Unending weak political opposition in Nigeria ,by Tonnie Iredia

After twenty-five years of unbroken civilian governments in Nigeria, one can easily imagine that the country is getting settled as a democracy. But whereas a civilian government rather than a military regime is more likely to be democratic, civilian rule in Nigeria and indeed in several parts of Africa are far from adhering to democratic practices. In truth, what obtains in many African countries is authoritarian democracy. The causative factors are many. Poorly organized political parties, prevalent poverty, commercialized politics, election rigging and the tendency for those in power to decimate op- ponents so as to remain in pow- er perpetually.
However, Nigeria has several societal institutions and pres- sure groups that can check the trend; but one after the other, the groups are fast withering away. First, the volatile university teachers’ union that always led in protesting any poor government policy is now overwhelmed with the fight for its own survival following its emasculation by government. Other civil society groups that occasionally draw attention to the failures of government to remain democratic do not have what it takes to popularize their observations. What they say hardly sticks. The media which has organs of mass communication for effective public enlightenment are virtually hounded. Each time any media professional raises a critical post, the law enforcement agencies are used to silence the critic. This happens more often at state government level notwithstanding that Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution explicitly mandates the media to hold government accountable to the people.
The entire landscape for checking the excesses of government is therefore left to the opposition political parties. Unfortunately, such parties are never more than one or two as all others exist only on paper. Since the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party PDP and the Labour Party LP have remained the only major opposition parties. One simple mistake of both parties has been an undue focus on the next presidential election in 2027. Only Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi who were the candidates of both parties respectively have been the ones speaking or making any move that provides some evidence that they may contest again; thereby turning opposition politics into a personality affair. Not much is done in what should have been a daily robust evaluation and analysis of government policies item by item that can push office-holders into retracing some of their steps or be cautious of their next move.
The off-season elections which would have been used to further shore-up the opposition parties are handled casually. The governorship election holding shortly in Edo state confirms the point. Although the PDP is the ruling party in the state, there are still two rival groups within the PDP in the state since 2020. This should have by now made Atiku and the national working committee of the party to pause a bit on the national mirror and move to Benin City to resolve all intra-party grievances that would strengthen the party for the coming election. It is as if the saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand makes little sense to politicians. Otherwise, how come the series of crises that the LP has been going through are yet to fizzle out even if it is for the sake of the Edo election that is just two months away?
At the national level, there is no evidence of cohesion by any of the two opposition political parties. Although the several reforms of the Tinubu-led APC government have hit many Nigerians to a position of dissatisfaction with the government, the opposition parties have remained docile. Many of their members are practically lost over current political happenings in the country. A few of them who appear occasionally on television programmes to make some negative comments about public policies are hardly understood as holding government in check. Instead, most of them present a picture of individual articulation with no coordination by their parties to use their presentations as a basis for projecting the failings of government. Indeed, many of such public commentators leave one with a posture of publicity seeking individuals.
The opposition political par- ties have thus failed to follow the methodology of the APC when it was in the opposition. It would be recalled that the APC first spent ample time to emerge as a merger of some parties to present a formidable opposition for the purpose of ousting the then ruling PDP. Thereafter, the party designed a powerful propaganda machinery which on a daily basis sought to establish what they called the cluelessness of the Goodluck Jonathan’s government. During those periods, Lai Mohammed the publicity secretary of the group was so effective that it was difficult to take away from him the position of minister of information when the party was declared winner of the 2015 election.
The then APC did not only speak, their members including the aged led street protests to underscore their point against government policies thereby mobilizing Nigerians into an anti-government frenzy. Today, what the PDP which is now the main opposition party is busy doing is not holding government accountable but explaining that there are no factions within its own party but mere disagreements that the party is working assiduously to resolve. For more than one year, all the said plans of uniting the party have changed nothing about the status of the party on ground. In the case of the LP, what the nation is told often is that there is a difference between the party and the ‘obedients’ as if the latter has a legal status for sponsoring candidates for an election. One would have thought that as an emerging major party, the focus of the LP would have been on how to grow beyond a party led by a charismatic leader to that which in addition has viable structures and processes.
From the zero-sum nature of the game of politics in Nigeria, it is obvious that career politicians who have been displaced from government into the opposition stand a little chance of participating in the task of holding government in check. One reason for this is that Nigerian politicians are not re- ally bothered about whatever parties they find themselves. Instead, their preoccupation is political office or positions for getting wealthy. This explains the indiscriminate defections from one party to the other at the slightest opportunity. The ease with which even legislators who are constitutionally disallowed from defecting still do so suggests that material benefits is what matters most to politicians – a trend that has long been so.
A good example of the inherent lack of faith in any political party by its members is best exemplified by the case of Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party ANPP, for the presidential election of 2007.
As soon the results were declared, Buhari promptly went to court to seek redress hav- ing found so much wrong with the election. While he was still in court, the chairman and executive members of his party including his running mate, without his knowledge and consent reached a working agreement with the ruling party which made some of them ministers. Buhari only got to know after the tribunal dismissed his petition. The bitter experience made him to remain alone in his politics of principles in a party whose members would readily sell their party for personal gains. Who says the current ruling party may not also adopt the strategy of weakening any opposition party when necessary?
The luck the opposition parties have for now is that the ruling party is still busy con- solidating itself nationwide. If the opposition parties remain lukewarm over unpopular public policies, their first shock in the new year – less than six months away, would be the concerted effort of the ruling party to use its incumbency to frustrate their opponents as the 2027 general elections get closer. One simple strategy of the party would be to use its majority in the National Assembly to retain the loopholes in the Electoral Act and in fact introduce many bogus reforms that would make the 2027 election a one- party affair. That can easily happen in an atmosphere where in exchange for more welfare, government bills can be passed before they are read. It is probably at that point that Nigerians would realize the threat to democracy which weak opposition political parties portend.

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