It is over two years now since the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was displaced as the ruling party. The 2015 general elections proved a test of its strength and popularity in the face of the then emerging All Progressives Congress (APC). GABRIEL EMAMEH looks at how well the PDP has fared as the leading opposition party, especially in the light of APC’s declining popularity?
Up till 2015, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held sway at the federal level and also controlled most states. The party enjoyed the good will of Nigerians for 16 years, and almost extended that record until a viable opposition platform, championed by a coalition of political parties which later snowballed into what is now the APC, came on the scene.
The PDP had never tasted what it is like to be in an opposition, particularly at the centre. In fact, the party had once through its former National Chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor, boasted, in a fit of power drunkenness, that PDP will remain in power for 60 years.
Unfortunately, this ambition didn’t see the light of the next election circle that followed as the party was sent packing in 2015 in what many described as its worst outing in its history.
Two years down the road, now as the nation’s major opposition political party, while others have seen the PDP as the fitting thorn on the skin of the ruling APC, others have described it as lacking the key components of a true opposition political party. They said it takes more than criticizing and pouring tantrums on party in power to play a vibrant opposition.
A section of analysts and observers still believe that Nigeria has never had a true opposition political party since 1999. They base their arguments on the fact that the APC which many had believed was playing a better opposition then than what the PDP does today, only rode into power on the back of two major advantages they had then.
One of such was corruption and impunity which became obviously unbearable to a larger section of the Nigerian populace in the last days of the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. The other was the good will enjoyed by Buhari who many believed is the only difference between the APC and the PDP because of his antecedence.
A senior legal practitioner, Bar. Ismail Olukun, who spoke exclusively with LEADERSHIP Weekend has a different view of the APC then as the opposition.
Olokun said that, “the criticisms of the APC in the past were more out of personal convictions rather than the ideals of the party or its platforms. Note how the differing stance of the APC on critical national issues in the past have neither been pursued nor implemented across Board by the respective state governments and even at the National level.
“Example, he said, devolution of Powers; state policing or any variant of it; etc”.
While confronted with the question on the attempt to remove fuel subsidy (which the APC eventually did without serious public outcry) by the Jonathan administration which later failed as a result of the pressure from the then opposition, he said credit must not be given to the APC but to the Nigerian masses.
“I disagree that it was the opposition political party that did that. It was the critical mass of Nigerians mobilized through the ranks of Labour, students, and the unemployed that led that protest. Any political party that claims credit only rode in the coat tails”, argued Bar. Olukun.
On the contrary, there are those who disagree with this observation. Some observers have posited that what the PDP is doing today appears clearly to be the opposite of what the APC did when it was in the opposition and that may have contributed largely to its riding smoothly to power in 2015.
The APC, as an opposition party then, played a key role in deepening the nation’s democracy by constantly checkmating the PDP-led government and providing constructive criticism to some of the government policies and programmes, some observers have said.
This assertion might hold true because, despite the existence of over 40 registered political parties in Nigeria, the hope for one that can at least, have some bite rather than wagging its tail in admiration of its numerous followers, is still not sure as the PDP which this responsibility is shouldered on because of its strength, is still battling with internal crises.
The PDP had held sway as the ruling party from 1999 to 2015 when power eluded the party at the central, thus this puts the party in a better fix to play a very robust opposition.
But can it be asserted that the PDP is not currently performing its core duty as any vibrant opposition would have to do in putting the ruling party on its toes? What are the qualities of a true opposition and what strategy does an opposition political party need not only to win back the confidence of the people but also help in shaping policies and developing the political system of a nation?
The 2010 Report of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) states that the opposition is expected to offer alternatives to the decisions proposed by the government, improve legislative decision-making procedures, scrutinise the legislative and budgetary proposals of the government, supervise and oversee the government and the administration as well as to enhance stability, legitimacy, accountability and transparency in the political processes.
For PDP, it is far from uhuru as there are pocket of cracks yet to be addressed within. Although the party has started picking and putting together what was left of it to prepare itself for 2019, the PDP had been comatose for 14 years, following intense leadership tussle within its fold by former governors of Kaduna and Borno States – Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff.
Former military Head of States, General Abdusalam Abubakar, who received a PDP national chairmanship aspirant, Raymond Dokpesi, recently said though he was impressed to see that the PDP is already making amends to come out of the protracted leadership tussle that has thrown the party into comatose in the last two years, the party has not fared well in playing a viable opposition which would have serve as an alternative to the ruling party should it failed.
In his words: “I must say it is very sad that you have not played your role properly in opposition.
