By Sam Kargbo
The thesis of this piece is that until political parties in opposition are more organized, purposeful and functioning beyond participating in elections, it is unimaginable and futile to expect governance to serve as an effective vehicle for development, prosperity and solidarity. In adumbrating on this thesis, I shall first endeavour to make a case for the existence of opposition parties.
I am yet to know about a homogeneous society with a determinable common will or common good of the people. Human beings do not, by nature, have common interests. It is therefore unthinkable to have a Government that can be said to be representative or reflective of the interests of all in a given society. Even in ideal societies, with Governments that embody the interest of the majority, there is always the need to cater for the interests of those whose interests the Government does not reflect. The need to balance and find a secured common ground for the interest of the majority and that of the minority is, to my mind, the essence of democracy. The imperative here is that democracy is opposed to the idea of Government being a herdsman of the common interests or agendas of the citizens and nationals of a state.
Opposition politics is an integral part of democracy. The future of the African continent depends on the quality of its opposition, which points up the necessity for opposition parties to see themselves as representatives of their respective societies with the mandate to: (1) Articulate, aggregate, hone and communicate the interests, fears, desires and wishes of people to the Government; (2) Serve as credible alternatives to the Government; (3) Hold governments accountable, and serving as watchdogs that ensure government functions within the confines of the law by exposing the likes of corruption, nepotism, and the abuse of power; (4) Stimulate debates on issues, provide alternative narratives concerning events and issues, generate national conversations concerning conflicts and engender forensic interrogations of actions of Government agencies and institutions; and (5) Provide political training and incentive for the youth to develop interest in politics, and even choose politics as a career.
Being in opposition is as serious and important as being in government. The quality of the opposition defines the quality of governance and democracy of a country. The opposition’s job is an all-round-the-clock job, not a part-time or periodic job. Weak, inept, opportunistic and power hungry opposition is as dangerous to peace and stability as a tyrannical government. Consider, for example, the case of America — the country that prides itself as the bastion of democracy — where Donald Trump’s administration is poised to fulfill its electoral promises, but the opposition is determined to ensure that such promises are not met at the expense of freedom and justice for all. The negotiations, tradeoffs and, sometimes, wheeling and dealing that underscore the balancing of the agendas of those whose interests the Administration caters for and the fears of those outside that circumference highlight the importance of strong, effective opposition politics. The inverse is the case in Nigeria.
The opposition in Nigeria seems to be oblivious of the irony in the fact that democracy makes a case for the tyranny of numbers in decision-making and governance. Winning numbers and turning the tables against the majority can hardly be a game of chance. This is the case in Africa, particularly where political fortunes are nothing more than the aggregates of tribal or ethnic lots and silos. I have for long and in many ways been struggling with the burden of coming to terms with the ethnic and religious politics on the continent. I have without end and limitation been wishing for ethnic and religious free politics. My illusion is harshly exposed by the fact that the average African voter knows that the resources of the state are not only managed but also distributed by men and women in power with little checks and opposition from those in opposition. Until there comes a time when the opposition can play its role as a curtailer of the wantonness of Governments, the average voting individual would continue to side with his or her tribes people with whom he or she shares common identity and culture. After all, even bragging rights are cherished possessions of the common African man.
This is one reason why the job of the opposition is onerous, in my estimation, the reason why I believe that those aspiring to unseat the APC Government, including the PDP, should study the case files of the APC in opposition. The APC did not wait for the 2015 election to establish itself as a credible alternative to the PDP. Long before then I had stated in this column that PDP was in opposition and should start learning the art or science of opposition. Without being a political scientist or mathematician, I had made my political measurements and concluded that the APC would win the 2015 elections.
The PDP seems to have read only the cover pages – leaving the content – of the APC opposition manuals, harbouring the impression that by poaching and luring back to its fold some of the APC members who are, in the main, prodigal sons of the PDP, it can weaken the APC to a point of wrestling power from it. Until the PDP starts to rebrand itself as a born-again party, its toga of a thieving party will still hunt and damnify it at the polls. Waiting for the eve of another election before reorganizing itself exposes the PDP as a selfish, opportunistic party. The PDP will find it difficult to convince Nigerians that it is not only interested in grabbing power when it has not done anything to demonstrate its preparedness to be a better government than the APC. The PDP should find spin masters to articulate the role it played in pushing back insurgency and recession.
The opposition cannot win over the hearts and minds of the people by only exposing the ills and failings of the Government. Like human beings, governments do make mistakes. To make the difference, opposition parties should be more interested in proffering better solutions than criticizing. Talk, they say, is cheap. For a party in opposition to be taken seriously, its political capital should be more than a portfolio of criticisms against the Government. It should have a history and verifiable record of people-oriented programmes and achievements. It is offensive — and a demonstration of arrogance of the worst type — for the party in opposition to wait for election seasons to mount rostrums and make outlandish promises. Such campaign promises are not better than slot machines. To be cashable, campaign promises must be backed by credible records of ability. It is not enough to promise to bring the moon to the ocean; it is more important to explain the science of achieving that beyond human feat.
Beyond the general feeling of entitlement, there are not too many opposition parties on the continent that can rationally justify their claim to govern. Like a Professor of mine responded to the earlier version of this article, the opposition “take the voters for granted in the mistaken belief that they (the voters) are too ignorant to know or think about the purpose of government.” Mistaking democracy for a “turn-by turn” system, their claim to govern is nothing more than a claim that it is their turn. No! Democracy demands much more than that from the opposition. The Government and the opposition cannot be any less than football teams competing in a league. The Government could be likened to the champion of the previous season, while the opposition is composed of the other teams competing to equally win the season. The opposition cannot therefore be a part-time job. On the same point, an individual can be the face of the opposition, but the opposition cannot be personalized or equated with the personality of individual. It is an unenviable job, sometimes risky, but I cannot see it being done any other way.
In conclusion, the future of African nations and societies is dependent on the quality of their opposition parties. To be a true hero, worthy of my admiration and respect, make your mark in the opposition. Bola Tinubu is today the greatest politician of his generation because of his feat in the trenches of the opposition. Love, fear or hate him, he is the politician you wish to be.