June 7, 2009

10 YEARS OF DEMOCRACY:Mega party: Avoiding a meltdown of the opposition?

By Jide Ajani
It may not be right to declare that there is no opposition politics going on in Nigeria.  However, it would be wrong to suggest that there is nothing like a meltdown in the ranks of the opposition politicians in Nigeria.

Even at that, some politicians are working at the possibility of establishing a mega party, one which would embrace all the opposition elements under one umbrella for the advancement of democracy which some people insist has been dealt a heavy blow by the conduct of the leadership of the Peoples Democratic party, PDP.  This report, examines the concept of a mega party against the backdrop of last week’s meeting in Abuja by its promoters who vowed to hold a rally in Lagos on June 12 to back up its demand for electoral reforms.

THERE are times it comes in the form of scare-mongering. At other times, it comes like a tsunami, merely causing heavy panic and, quickly, receding. That, perhaps, captures the way and manner the opposition has always conducted itself in Nigeria, particularly in the last 10 years of return to civil rule. Yet, Nigeria’s political history is replete with heroic attempts by some opposition elements to stand firm against military despotism.

Atiku Abubakar

Atiku Abubakar

And no other time was this demonstrated than during the dangerous days of General Sani Abacha who attempted to transmute into a civilian president.  That was a military regime.However, as if savouring a collective sense of amnesia, the political class has never been able to bound itself together to wrestle power from a ruling political party at any time in Nigeria’s almost 49 years as a nation. What opposition politicians have almost always succeeded in doing is to create panic, which in turn sends the leadership of the ruling party into a frenzied mode.

Counter allegations
That frenzy soon creates an atmosphere of abuses and counter abuses, allegations of subversion which gives rise to counter allegations of an imminent crackdown. As these continue, the opposition digs in; the ruling party also looks for creative and crooked ways of decimating the ranks of the opposition.  In some instances, the ruling party succeeds.  At other times, the move backfires.

At the end of the day, the opposition succeeds momentarily to checkmate the ruling party. However, the biggest prize of all, which is to take over the reins of governance employing the instrumentality of the voting process, has always eluded the opposition.

Today in Nigeria, the opposition appears to be coming to terms with the need to be both inventive and creative.In times past, it had always been a shot at alliances which have at best produced socialist-sounding nomenclature. At other times, the high tempo bickering, which is one of the hallmarks of progressive politicians in Nigeria, soon leads to the dissolution of the alliance.

It happened in the First Republic and Second Republic. Almost always, the ruling party has always had a way of breaking the ranks of the opposition.  Olusegun Obasanjo, during his early days as Nigeria’s Fourth Republic President, did it successfully to the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and the All Peoples Party, APP, which even after the latter’s re-branding which gave it a new name, All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, the party is yet to recover.

But the fire this time seeks to create a political party and not just an alliance.
Another feature of the present engagement is that whereas in the past, such an attempt had always been promoted by progressives, the mega party to be formed today is a combination of both progressive and conservative forces that have lost out completely in the shambolic arrangement which political parties have turned into. And whereas the average Nigerian politician can not suffer losses for too long, there are those who insist that a mega party can not survive.

Yet, consider:
It was during the session of the House of Representatives.  Time was March 1953.  Anthony Enahoro of the Action Group, AG, moved a motion asking the House of Reps to accept 1956 as date for attainment of self-government. After his motion, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, proposed an amendment, substituting 1956 for ‘as soon as practicable’.

The matter was then discussed at the Council of Ministers, where the majority decided that Mr Enahoro’s motion should be opposed and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello’s amendment supported.  AG’s four Central Ministers – Sir Adesoji Aderemi, the Oni of Ife.

Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Chief Arthur Prest and Chief Bode Thomas – who opposed the Council of Ministers’ decision, resigned from the Council.  Their resignation took effect from the morning of March 31, 1956.  They resigned on this day because that was the day the motion was put down for debate in the House of Representatives in order to be able to speak and vote in favour of Mr Enahoro’s motion as ordinary members of the House.

