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Femi Owolabi: Opposition and the road to 2015 Presidency

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Femi Owolabi: Opposition and the road to 2015 Presidency

by Femi Owolabi

I think in the recent political history of Nigeria, this is the first time we would see the hustings coming this early.The incumbent is not ready to leave in 2015, and the opposition parties are restlessly deploying every method to harmonize their scattered voices and interests, that would be strong enough to wrestle with the principality and power that is PDP.

In 1999, things were too obvious and only unborn babies wouldn’t know that Obasanjo would win the presidential election. In 2003, we all knew that Obasanjo would be reelected. In 2007, it was a sure thing that Obasanjo’s candidate, Yar’adua would win. And in 2011, if we would step out of our sentimental corridors, we all knew that the PDP Jonathan would win.

Or, how else would you describe the imbroglio of the oppositions when they thought of synergizing just a few minutes to the election in an attempt to pull the almighty PDP down, and also the rumored case of one of their leaders who secretly met with Jonathan and would later deliver Lagos State to PDP?

Meanwhile, our softhearted mothers and wives were already sympathetically thrilled by the fable of the son of a former canoe carver who once had no shoes. As a card-carrying member of the ACN, I was there queuing to vote for my friend Nuhu Ribadu, and I never fought with my other mind telling me that the victory is Jonathan’s. I stubbornly pressed my thumb for Nuhu, that even if Jonathan would win, it won’t be on my own vote.

Less than 30 months to the 2015 election, things have changed or are changing. The atmosphere wasn’t even as tensed as this in 2010, about 12 months or less to the 2011 elections. The opposition is now tying the cords of its trousers and anyone who thinks 2015 election won’t be different should be given a dirty slap across the back of his head. But the 2015 election suffereth violence, and is the opposition ready to take it by force? Yes, the opposition should now see it as a do or die affair!

A few days ago, in a Facebook post, I reacted to Gen. Buhari’s recent statement. He reportedly said “As for my position for 2015, after considering a series of visits and persuasions from both my followers, eminent and concerned Nigerians, members and leadership of our party, I decided to have a rethink of my position in 2011. So I will make myself available to run for the presidency in 2015.”

I started by asking what is left to the imagination of Gen. Buhari’s integrity? Yoruba people do say k’a soro k’a ba be n’iyi omo eniyan: abiding with what one has said dignifies a man. Buhari is highly susceptible to flattery. So, he decides to change his mind because they were begging him? He didn’t even wait for the Nigerian women to declare the seven-days-of-no-sex with their husbands until he announces his interest, just like they did when Jonathan was still mute about his 2011 interest. In my reaction I argued that Buhari may not be the change we need.

That was by the way however, but reacting to my reaction, the witty Nigerian novelist Eghosa Imasuen dropped this comment, “Na you know. Even if na goat dem carry come, I go vote for am.”

I understand what he meant and I told him that we all share in these frustrations. Then, he came back with this “Not just frustrations though. We need to understand the danger we are in. maybe because I’ve lived in a place that has been ruled by the PDP for 14 straight years. There is nothing good there. It has over the years sustained such evolutionary pressures that even the thieves with a modicum of self-respect have all left the fold. I see the arguments asking the opposition to stop being hypocrites, are they better, etc. I do not care. The ballot box has to work, these people have to go.”

It is a big shame on the PDP, that in 2015 a goat stands a chance over their candidate. Immediately, Eghosa’s statement held me at the scruff of my neck, and screaming into my ears: “Mr. Man, whether Buhari or one of his cows in his village becomes the opposition’s consensus candidate, we must just make sure PDP is out.”

I belong to the opposition and I do not totally doubt its victory in 2015. At least in Black Africa, opposition parties have successfully united and won elections in Malawi, Zambia, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Niger. I am just worried about whose candidacy appeals to all in the opposition.

The fundamental issue however is that many of the opposition parties in Nigeria are established around individual personalities. And Nigeria is not an exemption. A primary school pupil understands that CPC is Buhari and ACN is Tinubu.

‘Personalistic’ opposition which usually relies on the charismatic appeal of a single individual lacks structures extending beyond its confines. And we should know that opposition or even incumbents that employs populist strategies are more likely to win support from the urban poor than parties reliant on alternative modes of mobilization. The advantages of a populist strategy include greater differentiation from the myriad of purely personalistic parties and greater congruence with the policy priorities of the urban poor.

In other words, the linkage that should connect the people in the grassroots level with the merging-oppositions elite is ‘patrimonialism’ and ‘clientelism’ and not organizational hierarchy. The foundations of political accountability should be both collective and extra-institutional. They should rest on the particularistic links between Big Men, politicians and their constituent communities. The thing is, the PDP is good at this whenever it is election time, and how the opposition plans to beat this is yet known to me. You think it’s rigging? No. It is what we should understand as the populist strategy here in Nigeria.

Forget about some of us who are on social media following the trend of events and making intellectual contributions. Take your mind to those other guys who could neither read nor write, yet are equally Nigerians and would vote in 2015. I try to see a way we can explain populist strategy and sell the opposition manifesto to these other guys who constitute a reasonable percentage of our population. Except 2015 election would be done on Facebook and Twitter that one shouldn’t bother. By the day, the opposition voice is waxing stronger on social media and if election were to be via Twitter, PDP would be shamefully defeated.

We are not in Venezuela where President Hugo Chavez used Twitter to rally his 3.6 million followers to secure re-election in October last year. We are in Nigeria where in 2011, Kamal my mechanic-friend whom we both carry the ACN membership card told me he voted PDP for president. I asked why and he said at their polling booth, ACN didn’t even bring anything at all, while the PDP gave 1k each to electorates on queue. There were also some women by the booth distributing take-away plates of fried rice with chicken. As it is confirmed that you’ve given your thumb to PDP, your lunch is settled and 1k for your pocket. In 2015, Kamal will only vote for the opposition when it gives 1k5 and PDP hasn’t increased from 1k, and a plate of pounded yam with efo riro garnished with bush meats over PDP’s colored rice. For Kamal who is an illiterate, he won’t understand the theory of the populist strategies as proposed by the opposition and if you give him a copy of the party manifesto, he will gladly give his wife who needs it to wrap akara for her customers. Kamal believes that the opposition can only inflame the enthusiast, it can’t convert him. And corruption is the Nigerian immunodeficiency virus and he doesn’t care what the opposition says, as long as they are Nigerians, they are corrupt. Therefore, the only time he can have his own share is during the election.  So, will the opposition take care of the Kamals in 2015? That is the only way the Kamals understand populist strategy.

There are several other things that opposition should know as soon as it’s done with merging. As the crusade has aggressively started on social media, the opposition should also seek ways at getting to these other guys. They must be pragmatic in their approach in 2015 or else, for the next 8 years after the election, we’ll all be at the tribunal crying for our stolen mandate.

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