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2019 and fractured opposition

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INEC chairman Prof Mahmoud Yakubu


The tag opposition party actually came in the First Republic, when the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) formed the Federal Government and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group (AG) left the Western Region as Premier to the parliament at the centre to lead the opposition.
 
In the Second Republic with its presidential system, there were many opposition political parties, but the most vocal of the five political parties namely, Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) and Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), was the Unity party of Nigeria (UPN) headed by Chief Awolowo, who was the leader of opposition.
  
In a bid to make the opposition effective prior to the 1983 general election, Awolowo, along with young governors in other parties, including Jim Nwobodo, (Anambra): late Abubakar Rimi, (Kano); Alhaji Balarabe Musa (Kaduna); Bisi Onabanjo, (Ogun); Alhaji Lateef Jakande (Lagos); Chief Bola Ige (Oyo); Alhaji Abubakar Barde (Gongola); Pa Adekunle Ajasin (Ondo) and Abubakar Muhammed Goni (Borno) formed the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA).

By then the accord between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s NPP and NPN had just broken down,It was therefore that broad alliance that formed the bulwark of opposition to the NPN. But they could not sustain it, as they faced the 1983 general elections individually, a situation that gave the NPN what was called a landslide victory at the end of the day.
 
Fourth Republic, PDP and absence of strong opposition
In the present dispensation that started in 1999, PDP did not witness the presence of a strong opposition. This was mainly because political parties that could have provided strong opposition were not settled. They were bedeviled with serious internal crisis, which did not give them the opportunity to scrutinise the government. Besides, majority of the opposition parties lacked strong structure or presence in many parts of the country. Their strength was limited by regional and ethnic bent.  
Some of them are tagged briefcase political parties, because everything about them began and ended with their promoters and few of their allies, who have no political relevance or base. They usually applied the platforms as tools of negotiation for relevance and survival with the ruling party, during elections. Sometimes, these fringe parties serve as alternative platforms to contest elections for aggrieved or sidelined aspirants of major political parties. As members of these opposition parties, who lacked consistency, kept jumping from one party to another, PDP became the ultimate beneficiary of the instability and developments in those parties.

With tome the parties were consumed as their members kept flocking to the ruling party on daily basis with the belief that it was only in PDP that they could benefit politically. The only political party that stood as a formidable opposition, between 1999 and 2003 was the Alliance for Democracy (AD). But towards 2003, AD leaders in a bid to protect Obasanjo in the Southwest, where he hails and believing that it was the turn of the region to remain at the centre, went into agreement with Obasanjo-led PDP government. That was how AD lost all the states under its control in the region except Lagos.

From ashes gradual extinction to new fusion
The Action Congress (AC), which came after AD in Southwest became strong in the zone within a short time. Gradually with the active support of former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, AC took control of Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ogun and Edo. These six states gave the party the strength to mount formidable opposition machinery against the ruling PDP with the use of propaganda and constructive criticism. With this, PDP started feeling the heat of opposition for the first time since 1999. 
 
It was at this point and ahead of 2015 polls that three major opposition political parties-Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Congress of Progressives Change (CPC) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) mooted the idea of merger. Not many Nigerians including members of the ruling PDP gave them chance of pulling it through. But to the surprise of many, the merger plan sailed through and gave birth to All Progressives Congress (APC). APC attracted a faction of PDP and APGA to its fold alongside five governors of PDP. With combination of other factors, APC defeated the ruling PDP in the 2015 presidential poll. The defeat was first of its kind in the history of party politics and elections in Nigeria since independence.
 
Since then, it appeared the opposition has gone into political limbo again. The PDP that was expected to provide a virile platform for opposition politics after its defeat in 2015 experienced protracted leadership crisis that lingered for long. Again, some of its prominent members defected to APC after 2015 elections. Ahead of 2019 polls, some PDP members are still defecting to APC, LP, ADC and SDP.  
 
As 2019 elections draw near coupled with the signing into law “Not-Too-Young To Run bill” many Nigerians, especially the youths have declared their intentions to contest the presidential election on different platforms. At the last count, not less than 20 persons have declared, including the incumbent president, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd). In the months ahead, more will declare, considering that currently 68 political parties are registered and more may be registered before the elections. Among the 68 parties, majority of them are fringe parties. With this, fragmented opposition are already springing up rapidly, raising fear of no possible merger or strong opposition against the ruling APC.
 
These concerns could be collaborated by the last week Thursday disclosure by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which said that over 100 political parties might feature on the ballot paper in 2019 general elections. This was contained in a statement issued by the INEC Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu at an Elections Stakeholders’ Summit organised in Abuja.

The summit was organised with the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), DFID and Christian Aid Nigeria under the auspices of the Voice to the People (V2P) project. Yakubu noted that 138 political associations had applied for registration as political parties.“As at May 24, an estimated nine million voters were added to the voters’ register bringing the total number to an estimated 80 million.” The INEC boss explained that the commission lacks powers to stop political associations from applying to register as political parties.
 
