As the largest democracy in Africa is being goaded into a one-party civilian dictatorship by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is increasingly appearing unable to prevent the dangerous slide of Nigeria into a state of authoritarian fascism. The rise to power in 2015 of President Muhammadu Buhari, an immensely popular figure in Nigeria’s largest democratic demography, the Muslim North, triggered a wave of ethno-geographic and religious populism across the region. This sweeping wave of populism consolidated for President Buhari a secure support base, with a cult-like following, which has birthed a far right political culture in Nigeria. Idolized as an infallible patriot and projected as a hero of anti-corruption whose actions or inactions cannot be subjected to checks and balances, President Buhari’s cult of personality constitutes a danger to Nigeria’s liberal constitutional democracy.
In the last six years since he has been in charge, President Buhari’s strong-arm approach to governance has been characterized by impunity and undue process, resulting in the weakening of state institutions. President Buhari’s elevation of sectionalism to a near state policy as seen in his unrestrained nepotism, cronyism and favouritism, has not only sharply polarised the country along ethno-geographic fault lines but has also deepened the scourge of corruption. The cumulative consequence of President Buhari’s misrule has been pervasive socio-economic dislocation to such an extent that Nigeria has become the heavily indebted poverty capital of the world, with half of its 200 million people miserably hungry. Under President Buhari’s watch, Nigeria’s security situation has degenerated to the level of becoming the third most terrorized country in the world.
Quite unlike some other benevolent dictators whose strong-arm approach to governance was deployed to accelerate the rapid socio-economic development of their countries, President Buhari is an archetypical African ruler who covets power for self-service. Having failed on the three-pronged campaign promise of fixing the economy, tackling corrupting and taming insecurity, President Buhari and his ruling APC are saddled with a huge baggage of incumbency disadvantage going into any electoral contest. Not one to give up power easily, President Buhari, a partisan purist who is committed to the supremacy of his ruling APC, has devised a means to hold on to power without the people through electoral subterfuge.
Away from electoral subterfuge, an atmosphere devoid of virile opposition in the current polity is a major contributory factor to the undue dominance of the ruling APC and unrestrained expansion of its electoral fortunes in the 2019 electoral season. If the PDP failed in power, it has failed more in opposition. The failure of the opposition PDP to sufficiently earn the trust and confidence of the Nigerian people as a better alternative to such an extent that allows it convert the incumbency disadvantage of the ruling APC to electoral advantage is aiding by default the slide of Nigeria into a state of fascist dictatorship.
Considering the amount of energy, time and emotion Nigerians invested in the 2015 democratic change revolution, the huge disappointment that the ruling APC has become is a blatant betrayal of the people’s trust. The gross violation of the social contract the ruling APC reached with the people as manifested in their making worse a bad Nigeria they inherited has dampened the exuberant spirit of democratic enthusiasm in Nigerians. The serial betrayal of the hope and aspirations of Nigerians for a Nigeria that works for them by the ruling class since 1999 has left them without any shred of emotional attachment to either the ruling APC or the opposition PDP. As far as Nigerians are concerned, both parties are one and the same in their misrule of Nigeria. This largely explains why vote buying has become rife in Nigeria’s political process, as Nigerians are only interested in the short-term contract of exchange of vote for money, which lapses on election day, as none of the contending parties can be trusted to abide by a four-year social contract for good governance.
To correct the defects in Nigeria’s liberal democracy is to apply more democracy. To dismantle the ruling APC behemoth and halt the slide of Nigeria to a one-party fascist state is for the opposition PDP to dig deeper into the democratic space and get the Nigerian people on its side. In a polity where state institutions have been compromised for the partisan advantage of the ruling party, only people power can defeat this aberration and safeguard the light of Nigeria’s liberal constitutional democracy from being extinguished. The PDP does not stand a chance of ever defeating the APC in the current turf of dirty politics. With the almighty federal might fully deployed to the advantage of the ruling APC in every election cycle, the PDP cannot match its main rival gun for gun and naira for naira.
Like a man trying to woo a serially jilted woman who has become frigid from lack of emotions with sweet words alone, press releases and multiple spokespersons criticizing every action or inaction of the ruling APC-led government alone cannot get the PDP the needed support of Nigerians. The opposition PDP will have to go the extra mile of thorough reforms and rebirth to a truly people-centred democratic party that is clearly distinguishable from the now degenerate APC. Whereas the APC is committed to partisan purism and party supremacy, the opposition PDP must be made distinguishable by its firm commitment to constitutional purism and fidelity to liberal democracy. Where the APC has become synonymous with impunity, the PDP should become an embodiment of the due process of the rule of law in all its activities.
To this end, the narrow structure of the PDP, which is often an exclusive preserve of party chieftains, should be broadened and made more people-inclusive. In order to enjoy substantial democratic legitimacy going into any electoral contest, the PDP will do well to jettison its current indirect delegate system of candidate selection, which is often on sale to the highest bidder, and adopt a direct form of primary election across board in strict compliance with its own rules. To further distinguish itself as an alternative that is worth the time, resources and energy of Nigerians, the PDP must transform from a power-grabbing machine like the APC into an ideological mass movement of patriots with the ultimate goal of making Nigeria work for all. This ideology must encapsulate the ideals of nation-building through unity, universal citizenship, freedom, equity, justice and fairness. Emanating from these fundamental ideals of nation-building should be a pragmatic solution in policy propositions for the integrated socio-economic development of Nigeria in a manner that is comprehensible to the majority of the Nigerian people by the PDP.
In a federal system of democratic government, opposition is best demonstrated than debated. To be taken seriously by Nigerians again, the opposition PDP must now be seen to be practicing what it preaches in the states it currently governs. In practical demonstration of its commitment to constitutional purism over APC’s partisan purism, all institutions in PDP-governed states must be made to work in line with the spirit and letter of their enabling laws without being subjected to compromise on political grounds. To this end, the principles of separation of powers should be entrenched, with the executive subjected to checks and balances of fully independent judiciary and legislature in PDP-governed states. In demonstrating a firm commitment to Nigeria’s liberal democracy, electoral management bodies in PDP states must be truly independent, with full guarantees of free and fair elections into local government councils, devoid of manipulation in whatever form to the advantage of the ruling party in the state to roll back the current trend of one-party states at the subnational level. In PDP-governed states, local government councils should be made autonomous, with statutory funds from the Federation Account into the state’s joint account fully disbursed to them without deducting a kobo.
At the centre, the opposition PDP legislators will have to be guided by the party to distinguish themselves as truly honourable by upholding high ethical and moral self-conduct in the business of legislation for the good governance of Nigeria. When the Nigerian people are able to differentiate a rotten mango from a fresh one, they will choose wisely.
Nigerians, including those in INEC, the military and police, desire good governance and they will reject money in exchange for rotten mangoes and pay from their pocket to accept fresh mangoes.
The starting point of this all-important reform of the opposition PDP is the replacement of the current party apparatchik in Wadata Plaza with a philosophically sophisticated leadership that can guide the party to save itself from extinction and prevent the extinguishing of the flickering light of Nigeria’s liberal democracy.