By Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu… I have never belonged to any political party in Nigeria, but I am interested in the development of a viable democratic culture anchored on a vibrant opposition and free democratic processes. This is because democratic opposition remains the most fundamental irreducible minimum in a democracy—and like elsewhere where democracy thrives as it should, only an effective opposition and free competitive elections in Nigeria can provide leaders that will be responsive and accountable to the citizenry. Unfortunately there are today many undemocratic forces seeking to shout down, emasculate and silence all who dare to oppose and or criticise the Buhari administration. More ominous are the many insidious moves by government institutions such as the DSS, EFCC amongst others who selectively target opposition party members and those who are critical of the government in a bid to silence them.
In this regards, the DSS has become particularly notorious. Just recently, Victor Umeh the immediate past chairman of APGA was arrested and whisked away by the DSS because he criticised the presidents mishandling of Biafran protesters and Fulani herdsmen. The SSA on youth and student matters to Saraki who also doubles as the president of the national youth council of Nigeria (NYCN) remains in extra-judicial detention courtesy of his being aligned to a political opponent. Until recently, Olisah Metuh as the national publicity secretary of the opposition PDP kept the ruling party on its toes with frequent and incisive critiques of the government until his selective hounding by the EFCC effectively silenced him. The vacuum of Metuh’s silence was filled by Ayo Fayose, the governor of Ekiti state who has not been found wanting in calling out the government’s failings. Predictably, the DSS raided the Ekiti state assembly, arrested several members and held them illegally without charge for weeks; with one of them, Hon. Afolabi Akanni almost dying in detention from illness.
This unprecedented violation of the sanctity of Ekiti legislative assembly by an increasingly roguish DSS was designed to silence Fayose whom they couldn’t directly arrest because of his constitutional immunity. Of recent Femi Fani Kayode and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa have joined the long list of detainees who are being persecuted because they dared to criticise the government. Yet of all these saga of impunity, brazen human rights violations, disregard for the rule of law and intimidation of political opponents by agencies of government, what has been most worrisome is not only the support these assaults on the very essence of democracy has received from those who should know better but the silence of the usually loquacious human rights community and conscientious leaders of note. When many of those who were in the forefront of the struggle for democracy, human rights and the rule of law now stay silent or lend support to the decimation of democratic opposition and the subtle creation of a one party state on partisan grounds, the existential challenges Nigerian democracy faces becomes apparent.
These predicaments underscore the struggle between a vibrant, competitive and progressive democracy on one hand and the relapse into a dictatorial, repressive and undemocratic one party state on the other hand. Interestingly, in this struggle can be gleaned some of the most fundamental reasons why Nigeria has failed. When as a people we choose a democratic system with rules, regulations and principles, but depart from the core principles that define the system; we will of course be bound to fail. Just as one plus one cannot be three so also can we not succeed by practicing democracy without following the essential rules or formula that defines it. From the first republic we choose democracy but ended up bastardising the very principles of democracy through election rigging, intimidation of opponents and violence which cumulatively led to the truncation of the first republic. With electoral reforms and defeat for the first time of an incumbent president in 2015, it was assumed that our democracy at last has come of age. But alas unfolding events have proven otherwise.
When in 1788, the United States of America adopted a constitution that provided the world’s first blueprint for a modern democracy and in 1789 elected George Washington, little did anyone know that American democracy would endure and indeed influence the spread of democracy around the globe. Today not only has American democracy been unbroken since 227 years of its inception, it has survived with a vibrant opposition and the same two largest republican and democratic parties constantly replacing themselves in power through elections. As much as we admire American democracy, it must not be lost on us that it wouldn’t have endured had their leaders resorted to stifling the opposition, clamping down on critics and rigging elections as is once again the case in Nigeria. In other words American democracy is the success story it is because their leaders always played by the rules and allowed a vibrant and indeed caustic opposition to thrive. Suffice it to say that a vibrant opposition is a sine qua non for democracy to thrive; because through it the leaders are kept in check and the system is constantly renewed.
Thus those who are presently invested so much in killing the very essence of democracy should have a rethink before the creeping fangs of tyranny that definitely takes over in the absence of democratic opposition beclouds the land. On their own part the PDP must now urgently reform and present a credible democratic alternative. Recent happenings do not so far portray it as a party that has learnt its lessons. From the choice of the interim chairman of the party who is implicated in the Boko haram imbroglio to the absence of any critical reforms, the PDP appears not to be doing anything about its battered image. In addition, Olisah Metuh’s silence in the aftermath of his ordeal with the EFCC has left the party without a mouthpiece that should be feeding the public with the ruling party’s failed promises at a time such failings are ever so evident.
But to stand any chance of success in future elections, the PDP must reform part of which must include an apology for its past mistakes while also highlighting its areas of success. It must also as a matter of urgency move towards identifying with a set of ideologies and accordingly adopt standards of accountability, governance and ideological programmes to be executed in all their states. At the same time the PDP should naturally take advantage of Buhari’s divisive administration and develop a reconciliatory/nation building programme alongside the implementation of the 2014 national conference report as part of its fundamental thrust to consolidate national unity. A better action plan to fight corruption holistically should also be conceptualised alongside reforms of the increasingly bastardised security agencies to restore professionalism and efficiency. Overall it would make for a more efficient opposition if the PDP can create special committees akin to a shadow government that will provide detailed critics and alternative policy proposals for all critical sectors of government.
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