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Whither opposition

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Whither opposition

A common practice in advanced democracies across the globe is that the opposition ensures that the voice of the governed is heard to spur government to action. Besides this, it also forms a recognised, and even semi-official “government in- waiting.” The existence of an opposition, without which politics ceases, is indispensable to the functioning of parliamentary political systems, as uncensored public criticism and the threat of being thrown out of office, prevents rulers from acting with impunity.

Though it is the right of a democratically elected government to govern, it is also the duty of that government to do so in a manner that contributes to the consolidation of democracy. It is against this backdrop that the opposition’s role is to question the government of the day and hold it accountable to the public. Another major role is proposing alternatives to what the government is doing so that the public gets the benefit of political debate between different directions, as opposition is not just about opposing the government or a mere mechanism of obstruction but is expected to contribute substantially to the decision making process. However, there are occasions on which oppositions agree with the government.

These tend to be where it is simply in the wider public interest that a problem is fixed as well as where the solution the government is proposing has wide support and hard to disagree it. Regrettably, this has not been the case in Nigeria. Instead of holding the government accountable and serving as alternative platforms, most members of opposition parties chase after political offices. Much noise would be made to rubbish and paint the party in government in bad light, but immediately an opportunity is opened, they grab it. The situation was worsened by the leadership crisis that rocked the main opposition party – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Many had expected that the former ruling party would put the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on its toes, but the party allowed internal wrangling to balkanise it, hence its inability to assume the position of a shadow government. But, it must be stated very clear that there could be no strong democracy without a strong opposition.

The strength of opposition is an essential element for measuring the quality of democracy. Every country has a government; only democracies have opposition. Opposition is not simply a question of party politics. In a healthy democracy, opposition cuts across party lines to embrace issues on which members of both the majority and the opposition have the courage to challenge their party´s positions to bring out the best for the good of all

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June 12: Reps’ verdict on Abiola’s recognition

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June 12: Reps’ verdict on Abiola’s recognition

The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to honour the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election, Chief MK.O Abiola as well as declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day precipitated a rancorous plenary in the House of Representatives, PHILIP NYAM reports.

 

On June 6, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari in a surprised move declared June 12 as a national holiday and authentic Democracy Day as from next year.
The President also announced his decision to confer a posthumous honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Bashorun MKO Abiola.

Also on the honours list was Amb. Babagana Kingibe, the running mate to Chief Abiola, who was conferred with the Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON). Similarly, the late revered lawyer and human rights crusader, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was honoured for his contribution to the growth of democracy in the country.
This decision by the President resonated in the House of Representatives as lawmakers engaged one another in a heated debate supporting or kicking against the idea.

Being an issue that has refused to disappear from the nation’s political scene, every lawmaker had a position on it. Hence for almost an hour, the lower chamber was thrown into rowdiness as each legislator struggled to pass his message across.
Perhaps, due to the unexpected manner the presidential declaration on the issue came, some of the lawmakers could not articulate their views coherently.

Not a few Nigerians expected that President Buhari, having come from the military constituency, which annulled the election, would reverse a decision that was taken under a military regime, which previous administrations never thought of tinkering with.

So, the arguments by most of the lawmakers were dictated by sentiments, particularly the same primordial sentiments that were erased with the outcome of the June 12 presidential election.

Although some of the lawmakers decided to hide under the canopy of constitutionality to oppose the President’s decision to honour Abiola and Kingibe, thereby placing legality ahead of the wounds that this singular act is intended to heal.

The reaction of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, labeling the posthumous award as illegal may have also fuelled the disorderliness that erupted in the House.

But the immediate cause of the commotion was consequent upon a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Hon. Raji Olawale (APC, Lagos), calling for the recognition of the Presidential declaration of June 12 as democracy day.

While presenting the motion, Hon. Olawale submitted that June 12 remains a memorable day in the history of Nigeria. He extolled President Buhari for “finally listening to the voice of the people.”

He argued that “June 12 was the very first time Nigerians, regardless of tribe or religion, voted massively for the duo of Abiola and Kingibe. If June 12 had been allowed to stand, Nigeria would not have been where it is today.

