KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL writes on the tension the recently released list of alleged treasury looters is generating in the polity
Democracy according to former United States President, Abraham Lincoln is “the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Given its ability to ensure socio-political stability, and reflect the desires of the people, democracy seems to be the most preferred system of government lately. It provides a platform for groups of individuals with the same ideology and interest to come together under an umbrella (political party) to push forward this ideology in line with societal values and nationalism. Political parties are social organizations with a representative function. They represent particular interests, aggregate and communicate them to political and government institutions. Political parties epitomize the fighting spirit; a readiness for political action and confrontation. It is the only avenue to institutionally organize around different views of society. In every democracy, political parties have a crucial function in the state and future of governance any such nation.
For any democracy to be robust, there has to be a viral opposition; the basic fulcrum on which democracy thrives even as it is designed to make all voices heard. In most cases, the quality of any democracy is measured by the ability of the opposition party to present itself as a viable option if the democratic space is open for it to thrive. The role of opposition is crucial to democracy and speaks directly to any democracy’s future. These roles amongst other things include: to hold the government accountable; serve as watchdogs which ensures that government functions within the confines of the law; pursue justice when the government deviates from the law of the constitution; expose issues as corruption, nepotism and the abuse of power and most importantly, they serve as a credible alternative to ruling government given that competition is healthy in ensuring better service delivery and preventing complacency by the sitting government.
Notably, the opposition is in a vantage position to call for debate and draw media attention to key national issues and can further push for a national conversation while enhancing a culture of democratic discourse. It can also foster national debate and strengthen policy.
Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, many political parties have been conceived to serve as a platform to drive forward their ideologies or perhaps, to win elections. Evidently, all of them took the back seat following the victory of the Peoples Democratic Party’s victory in the 1999 general elections thereby making the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All People’s Party (APP) the major opposition parties back then. In 2003, it was the All Nigeria’s People Party (ANPP) and a weakened AD; ANPP and the Action Congress (AC) were the opposition in 2007. The 2011 election saw the emergence of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), ANPP and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) as the major opposition however, both parties merged with a faction of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in 2013 to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) and remained in the opposition until its victory against the PDP in the 2015 polls.
APC’s victory suddenly saw PDP assume the position of opposition after its 16 years in power. Naturally, the party picked up its jaw as Nigerians looked on to see how it plays the part. Three years down the line, the once self-acclaimed largest party in Africa, rather than be on the vanguard for the clamor for good governance and more democratic freedom in Nigeria, it remains a shadow of its former self and appears to be at a loss as to how to be a formidable opposition. It has yielded much ground to the ruling APC so much so that the latter has capitalized on its state of ineptitude and resumed relentlessly, new series of bashing at the same pace witnessed prior to 2015 which helped de-market the PDP thus leading to its loss at the polls. The defeat and recent bashing has put the PDP on the back-foot, ridding it of all its attacking arsenal and like in a game of football, it is now playing defensive while its role as the main opposition political party to criticize every known weakness of law of the ruling party suffers.
As pointed out above, one of the roles of opposition is to keep the ruling government on its toes by checking its excesses in a bid to prevent and protect the democracy from collapse but the PDP remains enmeshed in series of controversies owing to alleged corrupt practices by its members while in power. For this reason, APC has kept at its criticism of the party long after it took over power as the ruling government leaving PDP rattled with little time to be a formidable opposition.
In the past months, PDP on various occasion had to defend itself as well as actions of its members during the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and in what seemed like an epiphany, PDP resorted to apologizing to Nigerians for all the wrong it did while in office promising to turn a new leaf. The apology was tendered by the National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, at a public national discourse on “Contemporary Governance in Nigeria” in Abuja. He apologized for what he termed “impunity, the imposition of candidates and other mistakes made in the past”, and assured that under his watch, there would be no imposition of candidates or any form of impunity in the party’s activities.
