‘PDP getting set to play real opposition’
THE “parliamentary coup” of yesterday that saw the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) taking over the control of the National Assembly by providing the platform for the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, despite opposition from the All Progressive Congress (APC), may have surprised many observers of Nigerian politics.
But for those who have been following the party’s preparation to play ‘effective opposition”, it is not a surprise especially considering the outcome of a meeting by senior members penultimate weekend in Port Harcourt, where it was resolved that the PDP must face the reality of its new position.
At the meeting that was attended by all the legislators-elect, the party which had been in power for 16 years resolved that it must make its presence felt at the National Assembly as an opposition party to promote responsible and reasoned debate that will ensure the promotion of national conversation.
Of course the intention of the party that has suddenly found itself on the unfamiliar turf of opposition politics, which was clear at the Port Harcourt retreat, is to work its way back to power in 2019.
Former Senate President, David Mark, while declaring the retreat open with the theme: “The Role of the Opposition in Facilitating Development and Good Governance”, emphatically asserted that the idea of opposition is strange to members of the PDP who have been in power for the past 16 years, having gotten use to the idea of being in government.
Mark expressed concerned about the survival of the party following the desertion of the PDP as soon it lost in the general elections.
Irrespective of this, he expressed optimism that if members of the National Assembly and other stalwarts of the party remain united, then they will be able to provide credible, vibrant, focused and determined opposition so that the party in power can deliver the dividends of democracy to the people.
He urged PDP elected representatives to take into cognizance the fact that they are the face of the party and therefore must prepare themselves so that their opposition will ensure that there is accountability, good governance and transparency.
In same vein, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who was returned to the position yesterday and who has been saddled with the responsibility of unraveling while the PDP lost the last polls, observed that the PDP over the years failed to take full cognizance of its successive dwindling electoral fortunes or the trend of electoral revolutions going on in other emerging democracies in neigbouring countries in which ruling parties lost control of power to the opposition.
He recalled that in 1999, the PDP had a comfortable majority with 214 seats in the House of Representatives, which later peaked to 263 in 2007 and dropped to 208 and 137 in 2011 and 2015, respectively. He noted that the loss of a whooping 55 seats in 2011 should have set the alarm ringing in the party.
Likewise, the party’s performance in the senatorial elections peaked at 87 seats in 2007 and shrank to 71 in 2011 before crashing to an all-time low of 49 seats in the 2015 general elections. According to him, the lost of 16 senatorial seats in 2011 should have served as a warning signal.
To boost the morale of those who might be irresolute, Ekweremadu asserted that being in opposition is not a life sentence for any party, rather it is an opportunity for soul-searching, self-construction, and providing healthy, robust, vigilant, and responsible opposition, which is critical to democratic growth and good governance. He then recommended that PDP should set up shadow committees relative to Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), to sustain a methodical monitoring of the APC performance and report to the whole world on real time basis.
He said the new role of the PDP places a special burden on its members at the National Assembly because from the United States of America to the United Kingdom, and Ghana, among so many others, members of Parliament have always been the springboard for their parties’ return to power each time they suffered defeat. This is because, among others reasons, parliamentarians enjoy legislative immunity that shields them from prosecution for things said in the course of their legislative duties.
He however cautioned that PDP should not be an opposition that sees nothing good in any government action or policy and should not engage in market square propaganda and destructive criticism that turn truth upside-down or tend to incite the citizenry against the government in power.
Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, urged members to take solace in the fact that until a few days ago, the state was controlled by the APC, but the PDP had routed it out of power.
He acknowledged that PDP had just experienced its worst electoral defeat since 1999. He however, warned that if the PDP fails to play its role as an effective opposition it would have succeeded in negating the value of a vibrant and vigilant opposition and encourage emergence of dictatorship and bad governance in Nigeria.
He emphasized that that being in the opposition carries some responsibility such as holding the ruling party at all level accountable to their numerous promises, as Nigerians will judge the APC not on what they have promised but on what has been delivered. PDP acting National Chairman, Uche Secondus, noted that despite the party’s defeat, it remains strong and still better positioned to fulfill the Nigerian dream.
He reckoned that the PDP has what it takes to effectively play its new role as an opposition party. The chairman numerated some of the initiatives to reinvent the party as instill discipline and decentralization of administration of the party.
He said PDP must ensure that the party at the grassroots is given the power to organize its primaries for instance without undue interference from above.
He also said the party must begin to consider featuring only the best candidates for elections as it cannot afford to do business as usual.
On his part, Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson, said being in opposition will avail the PDP opportunity to reinvent itself as the APC appears to be merely a gang up of persons for power grab.
According to him, PDP governors are already talking and will collaborate with the National Assembly members to reposition the party. Similarly, Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, reckoned that in playing the role of an effective opposition, the PDP should develop shadow committees at all ministerial levels to check the ruling APC. He pledged that his colleagues would support the PDP to bounce back to power in 2019.
Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, who was until recently a Senator, charged the members of the National Assembly to conduct thorough research and be prepared for quality debate.
He also advised them to ensure that before making contribution on the floors of both chambers of the National Assembly, they should have quality information on any national issue in order to be taken serious as opposition members by Nigerians.
Former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, reminded the lawmakers to always bear in mind that aside from lawmaking, they also take their oversight function serious by keeping the government on its toes to ensure fiscal discipline and fight corruption.
But in order to fight corruption, he charged the lawmakers to ensure probity on their own part.
He noted that as legislators, they will be going to the National Assembly as a minority which brings a sense of personal loss no doubt; but there are good opportunities for all and democratic practice in Nigeria.
He said their patriotism and quality contributions at the parliament would go a long way in reinventing PDP and preparing it for a successful comeback in subsequent elections.
“You must demonstrate personal will and commitment towards being above board if you really want to checkmate others. The first charge for you is to be champions of probity in the workings of the National Assembly as well as the Legislature-Executive relations,” he said.
Ribadu however infuriated the PDP lawmakers who became rowdy when he tasked them to ensure a more transparent National Assembly that Nigerians should know how much each a legislator earns, particularly in this period of austerity.