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The problem with our opposition parties

A RECENT statement that the All Progressives Congress will probe how the various administrations from 2000 to 2013 managed the nation’s oil revenue appears to be a costly talk for the newly merged party.

APC, a formation of the merger between three main opposition parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance – is battling for registration with the Independent National Electoral Commission.

APC had stated in its manifesto that it would pursue an eight-cardinal programme which includes the war against corruption, food security, accelerated power supply, integrated transport network, devolution of power, accelerated economic growth, free education and affordable health care.

It said: “We shall negotiate oil deals, unveil the secrecy surrounding the ownership of 49 per cent of the Nigeria Liquefied Gas, query the over N50tn oil revenue which accrued to the Federation Account between 2000 and 2013 and recover billions of US dollars which ministries, departments and agencies failed to remit to the Federation Account”.

Additionally, the opposition party also said it would review public service rules and financial regulations, which encourage impropriety in public finances and move for the removal of the immunity clause in the Constitution, which protects the President, Vice-President, governors and deputy governors from prosecution while in office, among others.

The Peoples Democratic Party administrations of Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, have been ruling the country from the period under contention.

The APC also promised to strengthen the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and make them independent.

Inasmuch as the people may be desirous of change, leaders of the new party should have realised that human beings are averse to change, especially those that bordered on probity and involving digging into past financial dealings. Even if the proposal is desirable, more restraint should have been exercised due to the sensitive nature of the issue under contention.

From the foregoing, it appears the new party – that is yet to be fully registered – is too early in divulging its strategic plan to the public. At best, APC should have strictly limited its pronouncements to general programmes that will better the lot of the people.

If care is not taken, the careless utterances by the leaders of the APC could lead to the failure of the opposition to take-over power from the ruling party.

Past efforts at instituting opposition in government failed as a result of a number of factors, chiefly because of the ideological differences between the parties as well as the narrow and selfish agenda of opposition leaders to dominate.

Opposition parties in African democracies are highly fragmented as there are many countries that have many small and weak political parties. This fragmented party system has instead reinforced the power of the incumbents.

According to the International Journal of Human and Social Sciences, in 2001, Botswana had 12 political parties, and the dominant party was the Botswana Democratic Party, BDP, which ruled the country since 1966.

By 2006, Ivory Coast had 130 parties, Senegal 77, and Liberia 200 political parties; Mali had more than 159 parties and in Angola, there were more than 138 political parties in 2008.

Ethiopia had 64 parties in the 1995 election, and in the May 2000 election, there were 65 political parties in the country.

INTRA-PARTY friction also led to further fragmentation as the cases of the FORD-Kenya, and the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, CUD, in Ethiopia clearly showed.

These conflicts not only further fragmented opposition parties, but also greatly damaged their image and frustrated the hopes of millions of people who overwhelmingly voted for the CUD in 2005.

Hence, the major opposition parties such as the Oromo National Congress, the All Ethiopia Unity Party, the Ethiopian Democratic Union, and the major opposition coalitions – the CUD and the United Ethiopian Democratic Front engaged themselves in very destructive intra-party conflicts that even threatened their own survival.

Many of the opposition parties in Africa are established around individual personalities. These kinds of parties face split whenever another rising star challenges the founder or the leader of the party. This is one of the reasons for the presence of many fragmented political parties in Africa.

Over the years, it is unfortunate that most political parties have no clearly identifiable progressive principles or ideologies to address the needs of Nigerians.

That is where the All Progressives Congress is expected to make a big difference by filling in the vacuum by being ideologically driven and focused in the quest to have stable democracy in the nation.

From the look of things, the APC will have to do extra work in upholding the principle of internal democracy and fair play.

A similar fate befell the nation in the First Republic when there was the Nigerian National Alliance, NNA, which stood for the conservatives, while United Progressive Grand Alliance, UPGA, hoisted for the progressive but sheer party politics at that time killed the merger initiative.

In the First Republic too, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, together with the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, initially formed the government but towards the end of 1962 there was a serious tension between both parties to the extent that some ministers from the NCNC wanted to leave.

Again, during the Second Republic, the party dominated by the Ndigbo race eventually was in alliance with the National Party of Nigeria and both formed the government. And before the end of the first term, there were crises between the two parties, leading to the eventual withdrawal of some ministers.

Governors from the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, and the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, met and attempted to form a forum expected to lead to a new political party.

These efforts, however, failed over the choice of its presidential candidate between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.

This crack had a further debilitating effect on the parties, especially the PRP and NPP, as the PRP eventually lost important states.

There are many cases in Africa where political parties were formed as opposition, but the leaders of such parties agreed to serve in the cabinet of the incumbent party whenever they are opportuned.

The consequence of the personalistic nature of parties is that they are not likely to become institutionalised as organisations. Instead, the party leaders use the party to mobilize sufficient goodwill from the electorates in order to bargain with other party-leaders for the sharing of public goods.

Another chronic problem of the opposition parties in many African transitional democracies is their failure to forward distinct policy alternatives to the voters.

Political parties which are led by single individual leaders usually do not offer alternative policies to the voters, but emphasize the ability of the opposition party leaders to run the government “better” than the incumbent party and the government leaders.

These types of political parties do not offer policy alternatives that will bring about enduring stability. Most of the political parties are short-lived, bereft of long history and experience. Therefore, the voters do not have any chance to evaluate opposition parties’ achievements over time.

Women and youth are widely underrepresented in many African opposition political parties. This is true not only to the opposition parties themselves, but also to the incumbent parties. Just a few women have been identified with the Nigeria’s merging parties.

In Mozambique, opposition parties fielded only few women candidates in the 1994 election compared to the ruling party, FRELIMO, which fielded 130 candidates and by mid 1999, only 11 per cent of the cabinet ministers in Africa were women.

Financing political parties is usually problematic and controversial everywhere in the world. In emerging democracies, foreign funding is sometimes viewed as an attempt to influence the outcome of national elections and the directions of political parties.

In this case, foreign funding is regarded as something that violates the basic principle of democracy. Many ambitious individuals would explore such lapses to establish political parties as a short cut to rapid personal wealth. Foreign funding might be necessary, but it should not be tainted and tied to models from outside.

There are many instances where the opposition parties boycott elections even if the elections are declared “free and fair” just to discredit the incumbents, most importantly when they realise that their chance of winning is very low.

Between 1990 and 2001, almost 30 per cent of all elections in Sub-Saharan Africa were boycotted by at least one opposition party. However, in those elections, which were declared “free and fair”, the losers often accepted only 40 per cent of the outcome.

Despite the unpleasant African experience, the relevance of oppositions in the entrenchment of a virile democracy cannot be over-emphasized.  They remain the veritable yardstick to gauge the performance of governments for better service delivery. They should be vanguards for the establishment of purposeful governance.

Any serious nation that is poised for development must be ready to learn from its past mistakes with a view to forging ahead. Hence, if there is any genuine effort at looking back and correcting what went wrong, such efforts should be appreciated and embraced.

Mr. ADEWALE KUPOLUYI wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State.


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