The desire of 60 new political associations to register as political parties has renewed concerns about the role of opposition parties in the nation’s political space.
Rotimi Oyekanmi, the media aide to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had disclosed recently at a forum in Abuja that applications by the associations were receiving the attention of the commission.
“Presently, we have 40 political parties in the country. I can tell you that as of Thursday December 15, 60 associations have approached the commission to be registered as political parties,” Mr. Oyekanmi said.
Interestingly, the disclosure came on the heels of the re-registration of 10 parties in compliance with a court order asking INEC to lift the ban it placed on them between 2011 and 2014.
The parties re-registered in September are Better Nigeria Progressive Party (BNPP), Democratic Alternative (DA), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN), National Action Council (NAC) and National Democratic Liberty Party (NDLP).
Others are Nigeria Elements Progressive Party (NEPP), National Unity Party (NUP), Nigeria Peoples Congress (NPC), Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP).
The electoral body had shortly before the 2015 general elections re-registered the Young Democratic Party (YDP), increasing the rank of the opposition to 30.
28 parties had been proscribed on December 6, 2011, following certain breaches of the requirements for registration as well as their failure to win at least a seat in the National or State Assembly.
INEC’s action elicited a plethora of court cases from the parties. On July 29, 2013, the Federal High Court in Abuja voided the provisions of the Electoral Act on which the commission acted.
Section 78 (1) of the Electoral Act (as amended) empowers INEC to register political parties.
Subsection 7 also gives the commission powers to de-register parties on grounds of “breach of any of the requirements for registration” and “for failure to win presidential or governorship election or a seat in the National or State Assembly election.”
With the unbanning the 10, the number of opposition parties rose to 40.
Watchers of the nation’s democracy have however expressed concerns over the increasing number of opposition parties which are hardly making impact in governance.
As soon as elections are over, most of the parties literally cease to exist leaving Nigerians at the mercy of the ruling party.
Indeed, since the end of the 2015 general elections and the assumption of office of the APC in May last year, the parties appear to have slipped into a coma.
While the main opposition party, the PDP, which should have led in checking the Buhari administration is battling to survive due to a protracted leadership crisis, the other parties seem to have gone to sleep.
Adeolu Akande, a professor of Political Science at Igbinedion University, Okada in Edo State, explained that the PDP finds it difficult to transform from a party in government to a party in opposition.
“The demand of a party in government is different from the demand of a party in opposition. Since PDP lost power, the energy of the party has been directed to solving its internal crisis,” he told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview.
Except the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, which fused into the All Progressives Congress, no other party could be said to have confronted the Peoples Democratic Party in the 16 years it was in power.
The party was a thorn in the side of the then ruling party.
Indeed, whenever the PDP federal administration led by Goodluck Jonathan came out with policies and programmes, it was certain the opposition ACN and later APC would confront it.
Even so, Mr. Akande, a former presidential aide, said it was even a “segment” of the ACN and APC that played that critical role.
He said the segment was initially part of the Alliance for Democracy before moving into the AC, ACN and later APC.
Yet, none of them seems to have matched their counterparts in previous republics.
In the Second Republic, the five opposition parties gave the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) a close marking.
Midway into his tenure, the then president, Shehu Shagari, had become very careful of the steps he took because of the vibrant opposition role the parties assumed, by critically assessing its policies and programmes.
The Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, was more engaging in this regard than the others. With vibrant directorates of Research and Publicity and Organisations, the party, led by the late Obafemi Awolowo, operated like a shadow cabinet.
For instance, in December 1981, the party warned the Shagari administration of an impending economic doom that would befall the nation.
Mr. Awolowo had written an open letter warning Mr. Shagari of the danger the economy was facing, saying the “ship of state was set for the iceberg.”
Expectedly, the administration dismissed the warning. Indeed, the National Chairman of the NPN, Adisa Akinloye, had addressed a press conference in London during which he strongly criticized Mr. Awolowo for his position and insisted that the economy was healthy.
But about two months after, the country’s economy slid into recession, leading to the introduction of the IMF-inspired austerity measures.
By April 1982, the National Assembly enacted the Economic Stabilisation Act, giving Mr. Shagari powers to address the economic downturn.
Such energy from the opposition is lacking in the current regime.
Investigation by PREMIUM TIMES shows that aside from participating in governorship and some other minor elections, the opposition parties that participated in the 2015 general elections, have slid into coma.
Mr. Akande blames it on the capacity and financial state of the parties.
