By Salihu Moh. Lukman
What is the Nigerian political opposition all about? Is it simply about not being in current government? Or is it about not being in good terms with functionaries of government and to that extent in opposition to leaders of the ruling party? Do Nigerian political opposition have any defining or distinguishing value that differentiate them from today’s functionaries of government and leaders of the Nigerian ruling party? Are there any programmatic attributes or claims associated with Nigerian opposition politics? Is there any intellectual content to Nigerian opposition politics, latent or manifest? What is the difference between PDP, on the one hand and ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA - APC, on the other? With APC still in the political production mill, should Nigerians expect it – APC – to come with any defining or distinguishing attribute?
It is almost certain that attempts to answer these questions would highlight the strong likelihood that Nigerian political opposition is an expedient categorization mainly associated with Nigerian politicians that are outside government. It is mainly a reflection of where politicians stand in relations to especially the federal government. As a result, even so-called members of the ruling PDP, presiding over some of the states, have come to acquire the status of being opposition politicians. Even functionaries of other arms of the federal government, such as the legislative arm, on account of poor relations with the federal government can be rightly regarded as opposition politicians irrespective of partisan affiliation.
The reality is that Nigerian opposition politics is not about any claim to value or programme commitment. Thus, the temperament and feature of Nigerian opposition politics is predominantly informed by lack of patronage, accommodation and tolerance on both sides – government functionaries and opposition politicians. There are many politicians in today’s PDP federal government that were at some point leaders of the Nigerian opposition, just as there are many Nigerian opposition politicians that were in PDP federal government and handled their responsibilities in implementing PDP government’s programmes with missionary zeal. With hardly any substantial change in orientation, yesterday’s zealots have become today’s opposition leaders, opposition leaders have become very loyal government functionaries.
Against the background that today’s federal government has directed the nation more towards increasing poverty, inequality, unemployment, poor or absence of services, etc. disdain and anger are citizens’ attitude to the ruling party. With such attitude, popularity of Nigerian opposition politics is on the increase and there is almost every certainty that given an atmosphere of free and fair elections, the ruling PDP will be thrown out of government. Political opposition in Nigeria is therefore very popular and with current APC merger negotiation, there is a growing feeling among Nigerians that the days of PDP as ruling party are numbered.
The key question that Nigerian opposition politicians need to answer is what difference will they make in the living conditions of Nigerians when eventually they emerged as the ruling party in 2015? In other words, what is the human welfare content of our new APC government? Given the unfortunate absence of ideological commitment in Nigerian politics and the fact that there is hardly any discernible distinction in terms of policy orientations of our political parties represented by each of the state governments they control, discussions of the welfare contents of governments have been very prejudiced and weak. It is largely reduced to political claims by political leaders with little empirical content. Are there specific economic and programmatic content in the current APC merger negotiations to signal new governance and economic reality? If there are, how committed are the Nigerian opposition politicians to the envisioned new governance and economic reality?
Considering that the APC merger negotiations are still ongoing and its manifesto is yet to be finalized, or at least so it appears, to what extent are our Nigerian opposition politicians’ ready to commit themselves to key governance and economic framework for the country? Would such commitment depart from current PDP orientation? What are even the PDP commitments anyway?
No doubt, PDP commitment is fluid. The best articulation is contained in the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) and the corresponding State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (SEEDS) during the Obasanjo administration. Subsequent attempt to articulate it into Vision 20-2020 development programme was truncated by a lifeless 7-point agenda of the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration. Current transformation agenda of GEJ administration has not substantially provided a clear governance and economic commitment. The result is that governance is reduced to propaganda and in practical terms emerging as a criminal theatre for corrupt enrichment of functionaries and loyalists.
To be very nice would be to portray PDP approach to handling governance and economic framework as a conservative agenda that promote individual accumulation, private ownership (mainly money and not enterprise), rent-seeking, etc. on a criminal scale. The fact of its criminality has meant executive (and of course legislative) lawlessness resulting in the current near state of anarchy in the country. Everything is driven by exercise of crude force, which reduced human life to virtually nothing.
