Lessons For The Opposition In The Coming Elections – by Debo Adejugbe

Published:20 Feb, 2013

Nigeria’s political evolution can be likened to a rocking chair. So much movement and effort with no tangible result. We have huffed and puffed around the same set of problems for eternity and after everything is juxtaposed, we always realize that we’ve not moved an inch. Same place. Same problems. Same set of expired people jostling to solve them. Same set of docile populace receptive only to glorious rhetoric and executive hooliganism.

Dr. Bill Newman, in his book “The Ten Laws of Leadership”, tells us about an old indian fable centred around a mouse that is constantly distressed by its fear of rats. A magician who saw the problem helped turn it into a cat, to help assuage these fears. After the transformation, it became afraid of the dog. The magician once more turned it into a tiger hoping that should solve the problem. It didn’t. In its form as a tiger, the hunter became the prevalent fear. Tired of the process and the new fears elicited, the magician said “Be a mouse again. You only have the heart of a mouse and I cannot help you.”

Why the story? Some things would never change. Like expecting the PDP to become a party built on the tenets of collaborative democracy tailored towards public good. Like hoping those elected under the umbrella will not loot as if tomorrow is a mirage. Like hoping our set of inept and conscientiously flawed representatives would wake up to their duties. I’m not manufacturing all these, you only have to take a look around and feel the pulse of our political life. Nothing good will ever come from PDP and the earlier we agree on this, the faster we move our “rocking chair”.

The treasury and PDP is a yam and goat relationship! You can never trust a goat to guard your yam while away on assignment.

One major reason why the PDP and its cohorts have sailed unchallenged in the past few years is the lack of credible opposition. The lack of a united front to deliver Nigerians from the behemoth that PDP has turned into. We have tasted several oppositions and the stories are similar: A difference in name with all the attributes of the PDP. Parties whose sole aims of “capturing power” is to feed some people fat while the crumbs trickling down the table is shared among the people. Like Thomas Jefferson said, democracy is the government by the majority who parcitipate. These few ones are the “majority that participates”.

In other situations, we have politicians cross-carpeting to the PDP before or after winning major elections due to the belief that PDP holds all the aces. The October 2012 gubernatorial elections in Ondo state presented a unique case scenario that could help the opposition in its fight for 2015, if they genuinely care about the people and not their oversized egos.

Shortly before the election, it was a case of where would Mimiko run to. The ACN and PDP did all they could to enchant the beautiful bride of the Labour Party. You can’t blame them. Ayo Fayose had returned to PDP in Ekiti from the same Labour platform and realistic permutations told us it was a matter of time before Mimiko followed suit. It didn’t happen and it has opened up new frontiers that the opposition can explore.

To appreciate Mimiko’s victory as Labour party governor, we have to go back to 2006/07 when the plans for the emergence of a universally accepted candidate for the gubernatorial elections in Ondo State was being hatched. Agagu was the governor and as the dictates of the brand of politics we practice suggested, he was going to win due to the incumbency factor. Mimiko and other like minds were traversing the state meeting with politicians, civil right organizations, traditional rulers and the people at the grassroot to form a formidable coalition that could rescue the state from the throes of hopelessness presented by Agagu and his PDP. He consulted widely and listened to the people before they decided on a platform.

To be honest, Labour wasn’t an attractive choice to most watchers but this group wanted an unpolluted platform that can leverage on the work they’ve done and in the end guarrantee the dividends of democracy for Ondo indigenes. It was a bold step. Very different from the normal Nigerian practise of moving to a ready-made platform that would hype the ambition. In Mimiko’s case, he wanted to sell his vision, antecedents and promise to work for the people rather than depending on the popularity or rigging might of a party.

The present coalition talks among the opposition parties which has culminated in All Progressive Congress (APC) is a very good way to start the preparation for 2015?s journey of dislodging the PDP from the center. That said, the questions are: “what plans do the opposition have after the merger is done and dusted?” “Do they have a solid and progressive plan on what to do with the power they intend to capture?”.  As it is wont to happen in our clime, we usually come short when it’s time to pick a generally accepted candidate in the primaries. It’s one reason why I never really warmed up to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) when it comes to democratic ethos. They lose focus right from the primary elections where their “leader” annoints a candidate as flagbearer.

The implication of this is that there will be so many intra-party infractions to settle that you lose sight of the important things and when prominent members defect, the harder it becomes to have a united house. Take for example the system that produced Rotimi Akeredolu and basically all the other flagbearers ACN have presented since they were formed, up to Abubakar Atiku and Nuhu Ribadu’s emergence as presidential candidates. It is a flawed process that belittles the concept of participatory democracy. If this coalition is meant to massage someone’s ego or project the candidature of an individual, then failure is the destination point.

