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Rescuing Nigeriaís Political Opposition from the Wilderness

By Franklin Otorofani, Esq.   Published April 14th, 2009

Presently, Nigeriaís political opposition is legally entrenched and institutionalized in over 40 mushrooming political contraptions masquerading as political parties, which in reality, are no more than social clubs formed to receive unearned and therefore underserved subventions or grants from the government through the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). It is needless to state that the subventions or grants invariably end up in private pockets in the name of political parties. These dubious political formations, like bears, hibernate in the winter of politics only to reappear in the spring to collect government subventions or grants; make plenty of political noise while it lasts, and quickly disappear again into wintry hibernation for the rest of the political season. Theyíre seasonal preys.

As with everything Nigerian, registration of political parties, much like registration of companies and business names, has been turned into veritable instruments of fraud and conduit pipes for siphoning public funds into private pockets. Our nation has been systematically raped and plundered by all manners of opportunistic social clubs donning the tags of political parties. They have with no plans, no programs, no value added, but total liabilities on the nation. The sad aspect of it all is that these fraudulent organizations are operating under the cover of the law!

The traditional role of the opposition is to act as the peopleís watchdog and constantly keep the ruling parties on its toes by challenging bad or unpopular government policies and proffering alternative policy prescriptions. This role was competently and consistently played by the AG and UPN under the leadership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the First and Second Republics. Unfortunately both republics have turned out to be golden eras of Nigerian democracy. Nigerian democracy has suffered severe degradation. Political contractors and charlatans have invaded the nation with both the ruling party and the opposition having their fair shares. Ordinarily, when the ruling party fails to deliver itís the opposition that steps in to make a difference. That is the whole point about democracy. Today, however, the opposition in Nigeria is missing in action and appears to have abandoned the Nigerian people to the whims and caprices of the ruling party. The totally compromised opposition parties have abandoned their traditional role as the peopleís watchdog in parliament and instead conspired with the ruling party to plunder the nation in the name of Government of National Unity (GNU), which is more of a partnership of corruption than of political leadership. The opposition is therefore complicit in the mal-administration of the ruling party in Nigeria. The two promising political parties in the pack of the opposition toolkits---the AC and ANPP headed by discredited individuals offer no consolation to the nation due to the fact that theyíre nothing but mirror images of the ruling party, the Peopleís Democratic Party (PDP). It would appear that whatever the PDP did on a grand scale the opposition parties would replicate on a smaller scale. If the PDP was accused of election rigging, the opposition parties were just as guilty, albeit on a smaller scale. If the PDP was accused of lack of internal democracy and the imposition of candidates on the electorate, the opposition parties did not even pretend otherwise. As if to outdo the PDP, the opposition parties summarily imposed candidates on the electorate across the board. Anyone who watched the charades tagged "Conventions" by the AC and ANPP respectively, to coronate Atiku and Buhari, would readily subscribe to the view that they were poor imitations of the prior PDP Convention in Abuja. And again, if the PDP was accused of lack of performance and mal-administration which are all valid charges, the opposition parties offered even worse alternatives. From Sokoto to Abia, Lagos to Jigawa, Kano to Taraba, and every other state in between controlled by the opposition, the landscape is littered with records of broken promises, anti-democratic bearings and mal-administration by opposition parties in power, not altogether different from the records of PDP governors.

In other words, the tragedy of leadership in Nigeria, manifested in broken promises and developmental deficits, is not at all limited to the ruling party at the center but a generalized leadership pathology that has afflicted the entire body politic. Itís a contagion that has infected all politicians and political parties operating within the highly compromised Nigerian political environment. This being the case therefore, it would appear self-serving and delusional for the AC and the ANPP to exhibit sanctimonious attitudes in the face of their own democratic shortcomings and developmental deficits in states controlled by them. Were the ANPP headed by General Buhari to become the ruling party at the center, itís perhaps fair to conjecture that its performance would have been anything but salutary going by Buhariís antecedent when he was at the helm as military dictator and his dictatorial bent even now, so copiously displayed at the ANPP Convention. The same is equally true of the AC headed by a man with clouds of corruption hanging over his head who has not entirely convinced us about his democratic credentials. Former VP, Abubakar Atiku was part and parcel of the undemocratic practices of the ruling party at the center, which practices he has not surprisingly imported to the Action Congress, his new party. There are therefore no valid reasons whatsoever to expect better performance from the present AC or ANPP leadership than currently offered by the PDP at the center.

