Opposition is an ingredient of a true democratic system. As such, something serious is supposed to be cooking in the camps of the opposition parties in the run-up to the general elections in Nigeria. Sure, you will be forgiven if you wonder whether we do have any real opposition party. The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), which gave the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a run for its money in the last three general elections, is wearing the toga of the biggest opposition party in the country. That is so due to the fact that it is ruling in three states. But, its fortune has declined drastically in the last eight years. In the 2003 polls, the party won in seven states, all of them in the north, but by 2007 the number had crashed to less than half. One had actually expected the remaining three to decamp to the "biggest party in Africa" by now, given the acrimony that had dogged it in recent years. Somehow, the governors of Borno, Kano and Yobe have stayed put, struggling to sustain its last gasps. That of Kano has already announced his intention to run for president under the party. Good luck to him.
The ANPP is a shadow of itself. Many of its founding fathers have abandoned it, finding comfort in the big arms of the PDP. Its main selling point, Muhammadu Buhari, whose singular integrity ensured that its opposition credentials remained high, is now in the CPC, coasting to become its presidential candidate in the 2011 polls. His departure caused the biggest upset in the party, robbing it of his numerous supporters. Now the ANPP is not as formidable as it was before the 2003 polls. One wonders if, in its present status, it can present a significant threat to any other party in states of the federation outside its three enclaves of Borno, Kano and Yobe. Indeed, there is a growing impression that some factors are questioning its sustained hold in these states. While the PDP has vowed to retake Kano and seize the other two, the CPC appears to be growing a formidable following in Kano, making it the party most favoured to secure the state in the next elections.
There are no signs that the ANPP is making an inroad in any state in the south.
Therefore, with its influence defined and limited to the north, it is easy to surmise that it could well become history after 2011 if it fails to retain its hold on the three states. It is impossible at the moment to think that the party will take any state outside the three.
The ruling party can derive pleasure from the fact that the ANPP's dour performance and unimpressive profile are reflective of what obtains generally in the opposition camps. The other three "main" opposition parties - the newly renamed Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Labour Party (LP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) - are busy putting their houses in order. Buoyed by the apparent commitment of the Jonathan administration to conduct a free and fair election, all are exhibiting a greater sense of purpose, confident that votes would count.
Unfortunately for them, however, they are all wracked by divisive tendencies. This has made it difficult for them to go beyond their narrow borders and become what their high-sounding names claim they are. Stalwarts within them who feel that they are their founders are holding tight to their control levers, thus running them as private fiefdoms. They tend to forget that this was what contributed immensely to the collapse of the ANPP in the last eight years.
But by far the biggest ailment of the opposition parties is their lack of a proper political ideology. Apart from the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) - hello there, ask Balarabe Musa if it still exists - and at least by name the LP, all can be said to represent tendencies that are not different from that of the PDP. They have also unwittingly turned themselves into regional, not to say, tribal institutions, with visions that fail to see beyond the noses of their founders.
An elementary reading of politics will show that you cannot build an effective opposition party system without a defining political ideology. We have seen that in the UK and the US. Unfortunately, it is in today's Nigeria that you find the political parties operating like market stalls, each resembling the other albeit with different faces of promoters. That is why their rank and file can flit from one party to the other without fearing any backlash on election day. That is why state governors can change parties simply on the basis of fearing corruption charges from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or because they have married the president's daughter. Only recently, a senator decamped to the PDP because Dr Jonathan has made him a minister, pegging his reason on the so-called patriotic zeal of the president.
In years past, we saw how real democrats played politics of ideology. Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano and Waziri Ibrahim stuck to their beliefs to the end, and they were respected for it. Even the republicans, the Sardaunas, the Tafawa Balewas and, in later years, the Shagaris, did not flinch when it came to holding onto a defining political belief. They were not bread and butter politicians who would jump from one boat to the other when they saw that there was more gravy on the other side. A pitiable example of this tendency was exhibited in recent years by Atiku Abubakar, who switched from the PDP to found his own party, the Action Congress (AC), only to abandon it midstream and returned when he erroneously foresaw an end to Olusegun Obasanjo's overbearing influence in the ruling party following the pledges made by Umaru Yar'Adua to reform the system. If Atiku had remained in the ACN today, he would have helped build a bigger and better opposition party, thereby helping to invigorate the democratic space in the country.
The only chance the opposition parties have of making any recognisable impact in the next elections is if they merge and present consensus candidates nationwide. The ACN, which has two state governors in its fold, is the second largest opposition party. More importantly, it has demonstrated that it can attempt to grow bigger through forging alliances, with its national convention held on August 9 in Lagos. At the convention, it formalised its merger with DPP, DPA, AD and NDM, as well as admitted top stalwarts from ANPP and PDP. The CPC should consider making similar moves. Already, people have been trooping into it in many states. Recently, it admitted former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Bello Masari, and his group in Katsina State, not to talk of its huge harvests in Kano and Nasarawa.
Forging alliances would secure a better future for the fractious opposition parties that lack a defining ideology. As ACN leader Bola Ahmed Tinubu said during the Lagos convention, "Do you want power or the party? I have always said that power is not served a la carte. 'Poverty Development Party' will not surrender power easily. You have to fight for it."
Yes, they have to. But how ready they are for such a fight remains to be seen.
Published in LEADERSHIP, Saturday, 21 August 2010