“May be you are suffering from the shock of defeat, but I thought that at least six months down the line will have been enough to come out of the shock, to really face the governance.
“It would have been enough to perform your role in giving a credible opposition which I am afraid you have not done, said the former Head of State who warned that if the former ruling party failed to take its place as the county’s major opposition political party, other mushrooming political parties will do that.
“You being one of the major parties in Nigeria and found yourself in opposition; since you did not perform that function, the smaller parties also found themselves in this way.
“I am happy now you are waking up and I hope this is the end of acrimony within your party. You will now come and build formidable party that will play the role of opposition,” Abubakar said.
National chairman of UPP and presidential aspirant of the party in the 2015 presidential election, Chekwas Okorie also spoke on the issue.
Chekwas in his chat with LEADERSHIP Weekend said, “I have always advised that playing opposition does not mean abusing people and calling them names in the front of national dailies. Any good opposition will strive towards generating good political ideology that will benefit the system, unfortunately the PDP has not shown that yet.
“It might be as result of the fact that the party is not used to the circumstances it find itself today after being defeated at the 2015 general election. However, I thought by now, it would have get over that and focus on how build a formidable force to enhance democratic developments in the country.
“Whatever the party is going through today shows that it was built on false foundation handed over to them by the military in 1999”, he said.
On his part, former Edo State Commissioner for Information and former media aide to former Head of States, Ibrahim Babaginda, Prince Kasim Afegbua, said the PDP has not shown an atom of what a true opposition should look like.
He said rather than displaying its ideological prowess to show what it’s made of, the PDP is banking on the current economics situation of the country to ride back to power.
Afegbua who said he longed to see a credible opposition which will help to strengthen the country’s democratic developments however said, “For now, PDP is not playing serious opposition. They are just latching into the mass hysteria of seeming discontent in the polity as a result of the economic recession across the land. It has also not been able to articulate a sense of direction since the shock of 2015.
“Maybe when they are able to enthrone a credible leadership in the party, they will begin to look ahead but for now, it remains a rolling stone that gathers no moss. I really want to see it play opposition so that the ruling party will be on its toes for better delivery of democratic essentials.
“Remaining dormant will tend to make the ruling party have a field’s day which is not healthy for democracy. Opposition is an integral part of democracy and for any serious democracy to flourish, opposition must be awake to its responsibilities”, Afegbua added.
Mr. Abu Abdulganiyu, the PDP LGA Chairman of Etsako East Local Government Area, however disagrees with Afegbua over the notion that his party has failed to mount a viable opposition against the ruling APC.
He said records are there to speak for the PDP in some of the areas its voice had forced the ruling party to make decisions that it wouldn’t have.
According to Hon. Ganiyu, “PDP as a party has done its utmost best to put APC on it toes by constantly reminding them of their campaign promises. This has been even more manifested in the cries that heralded the Mainagate, the allegations of corruption that against one of Buharis henchmen, the former SGF who was investigated and later fired, the NNPC contracts scam and a host of others.
“The PDP has also been vocal in the areas of policy somersaults that has completely crippled the economy. I think the party has done well in providing effective opposition in Nigeria. However, we can still do better and I assure you that you will see a more virile and robust opposition after the December 9 elective convention when substantive Executive will emerge”, Mr Ganiyu, said.
He assured that the party “will continue to engage the APC administration constructively as they have done in the past two years.”
He continued “This is not absolutely true that my party has no sense of direction because despite the challenges occasioned by the Sherrif’s misadventure, the party has remained focused.
“You should remember that it is not easy for a party that hitherto enjoyed tremendous powers to suddenly find itself on the bench. The initial crisis should be expected but we are steadily getting the groove back as has been the case, added the Edo born activist.”
For whatever it is today, although PDP has had its ups and downs, the party has somewhat displayed a paltry of its wit, putting the ruling party on its toes to deliver on its campaign promises.
Like most observers have pointed out, the party is yet to design a sense of direction for itself to assure Nigerians that it is not only going to return to power but to make life better for the average Nigerian if the opportunity comes its way again.
No democracy can be healthy without a strong opposition. Nigeria’s democracy would be under threat should the PDP fail to survival its internal bleeding to give the ruling party a run for the seat of power. A democracy without opposition will have a one- party rule, which does not augur well for genuine democracy.
Democracy thrives under a multi – party system, where there is a viable opposition to checkmate the government at every particular time. If there is no opposition, it gives the party in power the space to sleepwalk and gives room for laxity and corruption.
There will be no formidable force except if the civil society organisations are alive to their responsibilities.