Nigeria: 2015: How far can opposition parties go?

By IndepthAfrica
In Nigeria
Jan 16th, 2013
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Opposition parties are back on the drawing board. But how far can they go in 2015 without a formidable alliance. Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU writes on the lessons past botched alliances and the imperative of a new merger plan.

Can opposition parties get it right in 2015? To observers, history may not repeat itself, if the main opposition parties form a formidable alliance to confront the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the next general elections. There are signs that the parties are determined. Their leaders are afraid that PDP may cause more havoc, if it is not dislodged at the polls in 2015.

Indisputably, the parties are meeting to perfect their strategies. Options being explored include fusion, merger , accord and alliance. Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) chieftain Senator Chris Ngige confirmed the merger talks, stressing that the proposed mega platform is in the interest of democracy. “Fourteen years after the emergence of the present dispensation, it is obvious that nothing good can come out of the PDP and that is why we are determined that, by the first quarter of the year, Nigerians will see that the progressives mean business,” he said.

Political parties involved in the alliance talks are ACN, All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Other like-minded, smaller parties may also come on board.

According to analysts, the parties have woken up to the reality that none of them can single-handedly floor the PDP, unless there is collaboration among them in national interest. It is believed that the envisaged collaboration by these parties may restore ideological politics and present the polity with alternative choices between conservative and progressive ideas.

ACN controls five of the six states in the Southwest geo-political zone. In other zones, the party is also popular. It has federal and state legislators, who are committed to progressive ideals. ANPP has maintained its hold on Yobe and Borno states. CPC is the ruling party in Nassarawa, but the party also has federal and state legislators in some states in the North.

Many challenges are confronting the opposition camp. Top on the list is how to agree on a popular presidential candidate and running mate. If they are to merge, as it is being contemplated, they have to agree on critical issues, including party name, logo, manifestoes, constitution, symbol and composition of leadership at the federal and state levels. After overcoming these hurdles, the next challenge is the registration of the new platform by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The commission’s spokesman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, said the new party must meet the conditions stipulated by the 1999 Constitution and the 2010 Electoral Act. “If a political party is to participate in an election, the party has to be on INEC’s register before INEC issues its notice”, he added.

There are other challenges that will confront the opposition leaders. The PDP is aware of the threats to its 2015 calculations. Already, sources close to the opposition parties said that they anticipate threats by the PDP, may plant moles in the fold to frustrate the coalition. Also, PDP is likely to motivate the remaining mushroom parties outside the merger plan to support its presidential candidate at the general election. But, observers believe that the success of the collaboration depends on the opposition leaders, who are expected to make sacrifices and be less inflexible and more condescending without compromising their fundamental principles.

It is not the first time an alliance is being mooted by the opposition parties. Ahead of the 2011 polls, talks between the ACN led by Chief Bisi Akande and CPC led by Major-General Buhari (rtd) had broken down, owing to irreconcilable differences. Indeed, their inability to harmonise these differences, approaches and strategies led to the failure of the proposed accord. Akande blamed the botched alliance talks on the CPC leader, who he said was stiff and unbending where compromises were expected. Buhari refrained from any rebuttal or clarification. He was diplomatic. However, when the proposed alliance broke down, the picture of the 2011 elections became clearer. Ironically, Buhari’s running mate, Pastor Tunde Bakare, had warned in October that year, that PDP would overrun the scattered opposition parties, if they failed to come together. The Convener of Save Nigeria Grouop (SNG) was miffed by the declaration by the PDP leadership that the party will be in power for 60 years. He said the opposition gave the ruling party the licence to aspire to perpetuate itself in power. “If all these parties fail to present a candidate, PDP will overrun them. Only a combined effort can bring PDP down, ” Bakare stressed.

Many eminent Nigerians also expressed worry over the PDP’s bravado. Some of them advised the alliance drivers to put the alliance back on track. However, they met a brick wall. Sources close to the two parties- AC N and CPC- said mutual trust was absent and their leaders consequently closed their eyes to the slim opportunity for renewal of contact.

