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Nigeria’s New Face of Opposition

--Cutting-Edge Analytics--

By: Franklin Otorofani
 Published June 28th, 2011

It was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s foremost nationalist and acclaimed orator who once cautioned Dr. Ukpabi Azika who had derogatorily referred to those opposed to his leadership in then Eastern Region including the late Owelle of Onitsha himself as “ex-this, ex-that,” that “no condition is permanent.” That immortal statement just about sums up the changing face of opposition politics in Nigeria today. Needless to state that it wasn’t long before the words of the great Zik of Africa came to pass as Asika was kicked out of power along with other regional military administrators. However, one certainly need not travel too far deep into memory lane to identify the locus of opposition politics in Nigeria. Since her independence in 1960, and right up to the two-term of President Olusegun Obasanjo administration and its successor, the Musa Yar’Adua administration, the South/West had been the bastion of opposition politics and had indeed constituted itself as the face of opposition in Nigeria. The late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, could unquestionably lay claim even posthumously to the position of the leader of opposition not only formally and officially as he indeed was in the parliament of the First Republic but even during military regimes, and subsequent Shehu Shagari administration in the Second Republic with the introduction of presidential system of government which did away with the position of Leader of Opposition under the Parliamentary system in the First Republic. It was not surprising, therefore, that with the demise of the political titan his lieutenants carried the torch of opposition and lifted it up even higher in the sky during the Obasanjo administration. It would seem pretty obvious to the discerning mind, however, as to why the South/West was always in the opposition rather than any other parts of the country all these past decades? The reason is that its leaders led by Chief Awolowo were aspiring to capture power at the center; first in 1960, then in 1963, and finally in 1979. Unfortunately, however, that aspiration did not see the light of day before the military junta led by General Muhammdau Buhari terminated the Second Republic in 1984. And even when Obasanjo gained power at the center in 1999 the South/West did not shed its old coat of opposition but instead made itself another one to replace the old one.

Does it mean then that come what may the South/West would remain in opposition to the government at the center regardless of who is in power whether he is a Yoruba man or not? Not necessarily because its opposition politics is more sophisticated than fighting for the South/West to control the center as we have seen by some sections of the nation lately. Its opposition is based on ideology rather than the mere acquisition of political power at the center. It was that ideological incompatibility that made the region to reject its own son in the person of late MKO Abiola in the 1993 presidential election, which he won regardless. It was the same reason the South/West rejected another of its own sons OBJ in the 1999 presidential election, which he won regardless. The South/West is clearly in a class of its own and pretenders to its thrown of opposition simply fumble along with hair brained opposition politicking. The South/West only puts on its coat of opposition if the leadership at the center did not come from the right ideological quarters similar to what happened with the leadership of the Independent National Commission (INEC) under Maurice Iwu. If the leadership at the center and INEC happen to come from the right side of the political spectrum the South/West would at least temporarily discard or hang its coat of opposition for sure. This, in fact, happened during the IBB military regime when Chief Awolowo was reported to have asked his lieutenants to deal with IBB kindly because the latter had returned his international passport seized by the Buhari junta and accorded him the respect due to his person and status which Buhari had impudently denied him and others particularly in the South/West including but not limited to Chief Michael Ajasin, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Ebenezer Babatope, Professor Ambrose Ali from then Bendel state who died from the trauma of Buhari’s dungeon and many others from the South/West that Buhari had either imprisoned or put under house arrest on flimsy charges of corruption. Chief Awolowo’s kind treatment of IBB in advising his political aides to be less confrontational to the IBB regime was not based on ideology as such but rather a return for a perceived favor more or less.

