By Michael Oluwagbemi
The fabled “loyal opposition” is a concept that is well romanticized in political science, but far less realistic in practice especially in Africa. Opposition on our continent is either the enemy that must be destroyed, or the charlatan that can be induced. Indeed, being out of power can be a bullpen or a bully pulpit depending on the mindset of those on its stage. In Nigeria, one have to say it has been a bullpen for the opposition, despite the advent of a better-organized and more unified opposition since 2013.
Nigeria’s main opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) has been enigmatic of an opposition without a pulpit; and for crying out loud- without the fundamental elements of an opposition that can be trusted: completely. There is no doubt that Nigerians are fed up with the gimmicks of the People Democratic Party (PDP), but is the APC offering a feasible alternative platform to fulfill our national aspirations?
While it is well known that the PDP, the party that has been in power since 1999, have failed to do anything tangible for Nigerians in fifteen years, the APC have repeatedly committed political malpractice by failing to use the pulpit they’ve had for the past one-year to convince the electorate to give them a trial. Behaving like bulls in the pen, all they do is heckle, gnaw and moan – all noise no action.
To eject a party based on “turn by turn” political philosophy, with a unifying message of corruption for all, the APC will need more than making noise. It will need a strategy. It will need a message and an ideology. It will need popular programs. And of course it will need a mechanism to achieve its electoral hopes. Anti-corruption is not policy, neither does any Nigerian with corruption so embedded in our DNA truly believe carpet baggers and cross-carpeters from PDP will suddenly become patron saints of probity because they changed three letter labels behind their names. Hence, it will not be simply sufficient to proclaim the thievery of the PDP, the Nigerian people will need a message, strategy, program and need to be recruited using the right mechanisms.
While the PDP’S rap sheet of corruption is as long as that of any criminal gangster, it will simply not be enough to pillory them for corruption with the hopes that Nigerians will punish the PDP for it. It is now well established that Nigerians have a long suffering for the corrupt: it is well etched in our culture that is dominated by materialism that a man that “has” is “blessed”. So to simply mount a campaign against corruption will not qualify APC for power especially when a lot of its visible new members (often political opportunists) are themselves perpetrators of corruption. APC must have a message “beyond corruption”.
APC, as a result, must be willing to distinguish itself and unify around an ideology. While PDP’s ideology is money, it is also well known this is the “turn by turn” party. PDP believes in using ethnicity and religion to divide and rule; it is a strategy every politician that belongs to that party buys into. The recent tirade of former president Olusegun Obasanjo against a Muslim-Muslim ticket despite his foresworn enmity to the man in power shows PDP is unified by more than just sharing money, but also be an ideology of “turn by turn”. Question on inquiring minds is, will the APC be willing to distinguish itself and refuse to be the “turn by turn” party, going for the best wherever it may find it or will it just succumb to the easy political path of just being PDP-lite?
Beyond “turn by turn” and “sharing the money”, the PDP is also a party of unitarism. It is the party of “orders from above”. PDP loathes federalism with all passion, this is why it has resisted the creation of new local governments by states acting on their own, will refuse to devolve the economy away from petroleum that keeps Abuja relevant and will continue to seek constitutional amendments that boost central power at the expense of the states. PDP runs itself like that: like a military regiment, and it expects Nigeria to also run that way.
Why has APC not emphasized its federalism roots? Who is defending Nigerians from the dangers of the corrupt and powerful in Abuja? How many candidates have rolled out messages explicitly running against the Abuja establishment and vowing to fix it? Why is APC refusing to do the hard work? APC can sell federalism in the core north as sharia, and in the south-south as resource control. The message of federalism can be localized, but it must first start from the representatives of the opposition be it in the governors’ houses or national legislature. They don’t need the presidency to prove their ethos.
This brings us to strategy; it is clear to discerning minds that APC lacks a coherent takeover strategy aside from just disparaging the PDP with the hopes of making an already stinky brand, stink even more. It is a losing strategy though. a patient and focused strategy is what the APC needs; one that deemphasizes the center and the presidency and elevates the other tiers of government and arms of the government as only a truly federalist party will do.
APC needs to field few good men in the states (certainly plural majority) where it has dominating influence and ensure it captures the governors’ mansions while fulfilling its promise to the people. For the legislature, the house of rep is definitely within its grasp as well as the senate, and it should have a program that puts the people on notice that this is a different opposition party. Slow and steady, versus shock and awe is what can free Nigeria from the grip of PDP that has not been shy in using patronage to buy its way into power repeatedly. If the APC have large enough majorities it can change the constitution, impeach offending executives and impose its programs with zero consequence.
Speaking about programs, APC have significant representation in the national assembly yet we can’t point to any member bill that the party is backing to change the lives of Nigerians. What radical program, especially the welfare ones, can the APC propose that will put the PDP on defense? Plenty if you ask me. Start with a cash transfer of a certain percentage of the oil revenues accruing to the federal government; let us see if the PDP will stand in the way of that. Indeed, if they don’t it would have been a rare achievement to link the government revenue back to the people and increase the potential popular outcry against corruption revelations that are now becoming commonplace. Indeed, we can look to Alaska, Venezuela and Brazil as places with thriving cash transfer programs that are boosting progressive governance.
Indeed, because the PDP has proven to be a group more comfortable projecting the comfortable image of nationalism while looting, the fourth leg of the puzzle for the opposition have to be building a strong mechanism to gain political power to achieve the kind of demonstrable change to counter PDP’s political “gangsterism” and implement the political programs it would then have pushed into our consciousness vis the legislative agenda it must have then pursued.
It is sad that a true and tried route to political acceptance have never been pursued by progressive politicians in Nigerians history. Always in a hurry to gain political power at the center, they often sacrifice political pragmatism of grassroots mobilization for cheap publicity of newspaper pages and more recently social media popularity. This has been the perpetual bane of reactionary political strategies of opposition movements and the very reason why our manifest destiny as a nation have continually eluded us.
Let it be clear, while the definition of madness is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result, and it may very well apply to the Nigerian electorate in the next polls- The same mantra should apply to the opposition who is repeating the same mistakes of their forebears and expecting a radical outcome. Miracles can happen, but we should not hold our breath as we head to 2015. But even if miracles don’t happen, sensible opposition is what we need and that requires common sense.
Michael Oluwagbemi wrote in from Lagos.