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Opposition and the Nigerian Project

20 Jan 2013

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Simon Kolawole Live!: Emailsimon.kolawole@thisdaylive.com

I’m a young, politically conscious Nigerian and, should I say, someone whose vote is up for grabs in 2015. First of all, I do not have any party affiliation. Out there, many Nigerians like me would love to vote based on conviction, not some party or ethnic allegiance or financial inducement. Globally, the people who determine outcomes of elections are not always the partisans. “Unattached voters” have a say. They usually vote judging by the issues at hand and their assessments of what the candidates are bringing to the table. In advanced countries, ruling parties are voted out from time to time. Politicians debate issues (not zoning) that impact on the lives of the ordinary people. In Nigeria, we are still far away from experiencing this glorious expression of liberal democratic culture.

Last Tuesday, I was at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, for the launch of 2015: Manifesto of Nigerian Opposition Politics by Salihu Moh. Lukman, a renowned activist. It was an impressive outing, even though I was a bit disappointed that the two leading opposition figures, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, were “unavoidably” absent. As speaker after speaker mounted the podium, it was glaring that there was some enthusiasm in the opposition camp. There were talks about an impending merger of opposition parties and a quest to send the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) out of Aso Rock in 2015.

The PDP has been winning all the presidential elections since 1999. Why is this so? Some will say it is because they enjoy incumbency, with all the trappings, and always rig elections. Maybe that is true. Or maybe the opposition is not doing enough to whittle down the might of the PDP. Maybe it is a combination of both. But it is easy to say the PDP is a party of riggers or that it lacks internal democracy. However, I have observed our parties over time and I can assure you that the PDP does not have the monopoly of rigging and imposition of candidates. My key evidence is how the opposition parties produced their presidential candidates in 2011. They made the PDP look like a gathering of pastors and imams.

All said and done, though, I worry a lot that the PDP is too comfortable at the centre. The competition, unfortunately, is too feeble and disorganised. So the PDP gets away with murder all the time. Many Nigerians are disdainful of the PDP – but the question is: what is the opposition all about? What are they offering us, beyond tough-talking press statements? Definitely, there is a prime place for propaganda in politics. But this must be in addition to other strategies to win power – such as alliances, mergers, finances, headhunting, and, not the least, marketing of alternative agenda. Our opposition parties appear to lack the pragmatism needed to unseat the ruling party.

Yes, they issue eloquent press statements to criticise every move of the PDP. But to an undecided voter like me, I think the opposition behaves more like student unionists with a “we no go gree o” posture. Student unions are often good at criticising a policy – their major undoing is articulating a better option. However, if we look closely at the nature of opposition in advanced democracies, such as in Europe and the US, the parties always say something like: “Bad job! This is how it should be done.” Remember the policy debates between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney before the last US presidential election.

There are two issues, for instance, that I would love the opposition to tell us how they are going to tackle if they successfully dislodge the PDP from Aso Rock in 2015. The first is the petroleum industry. This government says it must be liberalised and subsidies removed so that private investors can have the incentive to invest in refineries, etc. If our four refineries are working at full capacity today, they are not enough to satisfy local consumption. We will continue to import until new refineries come on stream. Now, what is the opposition position on this? Would they liberalise the sector? Would they remove subsidies? Or would they build more refineries and retain the subsidies? Through a well thought-out position on this critical issue, the opposition can market itself to us.

The second issue is power. It is not enough to say the PDP has sunk $16 billion into the sector since 1999 only to produce megawatts of darkness. What would the opposition do? The current strategy, I suppose, is to unbundle PHCN, privatise the successor companies, build power plants all over the country and lease out the management of the transmission company. How would the opposition tackle unending power cuts? When Tinubu was governor of Lagos State, he came up with the idea of an independent plant set up by Enron and now run by AES. This is a major source of power in the state today. All over the country, we have similar projects coming up. How does the opposition hope to encourage and fast-track more private investments in the sector? How would the poorly executed power projects be revamped? Would subsidies be retained?

I could discuss a dozen more areas, such as education, roads and healthcare, that need alternative strategies, but I’ll stop here because of space.  However, don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that the opposition does not have ideas. I am saying there is a need to market these ideas to millions of unattached voters, the group I belong. Propaganda serves a purpose. Mergers serve a purpose. Finances serve a purpose. In fact, among the electorate, there are those who vote based on N1000 notes stuffed in loaves of bread. But what I am seeking to do today is to make a case for my constituency (unattached voters). We should not be ignored. We want to hear policy issues being fiercely debated, with better alternatives and ideas being proffered. I don’t know how critical we are to the outcomes of elections, but at least we exist. We deserve some attention.

Even if the PDP always wins by rigging, I am convinced that one day, their cup will be full. That is why the opposition must go beyond “we no go gree” statements. Luckily, they have enough time before the next general election to win over undecided voters with well-articulated and intelligently propagated alternatives ideas on the way forward for “Project Nigeria”.

And Four Other Things...

SURPRISE VISITS
One of my unusual governance tips to put our peculiar public sector in check is “surprise visits” by superior officers. The uncertainty prevents a whitewash. I was delighted that President Goodluck Jonathan paid an unscheduled visit to the Police College, Ikeja, Lagos, on Friday. He was disappointed at what he saw and stormed out, according to reports. In fact, there are other places to see: teaching hospitals, prisons, federal roads and ports. Let him discover things by himself, beyond what his ministers tell him. And heads must roll! I also recommend this to governors at the state level.

BREEDING BEASTS
Still on the police, I did a series of articles on them in 2004 in which I highlighted how we were getting everything wrong right from recruitment stage. I wrote on how our police officers were being trained to become beasts. They were denied the minimum living comfort (some cadets at the Ikeja college were killed by a hit-and-run car while going to fetch water from across the road). They were denied their full training allowances. Many had to bribe to get uniforms after completing training. We then hand guns over to them and unleash them on Nigerians. Any wonder?

THE ‘SANUSI BAN’
The CBN governor, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, never one to shy from making political statements, has suggested that ethnic and religious associations should be banned because they are polarising Nigeria. Good point. But I pick two faults with his position. One, there is freedom of association in the constitution. You can’t tamper with that. Two, when you ban these groups, what avenues do you have for conflict management in times of ethnic and religious crises? Who has the reach and influence to calm frayed nerves? Maybe we should criminalise activities and speeches that incite sectional hate and violence rather than outlaw the associations themselves.

ANYAOKU AT 80
There are a few Nigerians I see as genuine role models, people I would love to be like in my old age. They are celebrated not because of their mansions in Monaco or private jets or insane bank accounts. They distinguished themselves. They have integrity. They are not stained by scandals. Former secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, is one of such few. As he marks his 80th birthday, I don’t know what to wish him. Long life, he already has. Good health, he enjoys. All I can say then is: congratulations! Pass the anointing to me, sir…

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