Ordinary members
This is the true spirit of opposition. For the NCNC, things did not go the same way.  A recorded account reads: “In the NCNC there was a split; the parliamentary party, headed by Dr Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe, decided to support the original motion by Mr Enahoro, but the party’s four Central Ministers – Mr Alfred Chukadifu Nwapa, Dr Eni Njoku, Mr Okoi Arikpo and Mr Victor Eseminsongo Mukete – decided to go along with the Council of Ministers” decision.

In the event, the House of   Representatives did not debate either the original motion or the amendment, when it met on March 31,1956. After Alhaji Ahmadu Bello had moved his amendment and it was seconded, Alhaji Ibrahim Imam, a leading member of the NPC, got up and moved a dilatory motion: I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.” The AG and NCNC members then walked out of the chamber and the country was plunged into a constitutional crisis.

“The NCNC central ministers were later expelled from the party and asked to resign their ministerial offices. They refused and were dubbed ‘sit-tight ministers”. Later, the four former NCNC ministers and their supporters in the Eastern Region, formed a new party, the United National Independence Party (UN1P), under the leadership of Professor Eyo Ita, who was leader of Government business in the Eastern House of Assembly.

Meanwhile, attempts to appoint other members from the Western Region to the Central Council of Ministers had failed; the NCNC and the Action Group had also formed an alliance to fight for a review of the constitution. Reacting to growing Southern criticisms of the Northern leadership in the House of Representatives for opposing the self-government motion, the Northern House of Assembly and the Northern House of Chiefs passed an eight-point programme, which included proposal that Nigeria should be transformed into a confederation or a customs union in which each of the three regions would enjoy a status slightly short of that of a sovereign state.”

Now, in a situation where politicians believe strongly in attaining a comfort zone for self and family members, how would a viable opposition be created, enhanced and sustained?  Some of those pushing the idea of a mega party today have been quite consistent.

Would they sustain the movement?
In the words of Richard Akinjide, who has been part of all the Republics as a key player (save Ibrahim Babangida’s still-born Third Republic), “What we find out in the ranks of those who call themselves progressives is that they don’t have followers. This is because they are always bickering and fighting while the so called conservatives take charge.

“What you achieve in politics depends on your manipulative powers and skills. And it depends to what extent you can outlive your opponents.   In Nigeria basically every body is conservative – From the presidency to the clerk. That is the reality of the structure of our society.”

That you make noise on the pages of the newspapers does not in any way make you a progressive.  That is the truth and that is why you see people doing what they are doing.

Working alliance
Take another example of the lack of stamina on the part of the opposition in Nigeria: Just before he was sworn in as the executive governor of Zamfara State, Mahmud Shinkafi of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, had hinted of a possibility of his joining the PDP.  This was based on the proposed alliance being pursued by then President-elect Umar Musa Yar’Adua for a government of national unity with the ANPP and the Action Congress, AC.

But Sunday Vanguard had explained that the Zamfara State governor had good grounds upon which his decampment to PDP was based. However, because of the ridiculous nature of that move and the public opprobrium which greeted it, the idea was abandoned – but not for long.  Today, barely 20 months into a four-year tenure, Governor Shinkafi of Zamfara State who was elected on the platform of the ANPP is now flying the banner of the PDP.

And whereas the Supreme Court judgment of 2007 which granted former Vice President Atiku Abubakar the latitude to dump the platform on which he became Nigeria’s number two citizen (the PDP) for the Action Congress, AC, the case of Shinkafi of Zamfara is made easier with the supposed working alliance between the ANPP and the PDP.  And that is the crux of the matter.  There is another state governor who, through familial consideration, is already on his way to the PDP:

He is Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State who became governor on the platform of the ANPP but is now married to one of the daughters of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. In spite of all these, the PDP needs another counter force, if only to make leaders of the party behave more responsibly and save Nigeria from charlatans masquerading as progressive politicians.  The mega party being proposed may come to stay daunting as the challenges are.