By Clifford Ndujihe
THE outcome of the March 28, 2015 presidential election and swearing-in of President Muhammadu Buhari as president, inadvertently, carved out peculiar roles for the two leading political parties in Nigeria.
For the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, a party that had been in power at the centre for an unbroken 16 years, its loss of the presidential polls All Progressives Congress, APC, meant an automatic plunge into the loquacious role of the opposition. The 17-year old PDP will also be in opposition in 23 states controlled by the APC and one by the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. The PDP will be in power in 12 states.
Conversely, it is a different kettle of fish for the APC, which emerged as the ruling party. Some of the core leaders of the APC had been in the opposition since 1999. The favourable outcome of the elections meant they have to brace up for the brain-racking task of governance.
To govern well and deliver the dividends of democracy to the citizenry, the APC must be kept on its toes by a virile opposition.
One year after, has the PDP offered a virile opposition to the APC? Has is it been able to galvanise the civil society and the citizenry to kick against a series of government’s actions and policies that some observers have described as inhuman and suffocating? How has the PDP reacted to the removal of fuel subsidy after one year of fuel scarcity crisis?
How has it reacted to increase in electricity tariff without increment in power supply? What advantage has it taken from the government’s inability to ensure safety of lives and property following the killing spree across many parts of the South and North-Central by criminals masquerading as herdsmen? If the roles were reversed the APC, arguably, would have fared better. Its leaders mobilised the citizenry to ‘’occupy Nigeria,’’ a massive and prolonged protest that forced former President Goodluck Jonathan to retain fuel subsidy and bring down fuel price in January 2012.
To prepare itself for the onerous task, the PDP, in its first week in opposition, organised a one-day retreat in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, for senators and members of the House of Representatives elected on its platform
Speaking at the retreat, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who was later re-elected as deputy Senate President, urged PDP members to hold the APC accountable to its promises on the release of the Chibok girls and creation of two million jobs every year among others.
“Members of parliament have always been the springboard for their parties’ return to power each time they suffered defeat. The PDP lawmakers in the 8th National Assembly should hold the ruling APC accountable on each of its campaign promises,” he charged.
Indeed, the PDP appeared ready for the job at the beginning with its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh and Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, taking President Buhari, the presidency and APC to task on many fronts.
Promising to offer constructive criticism, Metuh kick-started his opposition job by calling on all Nigerians to support President Buhari’s war against the Boko Haram insurgency in spite of the government’s failure to meet its targets.
While receiving a youth group under the aegis of Northern Youth Network at the party’s national secretariat, on December 11, 2015, Metuh said: “APC had promised that they were going to end insurgency in two weeks, they later said it will be over in two months and after that they now gave December 31 deadline to end Boko Haram.
“Now, in spite of the language it is couched in shifting the goal posts, and despite all the infractions and all kinds of destructive criticisms APC rained on us when they were in opposition, the PDP as a national party will refrain from making comments on issues on the inadequacies pertaining to the war against insurgency in the country. For us in the PDP, we remain completely in support of the federal government in the war to eradicate insurgency in our land and we enjoin all Nigerians to support President Muhammadu Buhari in the war against terror.’’
Before then, Metuh had on June 28, 2015, accused the APC government of doing nothing after 30 days in power and urged that Nigerians need to join hands in prayers to save the government from further inaction and dithering.
On August 1, 2015 in an interview with Sahara reporters, Metuh condemned Buhari’s visit to the US, saying it was poorly planned and inappropriately rushed, arguing: “In terms of bilateral cooperation, it was a monumental failure. There was no preparedness on the part of the Nigerian government for any talks with their counterparts.”
Metuh was at it again on August 10, when he blasted Buhari for not naming his cabinet, saying the absence of ministers was causing financial sleaze. On September 19, Metuh, in another statement, said Nigeria was sliding into official terrorism under Buhari.
He pooh poohed the government’s handling of the economy. According to him, the APC-led federal government has no clear economic policy direction.
On November 1, the PDP spokesman, in a statement, accused Buhari of “de-marketing” Nigerians before the international community, claiming that his utterances that Nigerians were corrupt were scaring away investors.
Among others, Metu criticised the government over its inability to hold conclusive elections unlike the Jonathan’s PDP administration; policy somersaults; intolerance of criticisms and plots to weaken and decimate the PDP.
“The PDP is conversant with the sinister plan by the APC-led Federal Government to completely decimate our party by raking up all manner of allegations of corruption against the Goodluck Jonathan administration and leaders of the PDP with a view to taking them to court on orchestrated charges…
‘’Besides, it is sad and embarrassing that President Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade has now been reduced to a war between the APC and the PDP as declared by the Office of his spokespersons. Since they have confirmed that this is what the anti-corruption crusade is all about, the APC is obviously seeking to destroy the PDP so that it can push through Buhari’s second tenure in 2019 without opposition from the PDP.
“Finally we are aware that President Buhari has directed security agencies to be more vicious in dealing with our members and has continued to subtly coerce the Judiciary to convict those being charged to court. But what gives us joy is that President Buhari is not God and we will not worship him,’’ he said on January 2, 2016.
However, that outing proved to be Metuh’s last major public offensive against the APC government as he was arrested by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on January 5 over alleged graft.
With Metuh out of the way, the PDP appeared to have lost its voice. Encumbered by a rash of defections across the country worsened by billowing leadership crisis at many fronts especially at the national level, PDP now appears wanting and incapable of mounting a credible and sustained opposition. This is not good for the polity because the party in government must be constantly made aware that the electorate not only has a choice but a better alternative to a non-performing government.
The PDP must re-examine itself and rebound. It must re-invent, re-equip, recover its voice and pick up its opposition leadership role. That is the only way it can challenge the ruling government and demand the dividends of democracy on behalf of the people. This is the surest way to remain relevant in the polity and make impact in 2019.
However, and worse for PDP, it is yet to put its house in order as there are conflicting court orders on who the real leaders of the party are. Nothing can come worse than a crisis of identity at a time of great need for unity.