#YNaijaEssays: How does an opposition party rise to prominence?

The beauty of democracy is not exactly in the numbers or in the outcome of an election, but in watching the alternative prevail over the norm, in having a new order overthrow the establishment just because the citizens have the capacity to wield such powers. It is this very character of democracy that is rare to find in Africa and some parts of the world. Opposition parties become dreamers as it is almost impossible for them to taste power. This was the case in Nigeria until the 2015 presidential elections saw the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari, who defeated the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari’s victory in 2015 brought a shift in the mindset of the electorates – Nigeria was an enduring and truly maturing democracy. To global watchers, it further demonstrates the unpredictable nature of Nigerian politics, as the noose becomes tightened at the breaking point.

The election outcome was more interesting because Buhari had been contesting for the presidency since 2007, and the personal and party policies he used in campaigning previously never received the kind of acceptability it did until 2015. Majority of the voting populace wanted a shift from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who had held sway since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. The PDP’s chance at the ballot was not helped as it faced internal wranglings and defections prior to the election. It worsened as some political elites, most notably, Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president and a founding member of the PDP threw his weight behind the opposition. With these and other factors in play, on May 29, 2015, Nigeria experienced its first transition from a ruling party to the opposition in its history. The infirmities and vulnerability of PDP gave legitimacy and acceptance to the All Progressives Congress (APC). No opposition party since 1999 has ever been more or equally as formidable as the APC proved to be against the ruling party in 2015.

The APC is an unholy alliance between the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). It was an alliance that was anticipated in 2011 but failed to work out. The various opposition parties suddenly realised that to put an end to the dominance of the PDP, there is a need for a united front. The opposition parties in post-independence Nigeria were western styled. The Action Group (AG) of Awolowo in the early independence era was reputed to be the most organised and effective political party in Africa. Every policy it provided as an alternative to that of the government was put to practice in the region it controlled, hence in Awolowo was a likely President, and the ruling party was always aware of this. The AG was as popular as the ruling party and in some cases more than the ruling party, it might not have had state resources but it was almost as rich as the ruling party. Same goes for the Unity Party Of Nigeria (UPN) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But despite how vibrant the opposition was then, it was difficult for it to wrestle power from the ruling party. What the opposition parties got wrong then, the APC got right in 2015. It formed an alliance of relatively formidable oppositions, ACN had a cult following in the South West, while ANPP and CPC were equally formidable in the North, and APGA had some clout in the South East. Winning in 2015 then became easier for the APC when the PDP collapsed, thus providing the opportunity, as some of PDP’s best political strategists defected to the APC.

There is no doubting the fact that 2015 was a precedence which needs to be repeated in subsequent elections. At the moment, there is no party close to mounting a formidable challenge enough to disrupt the status quo and kick out the incumbent.

A frontline politician in Imo, Cassidy Madueke, had said that only Atiku Abubakar could defeat President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 elections and should, therefore, be given the presidential ticket of the APC. His premise was that, “it is not right for anybody to ask a contestant to step down for another whether it is Atiku, Buhari or Kwankwaso… The question is, what is the reason why one should step down for another?”, adding that “Atiku has an edge over all of them”.

Before the 2015 elections, there were reports that the APC was headed for a serious crisis following strong reservations among its major presidential candidates over the procedure for adopting the 2015 presidential candidate for the party.

Buhari’s associates in the party were pushing for a consensus on the fact that majority of the party positions across board were filled with consensus. It was opposed by Atiku’s growing supporters within the party hierarchy who believed that a direct primary would be costly. Rather, the Atiku camp proposed what it called a Modified Direct Primary that would involve about 20,000 delegates choosing the party candidate. That prospect was feared by the Buhari camp who claimed that it would offer an opportunity to easily woo or take over delegates hitherto pledged to other aspirants.

Eventually, the primaries held and Buhari came out tops. He polled 3,430 votes to get the ticket. His votes outnumbered those of the former governor of Kano, Rabiu Kwankwanso and Atiku who got 974 and 954 votes respectively.

The emergence of Buhari as the APC primary winner was proof that having financial capital above one’s opponent is not enough is politics. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, an influential politician wielded more finances than Buhari. His political empire is financed by a vast network of businesses sprawled throughout the country.