That is why President Buhari finally listened to the voice of the people,”
Supporting the motion, Hon. Chris Azubogu (PDP, Anambra) agreed with Olawale that the declaration marked a watershed in the history of Nigeria and vindicated those involved in June 12. He, however, observed that the declaration was incomplete because Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, who was the chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) that conducted that historic election, was left out of the recognition.

He noted that “but one thing is missing, the umpire who conducted that historic election was not recognised.”
Similarly, Hon. Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu). shared the same view, reiterating that those who midwifed the election should also have been recognised.
According to him, “June 12 is one of the things that symbolise this country, but some people conducted the election and are supposed to be recognised.”
But Hon. Rotimi Agunsoyo (APC, Ondo), in his contribution expressed concerns with the implication of declaring Abiola as the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election would be.

Trouble, however, started when the chairman, House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta) described the President’s action as an “act of desperation” and drew the attention of the lawmakers to item 51 of the Exclusive Legislative List, which subjects the declaration of public holidays to legislative ratification.

Speaker Yakubu Dogara, quickly punctured Ossai’s position citing section 2 of the Constitution that empowers the President to declare any day as public holiday without legislative ratification. Dogara, also a lawyer made his intervention from the point of knowledge and not from a political perspective.
But Hon. Aliyu Pategi (APC, Kwara) read out from a subsisting Act of the National Assembly that actually declared May 29 as a nationally recognised “Democracy Day.”

“We must make sure that whatever we do is recognised by our laws,” Pategi advised other lawmakers.
The House became divided as those in support and against the motion started shouting at one another and the shouts of “sit down,” “we stand with Abiola” rented the air.

The rowdiness continued for more than half an hour before normalcy was returned to the chambers. Addressing the plenary after the reign of noise, Speaker Dogara declared: “Honourable colleagues, we have had the opportunity of exercising ourselves today. But this the beauty of democracy.”
Continuing, Dogara noted that “this shows that democracy is alive,” while admitting that certain corrective measures have to be taken to bring the declaration in tandem with existing laws.

While referring the matter to House joint Committee on Justice and Rules and Business, Dogara declared that “there is no winner in this matter. Unfortunately, I am going to discontinue this debate and refer it to committees on justice and rules and business to look at it and give a report to enable us take a decision.”

He said the committees would “look at the whether Section 2 of the law will override the provision of No.5 of the Schedule, which proclaimed May 29 as Democracy Day.”

The House proceeded on a recess to mark the end of the third session of the current Assembly, but the President has performed the first part of the declaration.

While the two committees of the House are yet to sit and look at the assignment given to them, which its report may have to wait until the lawmakers reconvene from the short break on July 3, the President last Tuesday, conferred the honour on late Abiola, Kingibe and late Fawehinmi.
But most analysts are of the view that even if this action by the President is illegal, it is political expedient and tolerable because of the heightened political situation in the nation.

Although, some analysts have contended that it may be just a campaign gimmick being employed by Buhari to curry favour and sway votes from the South-West geopolitical zone, there is no doubt that the gesture will definitely defray some frayed nerves.
It is also a pointer to the fact that in the days ahead, the Buhari administration may strive to take some populists decisions to once again warm itself into the hearts of Nigerians.

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Atiku visits Fayose, canvasses support for PDP candidate

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Atiku visits Fayose, canvasses support for PDP candidate

Former Vice President and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) frontline presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, yesterday, visited Ekiti State for a strategic review meeting with Governor Ayodele Fayose, where he also rallied support for Prof. Kolapo Olusola, the PDP governorship candidate in the state for the July 14 election.

A statement from the office of the Director General, Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation (APCO), Otunba Gbenga Daniel, also disclosed that the campaign team will be in Yenogoa, Bayelsa State capital today in continuation of Atiku’s nationwide consideration with Governor Seriake Dickson and other chieftains of the party in the state.

 

Later, Atiku Abubakar will be in Rivers State on a two-day visit between Wednesday and Thursday, where he is expected to commission some projects executed by Governor Nyesom Wike. The team will also pay courtesy calls on some major stakeholders in the PDP in Rivers State.

