By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
GIVEN the support he got from 44 out of the country’s 63 political parties, on his way to a resounding victory at the April 16 presidential elections, President Goodluck Jonathan is considering an all-inclusive cabinet or Government of National Unity (GNU) with members drawn from the leading opposition parties in the country.
Presidential Spokesman, Ima Niboro, said recently that President Jonathan, who retreated to Obudu Cattle Ranch, Cross River State, shortly after the polls, was disposed to including politicians from opposition parties in his in-coming government.
“The president is committed to running an open, transparent and all inclusive administration,” he Niboro said..
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Labour Party (LP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All People’s Grand Alliance (APGA) were some of the parties reportedly being considered by the PDP for the coalition.
Since it was made public, the necessity or otherwise of the proposal has been raising dusts in the polity. One question on the lips of some observers is: Do we really need GNU? Every government (military or civilian) since independence in 1960 had been a unity government. And whether or not the arrangement has helped to develop or destroy our national polity is contentious. Some observers see unity governments as opportunities for politicians to ‘come and eat’ instead of working or serving their fatherland.
Dead on arrival?
Unlike past efforts that sailed through, President Jonathan may have a tough nut to crack if he hopes to make a crack cabinet out of the unwilling parties.
The ACN and CPC leadership have distanced themselves from the arrangement for different reasons. While CPC said it would wait for the outcome of its petition against Jonathan at the tribunal before taking any decision, the ACN said such alliances stifle and decimate the opposition to the detriment of democratic growth.
ANPP’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Emmanuel Enukwu said the party’s hierarchy was yet to take a decision on the issue. Only the LP and APGA appear willing to take part in the unity government as of now.
ACN distances self from GNU
Stating that it was satisfied with its role as “the leader of opposition and a government in waiting,” ACN said it was not interested in joining PDP’s unity government and urged its members, who were interested in such arrangement to quit the party.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said, “our stand against the so called Government of National Unity is that it stifles democracy by compromising virile opposition, which is a key ingredient of a vibrant democracy, thereby encouraging the emergence of a one_party state. It also stunts development and promotes complacency.”
No coalition between election winners and riggers — CPC
In like manner, Mr Yinka Odumakin, spokesman of the CPC Presidential Candidate, Maj General Muhammadu Buhari, said CPC and PDP could not coalesce now until it had been proven that Jonathan won the elections. “There cannot be any unity between election riggers and those who won the elections freely and fairly. Until the results of the elections go through examinations, there cannot be any unity government,” he said.
Indeed, Nigeria’s political history is replete with coalition governments usually assembled after rigged elections to assuage aggrieved opponents, quench threatening or flickering flames of post-election violence, ease tension and stabilise the polity for the benefitting politicians to rule the country.
How it startedFirst Republic
The absence of a clear winner in the 1959 post-independence election among the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and Action Group (AG) required the alignment of any two of the three leading parties for a government to be formed in then parliamentary system of government. After much discussions and horse-trading, NPC and NCNC aligned leaving the AG as the main opposition party.
On forming the cabinet, the battle for more territory ensued. AG was in control of Western Region, NCNC controlled Eastern Region while NPC superintended over the Northern Region.
Within two years, Action Group control of the Western Region was weakened and then collapsed because of divisions within the party. The AG leadership of the Action Group, which formed the official opposition in the federal parliament, split in 1962 as a result of a rift between its leader, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and then Western Region Prime Minister, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola.
In the battle for Western Region, while Awolowo along with some progressives pushed for adoption of democratic socialism as party policy, Akintola insisted on the retention of prevailing system and sought the support of conservative AG elements. To remain afloat, Akintola called for better relations with the NPC and an all party federal coalition that would remove the Action Group from opposition and give its leaders greater access to power.
At this stage, the battle had got to the point of no return. Awolowo’s radical majority staged the expulsion of Akintola from the AG. The governor of the Western Region asked Akintola, who still enjoyed the confidence of the legislature to resign as prime minister. He went on to name an AG-recommended successor to head the government.
With fury, Akintola resigned in 1962 and quickly formed a new party, the United People’s Party, which collaborated with the NPC_NCNC government in the federal parliament.
His resignation in May 1962 sparked bloody mayhem in the Western Region leading the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency, dissolve the legislature, and name a federal administrator for Western Region.
The inflammable political scene continued up to the 1964 elections. With Federal Might, Akintola’s party, which had been renamed the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, to attract more support, dominated the Western Region regions and pushed the AG to the background.
