By Wilfred Eya
To many critical observers of events in the country since 2015 when the All Progressives Congress(APC) led by President Muhammadu Buhari won the general elections, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has substantially failed as an opposition party. That is hardly contestable. Indeed, the general impression is that the political party, hitherto touted as the largest in Africa has not put the APC on its toes despite the obvious shortcomings of the ruling party since it took over the mantle of leadership from former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Of course, the main role of any opposition party is to question the government of the day and hold the leaders accountable to the public. Its responsibility includes but not limited to helping fix the mistakes of the ruling party and equally upholding the best interests of the people of the country. Ideally, the opposition comprises one or more political parties or other organized groups that are opposed, primarily ideologically, to the government. In the case of Nigeria, having earlier dominated power for 16 years and currently having about 15 incumbent governors, the PDP is the only party that has what it takes to qualify as an opposition party.
But many are surprised that it has been incapable of putting enough pressure on the APC which has failed on its three-pronged campaign promises of fixing the economy, tackling corrupting and taming insecurity.
The situation was completely different when the APC was in the opposition as it gave sleepless nights to the PDP which was the ruling party then. In the calculation of many, if the roles of the two main parties were to be reversed, that is assuming that what is happening in Nigeria today is under the PDP, the APC would have literally brought the roof down. There are many facts on ground to feast on by the opposition party.
From inception on February 6, 2013, when the APC was formed ahead of the 2015 general elections, its activities were clearly as a shadow government to the PDP. There is no gainsaying that APC’s relentless opposition to President Jonathan’s administration culminated in the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The momentum of opposition started from the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) led by former Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu. Many would agree that the build up to PDP’s electoral woes was started by ACN which played a pivotal role as a strong opposition party in Lagos and spread to other South-West states.
Recall the January 2, 2012 protests tagged Occupy Nigeria? Yes, they were essentially plots by the ACN, which had then positioned itself as a party that had the interest of the masses at heart.
Prior to the 2015 general elections, opposition parties had never upstaged any incumbent administration but the alliance of prominent political parties such as ACN, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) into a formidable opposition(APC), marked a new era in Nigeria’s democracy.
The merger engendered a wave of populism for President Buhari and caused a cult-like following, hence, ahead of 2015, he was idolised as an infallible patriot and a hero of anti-corruption.
But six years down the line, many agree that both President Buhari and his party have largely failed to meet the expectations of the people even halfway.
The contention in many quarters is that President Buhari’s strong arm approach to governance has led to impunity resulting in the weakening of state institutions. Also, his elevation of sectionalism to a near state policy as seen in his skewed appointments has not only polarised the country along ethno-religious fault lines but has unarguably deepened the scourge of corruption. In the estimation of critical observers, the cumulative consequence of misrule by the present government has caused the current pervasive socio-economic dislocation with Nigeria becoming a heavily indebted nation and poverty capital of the world. Also, under President Buhari’s watch, Nigeria’s security situation has degenerated so badly that it is now adjudged the third most terrorized country in the world.
So, with the gloomy state of affairs occasioned by the shortcomings of the present administration, the PDP as the opposition party has enough to talk about.
But for PDP as an opposition party to dismantle the APC behemoth and halt the slide of Nigeria into a-one party state, it should dig deeper into the democratic space and get the Nigerian people once again on its side. The whole idea is that in a polity where state institutions have been compromised for the partisan advantage of the ruling party, only the people’s power can help the PDP regain the lost confidence of the citizens.
Not a few believe that from the body language of the APC, one thing is certain; except the PDP assumes its full role of the opposition, it does not stand a chance of ever defeating the ruling party in the current turf of dirty politics and governance by propaganda. From 2015 till date, it has become crystal clear that with the federal might fully deployed to the advantage of the ruling APC in every election cycle, it would be preposterous to imagine that the PDP will easily wrest power from the ruling party.
Analysts insist that the PDP needs to go the extra mile in true reforms for a people-centred democratic party that is clearly distinguishable from the APC. Also, where the ruling APC has become synonymous with impunity, the opposition PDP should become an embodiment of due process of the rule of law in all its activities.
Surprisingly, rather than adopt a potent strategy to wrest power from the APC, members of the main opposition parties take the easy route by defecting to the ruling party.
But speaking on the perceived failure of the PDP as an opposition party, the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbodiyan disagreed with those who think that the opposition is not doing enough to put the APC on its toes.
He said that what the APC did as an opposition party like the events preceding 2015 were pure brigandage which the PDP as a national party does not subscribe to.
Ologbodiyan said the main opposition party has however demystified the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari, and exposed him as a man lacking the capacity and competence to lead Nigeria.
He said that the PDP believes in constructive engagement and not brigandage which is the free style of the ruling party.
He said: “People should know that we are faced with a vicious government. They should not forget that we came from a situation of 10/11 states and grew to about 17 states.
Even now, majority of people know that our presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar won the last presidential election. So, the difference is that while we believe in constructive engagement, the APC adopted brigandage as a style of opposition.”
Corroborating Ologbodiyan’s reaction, the PDP spokesman in the 2019 general elections, Segun Sowunmi said the opposition party is conscious of the volatility of the nation and does not want it to be further pushed to the edge.
He described the APC administration as quite insensitive, hence, the need to be cautious because of the fragility of the country.
Sowunmi urged members of the Civil Society to help the PDP install a good government like what recently happened in the United States where the people came together irrespective of party differences to remove President Donald Trump.
But the APC does not agree with both Ologbodiyan and Sowunmi. Recently, it said the PDP is failing in its roles as the country’s main opposition party.
It based part of its reasons on the recent defection of some members of the main opposition party to the APC.
The ruling party even noted that Nigeria was becoming a one-party state and therefore challenged other parties to replace the PDP in playing the role of the opposition.
In a statement, the APC acting spokesperson, Yekini Nabena said: “It is disheartening that the PDP is pushing Nigeria into a largely one-party state. As a party that believes in democracy and progressive politics, the APC does not subscribe to this.
“We, therefore, challenge other opposition political parties to take the place of the PDP because even as the governing party, we recognize the importance of rigorous and intelligent interrogation of our policies and programmes by the opposition which the PDP has woefully failed to do.”
From Nabena’s statement, the APC was obviously basking in the euphoria of the recent defections of some PDP members to its fold. For instance, between July and November 2020, at least four prominent members of the PDP have dumped the party for APC, with most of them faulting the main opposition party’s leadership in their respective states.
Some members of the PDP that recently joined the APC include the Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi; Adamawa North Senator, Elisha Abbo; the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara while an ex-PDP national chairperson, Barnabas Gemade, and two-time APGA governorship candidate, Alex Otti, switched allegiance to the ruling APC.
While some Nigerians have ascribed the defections to the 2023 presidential race, the APC has continued to allude to the alleged progressive performance of its administration across board.
The APC also identified lack of confidence in the main opposition party as the core reason for its members’ defection.
In all, analysts are in agreement that the atmosphere devoid of a virile opposition in the current polity is a major factor for the undue dominance of the ruling APC and expansion of its electoral fortunes in the 2019 general elections despite its shortcomings. And for critical observers, the PDP has not only failed in power but even more as an opposition party.