 

It will be recalled that Atiku had earlier visited Ekiti, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River States meeting with the respective governors of the states before taking a break to observe the Ramadan fast that took him to Saudi Arabia to perform the lesser hajj.

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Oshiomhole: My supporters know what I stand for

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Oshiomhole: My supporters know what I stand for

Ahead of the national convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the immediate past Governor of Edo State and aspirant for the seat of national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, speaks on some knotty issues in the party, those supporting him and the challenges, among other issues. CAJETAN MMUTA reports

 

 

What makes you think that you are the best man for the job of national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at this point that the party seems to be in crisis?

 

I am very familiar with the dreams, missions and visions of the founders of this party because I was one of them. Four years down the road, in line with the provisions of our constitution, the APC and the constitution of Nigeria, we are obliged to have an elective convention and one of the positions that is being contested for is that of the national chairman. And I am convinced that I have what it takes to provide leadership and build on the foundation laid by the first chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, who did a marvelous job. So, I think for a political party that is determined to be in power, you need a solid structure to achieve it and God used Bisi Akande and other leaders such as President Muhammadu Buhari, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and others to achieve that. After which Chief John Oyegun came in to contribute his own quota to build on that foundation and four years after, we have the opportunity to contest for that office believing that we can help to reinvent and refocus the party in a way that it will be a strong pillar to support governments elected on its platform at both the local, state and federal levels. And also help to ensuring that the definition and essence of progressive politics is one that is clear to all members and leaders of the party to form the basis of the contract to our people as entrenched in our party’s constitution.

 

To subscribe to the values of progressive politics is to commit yourself to a party that is people driven, mass oriented and committed to public welfare. My hope then is that my task will be to try to begin to help everyone not only to understand the essence of progressive politics and the ideology that it represents, but start the process of building the party, so that in the very nearest future Nigerians should be able to stop the debate about whether or not there is a difference between one party and the other. And to be honest, it is a huge challenge to try to make the distinction, which is why people say they don’t know the difference between one party and the other. And of course, the ease with which people cross-carpet also raises the issue of whether really there are fundamental ideological differences. But, why we need to deepen this and make it an issue is that if we do not do it, then Nigerian people really do not have a sustainable basis to align with one political party or the other as we found elsewhere.

 

I think the danger of not having ideological based political parties is that party contestation is then driven by religion and ethnicity, which is very dysfunctional as long as managing the affairs of a state is concerned. Religion is important in our lives to guide our values and create a sense of fairness, justice and above all, the fear of God without which we can’t make progress. But, it can become dysfunctional if conversation and friendship is driven exclusively by these ethnic and religious sentiments. Like I said, elsewhere recently, unless we act proactively, that is members of the political elite to really get serious and organize parties based on ideology, these other forces will crowd out the political class and politics will be very injurious and national unity will be weakened and that will be a danger to our future. So, I am clear as to what my task will be, it is not to reinvent the foundation, it is now to look at the finishing to strengthen the house. And two, to evolve a leadership style such that every member of the house can find reasonable comfort to remain in the house and any one expressing discomfort will be assisted to see how we can work together to have comfort in that house rather than a situation in which if you are not comfortable, you open the door and if it does not open, you jump through the window and look for another house.

 

I think we have taken certain thing for granted since 1999, so we want to be able to provide a leadership style that will challenge other political parties to get serious. At the beginning it was like that, people knew the difference between Aminu Kano’s party and other political parties. We knew the difference between the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). So, it will help the public know which party to belong to. If you look at the June 12 election, people voted based on ideology of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) and that was why you saw that MKO Abiola won in Kano. So, what has changed today, same Nigeria same people. I think what has changed is that there is a huge deficit of the capacity of the political elite to put issues on the table and for ease of defence, people resort to ethnic sentiment when their stewardship comes into evaluation. And when they are seeking support and they do not have a coherent message to persuade the people, they resort to cheaper option of religion. I believe that as a people, we need to deal with this by bringing on board issues to replace these sentiments which can be quite annoying.

