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FIFTEEN years ago, precisely on May 29, 1999 General Abdulsalami Abubakar supervised the transition that heralded the Fourth Republic which made the former military leader Olusegun Obasanjo the new president.
Suffice it to say that out of the many political associations that evolved at that time, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stood out save at the regional levels where the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and the then All Peoples Party, APP, enjoyed ethnic support.
However, today, the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, faces its biggest threat in 15 years, after a newly formed opposition coalition was given the green light to contest the presidential election due next year.
On July 31st, 2013 the electoral authority approved the merger of the three leading opposition parties—the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the All Nigeria People’s Party and the Congress of Progressive Change, CPC. The All Progressive Congress, APC, as the new mega-party is known, will face a weakened PDP, which has held power since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999.
The merger is the most committed effort to date by the opposition to form a united front. In theory, power is within reach.
To give credence to the assertion, President Goodluck Jonathan, has inspired little confidence since taking the reins in 2010. He has struggled to contain an Islamist insurgency in the north and oil theft is at an all-time high: $10.9 billion has been lost to oil pilfering in two years, with senior government officials rumoured to be involved.
He also has problems within his party, which has shown signs of stress for close to a year now. In-party squabbling indicates that some in the PDP do not want the president to run again in 2015.
That is to say the history of Nigeria’s political dispensation is replete with weak opposition that over the years could not engender any positive change.
Coupled with rampant corruption, nepotism, insincerity, and ethnic bias, the political class had been overwhelmed by elements bereft of viable political ideology to anchor the nations’ political future and offer a desired constructive opposition.
In fact, many believe that Nigeria at best can boast of compromised opposition parties who for material benefit have long abandoned their traditional role as peoples watchdog, ensuring checks and balances on the ruling government and resorted to scouting for pecks of office.
That also explains why in Nigeria individuals that constitute the opposition view it as an opportunity to warm themselves into the heart of the ruling party for recognition.
Indeed, Nigeria’s opposition parties seem to have no plans, no programmes, no value added and lack credibility to challenge unpopular government policies.
It goes without saying, therefore, that bankruptcy in ideology and vision reduced party politics in Nigeria to bread and butter game. Monetisation of the political process has become the bedrock of loyalty and support, a situation that erodes the objective of the democratic process anchored on supremacy of popular will.
Even when members of the political class in realisation of their lame-duck approach to opposition initiated the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, Nigerians welcomed the move as the most robust in the nation’s history of political opposition devoid of ethnic, elitist and parochial sentiments.
But that was not to be. Allegations mounted that some CNPP leaders compromised their positions for material benefits in form of physical cash or juicy appointments from the ruling parties in their states.
Unlike the first and second republics when ethnicity dictated the actions of the AG and UPN opposition, the present democracy, though better in ethnic orientation has suffered severe degradation owing to inability of the political class to adhere to the rules of the game. Apart from the ACN with some remarkable efforts, genuine opposition seems to be missing in action in Nigeria.
Apparently, the tragedy of the opposition in Nigeria presently, is that there is no difference in party ideology and structure between the PDP and the so-called opposition. By all intent and purposes they are the same and therefore considered as really not having much to offer.
The opposition parties should cease to bemoan their fate and blaming their dismal electoral outing and concentrate on being resourceful and proactive in strategic politicking.
Previous attempts to rally the opposition against the PDP have failed amid infighting and the competing ambitions of party leaders. The success of the new coalition will depend on its big personalities being able to put their egos aside and carefully choose a presidential candidate.
The ACN, a Yoruba-majority party with roots in the south-west, and the northern, Muslim-dominated CPC may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but they may be able to choose a candidate with broad national appeal, something which has eluded opposition parties in the past. Some believe they may put forward a northern Muslim, with a Christian running mate from the oil-producing south.
That would appease northern governors who believe that the president broke an unwritten agreement to rotate power between the largely Muslim north and Christian south when he ran for president in 2011.
If the opposition can stand strong and rally enough support in areas where the ruling party is losing strength, it could be a hotly contested election.
A strong opposition is exactly what Nigeria needs to move its democracy forward. The new mega-party still needs to come up with a more persuasive message to voters: it currently offers familiar faces repeating well-worn lines about bringing corruption and insecurity to an end and creating jobs.
If the coalition breaks up, Goodluck may ease to victory. Nonetheless, as long as the opposition is united, the PDP will at last face a run for its money.