Nigeria’s wrong notion of opposition politics, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

As tributes poured in for the super politician and statesman, Senator John McCain after his death recently, one of the archival materials that resonated with the world was when he (McCain) reprimanded one of his supporters who called  Barack Obama, his opponent, names and doubted his identity. In a widely circulated video, and at a McCain rally in 2008, a woman, in an extreme show of loyalty to McCain’s cause went overboard when she said: “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he is an Arab”, to which McCain retorted: “No ma’am, he (Obama) is a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that is what this campaign is all about”. Defending Obama elsewhere in a hate-filled 2008 presidential race over race and religion, McCain said “he (Obama) is a decent person that you do not have to be scared of… I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, I will respect him. I want everyone to be respectful, and let’s make sure we are. Because that’s the way politics should be conducted in America”.

 Here in Nigeria, politics is not about issues as they relate to the wellbeing of the society, but more to do with personalities and their self-aggrandisement.

Our brand of opposition politics dwells on inconsequential matters that can’t engender debates on issues with positive impact for the country.

Although the advent of the cantankerous Donald Trump and his attitude of denigrating opponents and the media is fast changing the face of American politics, there exists a gulf of difference between opposition politics in Nigeria and that of America.

As the 2019 election beckons, we are daily regaled with only defections from and to either APC or PDP, without as much thoughts for the country’s progress.

When the British Prime Minister, Teresa May said in South Africa that Nigeria harboured the world’s poorest people, it was never on the top burner of national discourse. By the following day, she was in Nigeria, and was given a red-carpet treatment without any group/party taking her up on her assertion. 

It is normal for the opposition to hold government accountable, and could disagree on policy direction, governance and welfare etc. However, the extent to which PDP is taking a swipe at what ordinarily is APC’s internal squabble is ridiculously annoying.  Tell me, what is the PDP’s scruples with how APC conducts their primaries; whether direct or indirect, in the open or in secrecy? Why is PDP taking Panadol for APC’s headaches? Of all the frivolous knee-jerk reactions to APC matters, this clearly missed the point.

PDP spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan while reacting to the still brewing controversy over APC primaries said: “Having eliminated contest within the APC, the presidency, which is now apprehensive of apathy against President Buhari due to his increasing unpopularity, plots to import non-members of the party … to create an impression of overwhelming popularity for Mr President and use that to validate the fictitious votes they are conjuring for the presidential election. The PDP is reliably informed that this rigging plot is the reason, APC aspirants to the position, especially APC state governors, are demanding for direct primaries instead of indirect primaries earlier approved for them by their party”, the PDP said.

This is in addition to other weighty and unsubstantiated allegations of compromise by INEC officials. If there is any rigging of the primary election of the APC, it is not the business of the opposition but members of the party. How does the primary election of a political party affect the general election, just as I’m confused on why the primaries which is almost a done deal for Buhari, and which by convention in Nigeria the incumbent has the first right of refusal, should be a talking point for the PDP, of all issues begging for attention in the country at the moment.

Their attitude smirks of lack of coordination or inability of the opposition to articulate issues of national importance to which people are rallied.

PDP and other opposition parties should talk sparingly, and only when it is absolutely necessary. Instead they should consult, organize and strategise more on how to win back the hearts of Nigerians. Condemning every step of the ruling party is not constructive and cannot serve the PDP’s interest. What will stand it in good stead is to task the government on good governance and take it up on bad policies. A good example of what the PDP should be talking about is the president’s refusal to assent to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) and the Electoral Amendment Bill without convincing reasons. The PIGB has been in the works for 12 years before the current National Assembly split it into four parts for ease of implementation, PIGB being the first in the series. It was meant to bring about sanity in the running of the petroleum sector, upscale it to international best practice and minimize the cult-like secrecy of its operations.

The Electoral Amendment Bill was geared towards improving and legalizing the use of electronic devices including the card reader which former INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega had introduced before the last general election.  That singular act paved the way for the free and fair election that ushered in the current government. What then is the president afraid of? Why did he withhold his assent? Why is he reluctant to improve on the good of the past? Is governance all about fighting the opposition in the name of fighting corruption? These are questions PDP should be asking. The government of the day said the over $300 Abacha loot will be disbursed to the poor. Other than civil societies, is any group or PDP trailing the disbursement. Is opposition all about taking power at the centre?

These and more are issues that should engage the attention of the opposition PDP and not what APC has in its closets, although the latter is not immune from such inanities and faltering too.

There should be decorum, decency, and believability in order to avoid scornful rebuke from Nigerians, just as our own form of democracy will not grow to maturity with mediocre government and mediocre opposition we have continued to produce in the country.

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