Are you not worried you are gunning for the position at a time when people are threatening to leave your party and some have even left?

 

It is also important to say that we have even expanded the house of APC as many people have decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to APC after the formation of the party in 2014 and even after the last elections. So, I think we have lost few, but we have gain more and I believe there are many who will come may be after I assume office, God willing, if I win based on my conversation with people because I know people across all the divides. However, that does not mean that we don’t have a problem. But I thank God that He blessed the Nigerian people by directing their thoughts during the last election to vote in President Buhari and excuse former President Goodluck Jonathan because from all the revelations now, those of us and those other Nigerians who believe that the level of corruption and theft of public fund has gotten to a level that is no longer sustainable to a point that President Buhari said if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria cannot be faulted.

 

Those who thought it was just as simple slogan have seen the extent of abuse, like I was able to say it to President Jonathan and the service  chiefs at that time, that by 1999 General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over 774 local governments to President Olusegun Obasanjo to superintend over, but by 2014-2015, PDP was only superintending over about 250 local governments, the rest were under the control of Boko Haram. This is not my opinion, it came from security agencies when they came together in the last National Council of State meeting before the 2015 general elections, around December 2014, in which the then president requested for postponement of the general elections on account of the fact that he could not guarantee security in many of the local government areas in the North-East.

 

I was reading virtually every other day how soldiers were being accused for running away from battle and they were being arraigned before military tribunals. To the credit of Mr. Femil Falana, he rose to their defence, but in spite of that many of them were condemned to death including senior officers. But we now know that they were not actually running away from battles, they were simply refusing to commit suicide because the funds budgeted for defence was converted to party funds and distributed through a chief security officer to various bank accounts of PDP leaders and activists to share for all kind of purposes including electoral purposes. Generals took queue from what the political commander-in-chief seemed to have endorsed. We saw from findings by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that funds were buried in unlikely places and the result is that s for the first time, the Nigerian armed forces which have played prominent roles abroad suddenly could not secure their territory.

 

So, I believe that Nigerians will not forget in a hurry that the Nigerian state was almost going down over the twin issue of corruption and the growing influence of Boko Haram before Buhari came. I remember saying at the National Council of State meeting that the Nigerian armed forces by their conduct were demystifying the Nigerian state because the states are held together by the armed forces and when the army announced that a rag tag army has become so strong that they could not provide security for election, Nigeria for me was approaching the beginning of the end. That historic change was to preserve the sanctity of the Nigeria nation. I have not heard since Buhari came in that our soldiers were running from battle, which means they are now better kitted and above all, they are inspired by the character and quality of the commander-in-chief. And whatever is the imperfection noticed in our security system will be nothing when you compare it with what it was before Buhari became president. So, I think what we need to do is to assist Nigerians not to forget some of these things in a hurry.

 

Like the Esogban of Benin, Chief David Edebiri, said, this generation of Nigerians will never forgive PDP for all the evil they committed in this country, even the issue of religion, who elevated it to a state level. We saw a president in the morning, going with a number of bishops with camera men to Israel. So, pilgrimage became a political instrument that has to be published and we watched on our television that the president is in Israel. Then in the evening, he is in the palace of traditional ruler, worshipping idol. For me, whatever you want to say, there are fundamental things that have changed. But whether we still have challenges, yes; we still have security problems, but to say that nothing has changed, a lot has changed and I believe much more will change. At least we now have a president who can even in the presence of everybody say I accept the faults of my predecessors and I apologize. He did it not only to the Abiola family, but to all those who voted in that June 12, 1993 election. That is a statement about the humility of President Buhari.

 

What is your take on the crisis rocking the APC?

 

I think what has happened is that we had expected what one described as chemical reaction, but what we got was a physical reaction. Chemical reaction would have led to bounding of all the various elements into one organic whole. But unfortunately the physical reaction, where the various parts are dangling and trying to hang on, the center is not clear and it is that reaction that you observed and described as a huge challenge. It is real. By holding meetings of organs of a party, the various people that formed APC should have been bounded. People were supposed to form progressive alliances. I think we have not done too well in holding regular meetings of organs of APC across the 774 local governments to meet and know one another. Once we institutionalize regular meetings and encourage debates and contestation, that chemical reaction will take place and the party will bounce back.

