Can Labour Party drive Nigeria’s political opposition?
The ascendancy of the APC to power in 2015 has witnessed a systematic erosion of opposition from Nigeria’s politics, leading to the opposition parties failing to influence the electorate during elections as well as being unable to express a national vision or strategy for the country.
Political opposition to the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC), over the past eight years has been ultra-lacklustre, if not non-existent. After the loss of the then ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), to the APC in the 2015 political tidal wave that brought the latter to power, political opposition to the ruling APC essentially went to sleep.
Disapproval of the ruling party’s rich failings and incapability was left to a section of the media and the twittering class, as opposition parties and hitherto vituperative civil society groups, went into an incestuous hibernation that allowed the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari to encouragingly levy their unimpactful agenda on Nigerians.
The feebleness of the PDP as the lead opposition, meant that the ruling party continued to define the narrative, shaping the country, without alternative voices gaining a hold amongst the masses.
The PDP only became visible again just before the 2019 presidential elections, and yet again went on a long hiatus after its electoral and judicial loss, ceding the political and policy space to the ruling party. The PDP came back into political consciousness in 2022, a year before the 2023 general election.
The abject failure of the APC to grow the economy, secure Nigerians and fulfil its grandiose promises of social provisioning were rich enough grounds to hold the feet of the party to the fire of public opprobrium and censure by the PDP; a party that was unable to further define itself as the natural alternative to the clearly disappointing ruling party.
The outcome of Nigeria’s last presidential elections which the APC won amidst loud remonstrations of fraud, voter suppression, intimidation and technical deficiencies, from the opposition parties and their supporters, exposed the repudiation of the PDP by the electorate as the sole major opposition.
“Each of the top three candidates was the leading vote-getter in 12 states, a remarkable first in Nigeria’s modern political era, reflecting the diversity of views that characterised the campaign and the wishes of Nigeria’s voters,” Ned Price, the spokesman of the U.S State Department noted of the elections’ result.
The Labour Party (LP), a previously peripheral party that rode on the back of its popular presidential candidate, won twelve states. Its candidate who came third with 6,101,533 votes has refused to accept the outcome of the elections.
In his first official reaction to the results of the 2023 presidential election, the party’s candidate, Peter Obi, claimed he was the actual winner of the election and vowed to challenge the outcome of the 25 February vote in court.
The will of the people, he said, had been suppressed and swore to explore all legal and peaceful options to reclaim his mandate.
“The good and hardworking people of Nigeria have again been robbed by our supposed leaders whom they trusted…We will explore all legal and peaceful options to reclaim our mandate. We won the election and we will prove it to Nigerians,” he said at the press briefing in Abuja. “We were asked to go to the court. Is that not what they said? So, let’s go there.”
His running mate, Datti Baba-Ahmed, had earlier reinforced the party’s position to seek judicial interrogation of the elections’ outcome, when he held, “It is our position that the purported result didn’t meet the minimum criteria of a transparent, free and fair election in addition to the most condemnable attacks, voters’ intimidation and suppression.
“Please be assured of our determination to fight the injustice that has been perpetuated on Nigerians through all legal and peaceful means.”
Obi and the Labour Party ate deep into the states hitherto considered safe elective states by the PDP – states in the southeast and South-south. In the Federal Capital, Lagos, Plateau and Nasarawa states, the LP triumphed and further made strong showings in Adamawa, Taraba, Benue and several other states. The PDP senator for the FCT who had spent nineteen years as a legislator, twelve of them in the senate, was ousted by LP’s Ireti Kingibe.
What this means is that the PDP has no strong and moral claims to lead Nigeria’s political opposition, having clearly failed to do so since its shocking loss to the APC eight years ago.
Between 2015 and February’s elections this year, PDP’s leadership had centred around Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers state, who practically financed the continued existence of the party after its 2015 defeat, and Atiku Abubakar, the party’s presidential candidate.
Both men mutually detest each other. At 76, Abubakar’s days in electoral politics are limited, and his ability to command widespread respect within the party has been severely compromised by the civil war within the PDP which he helped to ignite when he jettisoned the unwritten rule to zone the party’s presidential ticket to the South.
Abubakar’s entry into the race and his eventual triumph at the primaries in May 2022, sparked an insurgency within the party from which the PDP is yet to recover.