And it would appear also that the late Yar’Adua was from the right side of the political spectrum as far as the South/West was concerned in his short two-year stint in power before death snatched him midstream. Unlike the case under OBJ who is a son of the soil who was under ferocious attacks from his South/West, Yar’Adua got off quite well with some respite from the opposition throughout his reign and even commands some goodwill posthumously in the region till date. Again the reason for this is not farfetched. Although Yar’Adua belonged to the PDP like OBJ he had endeared himself to the South/West political mandarins by distancing himself from the policies of his predecessor who almost single-handedly put him in power even in the teeth of opposition. Yar’Adua’s apparent antagonism toward OBJ real or imagined was enough to earn him some respite from the nation’s opposition headquarters and civil rights groups. After all, he had conceded rather naively that the election that brought him to power was deeply flawed—an admission that the opposition turned into an opposition national anthem. Yet Yar’Adua would not quit power or accede to the demands for vote recount. Instead he vehemently denied being rigged into power by INEC at both the Presidential Election Tribunal and at the Supreme Court where he stoutly defended his victory together with Jonathan after shooting himself in the foot. Having won his case finally at the Supreme Court, however, he and Jonathan had no further use of Iwu and it was therefore time to play to the gallery and actively court the opposition. Iwu suddenly became a marked man from then on and it was only a matter of time that he would be shown the exit door. And pronto! they threw the man who had declared both of them winner and had successfully defended the verdict at both the Tribunal and the Supreme Court under the bus and to the wolves to be mauled. This is one of the reasons why many people hold the view that politics is a dirty game that has neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies and only the wheeler dealers can survive and prosper in it—those without no other principles than those of Machiavelli.

This romance between the Yar’Adua administration and the opposition groups in the South/West has noticeably been extended to the Jonathan administration even though unlike Yar’Adua Jonathan has refused to distance himself from OBJ and had instead courted and benefited greatly from the latter especially during the transition from Yar’Adua to Jonathan in 2010 before and after his death as well as in the run up to the 2011 presidential elections; with particular reference to the PDP zoning formula which some mischief makers had deliberately misrepresented to specifically deny Jonathan a run for the presidency. Today the South/West has all but abandoned its coat of opposition and it is working with Jonathan. The spat between ACN emperor, Bola Tinubu and Jonathan was a mere flash in the pan that soon fizzled out. It was this newfound romance between the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration on the one hand and the opposition on the other hand that scuttled the proposed merger between ACN and Buhari’s CPC before the 2011 presidential election. If truth be told ACN is more comfortable with Jonathan, ideologically, not the PDP, than with Buhari and his bunch of religious irredentists in his CPC contraption though both Tinubu and Buhari belong to the same Islamic religion. As usual, Buhari was too politically naïve to read the political vital signs of the ACN that were decidedly anti-Buhari and anti CPC but evidently pro-Jonathan even if not pro-PDP as a party platform knowing full well that the presidency controls the party. This was evident in the landslide victory of candidate Jonathan in the South/West in the 2011 presidential election. There is, therefore, no greater evidence that the South/West, regardless of political affiliations is ready to do business with the man in power at the center than its total endorsement of candidate Jonathan and his clean sweep of the geo-political zone in the presidential election, humiliating even the candidate of the ACN itself, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. Why would the CAN abandon its own presidential candidate for the PDP candidate? The answer is because Ribadu was a losing proposition therefore it was not political wise to sink with a losing proposition. Just think about it: If the South/West or part thereof had gone to Ribadu like in Osun state of what use would that be to the ACN when Ribadu was a no-show in the rest parts of the country? The South/West would have handed itself a lose-lose situation than it is now.

Now if the South/West has abandoned its coat of opposition who inherits it then? Which part of the country has the opposition headquarters moved to? This then is the crux of this piece that seeks to unveil the emerging new face of Nigeria’s opposition politics or more appropriately pretenders to the throne of the Tinubus, Falanas and the Akandes of the South/West. The fact of the matter though is that as already indicated above opposition politics died in Nigeria since the beginning of the Yar’Adua administration. While many might set their sights at the North/West in search of the new face of opposition politics in Nigeria, there is no single individual of Chief Awolowo’s towering political stature and intellectual profundity around whom the new opposition could rally in the North/West. Unlike the late Chief Awolowo, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is intellectually obtuse and politically inept and relies on brute force, violence and religion to prosecute his political agenda. Lately he has added public weeping to his repertoire. However, like Chief Awolowo, Buhari has his own fanatical supporters most but not necessarily all of whom are religious bigots. To be counted among his fanatical supporters is a man who goes by the name Mallam e-Rufai who has suddenly assumed the position of Buhari’s altar ego. Although he was allowed to come back home by President Jonathan from self-exile while allegedly under political persecution by the late Yar’Adua who had charged him in absentia with certain malfeasances while in office as Minister of Federal Capital Territory during the OBJ administration, el-Rufai seems to have declared war on the Jonathan administration on behalf of himself and Buhari. He has taken his campaign of calumny beyond Nigeria’s shores to Western capitals in a bid to not only discredit the results of the 2011 presidential election but the Jonathan administration itself. El Rufai, who by the way did not contest any election that we know of in 2011, but he has been crying more than the bereaved in Buhari’s loss of the election. He has been mounting scurrilous attacks on the Jonathan administration which is barely one year old in office more than he did Yar’Adua’s in two years even though it was Yar’Adua not Jonathan, who wanted him dead or alive. He has seemingly transferred his aggression on Jonathan for reasons not altogether clear to many a Nigerian since Jonathan had no axe to grind with him other than continuing with the prosecution of the case he inherited from Yar’Adua just like many others including Major Mustapha and Bode George’s cases just to mention but a few.

