Nigeria: The Sleeping Opposition Parties

24 February 2021

Sonnie Ekwowusi urges the opposition to be alive to their responsibilities

For all you know, the final horse-trading and strategic build-up for the 2023 election have begun in earnest. But unfortunately the opposition political parties are nowhere to be seen in the scheme of things. Where have the opposition political parties gone? For weeks now, the ruling party All Progressives Congress (APC) has been busy validating or revalidating its membership list in order to enlarge the party's membership base in readiness for the 2023 election. The pertinent questions remain: Why are the opposition political parties so silent? Why are they reluctant in contributing to good governance and nation-building by at least constructively engaging the ruling party in meaningful dialogue on the challenges facing the nation at the moment especially the increasing poverty and the heightened insecurity of lives and property in Nigeria?. With the exception of the leading opposition party Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its Atiku Abubakar who speak out from time to time, the rest opposition political parties and their respective presidential hopefuls in the last presidential election have been in political comatose since 2019.

You will recall that it was the consistent superb and robust opposition put up by the APC in the wake of the 2015 general election that endeared her to the hearts of many Nigerians. This eventually culminated in the party winning the 2015 presidential election. But unfortunately President Buhari and the APC failed to live up to public expectation. In 2015 the APC and Mr. Buhari clinched power under the veiled mantra that they had vowed to fight and eliminate corruption in Nigeria. But paradoxically instead of fighting corruption as promised, the APC and President Buhari himself became so corrupt that the people vowed to vote them out in 2019. But shockingly enough, the APC and Mr. Buhari bounced back to power in 2019 no thanks to the master strokes of INEC chair Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu (little wonder Prof. Mahmoud has been re-appointed as INEC Chairman) and the controversial 9/11 Supreme Court judgment. Consequently in the last six years, Nigeria has overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world with statistics showing that 89 million people live in abject poverty. If you are in doubt and need corroboration, just take a studied look around you. If you do, you will realize that poverty itself is walking the streets of Nigeria. So, it is true that Nigeria has overtaken India and is currently the poverty capital of the world. Besides, the inflationary rate in Nigeria as of January 2021 was 16.47%. I guess it has increased further this February and will increase again in the coming months. President Buhari promised that he would "lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty over the next 10 years and set them on the path to prosperity". How? He failed to tell us. So, the phrase" lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty" is just a convenient catchphrase to give the impression that the government is doing something. But the truth of the matter is that such a catchphrase is not synonymous with economic prosperity. It is obvious that the 'sending money" theory (over-borrowing and reliance on foreign aid) and other things embraced by the Buhari government cannot even lift two million Nigerians out of poverty not to talk of 100 million Nigerians.

Considering the forgoing therefore, the APC should be voted out in 2023. We need to inject new blood into the political blood stream of Nigeria. We need competing opposition political parties so as to enable the people make choices between these competing political parties and their competing political candidates at periodic elections. This is the beauty of democracy. If a political party cannot deal effectively with contemporary problems affecting the people; if it cannot promote the welfare of the people, it should be voted out at periodic elections to enable a new political party to emerge and tackle those problems. For example, the PDP was voted out in 2015 for its failure in power. In the same vein, the APC should be shown the red card in 2013 for its failure in power. Constitutional democracy confers the right to choose among the competing sets of political parties to run the government. But if this right is lost in Nigeria, genuine democracy will be lost; the will of the people will be truncated; tyranny will be enthroned paving the way for APC one-party totalitarianism.

But unfortunately as I earlier said, the opposition political parties in Nigeria have not been showing signs that they are ready to step into the badly worn shoes of the APC. In plain language, the opposition is weak. It is unprepared for leadership otherwise how can you explain that with only 670 days to the 2023 presidential election (of course discounting the year 2023 which is the election year) the opposition political parties have not started galvanizing and erecting political structures, at least, to win the confidence of the people that they are credible and strong alternatives to APC and PDP. The impression being conveyed by the opposition parties and their respective presidential flag bearers is that there are opportunistic political parties who only jump out to make some noise a few months to the election to see what goodies they can get. This is sad.

I have just finished reading the magnum opus entitled: Opposition Political Parties and Promotion of Good Governance In Nigeria: Demystifying the Role of Peoples Democratic Party under All Progressives Congress-led Government. It is authored by the trio of Anthony Itumo, Chinyere Ndukwe and Victor C. Amagwula. In this work, the authors state that one of the greatest challenges facing the growth of democracy in Nigeria is lack of vibrant opposition. The authors opine that instead of using the opposition party structure as a platform to advocate for good governance and socio-political well-being of Nigerians, members of the opposition use their opposition parties as springboards to satisfy their vaulting selfish political ambition. The authors cite PDP as an example. They say that aside the "political injury" suffered by the party in 2015, the internal anti-party wrangling and the constant defection to APC by the selfish members of the party have weakened the party tremendously.

I cannot agree less with the aforesaid authors. One may be tempted to excuse the PDP for being weak due to the seemingly unending peculiar internal crisis constantly rocking the party and thus preventing the party from biting as it should. But one cannot find excuses for other opposition political parties. Why do these parties disappear from the political space after each election only to reappear again at the dawn of another election? For example, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu's Young Progressive Party (YPP) positively impacted on many Nigerians during the 2019 presidential election campaigns. But no sooner after the 2019 election was won and lost than Moghalu and his party withdrew into their respective cocoons. I had thought that, given its pedigree as a party of young progressive minds, the YPP should have remained in the political space to be charting many courses in preparation for the 2023 general election. Jimi Agbaje is a governorship candidate loved by the Lagos electorate. But his undoing, in my view, is that he only wakes up whenever the Lagos governorship election is approaching. Since 2017 Pat Utomi, Olisa Agbakoba, Oby Ezekwesili, Ghali Umar Naaba, Femi Falana and others have been threatening to float a movement that would later metamorphose into a mega credible opposition party, but, somehow the project has been suffering multiple setbacks. A few weeks ago, the Pat Utomi gang issued a new threat to float a mega political party. We need viable and incorruptible opposition parties to demonstrate some level of commitment towards building a new Nigeria.

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