Wike, the loquacious governor of the oil-rich Rivers State led the insurrection against Atiku’s presidential ambition. He had lost to the latter during the primaries and industriously worked against his party’s candidate, supporting the contender from the ruling party instead.
While Atiku is limited by age and the divisive role he played to boost his ambition of becoming president, Wike has lost the moral capacity to lead the PDP. He is widely regarded as a fifth columnist within his party, one who surreptitiously yet seditiously aided the ruling party’s candidate, Bola Tinubu to win the election.
The role of leading the political opposition to the ruling APC looks likely to be filled by the LP. The party is aligned with the country’s leading trade unions. Just before the 2023 Nigerian general election, the party obtained the support of both the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria.
The trade union federations advised their members to vote for Peter Obi. It was the first time the trade union federations would be expressing explicit support for a political party.
The challenge notes a retired security chief, is that whether PDP or Labour, Nigeria’s political parties have since the dawn of the 4th republic been platforms for contesting elections and not structures for questioning government actions and presenting alternatives to existing government policies which is the primary role of the official Opposition, as well as other smaller opposition parties.
“Two critical areas we cannot run away from: We have to re-educate ourselves on what it takes to be a citizen. What we have now; the mindset and the culture is not helpful to our society if we want to develop.
“Secondly, our population is not well managed. It is growing at a rate that we do not have the resources to deal with. Our growth rate means more many more classrooms, hospitals and social amenities that government simply does not have the resources to provide. We need to persuade our citizens that we need to reduce our rate of growth in order to be able to meet the needs of our citizens.
“How well Labour does as the leading opposition depends on how well it serves as a platform for aggregating national opinions and driving opposition to the ruling APC, and not just as a platform to contest an election.
It was simply Peter Obi’s popularity and a feeling amongst a section of the country that he was a different face in Nigerian politics that drove the passion and momentum that led him to where he is now. So, how effective the opposition will be will depend on the decisions they make with respect to deliberately and calculatedly holding the government to its election promises and galvanising public opinion against policies that might not bear dividends.
“Nigeria will be better served if Labour will come to terms with several realities; that they did not have nationwide spread. Labour needs to build its brand, lay out its philosophical basis, bring out more persons, reach out into distant communities so that it can have a good generational, and pan-Nigerian outlook. The PDP needs to rebirth itself to remain a political force.”
Effective opposition parties have the task of encouraging the government to make well-planned and appropriate decisions that benefit the majority of citizens. Nigeria’s opposition have tended to collude with government especially in the national and state legislatures.
Nigeria is not short on challenges whether economic, social and infrastructural development, governance, law and order. A plethora of issues; each one as important as the other which every government must deal with. For the LP, its capacity to hold the government to the fire and also develop its own outlook as the alternative government will depend on how well the party is able to whip its members into line.
The PDP has been a highly undisciplined and unmanageable party; one in which dire consequences for deviance has been all but lacking. If the LP is to be successful as the lead opposition, it must look at the failings of the PDP and decide not to be like the PDP.
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A lecturer who teaches finance at a private university in Nigeria said: “PMB ran for election 2003, 2007, 2011, and only won in 2015. He never gave up and kept gathering forces until he won. Perseverance is key to overcoming the odds in a difficult situation. I believe that Okwute can win as long as the movement continues and grows. I haven’t been this excited about our prospects in recent times. There’s hope.
“2015 taught me that the journey would be far longer than I thought and the Nigeria of my dreams may not happen in my lifetime. Hence the need to look long-term.
“This movement has brought serious potential plan to this long-term bright future. We need to celebrate our victories.”
According to him, “Imagine a campaign that ran on ‘we no give shishi’, spontaneous contributions, excitement over accountability of politicians across board, calls to consider competence over tribe and religion, and so forth. These are the messages that may change our culture for the better. The process itself may matter far more than the outcome.
“Now we have a far better foundation to build on for future victories. I’m very proud of this movement and happy with the results. I pray Okwute continues to push this movement for many years to come. This is just the beginning. There’s hope.”
He advised LP members: “Now let’s focus on the local levels and flush out all the fake Igbo politicians in the South East and make progress there.
“Now to sack APC from Lagos and grab as many governorships and houses of assembly. The OBIdient movement just has begun.”