Tinubu presidency and future of opposition parties
• Why Nigeria may gravitate towards one-party state
• PDP’s influence under new dispensation depends on how party resolves crises – Agbaje
Prior to the electioneering season and campaigns, which culminated in the 2023 general elections, there had been a long lull in the proactiveness of the opposition parties in terms of putting the ruling All Progressives Congress-led government on its toes.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was then considered the main opposition party was said to have been docile while the other parties were almost always unheard, at least until the days leading to the elections when the Labour Party had some momentum.
With President Bola Ahmed Tinubu now in the saddle as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, there are concerns from stakeholders over the possibility of the country gravitating towards a one-party state with the major opposition parties fizzling out.
Two obvious factors were adduced for the concern. One is the strong personality of President Tinubu and his propensity for reaching out and building networks across divides, which many fear may inadvertently further weaken the PDP and Labour Party (LP), the two major opposition platforms.
Another factor is the character of the Nigeria democratic system in which preparations for second term usually commence almost immediately after a major election is won and lost. Tinubu, in this instance, and being an astute politician, is said to be already putting strategies in place to ensure his smooth re-election come 2027.
Going by the outcome of the last general elections, especially the presidential and governorship polls results, analysts believe Tinubu may be tempted to want to deplete the rank and file of the PDP and LP.
But a former Minister of Defense, Dr Olu Agunloye disagrees, saying the opposition parties would have to make themselves pliable to either be weakened or fizzle out before the President can make such a move.
He said the outcome of the 2023 presidential poll in which Tinubu scored 8, 794, 726 to defeat former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (PDP) who came second with 6, 984, 520 votes, Peter Obi of LP third with 6, 101, 533 and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigerian People Party (NNPP) 1, 496, 687, is not an indication that the President Tinubu can suppress or push opposition parties into oblivion.
Another argument that dismisses such concern is the possible number of states that the three major parties and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) will control in the new dispensation.
At present, the ruling APC currently has 20 states under its leadership while PDP has 13, Labour Party, APGA and NNPP control a state each.
In the Northeast, the ruling APC and PDP shared the zone with three governors each while in the Northwest, APC controls five states, PDP and NNPP one state each.
In North Central the ruling party has more states than the PDP. If the data is anything to go by, the LP is the least of all headaches President Tinubu will have.
Aside from the fact that the LP only won a state in Southeast where Obi had the highest number of support, the ongoing crack within the party is a factor that can make it fizzle out. This is evident in the sharp division the party is witnessing between its original founders and the Obidient Movement.
Interestingly too major stakeholders of the National Consultative Front (NCFront), which offered Obi necessary support may have tactically withdrawn. And if the party fails at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, it may sound the death knell on it.
On another hand, PDP’s internal crisis is a threat to its continuous relevance. Taking Lagos as an example, one of the factors that makes Tinubu thrive in the state since 1999 is the persistent internal crisis in the Lagos state chapter of PDP.
At present it does not appear that PDP has a rallying leader. Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike and the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde seem not to be with the PDP. They allegedly worked for Tinubu in the last presidential election. There are even insinuations that Wike may get a juicy political appointment under Tinubu as a form of compensation.
In Ondo State, the PDP is sailing like a ship without a sailor. The situation is the same in Lagos and Ogun.
While the opposition parties wallow in internal conflicts, Tinubu has been busy poaching available members of the parties to further weaken them. From the look of things, Kwankwaso of NNPP may likely work for APC if he does not eventually defect to APC in the near future.
But the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologun-Agba, said it is not possible that the major opposition party will go under because of any individual.
He said the candidate of PDP, Atiku is still very hopeful of regaining his mandate through the court, and until then nobody should preempt the death or complete relegation of the opposition.
Although he attested to the fact that any party in power will always want to suppress the opposition, as “this is normal in politics and we are not unmindful of it. The onus is on us to stand up to the challenge and we are already putting every measure in place to ensure genuine reconciliation, especially considering the aftermath of the last general elections.”