Atiku’s political sagacity was made evident towards the tail end of former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term, as he played a key role in stopping his principal’s third term agenda.

Ignoring his political influence will be ill-advised, as he has turned out to be a recurring figure in the history of Nigeria’s politics since the Third Republic. Atiku has been involved in politics since the mid-1980s, where he acted as a backbone to help the governorship campaign of Bamanga Tukur. His influence took him to represent his constituency at the 1989 constituent assembly. He won the Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) governorship primaries for the newly created Adamawa state but was disqualified by the military government from contesting the elections. He contested the SDP presidential primaries in 1992 coming third behind MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe.

He would have been governor of Adamawa, under the platform of the PDP in 1999 but, was picked by Obasanjo to be his running mate. His influence grew so strong in the PDP, especially among the governors, which probably influenced his decision to run for presidency after his spell with Obasanjo. However, when he found out that Obasanjo will do all within his powers to scuttle his intentions to lead Nigeria (in the light of their disagreement), he joined the APC. His membership of the party was significant as it moved it from the fringes to become a formidable force in the country.

As the APC was gaining prominence across the country, another party, KOWA was making moves, using the internet as its means.

Years after it was registered as a political party (July 16, 2009), promising to change the status quo in the political sphere, the party is yet to win a single electoral seat. Its closest attempt – the Osun local government elections – ended in an anti-climax. Its National Youth Caucus Leader, Jude Feranmi, hinging on the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign contested for the councillorship seat in Ward 10, Ilesha East LGA.

The social media campaign, just like the campaign for its 2015 presidential candidate, Professor Oluremi Sonaiya was in everyone’s faces until January 23, 2018, when it was reported that Feranmi would not be contesting anymore; his name would not appear on the ballot. No reason was given for the decision.

In the country’s current political arrangement, the erstwhile ruling party, the (PDP) and all other smaller opposition parties hold sway in the South East and South-South geo-political zones only. This development among other factors is a fall-out of the 2015 General Elections where she fielded a Southerner from a minority tribe (though incumbent and seeking re-election at the time) as its Presidential Candidate in the contest, against the candidate of the new conglomeration of the dominant opposition parties, a core Northerner with cult-like followership and a running mate from the South-West geo-political zone (same zone that was excluded from the country’s top 4 political offices under the PDP), who also incidentally pastors a church arguably with the largest membership strength (comprising mainly Yorubas) in the country.

If the political firmament in our clime is anything to be considered, the victory of the opposition party in 2015 was thus predictable. The Nigerian political culture currently upholds regional bias or tribal delineation as the major factor influencing what candidate gets elected into office or who gets what seat.

This is a development that has thrown up several topics for discussion and brought to the fore other issues which has in turn, gone ahead to threaten the corporate existence of Nigeria as a result of reactions to the perceived regional and even religious bias demonstrated by the ruling party in its actions and several other events that have greeted the political landscape since 2015.

This is also reputed to have influenced the then victory of the ACN in the South-West, the ANPP and the CPC in the North as well as and the ruling APGA in all the elections she has participated in Anambra since 2006 as well as the restriction of its dominance to that State and geo-political zone of the country, owing to its perceived categorisation as a regional party regardless of the credentials of candidates it presents at elections held in other parts of the country, a prominent example being Mr. Labaran Maku (Former Minister of Information) losing the Nasarawa State Gubernatorial Elections in 2015.

It is however noteworthy that this culture has been at play from the beginning of the fourth republic when the Yorubas (and by extension the South-West zone) were favoured to be the Presidential Candidates of both parties The PDP and an alliance of the All People’s Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) that contested the 1999 general elections, with some form of ‘national understanding’ that the Yorubas needed to be compensated for their loss of the Presidency after the annulment of the June 12, 1993, elections and the unexplainable death of the winner, Chief M.K.O. Abiola thereafter.

In the course of the Obasanjo Presidency, we were equally made to understand that power will return to the North after his 8-year term and would return back to the South after they complete same, based on a constitutional agreement (PDP constitution) of power rotation between the Northern and Southern Regions of the country. This indeed shapened the fielding of candidates by the major parties at the time (PDP, ANPP and AC) as well as the vote pattern at the 2007 and 2011 Presidential Elections. Even though it took a slightly different twist for the PDP in 2011 when it had to rethink the strategy in favour of then President Jonathan who was widely accepted across the Southern Region and the Middle-Belt Region. He equally went on to win that election.

