Last week this column discussed a mixed grill of issues of interest to the civil society as we enter a new year. The discourse continues with a focus on the political front. January 15 2013 is the day set aside as Armed Forces Remembrance Day when we pray for all those patriots who sacrificed their lives in the struggle to keep the country united. As the prayers and wreath laying was going on in different states, a new and interesting type of struggle was unfolding in the political sector. The conference hall of the Shehu Musa YarAdua Centre in Abuja was full to the brim with supporters of an event that is overtly political but of vital interest to all Nigerians who may not be card carrying members of political parties.
As the ruling political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is battling with internal wrangling and power tussle, the opposition parties are working on cementing their relationship and preparing to present a formidable front in the 2015 election. The launching of a book titled 2015 Manifesto of Nigerian Opposition Politics was a timely event. The movers and shakers of the major opposition parties were there and others were ably represented by their deputies. Two serving Governors, Dr Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and two former governors Malam Ibrahim Shekarau and Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim of Kano and Yobe States were in attendance. The National Chairmen of the political parties who attended the event include Chief Bisi Akande of Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) who was ably represented by Senator Lawal Shuaibu, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Prince Tony Momoh of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
Political analysts have been watching the dynamics of the proposed merger of the political parties and wondering if this time around the opposition will get it right.
Equally important for supporters of the move is the need to obtain information on the strategic plans the major opposition political parties have developed for their historic outing in the next election. Those who have studied the history of opposition politics are disturbed that we do not have a well organised and credible opposition group in Nigeria politics. It is therefore an interesting development that the opposition parties are now coming together to say they are tired of bad governance and ready to bring an end to PDP misadventure in governance. The book launch provided the enabling environment for them to inform Nigerians that they are serious about uniting to make a change in the governance sector. How feasible will this be?
The author of the book, Malam Salihu Mohammed Lukman, is a political scientist, development consultant and politician. He contested for a senate seat in Kaduna State under the Action Congress of Nigeria and had an interesting story to tell after the contest. In expressing his view about the opposition parties' merger and the agenda for success, Lukman said 'the major challenge, as far as Nigerians are concerned is not about forging a mechanical unity of opposition parties. It is about instituting true alternative political organisation with clear opposing governance agenda that would guarantee enhanced livelihood for the people.'
The Chairman of the occasion, a Second Republic minister and former chairman of the PDP, Dr Audu Ogbeh said in his welcome address that the manifestoes of the various parties seem to have disappeared. According to him, in the Second Republic, the major parties were identified with the priority issue in their manifesto such as the National Party of Nigeria NPN's green revolution and housing and the Unity Party of Nigeria UPN for its free education policy. Today, manifestoes do not feature in the political discourse as Presidents now personalise the political parties that elect them to office, design their own agenda, sabotage accountability and trivialise serious issues of governance. Dr Ogbeh lamented that parties have become platforms for office seekers, opportunists, and political gypsies who jettison principles in the search for power and position. This has reduced the political contest to mercantile adventurism resulting in poor governance and destabilising policy somersaults. He said with globalisation, Nigeria has become a consumer nation that imports almost everything including toothpicks, spends 20 billion naira on imported food although it has arable land, 29 billion naira on importation of petroleum products although it is an oil producing country. The cost of this is the closure of 400 industries in Kano, while 800,000 textiles workers have lost their jobs in Kaduna. Dr Ogbeh said youth unemployment is a ticking time-bomb that could lead to social upheaval as 500,000 youths graduate every year from the country's 24 universities to join the band of the unemployed.
He said change would come if all concerned citizens unite to promote change though free and fair election. He however expressed concern that Section 22 subsection 2 of the Electoral Act prohibits the use of electronic machine for voting although it has worked for other countries.
The book was reviewer was Dr Osagie Obayuwana of the National Conscience Party. He commended Salihu Lukman for writing the book and for all the good work he is known for in the development sector. He observed that the opposition parties in Nigeria have always behaved like strange bedfellows in their relationship which each other instead of teaming up to provide an effective front that would challenge PDP misrule. He urged them to be proactive, organising instead of agonising over the state of affairs in the country.
In his speech at the occasion, Dr Jibril Ibrahim, the Executive Director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development CDD identified abuse of incumbency as one of the factors that constitutes a serious problem for opposition politics in Africa. He said African leaders use stolen public funds to rig elections, persecute and prosecute the opposition just to hang on to power. He described this as the external challenge but stressed that if the opposition parties could unite and remain focused they would unseat the incumbents.