The growing expectations of Nigerians are that opposition politicians organized under APC will develop governance and economic responses to this calamitous national situation. The hope is that it would substantially depart from simplistic financial management to the realm of wealth creation. Partly promoted by international donor agencies, it needs to be acknowledged that strategies for improved financial management have helped strengthened financial discipline in the management of public resources at all levels. However, they have been weak in promoting policy choices. Clear policy commitments offered by APC focusing on halting the current criminal scale of individual accumulation, private ownership (mainly money and not enterprise), rent-seeking, etc. are the national expectation. It is not just about voting GEJ and PDP out of government but that it should result in a radical shift to, at the minimum, a situation where the departure of GEJ and PDP out of the federal government would translate into a new leaf in governance and economic life of the entity called Nigeria and its citizens.
Given current merger negotiations leading to the emergence of APC therefore, the challenge of promoting choices in the polity and based on that expand the frontiers of economic development should take a central stage. So far, it is too early to make any judgment because the negotiations are ongoing. There is however the risk that governance and economic programmes may be taken for granted given that negotiations so far are dominated by the need to contract agreement more in terms of mechanical unity and in the process overlook specific governance and economic programme content needed to make any potential APC government different from PDP.
Also given the fact of political opposition in Nigeria being more a factor of poor relationship with the federal government, APC leaders must take steps to contract clear governance and economic commitment. Such a commitment must at the minimum address issues of criminal individual accumulation, private ownership (mainly money and not enterprise), rent-seeking, etc. In some ways, a shift from criminal individual accumulation, private ownership (mainly money and not enterprise), rent-seeking, etc. to primitive individual accumulation, private ownership (enterprise), etc. founded on legality could represent a progressive governance and economic shift.
For Nigerians, the challenge is not so much about how such governance and economic programme is articulated but more in terms of the competence of APC as represented by today’s Nigerian opposition politicians to deliver. This worry is more justified by a combination of two factors. The first is that Nigerian opposition politicians are only predominantly driven by poor relations with the federal government and not because of any defining, distinguishing and historical attribute. The absence of defining, distinguishing or historical attributes could simply translate into the same governance and economic disposition that may come with criminality.
The second issue is that there is nothing so far in the colouration of Nigerian opposition that represents some common characteristics, harmony or semblance of unity. Even in terms of state governments controlled by the opposition parties negotiating the merger – ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA, there is hardly any common governance and economic feature. The closest is ACN’s free education programmes based on its leaning to Awoist philosophy. In so many respects, it is more a reflection of individual state government’s initiative. There is no guiding party programme. Partly because of the absence of guiding party programme, the approach of Lagos State is different from that of Ekiti, Osun, Oyo, Ogun and Edo. To what extent are the merger negotiations therefore conceptualizing free education as APC programme commitment? In what ways could Nigerians expect that APC governments at all levels will be bonded by specific unambiguous programmes commitment such as free education given that ACN is one of the parties in the negotiation?
In relation to ANPP, with three state governments (Borno, Yobe and Zamfara), it is doubtful if they can be associated with any unifying governance or economic philosophy. Perhaps since they originated the introduction of shari’a legal system in states controlled by the ANPP between 1999 and 2007, shari’a could be the governance and economic philosophy of their governments. With the current insurgencies being experienced in most states in Northern parts of the country and its religious character as one that is coming with professed commitment to shari’a, even among Muslims, the issue of shari’a would elicit some scrutiny.
Besides, the facts of shari’a imposition in our Northern states led by ANPP governments being largely informed by political exigencies based on survival strategies for elected officials without that translating into improved living conditions for citizens, negotiations bordering on the adoption of shari’a as a party programme will be highly unpopular, if not politically suicidal. Besides, the inability of the federal and state governments to bring the problem of religiously-originated insurgencies under control will undermine its marketability as a party programme.
As for CPC, largely because it has only a state government (Nasarawa) that only came to power two years ago, very little can be said other than the fact that it makes no specific claim to governance or economic philosophy. The same could be said about Okorocha-led APGA with its control of Imo state. In which case, Nigerians will be more justified to argue that the difference between PDP and these parties are more in terms of the personalities.
