, Alhaji Farouk Abdulazzi, led the PDM members to support Jonathan's presidential bid in 2011. Since then, the group has been inactive.
However, ahead of the expected jostling for the 2015 general election, some PDM members had mooted the idea to revive the group to play an active role in the next elections.
At the group's last meeting, which took place at the Yar'Adua Centre, a protem national steering committee, headed by Chief Bode Ajewole, was constituted with Mr. Godie Ikechi named secretary of the committee.
Other members of the committee include Senator Abubakar Mhadi, Yar'Adua's son, Muritala; Dr. Etim Amba, Bashiru Yusuf Ibrahim, Tonye Princewill and Olupunle Ebo. According to a source, the meeting which was also attended by some political heavyweights from the six geo-political zones of the country, discussed issues bordering on politics.
The source further stated that the new PDM is being anchored on the vibrancy and resourcefulness of younger people within the group to enhance the movement's reinvigoration, complete re-engineering and to make the movement acceptable to Nigerians.
According to a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting and signed by Ikechi, goodwill messages and tributes to the late Yar'Adua were received from members across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for his efforts in bringing democracy to Nigeria.
According to the communiqué, members were taken round the bridge at the Yar'Adua Centre, which is a symbol of the uncompleted mission in ensuring unity as well as in bringing democracy and good governance to Nigerians. As part of plans to ensure the revival of the PDM, Ikechi said a national summit would be organised within the last quarter of the year on the theme: "State of the Nation".
But according to some analysts reading between the lines, Atiku's reluctance to be openly associated with the new movement is linked to the dangers of a presidency interested in 2015, reading any such move as a threat and moving totally against him.
As events unfold, the emerging consensus is that this is the opposition's finest opportunity to form government at the centre.
The big question remains; Will the opposition parties agree to work for a common goal? Are they paying attention to grassroots mobilisation, instead of empty media braggadoccio? Will the appropriate candidates be fielded for the elections, instead of kiths and kins of party leaders who have little electoral value? Big questions!