Chuks Okocha writes that if other political parties do not present themselves as a virile and effective opposition, Nigeria could slide into a one-party state
One of the biggest deficits in the current Nigerian political space since the last general election is the absence of a robust, virile and effective opposition to the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Today, many feel that the country is gradually drifting towards a one-party state, due to a lack of strong opposition.
In any constitutional democracy, the role of the opposition is to question, criticise, challenge, and audit the governments of the day and make the government more transparent and accountable. Even if these twin objectives may not be immediately achieved, the opposition exists nonetheless to put the people in power “on their toes” for the overall interest of the people.
In both the presidential and parliamentary systems of government, the underlying principle is for the opposition to provide checks and balances in form of alternative government, and the balance that can safeguard the integrity of the political process.
The opposition makes the ruling party in power to always sit up or have alternative views to its policies and programmes. It also curtails its excesses, and curbs maladministration and dictatorship.
In the First and Second Republics, Nigeria had a rich culture of opposition politics. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group (AG) and later the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), as an opposition leader, confronted the ruling government with hard facts and figures and an alternative vision of how Nigeria could be rescued. Even Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and others were all opposition figures who also challenged the excesses of the ruling party and government.
Even during the military rule, there were formidable Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as Campaign for Democracy (CD), Movement for National Reformation (MNR), the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and many other organisations like the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) that stood up firmly against dictatorship and maladministration.
The likes of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Aka Bashorun, Olisa Agbakoba, Femi Falana, Beko Ransom-Kuti, Ayo Obe, Ken Saro-Wiwa and many others went to jail for criticising the government.
But today there is hardly any strong opposition with constructive or disruptive views. Since the end of the last elections, the opposition political parties have gone to sleep, leaving the ruling APC and the federal government to ride roughshod over Nigerians.
While a few CSOs and NGOs still advocate for true democracy, others are ineffective as a result of their leaders who may have either been compromised, joined the government or are now tired.
Many observers believe that the current opposition is weak, uncoordinated, and ineffective. Where the opposition parties are not internally polarised, fragmented and compromised, they are very ineffective and incompetent.
Currently in Nigeria, the main opposition are the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP), but none of them have been able to rein in the excesses of the ruling APC.
Before the APC took over power from the PDP, it employed a bunch of political campaign smears against the PDP.
Since the assumption of office by President Bola Tinubu, nothing remarkable seems to have changed. Not only has the drastic removal of fuel subsidy increased the suffering and hunger in the country, the rate of unemployment has equally soared. The roads are in deplorable conditions. Though the administration seems to have made an appreciable impact in the area of security, there are still killings, kidnappings and high levels of insensitivity and nonchalance and show of extravagance and affluence on the part of government officials, including, of course, members of the National Assembly. Yet it appears that there are no strong opposition parties that can vehemently criticise the ruling party as they did to the PDP in 2011 and 2015.
When the then President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration removed subsidy on petroleum products at the time, Nigerians bought petrol at N85 per litre compared to what obtains now where fuel sells for N588 or more per litre. Surprisingly then, President Muhammadu Buhari and his allies came out and protested on the streets.
Besides the drastic removal fuel subsidy for which palliatives have still not been given to Nigerians to cushion its effect, the humongous amount voted for official cars for President Tinubu, his wife and members of the National Assembly are some of the issues the opposition political parties and CSOs should have taken up against the government.
Also condemnable is the incarcerations of the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele and the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa.
Even when the courts have ordered that Emefiele be released, the federal government has refused to obey the orders.
Furthermore, the members of the opposition and CSOs kept sealed lips when the president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Mr. Joe Ajaero was brutalised in Imo State during a demonstration.
If it were in the days of military dictatorship, CSOs would have been clamouring for his release through demonstrations.
Today on all sides, the country faces multiple crises. With no apparent end in sight, many people in some sections of the country live in fear and are waiting for the worst to happen. It is believed that together, the opposition could have checked the ruling party on all fronts, benefiting the people.
Instead, many believe that ordinary Nigerians have been abandoned to their fates.
It was therefore not surprising that former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, recently called on opposition political parties to come together and create a more formidable front that will salvage Nigeria’s democracy.
Speaking when he received a delegation from the national executive committee of the Inter-Party Advisory Council Nigeria (IPAC), led by its national president, Yabagi Sani, Atiku said if there was no viable opposition, the nation’s hard-earned democracy would suffer. He added that opposition parties in the country need to form a coalition, saying Nigeria needs a strong opposition to stop the APC from turning the country into a one-party state.
“The project of protecting democracy in our country is not about just one man. You have come here today to say that we should cooperate in order to promote democracy. The truth of the matter is that our democracy is fast becoming a one-party system; and you know that when we have a one-party system, we should just forget about democracy.
“We have all seen how the APC is increasingly turning Nigeria into a dictatorship of one party. If we don’t come together to challenge what the ruling party is trying to create, our democracy will suffer for it, and the consequences of it will affect the generations yet unborn,” he said. He further chided the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for conducting the worst-ever general election in the country,” Atiku explained.
On his part, penultimate week, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, said the party and the Obidient family have effectively accepted their new role as opposition. He stressed that after exhausting all legal and constitutional means to reclaim their mandate, they would now remain in the party as opposition and continue to put pressure on the federal government to do the right thing.
The former Anambra State governor said: “Going forward, we in the Labour Party and the Obidient Movement are now effectively in opposition. We are glad that the nation has heard us loud and clear. We shall now expand the confines of our message of hope to the rest of the country. We shall meet the people in the places where they feel pain and answer their needs for hope. At marketplaces, motor parks, town halls, boardrooms, and university and college campuses, we all carry and deliver the message of a new Nigeria.
“As stakeholders and elected Labour Party officials, we shall remain loyal to our manifesto. We will continue to canvas for good governance and focus on issues that promote national interest, unity, and cohesion. We will continue to give primacy to our Constitution, the rule of law, and the protection of ordered liberties. We will offer the checks and balances required in a functional democracy and vie robustly in forthcoming elections to elect those who share our vision of a new Nigeria.
“Given our present national circumstances, there is a compelling need for a strong political opposition. We shall, therefore, remain in opposition, especially because of the policies and the governance modalities that we in the Labour Party campaigned for, especially reducing the cost of governance, moving the nation from consumption to production, reducing inflation, ending insecurity, promoting the rule of law, guaranteeing the responsibility to protect, and stabilizing the Nigerian currency; are not the priorities of the present administration nor is it interested in achieving Sustainable Development Goals,” he stated.
Also, a public affairs analyst, Tajudeen Ahmad Tijani, feels that though he cannot say that the current government is doing nothing about all the challenges facing the country, they are not doing anything revolutionary, especially now, when the people need it most.
“Even though this is not a campaign for the PDP to come back to power, the lives of the people have become unpleasant due to widespread inflation. There is no sense of direction. There is serious hunger across the country,” he said.
For now, Nigerians are waiting to see how the PDP and LP will put the APC and federal government on their toes.