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Where is the Nigerian opposition? (II)

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By Reuben Abati

It is the country that pays the cost when the opposition is asleep, and one political party is allowed to ride roughshod over everyone just because it is in power and office. When members of the APC claim that there is no alternative to Pres­ident Muhammadu Buhari, I guess they are not saying there are no per­sons who are better qualified than the President; rather they are saying they cannot see any organized op­position that could pose a threat to the continued stay of the Buhari gov­ernment in power beyond May 2019. And by conduct, they even make it clear that whoever challenges the APC should be prepared to face the consequences of doing so. The APC mastered bully tactics as an opposi­tion party. It continues to rely on the same tactics as a ruling party.

The gap that has been created by the absence of an effective op­position in Nigerian politics since 2015 is gradually now being filled by thought leaders. Sometime in 2016, I wrote a piece titled “Where are the public intellectuals? in which I challenged the Nigerian intelli­gentsia generally to rouse from its slumber. That slumber is perhaps understandable. The Nigerian intel­ligentsia bought into the APC proj­ect in 2014 and 2015, and wanted the PDP out of the way by all means. Not too long ago, confronted with the failings of the APC as a ruling party, this special class has since recanted. I dealt with that in “The season of recanting” (Jan.16) but since this other article, the political space has since become more inter­esting with the interventions of per­sons like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida, General TY Danjuma, Professor Wole Soyinka and the emergence of groups like the Obasanjo-led Coalition for Nigeria, the Agbakoba-led Nigeria Interven­tion Movement (NIM), the Ezekwesi­li-led Red Card Movement, and the Concerned Nigerians Movement led by Charly Boy Oputa. The main bat­tle-ground in recent times however has been the Nigerian social media where young Nigerians have been quite loud in expressing their dissat­isfaction with the Buhari administra­tion. The social media proved to be a strong weapon of mobilization in the hands of the APC before 2015, now it is its main nemesis.

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Useful as these interventions, this reawakening of the civil society, may seem, the value is limited except there is a formal opposition that is specifically organized for the “con­quest of power” at the polls. There is a growing consensus among these groups that both the APC and the PDP are of no use, they have not yet identified an alternative political par­ty that can engage the ruling party but I believe the point is not lost on the actors involved that elections are won or lost not on twitter but by po­litical parties actively organized for political action. Opposition politics involves branding, strategy, organi­zation and pro-active action. Nigeri­an Opposition parties seeking to dis­lodge the APC can work together to form a political coalition as the APC did in 2013, and even if they do not win in 2019, the country’s political process would be better enriched by a constructive and strong engage­ment from the opposition that any ruling government deserves.

The current infidelity of the av­erage Nigerian politician is the big­gest obstacle that I see. Most Nige­rian politicians do not necessarily go into politics because of what they can contribute, but because of what they intend to take out of it. The APC would continue to insist on its self-ascribed invincibility if the best that other political parties can offer is to apologize. The PDP Chairman recently apologized to Nigerians for whatever the PDP did while in pow­er for 16 years. I don’t know wheth­er that is meant to be a strategy or a confession but the meaningless­ness of it has been exposed by the vicious responses from the APC and how the PDP has found itself having to struggle to put in a word. The Ni­gerian Opposition when eventually it awakens and seeks to engage the APC must realize that the APC has a tested opposition machinery, which found itself out of depths in the con­text of governance, but which in an election season could assume its emotional memory state, and with the resources now at its disposal, including power, prove to be deadly.

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Opposition politics is not rocket science and nobody has to travel to India, the UK or the United States to master it. In Nigeria’s First and Sec­ond Republics, whatever may have been the problems of that era, this country had a rich culture of opposi­tion politics. Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group and later the Uni­ty Party of Nigeria, as an opposition leader, confronted the ruling govern­ment with hard facts and figures and an alternative vision of how Nigeria could be rescued. Dr. Nnamdi Aziki­we, Malam Aminu Kano and Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri – opposition figures at various times – also stood for something. Whoever wants to rule Nigeria or any part thereof should be prepared to tell us exactly what he or she wants to do and how and when. If we have not learnt any lesson, we should by now have realized that a politician wearing Nigerian clothes, taking fine photos, eating corn by the roadside, over-promising, pre­tending to respect women and children, distributing cash and food, claiming to be a democrat, dancing to impress, and some­times projecting himself or herself as nationalistic may not be what we are made to see. Nigeria needs a different breed, new faces, new ideas, a new way of politics.

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