“There is little to expect from a party that scored less than 1000 in an election. Some of them are just mushroom parties which were formed because of the liberalisation of the political space. They are one-room parties; they are not political parties per se,” he said.
“Also, the ideological poverty of political parties in Nigeria which makes parties that form government to lack a compass for development also inhibits those in opposition from playing the role well.”
Mr. Akande explained that most of the parties are not financially buoyant to play a vibrant opposition role, especially since the yearly government grant to them was stopped following the amendment to the 1999 Constitution.
Mohammed Nalado, the Chairman of the Inter-party Advisory Committee, the umbrella body of all registered political parties in Nigeria, agrees with Mr. Akande that financial constraint has been a major challenge to the opposition parties.
“Normally, finance is key to every successful organization. The problem of shortage of funds is hindering our operations and that is why we are calling on government to restore grants to political parties, especially parties that do not have representatives in government or the legislature,” Mr. Nalado told this newspaper.
He explained that the opposition parties only rely majorly on proceeds from nomination forms and membership dues to survive, unlike those in government or that have members in the parliament.
Mr. Nalado, who is the national chairman of the Accord Party, however said despite the financial drawbacks, parties have been playing the opposition role expected of them.
“We are doing what we are expected to do,” he said. “When the government does what is right we commend them and when they do what is wrong, we condemn them. We have been issuing statements.”
The National Chairman of the National Conscience Party, NCP, Yunusa Tanko, however, offered two reasons for the inability of the opposition parties to confront the APC-led federal government.
According to him, the parties are being intimidated by the Buhari administration, which he claimed has been using the EFCC to harass them.
He also blamed the media, saying when opposition parties speak, they are hardly reported.
He said, “If I make any comment on an issue and Atiku Abubakar makes the same comment, you will discover that the media will not report me. They will choose to report him (Atiku).”
State of the opposition parties
Apart from financial constraints, some of the opposition parties are grappling with intense leadership crisis, accommodation challenges and lack of direction.
Action Alliance, AA: The party was until June 2005 known as National Mass Movement of Nigeria. Located in the Garki District of the FCT, there have been no visible activities at the party secretariat since the end of the 2015 general elections, apart from participating in the three of the four governorship elections conducted between 2015 and 2016. The elections are those of Kogi, Edo and Ondo. It did not present candidate for the Bayelsa election. The party has been enmeshed in leadership crisis at the national level following the removal of some of its executive. The matter is currently in court.
Alliance for Democracy, AD: The party was one of the three parties that participated in the 1999 election upon the return of democracy in the country, the others being the PDP and the defunct APP (later ANPP). The party as also become inactive since last year except on a few occasions when it participated in governorship contests in Kogi and Ondo states. Here was a party which had in the 1999 elections won the governorship elections in the southwest states of Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Ekiti. It also won 18 senatorial seats and 34 House of Representatives seats. One of the senatorial seats it won was in Bayelsa, which Senator Emmanuel Diffa occupied. However, the fortunes of the party began to dwindle in 2003 when it won only in Lagos State. Since then AD has been struggling at elections. The defection of one of the foremost contenders in the November 26 governorship election in Ondo brought back life into the party. Olusola Oke lost that election placing third after the APC and PDP candidates. With the conclusion of that election, analyst believe, the party might slide into oblivion once more until the 2019 polls.
Accord: Not much has been heard about Accord Party since the general elections apart from taking part in the Kogi and Ondo governorship polls where it failed woefully. Mr. Nalado told this newspaper that the party had been organizing meetings at various levels in readiness for the next general election. However, its Oyo State chapter has remained active with a few critical comments from that chapter. The party has remained a formidable opposition to the ruling APC in the state. Its leader in the southwest state, Rashidi Ladoja, a former governor of the state and an ex-senator, recently flayed the state government for not being committed to conducting the 2017 council election announced by the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC).
He also criticised the federal government’s economic diversification programme, particularly to agriculture as a mere lip service. Despite its activeness, the state chapter was thrown into crisis in September culminating in the conduct of parallel ward congresses across the state. In January, the party was almost headed for a national crisis when its national secretariat asked Mr. Ladoja to return the N100m collected from Tony Anenih under the guise of campaigning for the re-election of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The money was believed to be part of the $2.1 billion arms deal fund allegedly diverted by former NSA, Sambo Dasuki.