“I hereby, as the National Chairman, do admit that the PDP made a lot of mistakes; we are humans, not spirits and the ability to admit is key in moving forward. We admit that we have made several mistakes; we have passed through all our challenges and have acquired the experience no other party can boast of; we were sanctioned by Nigerians at the polls in 2015. Let me use this opportunity to apologise for our past mistakes. It is the honest thing to do, a legacy to transfer to our children; we cannot continue like that; When we make mistakes, we should come out boldly to the people and apologise; we have learnt our lessons and we are ready to begin on a new agenda”, Secondus said.
But hardly had Nigerians gotten around to its apology, the party typically, challenged the APC to publicize names of PDP members who allegedly looted the nation’s treasury. The challenge followed vice president, Yemi Osinbajo’s claim that the PDP-led government at the federal level crippled Nigeria’s economy. Osinbajo who made the claim while delivering a speech during a colloquium in honor of a national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, in Lagos said, “from all I have seen in government in the past three years, the corruption of the previous five years is what destroyed the Nigerian economy. Every time we talk, we as a party, and your government must show the difference between us and the party and government that impoverished our nation.”
Swiftly, PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, faulted the Vice President’s allegations arguing that as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Professor Osinbajo, ought to have substantiated his allegation by providing names.
Ologbondiyan said the Buhari administration should have used the evidence it had, if it actually had any, to arrest and try corrupt members of the PDP. “We challenge him to stop branding figures. He should mention names of those whom he claims corrupted themselves. If he cannot mention their names, and he cannot cause their arrest and he cannot even list these people, he should keep quiet”.
Ologbondiyan further advised Osinbajo to stop blaming the party for corruption over the years. “Our advice to the Vice President, as a professor of law, he knows the pathway to follow when you accuse somebody of corruption. It is not enough to come to the public arena, more so as a man of God, and begin to make an allegation about corruption always.”
Twenty-four hours later, the APC took up the challenge by releasing a list which includes the PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus. Speaking at a news conference in Lagos, the Minister of Information and culture, Lai Mohammed, said the identities of looters were unveiled as a result of the party’s challenge. “The PDP has challenged us to name the looters under their watch. They said they did not loot the treasury. Well, I am sure they know that the treasury was looted dry under their watch yet, the decided to grandstand; this shows the hollowness of their apology; this list is just a tipoff the iceberg, and the PDP is aware of this. We did not make these cases up; many of them are in court and the records are available”, Mohammed stated.
In its reaction, the PDP while dismissing the list as hallow and laughable, again challenged the APC to name any of its (PDP) members that has been convicted for treasury looting. It also countered it by listing cases of alleged looting by officials which it said has been swept under the carpet under the APC government through its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiya, who said for the APC to accuse members of PDP of treasury looting is a case of pot calling kettle black. “This is a government that is yet to account for $26 billion (N9 trillion) stolen through corrupt oil contracts in the NNPC, N1.1 trillion worth of crude diverted to service APC interests, N18 billion Internally Displaced Persons (IDP)intervention fund stolen by APC officials, including their former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal. The N10 billion National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) for which Buhari cabal were indicted, as well as the Mainagate where the APC government recalled and reinstated an individual indicted for scam running into billions of naira”.
The opposition party said the list is an extension of APC’ media trial of its members and only shows that the APC lack proof of corruption against the PDP, adding “the list put forward by the federal government as purported looters amounts to cheap blackmail as none of those listed have been indicted or convicted by any court of competent jurisdiction or panel of enquiry in our country”.
While it has the right to defend itself as well as its members, PDP needs to get its acts together and play the role of opposition rightly by coming up with alternative policies that to the people and do it consistently if it ever wants a shot at governance ever again. And for it to be able to achieve this, it needs to be mature, confident and secure; it can show this by giving the APC credit when necessary and appropriate and without contradiction; it has to be objective and constructive in its criticism, honest and strive at rebuilding confidence in Nigerians to enable them entrust it with their votes in future elections or how else does the PDP hope to win future elections if it consistently puts itself in position of ridicule before the public?
As former New Zealand’ Leader of the opposition, Dr. Don Brash says “any Government has to remain answerable to the public at all times, and a good opposition can put the spotlight on serious issues and have them resolved quickly; the other major role is proposing alternatives to what the government is doing so the public gets the benefit of political debate between different directions”.