WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
The opposition or the opposition party as mostly called may be defined as all the political parties that do not belong to the ruling party or majority in the parliament but which possess the freedom to voice their differences and critical views regarding government policies; not limited to that, but also competing for legal exercise of power through subsequent elections.
The opposition’s behavior and reactions to issues is based on two principles: – competition with the central goal of assuming power; tolerance in the exercise of its freedom of speech as a means to remain politically relevant within the state. For this reason, opposition in democracies therefore has numerous functions. Firstly, it constitutes a counterweight: it makes it possible to guarantee transparent and responsible government serving the public interest and to avoid the majority being tempted, once it has come to power, to conduct a policy that interferes with rights and freedoms of the citizens or pursue policies and programmes that are anti-developmental.
More specifically, the opposition’s role is to: – constructively criticise the government’s programme, decisions and actions by closely examining its policy directions, project implementation standards, draft laws and budget; offer political alternatives by developing its own programmes and proposing alternative solutions to the decisions planned by the government and representatives of the government in power; monitor and oversee the activities of the government and the administrative authorities; strengthen the stability, legitimacy, accountability and transparency of the political process.
The opposition also represents the prospect of political change by democratic means: by its very existence, it contributes to genuine political pluralism, and through its actual participation in sustainability of government, its actions and its declarations it enables citizens to be offered a real and informed choice at election time.
So, it becomes that as a consequence of pluralist politics, the right to freedom of speech and the right to publicly and legitimately, positively and constructively oppose and criticise the policy directions and actions of the government of the day are central to the overall concept of liberal democracy and a major responsibility of the holders of opposition position(s)
In the word of Ian Shapiro, “democracy is an ideology of opposition as much as it is one of the governments”. Without doubt and argument, opposition is an essential component of every thriving democracy. Though not in power, it opposes, constructively or more, those who are in power. In performing this accepted though unofficial functions, it is required that the opposition be not totally antagonist; it is believed that there are actions of the ruling party that are beneficial to the nation and the opposition is expected to highlight such, praise it and drum support for their implementation.
So it become that a democracy without a virile opposition is a systemic Underdevelopment of democracy. That is why as a country we yearn for visible and functioning opposition over the last five years but unfortunately we have only been offered a group of power mongers and thirsty groups who erroneously misplaced opposition roles for injudicious, careless and unscrupulous attacks on the government in power.
In Nigeria, the concept and the game of practice of opposition is not altogether new to us; the opposition arrangement was put in place in the first Republic in line with what operated in the other Parliamentary system and Chief Obafemi Awolowo became leader of opposition in the first Republic while it lasted. Having lost the 1979 election to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Chief Awolowo laid the best example of what the role of opposition should be in a thriving democracy. Chief Awolowo would go on to be the best and most vocal critic of the Shagari led government; at the beginning of every budget year, immediately President Shagari read the national budget, Chief Awolowo would pieces the document, dissect it and separate it into three; the good economic plans and projection; the manageable and then, the unacceptable. The good, Chief Awolowo would praise and recommend that the government wholesomely implement it (most times he made advisory contribution he hope the government could include); the manageable he suggest alternatives and additions to supplement while the unacceptable he antagonize in clear constructive statement and advise Nigerians to reject. No wonder, President Shagari confered Chief Awolowo with the title of GCFR for his brilliant contribution even as a leader of the opposition. He was never a president but his action from the position of opposition made him equivalent of a honorary president. That is what opposition is and what Nigerians expect from PDP.
The replacement of this noble and democratic deepening role for hate speeches, divisive lies and propaganda along ethnic and religious terms, including personality attacks against key members of the ruling party rather than the government policy messages has become an albatross of our national growth.
The peculiar character of the current opposition framework in Nigeria as depicted by the actions, inactions and utterances of the PDP since 2015 is that what we have is a destructive opposition in the sense that the main objective of their actions and reactions to events is not basically about moving Nigeria forward but rather to pull down the incumbent at all cost not minding the consequence on the nation and its people
The only thing that matter to leading opposition party is winning election; taking over the power at the center; even if it means setting the nation on fire.
Though not new but aggravated, spreading of unfounded lies, propaganda and hate speeches as a tool to keep the opposition active and “relevance” instead of engaging actively in the task of analyzing, constructively criticizing and approving or objectively rejecting policies of the government as the case my warrant, for the benefit of the nation
PDP has woefully failed to realize that the best way to unseat any government in a democracy is by giving the populace a better alternative over the course of four years; taking the position of an unofficial public adviser and critic of the government. Instead of empowering FaniKayode, Reno Omokri and their likes to generate and publicise fake news regularly and abuse those in power, they could have set up an intelligent unit to relate with the people; discuss Nigeria issues, government responses, the good news and the best alternate pathway.
