Road to virile, responsible opposition

Alabi Williams

That meeting of President Muhammadu Buhari and leaders of All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), last Friday, perhaps, should have come much earlier.

In a democracy where the central platforms for political engagement are parties, a level playing field and healthy rivalry will transmit signals that the actors are ready for serious business. That body language would replicate in other platforms and departments of national life, that the drivers of our democracy are purged of strife, and the polity destined for stability, greatness. But we never came close to armistice because our politicians prepare more for war than mere electoral contest.

Although the meeting held behind closed-door and no communiqué was issued to explain the central agenda, being the first meeting between the two major parties after the turbulent general elections of 2015, could only mean, hopefully that we may be set for a new beginning. Now, the polity is so divided, to the extent that, sources in the Presidency have admitted there is need to urgently reverse the trend before the next round of elections.

And I dare to remind that the 2015 elections set the tone for the agitations that have today coalesced to put the polity so close to danger. The elections were fought as if it was an international contest between two distant and warring countries. The tone was full of hate and threats. Politicians of the APC promised to make the country ungovernable should the PDP hold on to power by whatever means. Even after the former ruling party conceded defeat, it was made to look like that loss of election was also a death knell. The anti-corruption campaign seemed targeted to break the spirit of the party and members of the former administration.

Truth, the PDP was reckless and mindless in the manner its members accessed and stole public resources. The figures are alarming and unexplainable, yet the process of making suspected looters go through the judicial mill was unduly enhanced by partisan urge. It was as if the APC that has many members from the PDP was made from heaven, without sin. It was as if the APC did not spend money on campaigns, which were staged all over the country. Some persons were concerned that the anti-graft war could be better fought when all politically exposed persons who were frontline members of the PDP, but now in APC are asked to account for the campaign funds they expended on behalf of their new party. Some of these persons are ranking members of the administration and that action of making them sacred cows promotes perceptions that the anti-graft war is discriminatory, even partisan.

Former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki, who allegedly compromised security funds meant to prosecute the fight against terror in the Northeast, has been in detention since December 2015. Despite being granted bail, government has kept him out of circulation. Situations such as his, make persons doubt the sincerity of the administration to promote peace and unity. All those who had links to Dasuki in the channeling of funds into PDP campaigns of 2015 have been invited; some undergoing prosecution, while others have quietly returned monies in their possession that were traced to Dasuki. In the process, some harried PDP members have out of fear relocated to the APC in order to stay safe. Such political environment that picks and selects persons to be hounded could not have engendered a virile and responsible opposition, the kind Buhari now covets.

Until the recent Supreme Court ruling, which sent away Modu Sheriff, a pretender to the PDP throne; the APC leadership seemed to savour the travail of the opposition party and even poked fun at it. We saw that in the Edo governorship election of September 2016 and later in Ondo in November of that year.

That has been the cat and mouse relationship between ruling party and opposition parties in this era. In fact, the PDP seemed more brutal, and cunning as well, in tactics deployed to annihilate opposition parties while it held sway. Under former President Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007, he drove the opposition out of town in very subtle manner. His approach was that of carrot and stick. His appointment of frontline leader of then Alliance for Democracy (AD), late chief Bola Ige, led to gradual death of that party. Whereas in 1999 the AD was on a near equal footing with the PDP, both presiding over territories and having strong influence in their jurisdictions, by 2007 when Obasanjo left office, the AD was no more.

It was the same treatment the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) got from the PDP. Obasanjo gave jobs to leaders of the party and gradually sucked them in. PDP took over territories that were once controlled by both AD and ANPP in the Southwest, North-central and elsewhere.

It was under late Umar Yar’Adua that opposition parties began to breath some fresh air. Through judicial rulings that upturned rigged elections of 2007, the Action congress (AC), which branched out of the former AD was able to recover lost ground in the Southwest. And that was the energy that enabled opposition parties to commence merger talks, as the PDP had become too big to confront at the polling booth. Today’s APC could be traced to the enabling environment created by Yar’Adua’s government for electoral reforms and for opposition parties to grow.

Goodluck Jonathan also built on that when his body language of one-man, one-vote inspired confidence in the electoral system. Jonathan put the electoral body under Attahiru Jega, a man all Nigerians from the geo-political divides could count on. The Jonathan government also introduced electoral reforms by funding biometric registration, as well as partial electronic voting. Again, the success of the APC in 2015 was anchored on these novel reforms, as well as Jega’s capacity and integrity.

As Buhari seem to have turned a new leaf in his understanding of the political party system, as he begins to see the need for serious engagement with other stakeholders, he needs follow it with major electoral reforms before the expiration of his tenure. The APC promised to overhaul the electoral system during the 2015 campaigns. So far, nothing has happened. We are hoping to see executive bills sent to the legislature for overhaul of the system. First, the Muhammadu Uwais-led committee report is still there to implement. It touches on the subject of full independence to INEC. For now, INEC is not independent of the President in terms of appointments. Many of today’s INEC commissioners were APC loyalists, either as commentators or contractors. They have been compensated and will work very hard to remain there by manipulating figures on behalf of the party that gave them the job. That is not what we expected of an APC that promised something different.

Again, this government should scale up on the electronic voting system (biometrics and PVC system) it inherited from the PDP. Let us have full electronic voting, as well as have Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote. Let that be the addition of APC to what we already have before the next election.

That is one way to enhance political participation and encourage a responsible opposition to thrive within its capacity. You cannot do that by depleting opposition parties via subterfuge, or using EFCC to run them out of town. OBJ attempted all that and left behind a weakened political system, beginning with a PDP that has remained unhinged. Yar’Adua came and tried to restore hope. Jonathan managed to inspire some confidence in the electoral system. We want APC to build on that. If political parties are healthy, and rivalry is tame, there are chances the economy and the polity will benefit.

First, let Buhari build APC into a solid party. He should not be tempted to tear his membership card when he is done with the platform!



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