Specifically, Ologun-Agba said contrary to the fear expressed in the report concerning the Southwest zone of the PDP being the most vulnerable area the PDP might become weak, “I don’t agree because the last general elections did not portray the party as being weak in the zone. PDP is the only viable opposition party in the region. In no distant time, you will see the party going after some of its influential members who had left for other platforms to return.”
He also disclosed the party is making spirited efforts to prepare itself ahead of next year’s gubernatorial elections in Ondo State, “where we are sure of victory. We are still going to ensure the entire Southeast and South South are taken back by while we will continue to consolidate on what we already have across the north.
In another reaction, Jimi Agbaje, who was the party’s governorship candidate in 2015 and 2019, said it is not new that the ruling party will do every possible thing to suppress opposition parties.
He specifically said with someone like Tinubu in charge of power, “he will use money, positions and other influences to entice opposition members in areas the ruling party appears weak and less popular. Don’t forget that the former governor of Lagos State is one of the astute politicians and rugged democrats that understand the rules, games and dynamics of political power. It is the opposition that needs to sit tight and put their houses in order.”
Agbaje noted that PDP controls two states in Southwest but Oyo is neither here nor there. “I cannot fully boast of Oyo but in Osun where we have governor Ademola Adeleke, there is hope depending on the way we manage the state.”
Agbaje added that PDP’s influence under Tinubu’s presidency will also depend on how the national headquarters resolves its crisis. “There is little any of the state chapters of PDP can achieve or do if the national headquarters is not united.”
Also expressing concern about the possibility of PDP been further depleted and weakened with Tinubu in power, a former Deputy National chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George, said, “We warned our national headquarters of the danger inherent when they decided to corner everything to a section of the country as if only the north can win election but they rebuffed us.
“We also told them that a whole Southwest region cannot be totally cut off while there was little or nothing done to pacify Southeast, the only zone yet to produce the president. Nobody listened to us. Peter Obi left to pick a Labour Party ticket with massive followers.
“If the trend continues and the party fails to have a genuine reconciliation, the fear may be good as genuine that opposition parties voice may go under in the next couple of years.”
However, the former military administrator of Ondo State said the outcome of the ongoing Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, if it is eventually favourable to the PDP, may change the narratives.
Meanwhile, spokesman of Labour Party, Dr. Yinusa Tanko dismissed the fear of opposition parties becoming lame ducks under the new government as nothing but figment of the imagination of those orchestrating it.
Tanko said first thing first is for Nigerians to wait till the end of the ongoing court case before anyone will know which party and candidate will rule and those that will become opposition parties.
He also said suppressing opposition parties in a democracy like Nigeria is practically impossible taking a look at past experience since Nigeria gained independence.
Although he said any ruling party will always want a weakened opposition through performance, politicking and other necessary means, it is not everybody that will see things the same way, just as he said not everybody can be bought over.
Tanko said the LP has come to stay and it will eventually change the perspectives of politics and democracy in the country.
He also debunked the allegation that Tinubu sponsored Peter Obi’s campaign through Professor Pat Utomi as alleged by the Labour Party’s gubernatorial candidate in Oyo State.
A stalwart of Social Democratic Party (SDP) and former Minister of Defense, Dr Olu Agunloye said how opposition parties would fare will depend on how PDP and LP manage their affairs after the ongoing court cases and not necessarily about the way Tinubu rules or what he may likely do to suppress the opposition.
According to him, “Tinubu himself is a product of opposition right from 1999 when he was governor of Lagos State under the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was president under the PDP.
“We are also aware how he held tenaciously to power in Lagos since 1999 but yet the major opposition PDP remains in the opposition. So, if the opposition parties must and will fizzle out, it will be the problem of the opposition and not Tinubu. For instance the PDP may not be able to put itself together if it lost the court case. I do not think the Labour Party and the Obidient Movement will also remain together after this period just like other fringe parties. The issue is not about Tinubu at all.
Meanwhile, a member of Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Wale Adeoye said Tinubu has never been underpinned with dictatorial tendencies since he was known in politics during the early 90s “I therefore don’t see him as someone who can deliberately go out to suppress opposition. But if he does or any of his followers attempt something like that he will face stiff resistance from members of the human rights group.”
But Adeoye added that the opposition themselves may likely or unconsciously fizzle out.