 

Secondly, we must also develop skills to manage conflict. In all of those states, where we have crisis, you will find out that those conflicts were not really inevitable. They were just a reflection of people who think it is normal to have different points of view in a matter. However as they begin to disagree, depending on your temperament or understanding of challenges of democracy, you begin to think that you are fighting and that you don’t agree with yourselves. You then need someone to come in to remind you of what binds you together rather than what divides you. But let me tell you something; in the real world, nobody gets what he wants, you get what you are able to negotiate. As a trade unionist, I know that I was never able to get all that I demanded from my employer. But my employer was never also able to escape with his desire to maximize profit even at the expense of my life; which is why common to the central of my interaction, is always give and take, compromises. Dialogue is central to serving a free society and a free organization. So, we will bring all of these to bear to deal with these issues.

 

What are your thoughts on the legislative/executive rift, which many people believe is responsible for the inability of the APC administration to function effectively?

 

The founders of our presidential system rightly settled for separation of powers and the parliament is the symbol of democracy. It is therefore not unexpected that the parliament may have a position on an issue that may be different from that of the executive. That is why in all democracies across the word, lobby comes in. The process of persuading each other is about communication, persuasion, negotiation and that is what we see in America. But, I think again that we have not been too successful as a party in intervening to build viable bridges between the executive and the legislature using the instrument of the party. When there is party decision, everybody abides by it and you need this to happen by holding meetings.

 

The truth is that even when we resolve matters today, it does not mean that another one will not rear its head tomorrow. Therefore, the capacity to intervene has to be constant. It is not once and for all, it is a process and unless you have the capacity to deal with issues as they arise, you should not be there to lead the party. And I have done all of that when I was president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). We had nationwide support because through dialogue we find solutions at the Labour House and everybody has that sense of ownership. So, we can bridge the gap between the executive and the legislature and bring the full benefit of our majority in the parliament as well as our control in the executive.

 

I am clear what the tasks are and all of these can be fixed. I don’t need eight months to fix 16 years problem, but what I need is a level of clarity and above all, a sense of fairness that people can see that they should trust me and I will accept the advice they will offer. There will not be a question of one drug curing all ailments; your solution has to be formed by the specifics of each of the problems that you find along the way.

 

It is a gale of endorsements for your aspiration, why do you think APC stakeholders are supporting you?

 

If I have prominent people from the North, prominent people from the South, East and West, it means I will be at the center. No one will say if not for my support, you would not have been there. If you are a product of one section, then you might remain detained by that section if you feel that to return that office you must service that section because it is your support base. But, when you have the privilege of a broad support, from many leaders, then no one leader will say I put you there, you must listen to me.

 

Let me also say that what is also qualitative different about this support is that there is no question about what is influencing this support because conventionally, in our political environment, we hear that who has the deepest pocket tends to buy the support. This support is being offered from people who cannot be procured, which tells you it is flowing from the knowledge of my person because I have been fortunate to work with all the governors, including past governors. Those I did not meet in office, I met them when I was president of the NLC, we had engaged one-on-one and they know what I stand for. So, they offered this support based on their understanding of my person and not inducement and that makes a difference.

 

But some people nurse the fear that you may not be easily amenable…

 

You see, one of the things I learnt in the labour union is negotiation and never to be dictatorial because even though I was the president of the NLC, I cannot even control my deputy because he was voted the same manner I was elected. In the NLC, you must listen to everybody unlike in government, where as an executive, you can dictate decisions. So, what my background prepared me for is to be able to listen and that is why in every for a, I kept saying contestation. Disputes are not dysfunctional if you have the skills that I have to manage divergences. I have never exercised dictatorial powers, I have always exercised persuasive powers, negotiating skills, and those are my skills. And when I negotiate with you and persuade and you accept, you will feel obliged to do what you have to do. But if I dictate to you, when I am not watching you, will do your heart. So, I am not capable of being a dictator by the very nature of my background.

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