The culture has really not changed but there appears to be a few exceptions to these unwritten principles. One of which is the election of Ms. Maria Ude Nwachi (Afikpo Chick) into the Ebonyi State House of Assembly as the Lawmaker representing Afikpo North East Constituency under the platform of the relatively unpopular People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA) in the last General election. Her election speaks of some sort of new drive of the Nigerian Electorate to focus more on the personality of political office holders than the parties on whose platform they are seeking to run for office.

This is notwithstanding the fact that Nwachi had questionable antecedents from the United States of America where she was alleged to have been the Leader of a New-York based Multimillion dollar Prostitution ring and was subsequently caught, jailed and deported to Nigeria. To the discernable mind, these allegations are weighty enough to make any aspirant to public office drown in the waters of electoral defeat, but she emerged overwhelmingly victorious at the polls, owing largely to her down-to-earth nature, contributions to the Igbo people in general and her constituency (Afikpo), same community she has demonstrated immense love for through a come-home campaign to indigenes of Afikpo in the Diaspora by way of massive investments in her 
luxury resort-Maria Island Resort, several other businesses she runs and numerous philanthropic initiatives aimed at giving back to the community.

It would amount to cowardice on the part of an opposition party seeking to become prominent (in a clime where the political parties are still largely anything but ideological), to treat Nwachi’s rise with a wave of hand, because a lot of Nigerians are still unable to relieve themselves of sentiments when it is has to do with the parties in the country.

The victory of the APC and its candidate Muhammadu Buhari at the 2015 elections was a turning point for politics and electioneering in Nigeria. APC, a relatively new party with some of the political bigwigs and disgruntled members of other prominent party defeated the PDP which had ruled the country for 16 years and had once boasted of its ability to rule for sixty years.

Before that historic victory, it was considered an almost impossible task to defeat the ruling party, especially one which had been at the helm of affairs for a very long time. However, a terrible performance by the incumbent, a coalition of various geopolitical parties and the exodus of prominent leaders from the ruling party, gave APC the victory.

In less than a year Nigerians will visit the polls to make the choice on who leads the country for the next four years. While President Muhammadu Buhari will be looking to return for a second term, other parties are hoping to oust him.

Just like APC, a strong opposition party needs to spring up for this rather daunting task of unseating President Muhammadu Buhari. Quite a number of opposition parties have been created in recent times, including those who have been around for a while. The internal crisis in the PDP seems to have been put to rest, hence a better chance of challenging the APC. With the return of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to the fold, the PDP might just be one of the parties to look out for in the 2019 general elections.

When the ‘Mega Party’ Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA) was formed, it was touted as the party which will take over as the major opposition party in the country. There were rumours that aggrieved members of both the APC and PDP formed the party. The likes of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, PDP chairman Ahmed Makarfi, and Atiku Abubakar were named as financiers of the party. However, it was not long before crisis rocked APDA. The party announced the suspension of Raymond Dokpesi, Dan Nwanyanwu, and Mainasara Ilo.

2019 election is here and many Nigerians want the current administration gone due to the high level of incompetence, failed promises and outright disrespect for the rule of law. This cannot be achieved by wishing, hoping and social media rants but by careful planning. The APC has provided a template for other parties to follow. With a few tweaks and adjustments here and there, the opposition can emerge victorious. The opposition should ensure that it projects the failings of the APC-led administration. The media is one tool that can be used to amplify these faults.

Beyond projecting areas where this government has failed, the opposition needs to have a realistic and achievable manifesto that Nigerians can work with.

The path to prominence would be to do more work on making their party more visible while carrying out uniformed developments across the local government areas, state or federal constituencies and states where members are seeking elective positions as part of programmes contained in its manifesto.

The parties must perfect the democratisation of its internal space to enable it recruit credible Nigerians with solid track records in offices they’ve previously held (in or out of government) to drive these programmes. Most importantly too, they need to structure their operations in a manner that shows it is genuinely all-inclusive as well as do more than we are currently experiencing to infuse technology into its operations as it relates to subscription for membership, payment of membership dues, conduct of congresses, conventions and primary elections and so on, in order to attract the young minds who constitute a huge majority of the voting population.

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