That the opposition parties have turned out to be no more than PDP copycats is not entirely surprising given the fact that theyíre not ideologically distinguishable from the PDP and therefore bereft of any alternative governing and/or developmental principles that set them apart from the ruling party at the center. The present political parties in Nigeria are distinguishable from one another not by any over-aching principles but by mere personalities. This political configuration leaves the nation with no real alternatives to the PDP as the opposition parties are micro replicas of the behemoth PDP.

However, operating within the same ideological spectrum as the ruling party should not in itself be a bar to a purposeful and visionary leadership. The opposition parties can still distinguish themselves in leadership and consequently endear themselves to the Nigerian people in the area of critical service deliverables. Itís incumbent on the opposition parties to demonstrate to the Nigeria people that they can do better than the PDP at the center. Itís the strategic imperative that must animate their thinking and actions. And who says they canít do it? That the opposition can pull this off can be glimpsed from the performance of the AC governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Fashola, who is already warming his way into the hearts of Lagosians in particular and Nigerians in general with his stellar performance. While this can be achieved at the local levels at which many of them are key players in order to demonstrate their superiority in service delivery over the ruling party, the ultimate place to demonstrate that superiority is at the national levelóthe presidency. Being at the center would afford them a national platform as opposed to the limited, even constricting local platforms on which they presently operate.

However, ascending the national platform can only be attained through the agglomeration of the mushroom sprouts currently being touted as independent political parties which cannot even win ward elections much less state and national political contests. The opposition cannot and will never capture power at the center with mushroom parties going it alone as they have done in the past. A fragmented opposition is the surest recipe for PDPís continued dominance of the nationís political landscape ad infinitum. PDPís dominance is the result of its national spread and political muscle in every nook and cranny of the country. The party has put its boots on the ground to recruit political operatives to its fold by whatever means necessary including poaching from the malnourished opposition. The opposition parties should borrow a leaf from the PDP by embarking on aggressive recruitment campaigns. Itís not enough for the opposition to cry all the time about rigging. Nigerians are sick and tired of opposition parties blaming their electoral woes on INEC and the ruling party all the time without looking at its own shortcomings. At every election the nation is harangued with blues from the orchestra of failed politicians in the opposition. That is business as usual and the nation is tired of hearing the same old songs. Such defeatist attitude prevents the opposition from being resourceful and proactive in strategic politicking. Opposition parties should look inward at their own weak political structures on the ground, which as presently constituted, cannot guarantee them a shot at the presidency. To use a technical term, "defragmentation" of political parties is a critical prerequisite for the oppositionís attainment of power at the center. Rather than forever bemoaning their fate and blaming their dismal electoral outing on the ruling party and the electoral bodies, opposition parties must be prepared to lose their individual micro identities and be subsumed under a national platform, akin to the PDP, with a clear ideological trademark that sets it apart from the ruling party. If the PDP is bad why imitate it? The nation will not settle for a poor PDP imitation.

Proposed Political Summit

In the light of the foregoing, the reported moves initiated by Chief Anthony Enahoro, the only surviving founding father of the nation, to form a mega party to challenge PDP dominance of the nationís political landscape should ordinarily have been greeted with cheers and high expectations. But itís not and for obvious reasons too. Defragmentation of political parties in the opposition is not the same thing as political gang up which the Enahoroís latest adventure readily evokes. It must be quickly recalled that similar initiatives in the past inaugurated with fanfare quickly fizzled out and crumbled at the first gusts of adverse political winds. With due respect, the highly regarded Chief is treading a well-worn path to political oblivion not necessarily himself in person, but the opposition as a body.

