Vincent Obia writes that the de-registration of political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission should spur the opposition parties to get more serious with coalitions aimed at building enduring grassroots support
The opposition parties’ familiar mantra in the Fourth Republic is the formation of a “mega coalition” to provide the ruling Peoples Democratic Party with a strong competition at the poll. They have chanted this chorus for the most part of the Fourth Republic, but to no avail.
Just recently in Kaduna, during a condolence visit to former Head of State and leader of Congress for Progressive Change, General Muhammadu Buhari, over the death of his daughter, National Chairman of All Nigeria Peoples Party, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, spoke enthusiastically on the opposition merger hopes.
“The merger talks are ongoing right now. By the grace of God, the merger will be successful. We want to give Nigeria effective political competition in the political arena,” Onu was quoted as saying. “We are hopeful that once we come together and form a government, everything will be solved for the good of everybody. I believe nobody is happy about what is happening in the nation today – rising insecurity, unemployment and poverty.”
Chairman of the ANPP National Rebuilding and Interparty Contact Committee, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, spoke in the same vein. He told journalists in Abuja recently that the three major opposition parties – Action Congress of Nigeria, ANPP, and CPC – would drop their separate identities by April next year, when their merger arrangement is expected to be concluded. Alternatively, he said the coalition would adopt the name of one of the merger partners.
“Certainly, we are going to submit our party certificates to the Independent National Electoral Commission after our merger. That is what a merger means. The Electoral Law is so clear on the procedure for a merger.
“If we decide to merge, the next thing is that we go back to our parties, call National Executive Committee meeting, and discuss with the members, in the presence of INEC officials. Then, you can call congress and that is all,” the immediate past governor of Kano State was quoted as saying.
Last month, CPC National Publicity Secretary, Rotimi Fashakin, told the News Agency of Nigeria, “It is now clear that opposition parties must merge to be able to improve the educational system, health sector, security and infrastructure, among others, for Nigerians.”
Of course, these affirmative statements are not new to Nigerians. The only new thing would be their practicability.
Opposition coalition arrangements in the past had proved to be mere convenient fabrications floated by politicians at election times. In 2006, at the peak of his faceoff with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, then Vice President Atiku Abubakar had tried to rally opposition elements into a coalition to fight for the presidency at the 2007 general election. Leaving the PDP, and collaborating with the then governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and other opposition figures and groups, Atiku had succeeded in securing the presidential ticket of a newly formed Action Congress – that later became ACN. Though, he failed at the poll due to a combination of factors, number one of which was the tactical frustration of the bid by the Obasanjo government, Atiku’s return to PDP in 2009 was widely criticised as a misadventure. That singular move and several other back and forth sways by politicians since the Fourth Republic have seemed to create the impression that opposition parties and individuals are only joking whenever they talk about arrangements to shore up strength against PDP.
In August 2009, top opposition gladiators in the country, including Buhari, Chief Olu Falae, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Professor Pat Utomi, Chief Rasheed Shitta-Bay, Chief Robson Momoh, Chief Supo Sonibare, Alhaji Hamisu Turaki, and Alhaji Lateef Jakande came together in a Mega Summit Movement to try to form a broad-based mega political party. Their avowed intent was to provide a platform for genuine democratisation and good governance in Nigeria. That effort failed.
But Utomi rallied some politicians to form the Social Democratic Mega Party in April 2010 to fight the 2011 general election. It turned out that the party was only mega in name.
The closest the opposition parties have come to a successful cooperation was before last year’s general election, when Buhari’s CPC and ACN tried to present a common front at the presidential election. The failure of that effort has been blamed on the pursuit of personal aggrandisement by Buhari and ACN leader, Tinubu.
Utomi said at a forum last year that Tinubu and Buhari were to blame for the opposition’s misfortune. He said: “In my letter to Tinubu and Buhari last year, I told them that history will hold us responsible, if we can’t subordinate individual interest into collective interest. I am not in politics because of position but because the country is dying.
“If the opposition progressive parties had united, I do not mind if I am given the role of a cleaner.”
Opposition alliance should not only be aimed at winning election. The opposition parties should focus more on building an enduring grassroots movement than winning election in the short term. Having flirted with both serious and unserious ideas of party formation since the 2003 leeway provided by the legal victory of Chief Gani Fawehinmi and the others against INEC’s party registration conditionalities, and failed to make any real impact, the opposition groups should start talking seriously about the basic facts of grassroots mobilisation. The opposition parties need a course correction, particularly, after the December 6 de-registration of 28 political parties by INEC, which is the most extensive so far.