A viable opposition is necessary for deepening democracy

While it is debatable whether Nigerians have enjoyed the full benefits of democracy, particularly given the worsening living conditions of the vast majority of the people, one fact remains constant: there is freedom for the people to express themselves about those conditions knowing that at critical moments, their voice would count. That is the significance of what today symbolises as the nation marks yet another Democracy Day and the one-year anniversary of the current administration.

Indeed, the enforcement of the power of the people to freely elect their leader was spectacularly demonstrated last year when Nigerians trooped out during the 2015 presidential election and effected a peaceful change in the political leadership of the country. At the end, the then incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was voted out of the office his party had occupied for 16 years with President Muhammadu Buhari, the flag bearer of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) elected in his stead.

Unfortunately, the party that is supposed to provide a credible opposition is now almost in disarray. Yet the PDP is not just any other political party: it was in power at the centre in Nigeria from the dawn of democracy in 1999 until last year. Moreover, the party also at that period controlled more than 60 per cent of the National Assembly membership as well as no fewer than 23 of the 36 states of the federation. Given such past domination of the political landscape, we are of the firm belief that whatever happens within the PDP has considerable implications for the larger polity.

For close to four months now, the PDP has been enmeshed in a self-inflicted crisis arising from the virtual overthrow of its constitution by a cult of former and serving governors. That habitual impunity explains the recent emergence of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, who had barely spent a year in the party, as its acting National Chairman; and the acrimonious conduct of the congresses that culminated in its controversial National Convention in Port Harcourt.

The problem started when a powerful caucus in the party had, in spite of strong objections from the founders and elders of the PDP, not only imposed Sheriff, but also extended and attempted to perpetuate his tenure in a clear contravention of the zoning and rotation principles enshrined in the party’s constitution. The resultant resistance of party elders led to the debacle in which three clear factions emerged.

It is cheering, however, that reason appears to have prevailed with last Thursday’s decision of party stakeholders led by the Board of Trustees to narrow the scope of the conflict by getting all members to accept the leadership of the seven-man caretaker committee led by the former Kaduna State Governor and Senator, Ahmed Makarfi. We think this resolution is the best in the circumstance and congratulate the stakeholders for their wisdom in skillfully excusing the stranger amongst them from their leadership.

We, however, urge the leaders of the PDP to hearken to the loud voice of its teeming members demanding the restoration of internal democratic structures. Throughout the 16 years it held power at the centre, internal democracy was a very scarce commodity within Nigeria’s political parties but more especially within the PDP.

Several examples abound of imposition of candidates at every election cycle even when there were pretensions to conducting primaries. The party was also notorious for disregarding its own internal rules in the bid to achieve predetermined ends.

However, now that the party leaders have eased out Sheriff whose tenure witnessed nothing but crisis upon crisis, it is our hope that the Makarfi team will bring all the critical stakeholders within the party together so as to evolve a transparent process to elect a new leadership for the PDP. A viable opposition is necessary for deepening democracy in Nigeria and for now, only the PDP can play such a critical role.