Initially, PDP leaders were jittery when the hope of an alliance brightened. An attempt, said a source, was made to harass prominent AC N leaders over the proposed collaboration. “They were either to be intimidated by the anti-graft agents, the Code of Conduct Bureau and security agents or distracted by other means, especially through the erection of credibility hurdles,” added the source.

Also, ACN National Publicity Secretary Alhaji Lai Mohammed alerted Nigerians that the federal government wanted to molest certain party leaders, ahead of the elections.

Before the prospects of alliance dimmed, many Nigerians who were tired of the 12 years of PDP rule, were eager for the consummation of the alliance.

Explaining the mass support for a strong opposition bloc, Lagos State AC N chairman Otunba Oladele Ajomale said: “Many people who know what progressive governments have accomplished at the state level want a replica of those achievements at the centre”.

In 2011, prominent opposition figures, who wanted alliance talks to resume with speed, volunteered to broker meetings between the leadership of the two main opposition parties. These senior citizens, who were involved in the pro-democracy struggles that heralded the civilian dispensation in 1999, were sad that opposition parties were in disarray in the country. Following their pleas, a meeting between the CPC leadership and these concerned elders to fine tune arrangements for wider and painstaking consultations that would lead to meaningful cooperation between the two platforms was held in Lagos. Then, fears were rife that, unless both parties put their minor differences aside and acted with the speed of lightening, time was running out for any alliance and substitution of candidates. Already, political parties and candidates had started campaigns.

Among eminent Nigerians who waded into the pre-alliance crisis between AC N and CPC are a retired General and former minister, a former university don and chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), rights activists, leaders of labour movements and pro- national conference agitators.

Shedding light on their intervention, the source, said: “These eminent Nigerians feared that, if PDP was not stopped in the 2011 election, Nigeria, which was being mismanaged, may become bankrupt. These elders were concerned about the direction the country was going. They have studied the national budget and realised that the pattern of recurrent expenditure tended to show that there was no concern for development.

“There is a lot of silent corruption going on. The President was perceived to be a weak man, but he had the capacity to wreck havoc on the opposition for his party to survive”. In addition, the source said the elders doubted the ability of either the AC N or CPC to single-handedly dislodge the ruling PDP “in an unpredictable Nigerian environment”.

“These people had to swing into action too, I suspect, because many Nigerians complained to them. They have access to information, which is beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians and there is cause to suspect that the masses of our people have placed great hope on active and effective cooperation between Akande’s AC N and Buhari’s CPC”, added the source.

Will opposition parties learn from their past mistakes? This remains a puzzle. Historically, Nigeria is a fertile ground for two party system as the alliance patterns have always shown. This, perhaps, is the greatest lesson of the moment.

In the past, unlike the opposition parties, the ruling parties have often moved swiftly by seizing the storm. Instructively, when opposition parties converged under the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), the Federal Government polarised the movement. While frontline politician Alhaji Balarabe Musa was selected as the leader of the group, another opposition politician, Dr Olopade Agoro, challenged his leadership. The CNPP because a dog that could only bark, but not bite. The leader of the light weight Mega Progressives Peoples Party (MPPP), Chief Rasheed Shitta-Bey, who reflected on this tragedy, reasoned that, although the scattered parties are united by the similarity of ideas, they are separated by ego, personality clashes, rivalry and competition”.

The loss of focus and cohesion has agitated former Yobe State Governor Abba Bukar Ibrahim, who is among the leading ANPP leaders involved in the proposed alliance. He said the opposition is blind to the power of strength in unity. “There is no party that can single-handedly defeat the PDP, which believes that power is a matter of life and death”, he warned, advising progressives to close ranks. Alhaji Balarabe Musa agreed with this view. He pointed out that many opposition leaders feared that they would lose their identities, if they surrender their groups and promote a larger platform that could be result-driven.