The excitement of Nigerians about APC and the potential it represent is more in terms of the expectation for it to come with a governance and economic programme commitment that are capable of solving all the intricate problems facing the nation, especially issues of improved citizens’ welfare leading to reduced inequality, poverty and unemployment. Such a commitment should come from the party – APC – and just expressed based on individual preferences of leading functionaries of government. Party commitment to specific governance and economic programmes have potentials to influence the choice of party candidates and on account of the pressure it will exert, force party leaders to be interested in matters of delivery.
One of the strong demobilisers in Nigerian politics in terms of economic development is the fact that programmes are largely absent. The major consideration is basically access to money by all means. The details are very glaring. Corrupt individuals, mediocres and even criminals have been vested with political leadership in this country. Is APC going to change that?
It is paramount that Nigerian opposition politicians positively respond to this challenge. In doing so, it is not about taking undue advantage of the disdain and anger of Nigerians against PDP and based on that just railroad itself into power without any governance and economic programme commitment. It is also not about declarations. Therefore, it is more about documented commitment articulated in APC constitution and manifesto. In addition, it has to come with personal belief in which the leadership of APC will become both the torchbearers and symbols.
These are matters for formal recognition and not informal, driven more by contractual obligation and not just trust. It is important that these conditions are met from the beginning especially given that the high expectations on APC is more as a result of the charisma of the leaders of the parties negotiating the merger – ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA. Like the parties, these leaders have no unifying governance or economic philosophy or attributes.
Given the dynamic reality that principal leaders may hardly go beyond advisory and moral responsibilities, and even if they do, may not include being drivers of government, our principal leaders need to demonstrate superior levels of commitment to the future of the entity called Nigeria by ensuring that APC emerged with strong governance and economic programme commitment. There may be the temptation to project trust based on assumption of loyalty. Without however going into details, experiences of Gen. Buhari between 2003 and today with opposition politicians saddled to manage state governments should be a wakeup call. Our political experience since 1999 demonstrate that this must never be taken for granted again.
Therefore, given high and rising levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment in the country, APC’s governance and economic programme commitment must offer a new reality that seek to improve the welfare and guarantee the well being of Nigerians by drastically reducing levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment. Beyond contracting political relations with citizens, APC need to come with a programme design that seek to engender new forms of economic relations between Nigerians and their governments at all levels. The programme design must clearly outline issues of how production will be stimulated and the strategy that will drive value change and progression from primary to higher production levels. Mechanisation, industrialization, etc. programmes should be strategically located as integral component of the APC governance and economic agenda and not abstract and largely donor-driven governance programmes.
With such governance and economic programme commitment, Nigerians can then expect that all local and state governments controlled by APC would undertake some specific programmes ranging from education, healthcare delivery, agriculture, housing, industrial development, etc. The fact of such commitment and its expression in the political belief system should translate into some accelerated shifts in the practice from a situation whereby Nigerian political leaders go abroad for medical treatment (mainly Asia, Middle East, Europe, North America and recently some African countries) and send their children to school in these countries to a new reality to be stimulated by APC government whereby our citizens’ and leaders’ educational and healthcare needs can be met here in Nigeria.
These cannot be delivered based on trust; they are not matters for declaration; they require clear governance and economic programme commitments. With such commitments, history will forever be kind to our today’s Nigerian opposition leaders and Nigerians of all generation will remain grateful to them for rising up to the challenge of today’s governance. On account of the strength of commitment and clarity of obligation, our history shall make special acknowledgement of today’s Nigerian opposition politicians and all actors shall have a special individual recognition in terms of their contributions as individuals who helped pulled the nation from a situation where government is reduced to virtually a criminal theatre for the corrupt enrichment of functionaries and loyalists to one in which governments and functionaries are equated with services that translate to improved citizens’ welfare and guaranteed well being. And APC shall be a party for all times capable of responding to citizens’ welfare needs and aspirations. That is the defining, distinguishing and lifelong attributes Nigerians look forward to in APC!
(Lukman can be reached on: email@example.com)