Political alliances is nothing new to Nigerian politics as they run through the gamut of the nationís democratic experiments right from the First Republic to date. Letís briefly go down memory lane: In the First Republic was the AG/UPGA Alliance designed to wrest power from the NPC/NCNC power Alliance that ruled at the center. It succeeded in failing. In the Second Republic was the PPA Alliance comprising mainly of Chief Obafemi Awolowoís UPN and Ibrahim Waziriís GNPP, again aimed at wresting power from the NPN/NPP Power Alliance that ruled at the center. Again it succeeded in failing. In the still-born Third Republic terminated by the whimsical and capricious General from Minna, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, however, the need for alliances was rendered unnecessary because of the emergence by military fiat of two mega parties---Nigerian National Convention (NNC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In this ongoing Fourth Republic, there has been an attempt as before to consummate a political alliance to wrest power from the PDP currently ruling at the center. It is readily recalled that Gen. Muhammadu Buhariís ANPP initiated and convened a "Political Summit" in Abuja comprising of over 40 mushroom political parties, which aimed to displace the PDP at the center. As with previous attempts, however, the summit offered little more than a talk-shop and a forum for ventilating anger and frustration at the ruling party at the center. No sooner was the summit convened than the summiteers went after one anotherís jugular only to disperse in disarray. All of the above mentioned alliances flopped disastrously leaving the ruling parties at the center unmoved and unchallenged to continue business as usual. If anything, the failure of the alliances or gang-ups strengthened the ruling parties at the center rather than weaken them. If history offers any prognosis therefore, there is no reason to expect a different result from the new Enahoro initiative.


At the core of the failures of political alliances in Nigeria is individual presidential ambition. The alliance between AG and UPGA in the First Republic was designed to realize the presidential ambition of late Chief Awolowo who was Leader of Opposition under the parliamentary system in the First Republic. The same is true of the PPA which was configured in the main to actualize Chief Awolowoís unrealized presidential ambition in the Second Republic. And, as if following precedents, the Political Summit spearheaded by the ANPP in 2007, was designed to realize the presidential ambition of General Muhammadu Buhari. Not unforeseeably, it clashed with the presidential ambition of then Vice President Abubakar Atiku who had quit the ruling party to contest under the newly formed Action Party (AC), to realize his presidential ambition. It was hardly a surprise therefore to watch Atikuís AC trading barbs with Buhariís ANPP at the Abuja summit that eventually doomed the summit and their presidential ambitions.

Itís clear from the foregoing that individual presidential ambition is at the core of the failure of political alliances in Nigeria. Although the initiator of the current efforts, Chief Enahoro, might not be motivated by presidential ambition the leading lights in the opposition, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and General Muhammadu Buhari clearly are and both of them would, as before, be working at cross purposes to position themselves to lead the theoretical mega party. In fact, Atiku has already started doing so with his recent broadsides at the PDP and his call for all opposition elements to rally behind the Enahoro proposal. While Atiku was away on self-exile in Dubai, General Buhari held forte as de facto leader of the opposition hauling stones at the PDP. Atiku is now back home in the country just as he did in the run-up to the 2007 presidential election only to throw spanners in the wheel of the Political Summit. Atiku has surfaced once again in the political turf seeking to displace Buhari in the run-up to the formation of the mega party so that he would emerge as the anointed candidate of the inchoate mega party. That is the booby trap awaiting Octogenarian Enahoro as he takes yet another shot at history.

As of today Atiku and Buhari constitute at once both assets and liabilities for the opposition---assets because of their political influence and followership, and liabilities because of their selfish presidential ambitions that theyíre not prepared to give up for the general good. Until political gladiators are made to subsume their selfish individual political ambitions under the general good, no political alliance will succeed in Nigeria. And getting these principal players in the opposition to subsume their presidential ambitions will prove to be an insurmountable barrier to the success of the current Enahoro initiative. This is because presidential ambition is the only force driving these players and ipso facto, the only reason they remain in active politics at the moment. Asking one or the other to drop their presidential ambition in favor of another is tantamount to asking them to commit political hara-kiri! It will not happen and no one should delude himself it will. How I wish Iím wrong! This being the case, the proposed mega party is destined to suffer the same fate that befell previous alliances. An alliance that is powered by selfish individual presidential ambitions is a house built on quicksand that would sooner collapse at the first gusts of winds.


I hate to play the prophet of doom because thatís not my vocation. However, that the Enahoro iniative is dead on arrival is a foregone conclusion. Itís a still born child that Iím not prepared to give a chance of survival. What Iím prepared to do however is to point the way forward for the opposition by offering a more viable alternative prescription that could cure the opposition of its terminal disease. This involves hard choices. First and foremost, Chief Enahoro and his summiteers should discard the idea of forming a mega party for the sole purpose of wresting power from the PDP. That is a failed option that history has proven over and over again in Nigeria. Only a serial failure would consciously adopt a failed option in the hope that some god would decree a different outcome and we know the Adolor of Uromi is not a serial failure. He should not lend his name and prestige to a failed project ab-initio.