To the AC N chieftain, Chief Bisi Adegbuyi, the time is ripe for the opposition arrowheads in Nigeria to emulate their counterparts in other countries, where, after pulling their resources together, the progressives dislodged their conservative rivals from power. He advised the opposition to explore the possibility a coalition government. “We should borrow a leaf from Israel, Canada, Pakistan, and even Kenya. In a diverse country with a multiplicity of tribes, cultures, languages and religions, it is not possible for a single party to form the government”, he advised.

History has shown that many opposition leaders usually back their moves with hypocritical commitment. In the First and Second Republic, when concerted efforts were made by opposition leaders to forge an alliance, it was short-lived. Instead, it has been relatively easier for the opposition to team up temporarily with the ruling party for pecuniary political gains. For example, many were surprised in 1960 when the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) led by Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe forged an alliance with the Balewa’s Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), instead of Action Group (AG), which was closer to its ideological leaning. When the alliance broke down in 1964, prominent NCNC ministers in Balewa Government refused to leave the government. Later, AG, NCNC and some smaller parties came together in an alliance for the purpose of 1964 federal elections. But there was no strong leader to wield them together. AG leader, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was in prison and many believed that Dr Michael Okpara, the NCNC leader, lacked the leadership capability to move the alliance forward. The onslaught by NPC was unbearable. As a former Western Regional Minister, Chief Ehinafe Babatola, recalled, there was division within the alliance over plans for the elections. While a section supported aggressive pursuit of victory, others who feared the NNA’s suppressive machinery, canvassed the boycott of the polls. Both camps went ahead with their antagonistic strategies.

Thirteen years after the military rule in 1979, the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), which was an incarnate of the banned NCNC led by Zik, teamed up with the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in an uneasy accord, following the 12 two-third controversy. When the accord broke down in 1981, NPP ministers held on to their portfolios in the federal government. Some of them even defected from the NPP to NPN. In 1999, PDP and All Nigeria Peoples Party (APP) formed a controversial alliance. The chairman of APP, Senator Mahmud Waziri, later abandoned his party when he was appointed Special Adviser by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2003, the national chairman of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Alhaji Ahmed Abudulkadir, was rewarded by Obasanjo with the position of Special Adviser on Manufacturing, following the inexplicable cooperation between selected party leaders and PDP federal government. In 2011, ANPP led by the late Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke isolated itself and teamed up with the PDP to form an strange ‘Government of National Unity (GNU)’. The terms baffled Nigerians. The party also became polarised.

Since 2007, when the country has been witnessing bad elections, opposition groups have been holding discussions on possibility of an alliance. But the Southwest, which was perceived as the main pilot in the venture, has been politically divided. Opposition figures outside the zone were in regular contacts with a faction of the entrenched establishment, which had regrouped under the Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA), following the eclipse of the AD. But the old men lack mobilisation prowess, unlike their old colleagues, who are in AC N, the widely accepted party in the zone.

The alliance talks supported by the men of the old order had also hit the rocks in 2011. From its ashes rose two parties; the MPPP led by Shitta-Bey and another mega party sponsored by Prof Pat Utomi, Chiefs Olu Falae, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Olaniwun Ajayi. Although the former governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, also tried to bring some groups together for the purpose of rallying progressives, the effort did not see the light of the day.

Observers are of the opinion that 2015 offers another opportunity. The options are also plausible; mergers, accord, alliances and fusion. Former Kano State governor and ANPP chieftain Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau assured that the alliance talks would succeed. “We are determined to make it work”, he said. The party chairman, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, has also demonstrated seriousness and commitment like Akande and Buhari. Already, meetings are being held regularly to concretise the idea. But Buhari faces personal hurdles within his camp. While the CPC chairman and former Information Minister Prince Tony Momoh, and former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister Mallam Nasir el-Rufai are said to be enthusiastic about the alliance, it is not certain that Buhari’s former running mate, Bakare, and spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, are supporting the initiative.

In 1964, 1979, 1999, 2007 and 2011, attempt at collaboration among oppositional parties failed. Proposed alliance, fusion and accord also crumbled. Will it be different this time? Will they succeed in 2015? Time will tell. The NAtion

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