Against all tenets of civilized behavior el-Rufai sees nothing wrong with the killing and destruction going on in the Northern parts of the country which he would readily blame on Jonathan as if these began under the Jonathan administration. He has not raised his voice in condemnation of the senseless violence going on in parts of the North. In his utterly vindictive and provocative write ups he claims that a nation of 150 million people had access to only 1500mw of power as if Nigeria had 24hour all round power supply when he was in power as Minister under the OBJ administration or even under Yar’Adua administration. He is trying hard to paint the Jonathan’s administration as a failure even before it has taken off. For starters, it took Yar’Adua nearly four months to send his ministerial nominees to the senate for confirmation and even when he did only a partial list was sent. In comparison Jonathan’s list is ready in less than a month after his inauguration! In comparison Yar’Adua who never implemented the recommendations of his own Electoral Reform Commission headed by Hon. Justice Uwais Jonathan did it in less than one month after he took over power. In comparison Yar’Adua who never implemented his own power reform agenda which he had promised Nigerians including the declaration of emergency in the power sector, and even refusing to implement the NIPP projects which he inherited from OBJ, Jonathan rolled out his Power Sector Roadmap and has all but implemented all of the NIPP projects adding significantly to the nation’s total power outputs. And he is aggressively pursuing the power reform agenda he formulated with single-minded determination based on the OBJ template with an accomplished professional, not a politician like el-Rufai who could not bring a single megawatt of electricity to Abuja under his tenure, in the person of Professor Bath Nnaji on the driver’s seat. Now that is as good as it gets. In comparison to the election that brought Yar’Adua to power Jonathan’s election has been adjudged free and fair so far as it was practically possible under the very daunting Nigerian situation. And by the way Nigerians did not hear the voice of el-Rufai rubbishing the Yar’Adua’s mandate to govern both in international and local forums.

If el-Rufai is pursuing a personal vendetta against President Jonathan on account of his prosecution at the ICPC on corruption charges or whatever, he needs to be reminded that it was not Jonathan that filed those charges against him. They began under Yar’Adua before Justice Constance Momoh and continued under Jonathan. If he was expecting Jonathan to simply withdraw the charges against him instead of defending and clearing his name that should tell the kind of people we have as ministers in that country. He needs to be reminded that his audience in the Western capitals he runs to, to launch his vitriolic attacks on Jonathan do not spare their leaders if found wanting in office but must be made to face the full weight of the law including even their presidents, governors and ministers, just like himself. Why would he want any preferential treatment then in the hands of President Jonathan? Was he working for General Buhari in the hope of getting a reprieve if Buhari had won? Is this the kind of Nigeria of el-Rufai’s dream where ex-leaders charged with corrupt practices would be left off the hooks simply because they worked for the election of a presidential candidate? If el-Rufai would not condemn the killing of Youth Corp members sent on national duty in the North but would rather seek to rationalize and justify their killings then something is definitely wrong somewhere with those we call leaders in Nigeria and Nigeria is certainly not out of the woods yet. If el-Rufai wants to step into the shoes of the South/West political activists and opposition leaders he should go back to the drawing board and articulate a clear focus devoid of personal vendetta, mudslinging or religious posturing. There is definitely a place for the opposition in the scheme of things but certainly not from someone who has a case to answer in court on charges of corruption for that matter. It’s an insult on the intelligence of Nigerian to have an indicted individual lecturing them about good governance. We have heard enough of the nonsensical writings from Mallam el-Rufai. The only place he should be heard from is in the court or Tribunal in defense of the charges hanging over his neck brought not by Jonathan he is vilifying but his fellow Northerner late President Musa Yar’Adua. Only in Nigeria would indicted ex-public officers would still have the effrontery to be lecturing their fellow but impoverished citizens about good governance which they themselves worked hard to frustrate or could not deliver while in power. From this moment on I would treat el-Rufai vituperations as desperate attempts to divert public attention from his criminal trial. But Nigerians are no fools and can see through such smokescreen quite readily. Why should any same Nigerian listen to lecture on good governance delivered by one who has been indicted of corruption while in office? If Nigerians are so daft as to listen to sermons coming from such quarters they should assemble all the thieving ex-governors and ex-ministers and make them their lecturers in good governance and public accountability. I’m not saying el-Rufai is one because he has not been found guilty of the charges as of yet but I’m not saying he is not one either by the same token because he has not been discharged of the charges against him. The jury is not out yet. It could go either way. But the honorable thing for him to do as befits every civilized individual is to keep quiet until his name has been cleared rather than engaging in a holier-than-thou vituperation against the person and government of Goodluck Jonathan.