By early 1964, when a fourth region – Mid-West had been carved out of the Western region, the federal parliament no longer had a recognised opposition. The federal government consisted of a consensus of the ruling parties of all four regions.
The absence of a virile opposition at the centre constituted a major drawback to effective governance in the country. Perhaps, the fratricidal crisis that ravaged the South-West in 1965 christened ‘Wild Wild West’ may not be dissociated from the unity government arrangement. The crisis worsened in quick succession and by 1967, the country was engulfed in a civil war that claimed about three million lives and lasted for 30 months.
In the Second Republic, after another controversial election mid-wived by the outgoing military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo, politicians elected to use coalition government to stabilise the polity. In the1979 presidential election, Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) won with 5,688,857 votes followed Awolowo of Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) with 4,916,651 votes. Late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) scored 2, 822,523 votes; Aminu Kano of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) had 1,732,113 while Waziri Ibrahim of Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) scored 1,686,489 votes.
The NPN also won more National Assembly seats. Of the 95 Senate seats it had 36 as well 167 of the 445 House of Representatives slots. The UPN came second with 28 Senate and 110 House seats; NPP 16 Senate, 77 House; PRP seven Senate 47 House; and GNPP eight Senate and 44 House seats.
To have a more inclusive government, the NPN went into another accord with NPP to have a clear majority in the National Assembly. Out of the 41 ministerial positions, the NPN ceded 10 to the NPP viz : Dr IC Madubuike (Education), Prof Ishaya Audu (External Affairs), Mr. Paul Unongo (Special Duties- Steel Development), Mr. Ademola Thomas (Finance), Mrs Janet Akinrinde, Mr. E. Aguma (Agriculture), Dr. T Michaulum (Employment, Labour and Productivity), Chief Ekong Okoi-Obuli (Communications), Sunday Essang and Prof Emmanuel Osammor (Police Affairs).
Some of these appointees were to constitute a problem for the opposition parties when they refused to heed the directive of their leaders to quit the government.
A clear indication of what coalition government can do to the opposition was observed during Chief Obasanjo’s tenure as civilian head of state.
After the December 1998 Local Council elections, only three of the nine provisionally registered parties that contested were given permanent registration. They are the Alliance for Democracy (AD), All Peoples Party (APP) and PDP. At the 1999 presidential polls, AD and APP fielded a joint candidate – Chief Olu Falae against Obasanjo and lost.
On assuming power, Obasanjo went for an embracing government. He went after late Chief Bola Ige, who was a pillar in the AD and Alhaji Mahmud Waziri, the national chairman of the APP and later Alhaji Adamu Ahmed Abdulkadir, who chaired AD.
The poaching of these high-ranking party leaders caused considerable damage to their structures and affected them in the 2003 polls. All the state governors of the AD in the South-West were swept out of power except Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who refused to drink from the Obasanjo poisoned political chalice. Tinubu was to steer some leaders and younger elements of the AD into the Action Congress (AC), which has today morphed into ACN and has reclaimed the South-West from the PDP.
After the grossly flawed elections of 2007, in which the major beneficiary, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua admitted that his election was not credible, he also elected to go for a unity government. He asked parties like ACN, ANPP and Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA to send nominees.
ACN refused and has reaped the benefits but PPA complied and paid dearly for it. When it was going into the Yar’Adua’s GNU, it had two state governors, some senators, Reps and state lawmakers. Mid-way into the coalition, its two governors – Ikedi Ohakim (Imo) and Theodore Orji (Abia) and Senator Uche Chukwumerije (Abia) and others returned to the PDP. Today, the party has only one state lawmaker.
It is on account of how unity governments hurt the opposition and make the ruling party docile that the Jonathan’s proposal is raising dust.
Credible hands, not GNU is the answer – Egolum
Looking at the issue, Chief Chuba Egolum, a foundation member of the AD and now a leader of the PDP in Anambra, getting good hands on deck was the best bet for President Jonathan
“When you talk about Government of National Unity, to me, it has certain connotations that sometimes do not get the job done. President Jonathan, being a well educated man, I expect him to understand that this time around, Nigeria as a country, needs the best hands to get the work done. Good people are not necessarily found in one political party.
Look at the entire country as a constituency, go around and look for the people to get the job done. For the benefit of all Nigerians, we must use the right peg in the right holes. Even if it means having to go abroad because we have excellent materials outside the PDP and Nigeria as a whole and beyond. Once we can identify them, wherever they are, they can come back here and be of use to us. We should not shy away from doing that,” he said.