by Maurice Chukwu
I always catch myself drawing an analogy between Nigeria’s opposition parties’ incapability to offer a strong opposition to the President Jonathan-led Peoples Democratic Party, PDP administration and the rivalry that subsists between two English football clubs, Manchester United and Manchester City, both based in Manchester, England. While United strengthens their team every year with quality players, and wins virtually every major trophy they compete for, their neighbours, City go about rhapsodising yearly in the rapturous slumber and inertia of wrestling power from United. For over forty-five years, they played second fiddle to United, not winning any single trophy and, in the process, earning themselves the loathsome sobriquet ‘the noisy neighbours’. Manchester United’s former boss Sir Ferguson coined the infamous phrase as a way of belittling City’s ambition to challenge United after decades spent living in the shadow of their more illustrious cross-town rivals. City was content with name-calling and brickbats, always loudly reminding United that they (City) are the real Manchester team. This is because their Stadium is situated in the middle of the town while United’s is actually at the outskirts!
Just like city, are the opposition parties in Nigeria mere ‘noisy neighbours’ of the ruling PDP? Have they exhibited the perspicacity needed to keep the Jonathan administration on its toes? Let’s find out.
For democracy to thrive in any clime, the role of the opposition cannot be over emphasised. Every major policy and/or decision of the ruling party deemed not to be apposite with the expectation of the opposition (and, in most case, the masses) ought to be challenged or rivalled with a superior policy plan or a better alternative. If the ruling party presents or sponsors an unpopular bill or policy plan to the legislature, each opposition party ought to take an official position and vote against such unpopular policy through their members in the legislature.
In advanced and progressive democracies, the opposition do not defeat or frustrate unpopular bills and policies through hauling of innuendoes and nuances, name-calling and hurriedly-written press statements from the parties’ National Publicity Secretaries and/or National Leaders (or any other designation or appellation that our politicians go by these days. Oh, how we love titles!). I am now reluctant to read any statement(s) beginning or purporting to begin thus: “The ABC party hereby announces, proclaims and declares that it totally and absolutely rejects and condemns the draconian decision of the clueless and oppressive ruling PDP to…Signed: National Publicity Secretary”. These press statements do not, in almost all cases, contain a superior alternative to the policy being condemned.
Perhaps, recourse to the role the Republican Party opposition has played since the inception of the Barack Obama-led Democratic Party government in the U.S. would be apt here.
For every policy of the Democrats that the opposition Republicans disagrees with, they so disagree with sound arguments and publish what they perceive as the best alternative to such policy and/or bill. This would be the official position of the party on such an issue. Republican members in the House of Representatives and the Senate then argue logically and vigorously on the consensus position of their party. An example would suffice.
Following the gruesome December, 2012 gun attack in a Newtown, Connecticut school which led to the death of twenty first-graders and five educators, President Barack Obama and the Democratic leaders proposed and submitted to the U.S. Senate a compromise plan to expand background checks on firearms sales as well as a proposal to ban some semi-automatic weapons modelled after military assault weapons. However, fierce opposition by conservative Republicans from pro-gun states, who insisted on right to obtain and store ammunition without registration, doomed key proposals in the gun package. The bill was eventually defeated on Wednesday April 18, 2013 in the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, an alternative package of gun proposal was immediately proposed by conservative Republicans. According to The New York Times, that evening, President Obama convened his top aides in the Oval Office and weighed whether he should make a big push on new gun control laws, even though he had planned to start the second term focused on new immigration laws. He realised that he had to do more in the face of strong opposition.
The above, in my opinion, is what opposition is meant to achieve. A strong and credible opposition puts the ruling party on its toes thereby strengthening democratic ethos.
It is no longer news that on May 13, 2013 President Jonathan declared emergency rule in the three troubled Northern Sates of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa due to ‘‘the activities of insurgents and terrorists (who) have attacked government buildings and facilities…have murdered innocent citizens and state officials…have set houses ablaze, and taken women and children as hostages… have destroyed the Nigerian flag and other symbols of state authority and in their place, hoisted strange flags suggesting the exercise of alternative sovereignty… actions (which) amount to a declaration of war and a deliberate attempt to undermine the authority of the Nigerian state and threaten her territorial integrity…’’.
However, what was and is still news to me, is that three days after the President’s declaration, the most vocal opposition party in the country released a statement rejecting the imposition of emergency rule, describing same as ‘a sweetened bitter pill meant to hoodwink Nigerians’. The said party’s alternative solution to the threat posed to the nation by terrorists is that ‘the use of minimal force complemented with genuine dialogue in the short term, while in the long term good governance that delivers the dividends of democracy, including jobs for the teeming unemployed youths, will help deny terrorists the fertile ground for recruiting ready hands to perpetrate violence’. The said party then called on the National Assembly not to sanction the emergency rule.
Pray, did the opposition party not listen to the President’s speech? I still recall the President maintaining in the nationwide address that all efforts at resolving the terror attacks ‘through actions, which included persuasion, dialogue and widespread consultation with the political, religious and community leaders in the affected states’ failed to ‘stop the repeated cases of mindless violence’. So what new and better alternative have the opposition presented as a panacea to terrorism? What were the official positions of the opposition parties on the proclamation before and after their National Publicity Secretaries issued statements condemning same? Now, wait for the shocker – a few days later, all the hundred Senators present and voting (including those from the opposition parties) unanimously sanctioned the proclamation. Slapdash! Somebody please tell the opposition to remove the statements condemning emergency rule from their websites as their members in the legislature think otherwise.
It suffices to state that it is not every policy of the administration that the opposition should disagree with. For instance, sound government policies involving sensitive issues as security and the war on terrorism ought to be supported by the opposition. In the U.S, despite their ideological differences, both Republicans and Democrats agree that: ‘there is no negotiation with terrorists. No form of therapy or coercion will turn them from their murderous ways. Only total and complete destruction of terrorism will allow freedom to flourish’. This is patriotism, not politics. This is how it ought to be in Nigeria.
The ruling party has certainly not done enough. Nigeria deserves a credible opposition to check the actions and inactions of the Jonathan administration. An opposition that would present Nigeria with a better alternative on real issue such as health care, immigration, international trade, infrastructure, power, labour, job creation, terrorism, military, war and veterans, social security, women and children, guns etc., as opposed to fanciful catch-phrases and name-callings like the ‘drunken fisherman whose boat is about to capsize’ mantra.
Back to the two Manchester clubs, the Democrats and the Republicans, Nigeria’s ruling and opposition parties, and all that.
Recently, City woke up from their slumber, got foreign investors and strengthened their squad. Over the last three years, they have won three trophies, mostly at the expense of United. Suddenly, United realises that to remain the super power of Manchester, they had to be on their toes. And, to borrow the favourite phrase of the Nigerian Football Federation, they went ‘back to the drawing board’, re-strengthened, re-strategized and successfully wrestled the trophy back from their hitherto ‘noisy’ (but now competitive) neighbours.
Like the rejuvenated City and the startled United of England, like the Democratic Party and the Republican Party of the United States. I wish one could also add, like the PDP and the ACN (including the ANPP, the APGA, and the CPC, pardon, I almost forgot, the APC) of Nigeria, but in all sincerity, one cannot. The reason is not far-fetched. Manchester City realised their docility and desisted from name-calling, and were able to mount a successful challenge to United. Ditto the Democratic and Republican Parties. However, the same cannot be said of the opposition parties in Nigeria who are only adept at attacking the (often unexceptional) policies of the present administration with feathery verbal pugilisms without proposing better alternatives. In my assessment, the opposition have, at best, remained the ruling party’s ‘noisy neighbours’
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Maurice Chukwu