Second, as hinted above, the summiteers should be encouraged to lose their micro political identities and dissolve into national platforms on the basis of their ideological persuasions. Put graphically, the individual parties should be encouraged to locate their spots in the ideological spectrum, coalesce and transmit their political messages and programs to the electorate in the frequencies within their assumed or allotted spots in the ideological spectrum. This will distinguish them from one another and offers much needed political choices to the electorate in terms of policies and programs.

To further distinguish themselves from the PDP the leadership of the political parties that will emerge from this exercise must be constituted through a transparent process of internal democracy devoid of any form of imposition through anti-democratic selection or adoption process, as has hitherto been the case thus far. One of the things that keep the PDP going is that it is not built around any single individual unlike the AC and ANPP that are respectively built around Atiku and Buhari, who both secured automatic presidential tickets in the past. Internal democracy is almost anathema in both AC and ANPP, which is strange for an opposition that regularly knocks the PDP for its anti-democratic tendencies. That is certainly not how to tell us theyíre better than the PDP. Today, if I were to choose between PDP and the AC or ANPP, my choice would be PDP by default, even with all its catalog of imperfections! Why? Itís because the main opposition parties have not even pretended to offer credible alternatives to the PDP. At my level, Iím unmoved by sentimental effusions by the opposition. Sentiments alone will not get my vote but programs will. A candidate and his party must give me a reason to cast my vote for them and demonstrate to me why his program is superior to his opponentís. I have no time for tribal politics and primordial sentimental appeals. Itís time to get serious with the business of politics because so much is ridding on it. The welfare and wellbeing of the Nigerian people is at stake. Bottom-line: Nobody gets my vote without presenting to me a detailed actionable plan with appropriate means of achieving it. My vote is the most potent power tool in a democracy and Iíll not dispense it on the cheap nor should you, the reader. Give me concrete, feasible action plan to work with, not cheap sentiments and Iíll work with you.

Finally, the parties emerging from the sanitation exercise must have national spread. This should not be difficult to achieve as politically minded individuals with different ideological leanings reside in virtually all the nooks and crannies of the country that can easily be signed on and mobilized for political action. And while they at it, they should seriously consider the introduction into the body politic superior ideas especially with regards to political campaigns. Superior politicking must involve appeals not to primordial sentiments but to higher intellects of the electorate in order to elevate Nigerian politics from its extant primitive entanglements to enlightened, principled heights.

These are the minimum standards. The opposition parties must be able to meet these minimum benchmarks if they want to be taken seriously. Anything short of this would leave the nation marooned to the ideologically and leadership challenged PDP. That is the challenge for the opposition. And itís a challenge that will determine whether or not itís ready for the big league or remain in the local league. Itís therefore up to Enahoro and his summiteers in the opposition to rise up to the occasion. A summit must not be held just to gang up against the ruling party but to articulate clear objectives for the good of the nation and elevate the nationís democratic practices. It will be a sad thing if the only purpose of the summit is to gang up against the PDP with no underlying principles to move the nation forward because there is nothing noble in gang-ups.

And the countdown beginsÖ The 2011 clock is ticking. Click! Clock!! Click! Clock!! Will the opposition be ready to take on the behemoth PDP in one piece or in pieces this time around? The road to political wilderness is paved with indecision and selfish ambitions. The opposition parties have one more chance to rescue themselves from the wilderness by offering credible alternatives to the ruling party and the means of achieving them. The nation yearns for a credible and genuine opposition to checkmate the ruling party. Itís not looking for PDP copycats. If the opposition parties succeed this time around, they will have added real value to Nigeriaís democratic experience and rescued the nation from the suffocating grip of the PDP. But if they fail yet again, Nigeria is headed for a one-party state and weíll have an opposition lost in the wilderness to thank for it.

This is wishing the Political Summit Godís speed and a rousing success!

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria and God bless the Nigerian nation!

Franklin Otorofani, Esq. is a Nigerian-trained attorney and political analyst based in the United States. Contact:

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