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Handover 2015: Wearing new, ill-fitting shoes: PDP as opposition

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By Ochereome Nnanna
In the presidential system of government, there is no official opposition, as evident in the Parliamentary type. But opposition parties do exist. In a multiparty system, there are political parties outside power which would like to take over governance from the ruling party. When the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was in power, political platforms regarded as the “opposition” included the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), all now defunct.

They later came together in the most successful merger in Nigeria’s history and took over power. In fact, today, May 29th 2015, is an epochal date in Nigeria’s history, because APC, the former opposition party is assuming the mantle of leadership of our country as the current dominant party by virtue of the result of the 2015 general elections.

Conversely, the PDP, which had been in power for 16 years, will now lead the new pack of opposition parties, which include the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Labour Party (LP). These three parties have worked together as “allies”. Now, it is expected that they will carry the flag of the “opposition” and ensure that the new dominant two-party system that has emerged will grow and give Nigerians credible options or clear choice every four years.

Jonathan, Haliru and Fayose
Jonathan, Haliru and Fayose

For PDP to be an effective opposition

In truth, the PDP is the main opposition. Nobody can even guarantee that the APGA and LP will stay within the “alliance”. It is all a question what political leaders consider as what serves their interests. For the former ruling party to succeed as an opposition party, it has to satisfy a number of conditions.

The first is that the party has to quickly get over its misfortunes at the polls and revamp itself. It should not be deterred by the residual gale of defections to the victorious APC. That is a normal thing to expect from politicians who cannot survive outside the federal feeding bottle. The party must discover the true meaning of PDP based on its founding principles,

which were jettisoned. It must entrench democratic principles and due process in its day-to-day dealings, particularly in choosing its leaders and candidates for elections. There must be a strong PDP way of doing things which will distinguish it from the APC and give it unique appeal.

handoverIn this revamp process, the PDP must avoid becoming a regional party. After the elections, the party has become almost non-existent in the North West and North Central, with only nominal presence in the North East and South West. It is strongest in the South-South, with a healthy presence in the South-East, along with its alliance partner, APGA.

The PDP, therefore, owes itself the duty to re-establish its presence in the four geopolitical zones where it used to have commanding presence: a presence that was strong enough to produce a President each from South West and North West; a Vice President from the North East and a Senate President for two terms from North Central.

Furthermore, the PDP must look for a popular, charismatic leader who is able to command the respect and loyalty of its members from across the geopolitical zones. A political party without a strong leadership will be an open warehouse for poaching by the ruling party. This was the experience of the ANPP and the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) at the hands of the PDP at the rave of its power.

It must also evolve means of enforcing party discipline and control, without which no group can be strong enough to bid for power against a powerful ruling party.

Tackling the APC Federal Government

The PDP must learn from the strategies and resilience of the major parties that produced the APC from a basket of regional political parties. For instance, from the South West, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s ACN was very strong and able to manipulate the media, judiciary and civil society to its benefit.

This was its unique attribute which it brought to bear in the making of the Muhammadu Buhari presidential victory. On the other hand, the CPC and ANPP, being North-based parties, equally had strong media partners, especially regional newspapers, radio, television and the social media. They were able to ramp up regional and religious sentiments which eventually turned the mind of the North against President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP in favour of Buhari and APC.

On the other hand, the PDP was very lackadaisical, even cavalier with the media, civil society and the judiciary. Jonathan was aloof from these critical stakeholders in our democracy in his belief that they should be allowed to do their thing. The out-going president confessed he neglected the media during the late part of the campaigns, and when he decided to do something about it, it was already too late.

The PDP must also establish a strong and strategic platform to monitor the APC federal government and its ruling party, and hold it to account on its campaign promises, especially the fight against corruption, insecurity and the pledge to diversify the economy to create jobs and shore up the value of the Naira to equal that of the US Dollar.

It must also monitor the human rights record of the new regime, and ensure that it does not allow the fight against corruption to become selective and political, and that sections of the country are not marginalised based on religion, region or how they voted in the preceding elections. Where such takes place, it must raise the alarm.

The opposition must avoid the temptation of competing with the APC in market women-like exchange of insults, mockery and name-calling. It must raise the quality of criticism and discourse of national affairs by presenting the facts correctly and in a matured tone to earn the respect of people looking for credible information about how the APC Federal Government is ruling the country.

It must also encourage good governance in all the states where it is in power and uphold them as the paradigms to encourage people to see it as a recharged alternative, in case the APC is unable to prove itself as the messiah it had promised during the campaigns.

The process of providing credible opposition to a ruling Federal Government in Nigeria has never been a stroll in the park. This was why no opposition party was ever able to claim the presidency from a ruling party. It took a lot of determination, passion, perseverance, focus, insight, cooperation and commitment for the leaders of the APC to pull off the coup that catapulted them to power and glory.

It will take a major re-enactment of the same principles by the new opposition if they ever hope to return to power. It is in the overall interest of our democracy and polity if the APC and PDP can stand at almost the same strength level with clear lines of appeal, whereby Nigerians can seamlessly choose between one and the other, depending on their performance as the ruling or opposition parties.

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