Here, LEON USIGBE examines the controversy over the ability of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to fulfill its role as the main opposition party.
Senate Minority Leader, Eyinnaya Abaribe, was confronted with a question recently at the Wadata Plaza, Abuja national secretariat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Why does it appear that the party is a shallow opposition as compared to what the All Progressives Congress (APC) was in opposition?
His response was that there is no basis of comparison between the two because, according to him, the APC was formed out of anger and by angry people who were propelled mainly by the urge to seize power with scant consideration for the wellbeing of the country. He argued that the PDP had remained a responsible opposition that would not emulate the “bring down syndrome” that he said afflicted the former opposition party.
Prior to the 2015 general election and with the economy nose-diving, the APC came up with the message of “change” as against the PDP campaign of “continuity.” The main opposition at the time was thought to have successfully tarred the PDP with “corruption and incompetence” toga and these claims were so forcefully projected that they appeared to have resonated with the voting public, the fact that the “change” promised by the APC was never clearly enunciated, neither was the ideological differences between the two main political parties explicitly defined.
The APC also aggressively recruited prominent PDP members with promises of important positions, cashing in on the internal crisis in the then ruling party, particularly over the insistence of President Goodluck Jonathan to recontest despite strong agitations that power should shift to the north. Pundits agree that the APC had a mastery of feeding on the general economic discontent and the disgruntlement of the PDP politicians.Despite Abaribe’s proposition, many observers are of the opinion that the PDP has not managed to demonstrate the capacity of a viable opposition since its ouster from government six years ago. They say with the economy at its lowest level of performance, galloping inflation causing hunger and starvation among many families, and security crisis seemingly out of control, and the country drifting beyond all reasonable expectations, yet, the opposition has been unable to provide a simple, clear enough and effective messaging that will as well resound with Nigerians on the miserable conditions they face.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan disagrees with this. He, however, agrees with Abaribe that the APC as an opposition cared less about the welfare of the country. “First, we must understand that what Nigerians see as opposition party or what they use as a measure of opposition politics is what they witnessed pre-2015 election. But that, in truth, is not opposition. That was brigandage because the people who came to do opposition then were not interested in nationhood. They never cared if you needed to bring down the nation or if you needed to collapse the nation.”
“For instance, all the issue about hate speech, hate remarks were introduced during that their opposition and today, it has become impossible to halt that process. So, what they did was brigandage. The Peoples Democratic Party, because we had been in government for 16 years, because we know the values of this nation, because we understand the nuances of our country, we are not going to do the kind of destructive opposition that the APC did. We will be constructive,” the party spokesman told the Sunday Tribune.
“You can see some of what we are suffering as Nigerians today are the fallout of the manner of opposition that they (APC) did. For instance, we were having for the first time in our history as a people the issue of insurgency in the northeast and the PDP administration then went all out to seek solution including the hiring of mercenaries, including going underground to get equipment that they would use to fight the war.
But what did the APC do then? Those who claimed then to be in the opposition. They told the world that they should not help Nigeria, that there were human rights abuses. They told the world that the government then was going to the black market to buy equipment and they should be stopped. And they stopped them and seized their funds. Despite that, it is the equipment that the government got then that we are using today,” Ologbondiyan further submitted.
The PDP, national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, is confident that Nigerians already have the message because, given the appalling state of the nation, they would not need further convincing that the APC has been a scam. He also reassures that why the PDP would not copy the APC, the opposition has its plans on brand messaging that would be developed for the coming elections.
But with the general election less than two years away, many Nigerians would expect to see an opposition that is able to fulfill its role in the country’s democracy and provide a viable alternative to the ruling party. They would want to see an opposition that not only constantly criticizes government policies but scrutinises how they are implemented and even engages in the possibility of apprising the electorate of alternative policies and implementation strategies. Political analysts say to save Nigeria’s democracy, it will require an opposition that must be able to stimulate the electorate to take more than just a passing interest in elections and government business, an opposition that gives clarity to political issues of the day and make distinction between choices available to voters, and an opposition that is capable of mobilising the people to stand up to a government that may become too power and intent on crushing dissenting voices.
Is the PDP able to fulfill this role? Ologbondiyan thinks so. “At any point in time, where we need as a people to go to the streets to ensure that we draw the attention of this government to their failures, we will do that. But every activity we are going to do will be within the confines of the law. We are not going to engage in destructive opposition that the APC did.”
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