The truth as it stands is that the opposition in Nigeria has become more of a joke, irresponsible and rudderless. They have lost the capability to robustly engage the ruling party through intelligent interrogation of the party policies and programmes. PDP has become a gaggle of comedians, having forgotten that there is a world of difference between an opposition party and a circus team. Just yesterday, I read a funny post on the Facebook which says “Who is the most notorious fake news carrier in 9ja? And the alternatives are A. Reno Omokri B. Fanikayode C. Fayose D. Timi Frank and E. Kanu. That is an insult to the party that parade those characters but in the overall, a negative to the nation that need a strong opposition to develop optimally.
Now we wake up each day and ask what lie will they sell to us next? Such an irresponsible opposition that is supposed to hold the government accountable but instead turned itself into purveyors and peddlers of fake news.
How do we explain the activities of an opposition that wake up one morning to generate and disseminate the news that the President is getting marry to one of his ministers. As stupid as it sound, it is really a source of worry for some of us who know the opposition ought not to go down that much. Of what benefit was the news to the development of Nigeria? None at all; yet PDP spent money to litter the nation media space for days with the unbecoming news. To what end; to bastardise the president? What a missed priority
We must grow what we eat and eat what we grow. Sound good enough; the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the closure of our land borders with our immediate neigrbours to stop smuggling of good into Nigeria and we are already counting the gains of the decision. Instead of the opposition to take a honourable position and support the good move, it become the carriers of opposition to the noble decision. How can it be PDP that would sponsor the narratives that there are no local rice in circulation, Nigerians are suffering and the government must reopen the closed borders. Instead of taking the position of a group that meant well for the country and educate the citizens on the importance of the border closure to our national growth and equally advised the government of the best way to get the best for the nation out of the decision to close the border. What an opposition?
One of the vocal spokesmen of the PDP suddenly laid claim to the fact that the vice President was grossly involved in a N90 billion poll fund corruption; so serious was he that he publicly indicted and abused the vice president through the pages of national dailies, radio stations and the social media, only for the same man to turn around and wonder why the VP would have forgotten how he also accused the former president Goodluck Jonathan and Senate President Bukola Saraki without any evidence and they did not attempt to intimidate him. Can we just imagine; there was no N90 billion poll corruption; PDP conjured it and Timi Frank was given the assignment of releasing it just to tarnish the sitting government and score some cheap points ahead of 2023. The VP is expected to just accept it without reacting the very way Atiku Abubakar accepted Obasanjo corruption details against him.
The herdsmen killing, fulanisation and islamisation of Nigeria was at a time the baby of the opposition. From nowhere, the nomenclature appeared in our political space and the perennial farmer/herder conflicts politically aggravated to discredit the sitting government. Simultaneously, news of unprecedented magnitude of killings, kidnaping and atrocities erroneously linked to the birthed agenda filled the air; damages were done; PDP was getting popular and then suddenly, fulanisation and islamisation is no more the deal. Nigeria and Nigerians are the loser; PDP is the winner. What an opposition?
A political party that held sway for good 16 years and saw to the collapse of NITEL, Nigeria Airways, Oshogbo Steel rolling Mill, Aladja Steel, Ajaokuta Steel, Nipost, Dunlop, Nigeria Textiles, ALSCON, DICON, NAFCON, Volkswagen, ANAMCO, Nigerchin, Michelin, Kaduna Textile, NIC, BATA and a host of other flourishing businesses now go about instigating the youths and the general public against a government doing everything possible to resurrect businesses in the country, for been responsible for the gross unemployed population in the country. What an opposition?
Peter obi repeatedly came out rolling out figures and data to discredit the incumbent administration at the behest of his party, PDP. Yet they did not considered it essential that the same China they compare us to regularly has laws you don’t break. He didn’t tell us that in China, you don’t talk rubbish about your government on the social media and still be alive. He didn’t tell us that in China you cannot , like a one-time governor of Anambra state invest state money in your family private brewery and still be alive. He forgot to tell us the part that in China you cannot corruptly take a penny of the state resources and live to tell the story. The opposition kept talking to us about China without referencing the punishment for breaking the laws of China. By now, they would all have long been forgotten if Nigeria were to be China.
Months ago, PDP came out hard and played the opposition card and won; Justice Bukachiwa must be recussed from the PEPT, her offence; the husband is a strong member of the APC. Now, the Supreme Court is to constitute the panel to hear the appeal and the same PDP is out crying that Justice Mary Odili, the wife of Peter Odili, a leader of PDP and former governor of Rivers state who almost became the vice president under the party in 2007 must be on the team that would hear the case. Not only that Justice Rhodes-Vivour whose son contested under the same PDP in the 2019 elections must also be included in the panel and then justice Ngwuta, who was recently persecuted by the President Buhari Administration for corruption must equally be there. I have no intention of analyzing this stupidity further but I should ask what an opposition?
An opposition that boldly argues that nothing is happening at the second Niger Bridge beyond what they left despite the glaring physical evidence of ongoing work. An opposition that did not see the massive infrastructural development in the railway sector; what an opposition?
Nigeria remains the loser for all the misplaced priorities of the PDP. It must be known by the opposition and all Nigerians that the highest manifestation of patriotism is the dispassionate criticism of government policies and approached in times of social and economic conflicts.