These fears and concerns being expressed by Nigerians is that this development might engender emergence of too many presidential candidates, a scenario that may create a leeway for votes splitting in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Although, different coalitions and groups have commenced discussions with some political parties for adoption of their platforms in 2019, some of the discussions are progressing well, while others are stalled.One of such discussions that seem to have collapsed is the one between Olusegun Obasanjo’s Coalition for Nigerians Movement (CNM) and Nigeria Intervention Movement (NIM) led by Olisa Agbakoba.     
The two groups disagreed over the adoption of the Africa Democratic Congress (ADC) as the platform to unite all the groups angling to unseat President Buhari in 2019.
A leader of NIM told The Guardian on condition of anonymity that the movement was not comfortable with the final details leading to the adoption of ADC by Obasanjo group. The leader disclosed that NIM was taken unawares by the arrangement and had to pull out of a meeting called for that purpose, because toeing that line would appear as a betrayal of NIM’s 35 political party allies without their consent.

“NIM went on courtesy call on Obasanjo, but it did not work out because our people did not accept the idea of ADC as the platform, because we also want to give other parties we have alliance with an opportunity and also to be fair to them,” the leader said.“Series of meetings are being held with faction of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) including the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to boost the chances of the coming “Grand Coalition,” the leader said.
 
The Guardian learnt that after due consultations, the leadership of NIM adopted Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) as its platform for 2019 polls and endorsed Peoples Trust as alternative platform.In similar vein, some prominent members of the PDP like Prof Jerry Gana, Prof. Tunde Adeniran and others have defected from PDP to SDP. Also initial move by the SDP leadership led by Chief Olu Falae to reach an accord with Obasanjo’s group met brick wall due to some irreconcilable differences in the proposal. Also recently former governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko left PDP to Labour Party that brought him into office as governor in 2008. Mimiko’s action has been criticised by the PDP leadership, a source close to him told The Guardian that the move was part of plan by coalition being led by Obasanjo to have more block base that will come together at last minute with PDP to defeat APC. Also very worrisome is the fact that majority of the parties being adopted as platforms by these coalitions lacks visibility, financial capacity and grassroots structures like major parties. Besides, time is of essence in the area of mobilisation and awareness creation, which requires huge resources and others also.       
   
Even though, it is not rosy in the APC, as members of the nPDP and others are threatening to leave the party. The Guardian learnt that members of nPDP are in a dilemma of taking final decision, considering that some PDP governors and senators are discussing with the presidency ahead of 2019 polls, a development that is giving the party’s leadership sleepless night. It was revealed that some of the governors and senators involved are from South-South and Southeast zone. Again the advantages APC enjoys is that it is the government in power and has incumbency and the wherewithal to manage its internal crisis ahead of the general elections.

Speaking to The Guardian on the state of the opposition ahead of 2019 elections, APC chieftain, Chibuzor Obiakor said that APC is the party to beat, because Buhari has performed well to deserve second term. He expressed optimism that the ruling party will win 2019 presidential election, despite opposition parties’ plans and talks about alliances and coalitions.
 
“Opposition has lost focus and base. There is no threat from the opposition. APC will emerge victorious in 2019. We will settle our little differences before the election and become too strong for opposition to conquer. With the emergence of a new and vibrant leadership lead by ex-governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, opposition is in trouble,” he said.
 
But, to one of President Buhari’s estranged political allies, Alhaji Buba Galadimma, APC will be effectively defeated by the coalition of political parties in 2019. “There is no hiding place for Buhari and his failed team. APC will be defeated by the coalitions of political parties that have been meeting and strategizing ahead. Nigerians who are already fed up with the poor performance of the ruling party and would be mobilised against the incumbent president in 2019. We are the one that made APC, we will unmake it in 2019.”   
 

 
A former Minister of Health and chieftain of PDP, who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian that close to the elections, the coalition of political parties will collapse their structures, come together to work under one platform. He said the essence of the ongoing alliances among different political parties is to create awareness and mobilise people on the way forward. Responding to inquiry of a possible merger before 2019 elections, Chief Press Secretary to the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, Rotimi Oyekanmi told The Guardian that there is no merger application for now. He stressed that parties can still submit applications, but such must be submitted 90 days before the election.
  
Also in his remarks, National Chairman of United Peoples Party, (UPP) Chekwas Okorie said that merger may not be possible again, considering that current electoral act provides that political parties seeking to merge must give INEC mandatory 90 days notice. He backed his argument with Section 84 of the Electoral Act.Also speaking to The Guardian on the issue, a professor of political science, Mr. Joe Ogna said that coalitions/alliances among political parties would not be enough to rout APC in the election.He said that in political alliances, parties are not always committed like in merger arrangement, where it is obvious to all and sundry that they are on one platform. 
 
“The truth is that with level of exposure and quest for materialism among the political class, coalitions and alliances cannot work effectively. Parties involved are bound to falter one way or the other, thereby paving way for the party in power to have its way in the elections. Their leaders and members can easily sell out considering that their platforms are intact. If it is merger arrangement, there is limited room for such behaviour. The defeat of PDP in 2015 was made possible mainly because of the merger of three major opposition parties that had structures on ground.”


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INECMahmoud YakubuNPCNPP
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