Leaving el-Rufai aside for a moment in trying to locate the locus of opposition politics in Nigeria it is easy to see how both AREWA and the NPLF led by Mallam Adamu Ciroma are struggling to fit their feet into the large shoes left by Chief Awolowo and the South/West opposition titans. How do you conduct political opposition through the killing of the nation’s Youth Corpers and Boko Haram suicide bombings and hope to get any traction in public opinion? Principled opposition must be based on well articulated principles that reasonable members of the society could easily identify with such as ideology or the economic and social empowerment of the masses rather than on such totally selfish motivations as power zoning to the North and the cornering of juicy political offices for a particular region or zone, or for that matter working for the failure of a sitting president who happens to hail from a different geo-ethnic group in patently treasonable manners. With no clear cut altruistic principles animating the fluid opposition coming from parts of the North, therefore, it is doubtful if the North/West in particular would be able to don Nigeria’s coat of opposition the way the South/West had done for nearly 50 years in Nigeria. That seems quite a tall order for the North/West and I don’t see anyone fitting the bill from that region or indeed from the entire North. It’s simply not cut out for principled opposition but opportunistic and banal politicking totally devoid of ennobling features and elements.

In conclusion I would say that that coat is still up for grabs, for neither el-Rufai, nor AREWA or for that matter the NLPF is capable of assuming that position and discharge its functions creditably with their narrow minded, selfish agenda, which is way off the principled and ideology-based opposition mounted by Chief Awolowo and his able lieutenants in the South/West. His shoes are just too big for the el-Rufais and the Ciromas of Nigeria. Chief Awolowo’s opposition politics was clear cut and entirely based on ideological principles for the public good. He wanted power not for his geo-political South/West region as the el-Rufais, AREWAs and the NLPFs want for the North for the sake of it, but power at the center to enable him extend the giant strides made in the South/West under him to all parts of the country including free education, free health care and gainful employment which constituted parts of his famous Five Cardinal Program. What would anyone associate with the el-Rufais, the AREWAs and the NLPFs in the North today for their opposition politics other than zoning power to the North and utterly degrading Nigeria’s politics? When you hear the name AREWA and NLPF what immediately comes to mind? Zoning, of course! Nothing noble, nationalistic, ideological or programmatic, but primitive politics that debase our nation! It may well be that the South/West did not discard its coat of opposition after all but merely hung it somewhere only for opposition upstarts like el-Rufai to try it on to see if it fits. Well it doesn’t quite fit and if it must be worn it would require major adjustments to make it fit. Can somebody please let them know it does not fit? It could save them the embarrassment of wearing an oversized coat that is trailing behind them on the ground and sweeping up dirt and debris along with them. Only clowns walk around in the streets like that. Opposition politics in Nigeria is not and should not be about individuals, religion or ethnicity but about principles, programs and policies that would elevate the standards of living of all Nigerians and lift up the nation to where it should be. And those who have cases to answer should please leave us alone and go clear their names first before we give them audience at the public square. That is politics for the 21st century and not for the Stone Age.

From the stable of --Cutting-Edge Analytics—

Franklin Otorofani is an Attorney and Public Affairs Analyst


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