The planned merger of three major opposition parties - the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) - ought to be seen as an idea whose time has come. Since the country's return to democratic rule, the political space has been dominated by the Peoples Democratic Party.
Most of the other parties on the roll of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, exist only in name. Indeed, judging from past electoral performance, the combined strength of the opposition parties seems to fall short of the pan-Nigerian presence of the PDP. This has made the ruling party lounge comfortably in power, assured that it will always control the central government. So confident is the party that its officials routinely boast that the PDP will rule Nigeria for 60 or 100 unbroken years.
Monopoly corrupts. Where there is no competition, standards fall and the mediocre is passed off as the desirable. One of the reasons for PDP's underachievement is the fact that there is no threat of possible loss of power. The opposition is fractured, picking up electoral crumbs here and there. Even those who are bitterly opposed to PDP's Machiavellian approach to political power concede that the party is pan-Nigerian in outlook.
The political configuration of Nigeria demands that a party be broad-based in appeal with its net cast wide over the six geopolitical zones. That is the only way a party can realistically hope to vie for power at the presidential level. That has been PDP's strength.
Now that some of the major opposition parties have come to terms with the need to come out of their provincial cocoon and reach out to like minds to emerge as a bigger, stronger, pan-Nigerian party, we can only say that this development is good for our democracy. Nigeria deserves an alternative to the PDP - an alternative not just in name but in world view. To achieve this, the merging parties must be prepared to compromise. The merger effort is becoming late already and, if it fails, the ruling party will retain its hold on power.
The developed democracies of the world usually have two main contending parties. Although a minor party may win some local elections, only the big parties compete for the ultimate crown. It is a sign that democracy is taking roots in Nigeria that three parties would freely decide to come together to provide a credible alternative platform. In the months ahead, Nigerians will be watching out for the programme of the new party.
Now the people will be able to make a choice based on issues and programmes. And the PDP will have to strive to justify its current mandate, realising that the era of "capturing" instead of winning states is over. If the merger is successfully pulled off and the electoral landscape enriched, there can be only one winner: the people.