Advance Congress of Democrats, ACD: The party was founded 10 years ago allegedly by some PDP chieftains opposed to the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo. Some of those linked to its formation were Audu Ogbeh, Lawal Kaita and Dalhatu Bashir. It also enjoyed the sympathy of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar at the time. Since its formation, the ACD has struggled to be on its feet. In February, the party was thrown into crisis when its National Chairman, Peter Blavo, and the acting National Secretary, Breakforth Onwubuya, were suspended over alleged financial mismanagement. However, this did not deter it from fielding candidates in the governorship elections in Kogi, Edo and Ondo. Its candidates did not make any impact in those elections.
All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA: APGA is one of the opposition parties that could be said to be engaging in activities since the general elections. The national secretariat of the party in the Wuse District of Abuja is open for business every day. Two reasons may account for this. First, it controls a state government (Anambra) in south eastern zone of the country considered to be its stronghold. Secondly, the governorship election in that state holds in 2017. During the year, it undertook some activities. In July, its UK chapter held a two-day summit with some members of the national executive and a few British parliamentarians in attendance. “The summit was organized to put APGA on the world map and to attract foreign investors to the country, even though we are not in power at the centre. We attracted investment to Anambra,” Ifeanacho Oguejiofor, APGA Director of Publicity told PREMIUM TIMES. He said the party would also hold an elaborate meeting in Imo State on December 21. The spokesperson explained that the meeting was being convened as part of efforts to “put up structure from the ward level to state level towards 2019 general elections.” Also, APGA participated in the governorship elections in Bayelsa, Kogi, Edo and Ondo but lost in all four. However, the party was enmeshed in a national crisis following the suspension of its national chairman, Victor Oye, and two others by some members of the NWC over alleged constitutional breaches.
African Democratic Congress, ADC: The ADC national secretariat located in Nyanya, a satellite town in Abuja, has been literally abandoned. Only a female staff comes to the office occasionally, according to a neigbour in the plaza. On two occasions PREMIUM TIMES visited the office, the female staff did not show up for work. The staircase to the second floor of the building on which the ACD is located was not only looking unkept, the gate was under lock and key. However, the National Chairman of the party, Ralph Nwosu, explained it away. “We’re active in the field,” he told this newspaper in a telephone interview, adding that the office would relocate to a new office in readiness to take over from APC at the national level, come 2019. He said the party had undertaken some activities in the recent past, one of which was the “Failed State Conference.” The conference held on December 13, according to him, was organized to decry the state of the nation under the APC administration. Mr. Nwosu claimed that the ruling APC had put it in a difficult situation by hijacking its change agenda. “The ruling party hijacked our change advocacy and slogan to win the 2015 general election. Unfortunately, since then they have torpedoed.” The 10 year old party, which once fielded respected economists, Pat Utomi, as its presidential candidate, participated in the recent Bayelsa, Kogi and Ondo governorship polls. Its Zamfara and Imo States chapters had some activities on a few occasions during the year
Democratic Peoples Party, DPP: This party’s decision to participate in the four governorship elections held since last year brought life back to it after the 2015 general elections. But that is the farthest it has gone. The party was founded in 2006 by some disgruntled members of the defunct ANPP, including a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa and a former FCT minister and military governor, Jerry Useni. Both of them have since joined the PDP. Mr. Useni currently represents the Plateau South Senatorial District on the platform of the PDP. Since his exit, the DPP has been struggling to survive. Only recently, it relocated its national secretariat from the highbrow Maitama District of Abuja to an apparently less expensive office space in Zone 1. The office space is currently undergoing renovation.
Fresh Democratic Party, FDP: Except when its chairman, Chris Okotie, speaks, nothing is usually heard about the party. It did not even present candidates in the 2015 presidential election though Mr. Okotie had contested for president three times – 2003, 2007 and 2011. And since the end of the elections, the party has not made any significant outing. In October 2015, Mr. Okotie, who is also the senior pastor of lagos-based Pentecostal church, Household of God, issued a statement urging Nigerians to redouble their efforts to develop the country. ‘’Every nation faces some daunting odds at some point; the important thing is for them to overcome such hurdles and move on. In Nigeria’s case, we have not been able to do that because of the perennial plague of bad leadership!” Mr. Okotie said.
National Conscience Party, NCP: Perhaps, the NCP is one of the few opposition parties occupied with activities. At its Yaounde Street, Wuse office, activities are going as staff are busy with their work. National Chairman of the party, Yunusa Tanko, told PREMIUM TIMES 2016 has been a busy year for the party. He said apart from holding its NEC meetings, NCP organised a colloquium in honour of the founder, the late Gani Fawehinmi. He said the party had started planning for the 2019 elections with the state congresses holding next year. “So, throughout the year, we have been having activities. It is erroneous that we are not doing anything,” Mr. Tanko said.