The facilitators should understand that it’s not about the governors attending meetings and tacitly supporting the cause. The grassroot is the most important. Remember the noise ACN made during the ondo elections and the fear it drove into ordinary folks about it “capturing” Ondo by all means? It amounted to nothing. You don’t neglect your primary assignment of bringing in the grassroots, even after alienating so many people by the manner of emergence of your candidate, and expect to win an election fairly. The opposition (APC in this case) should look at the mistakes that have been made by constituting parties and genuinely correct them.

Mimiko and Labour remains a reference. There was no National or Regional powers’ support, No limitless war chest to summon, No godfather to run to – some prominent LP members including their chairman and Federal Representative defected ahead of the election – for help or the appearance of a fellow governor from Labour party’s stable to lean on. He was his own godfather as witnessed in his prioritizing grassroot politics. Labour won, ACN came third and the rest, as they say, is history. There are so many lessons to be learnt and the newly formed APC will do well to sit down and analyze; afterall, Labour party defeated most members of this amalgamation in Ondo election and the most important thing is to learn a thing or two from that defeat and correct few things on the journey to taking on the PDP in 2015 general elections.

Here are some lessons the opposition parties could put to good use ahead of the 2014 and 2015 elections:

I. The focus should be the PEOPLE and not PDP! A progressive party should be built with the people in mind. You can’t make PDP the focus of your alliance and forget about what the people stand to benefit from it. When you focus on the people and their problems, it’ll be easier to be on the same plane with them and I can assure you that it translates to votes. Mimiko and Labour focused primarily on the people despite the several heaps of mud thrown at him. He had an election to win, a people to satisfy and cater for, these things should matter more than fixation on a particular political party.

II. Imbibe internal democracy. This should be non-debatable. How else will the people recognize your respect for democratic norms if your party can’t uphold internal democracy in its conduct? Make no mistake about it, these things always have a way haunting back in general elections. When aggrieved members leave because they were disenfranchised by undemocratic means, many more will follow and their blocs will send you a message in the major election. It’s a pity that PDP demonstrates better internal democracy than some of our “democratic parties”.

III. Sell the people a programme and not propaganda. In that election, while the ACN was busy throwing tantrums and casting aspersion on the person of governor Mimiko; PDP was campaigning and selling itself to the people and Labour was consolidating. Olusola Oke, the PDP candidate gave the people more to think about with issues raised and their contents, though it was a bit too late to rewire them. The ACN presented regional integration that wasn’t working too well for some other SouthWestern states. The result made sure some lessons were learned in this regard. The people want you to make a commitment on what you’ll do to better their situations and not highlight what the other parties are doing wrong, they know these things better than you.

IV. We get the romance, what’s the plan? Having a candidate with impeccable academic record, perfect diction or excellent oratory skill is romantic, but it doesn’t guarantee that food will magically appear on our tables though. How do you plan to turn around the people’s woes? How do you intend to combat corruption? What plans do you have for our flawed electoral system? How watertight is your manifesto? How committed are you to the manifesto and your promises? Drafting an excellent manifesto is just an assignment and a mere white elephant project, anyone can do that in this age of information. Without the commitment of implementing the manifesto, you will have succeeded in crafting a piece of jargon with no use.

V. Learn to move on and regroup when the people speak. While there is a perpetual distrust of the electoral process in Nigeria, not all contested elections could have had a different outcome from the ones announced. The major gladiators all know this, but due to ego or lack of insight, they challenge every result. It helps no one and not them in the least, as the people see them as bad losers. Take a leaf from Hon. Dimeji Bankole and Dr. Bode Olajumoke, both of PDP, who conceded elections just hours after results were announced by INEC. They have become excellent examples to follow. That doesn’t mean that when you’re genuinely aggrieved, you shouldn’t seek redress in court; learn to respect the process and the verdict even if it doesn’t favour you.

The people are politically more conscious than before. Touting godfatherism, voter apathy, electoral violence, threats of apprehension, vote buying, rigging, breakdown of law and order, impersonation, ballot box snatching, intimidation and the likes won’t stop them from exercising their constitutional right. The earlier our politicians note this, the better they’ll know what is needed to be done.

We can never exhaust these lessons, but we might eventually keep oscillating around the same points if we decide to expand more. If the new ‘Mega Party’ and other opposition can make the people their focus, the journey of dislodging PDP from the center becomes half-solved.

Will they take these lessons? Only time will tell.


Debo Adejugbe is a trained Telecommunications/Electronics Engineer and a certified IT professional living in Lagos.

Follow him on twitter: @deboadejugbe

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