Short Essay 14
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
Nigerian Opposition and the River Niger Principle
The common sense we often take for granted is not common in politics. Nigerian politicians invest so much energy in politics but with very little result to show. In the end, even as a ruling party, the PDP only succeeds in keeping itself on power through rigging, while the opposition parties return home empty handed after every election, complaining, because they are unable to overcome their egos and unite against the behemoth at the center.
I wrote my last essay under the assumption that the opposition parties are true realists as their rhetoric portrayed since their defeat in 2007; that they will merge, they will align, or simply do whatever it requires to unite and remove the ruling PDP from power. They held many talks without producing any result. So they let the chance of merger, or what they called "megaparty", to slip away. Then they entered the stage of alliance. Here too, they are dragging their feet, unable to script down a document that would be to their common satisfaction. They are behaving like the Children of Israel at the gate of the City.
It is getting late, again. Only three days are left before INEC closes the gate of submissions. The only one that would remain is that of some of the candidates lining up behind one, with little chance of bargaining, and hence little possibility of occurrence. Like in 2007, we may approach the polls with a divided opposition assuring the PDP of another four year tenure. They would have wasted their time and smashed our hopes.
The arithmetic is simple, for we outsiders, anyway. It informs the most fundamental principle in Nigerian politics: the River Niger principle, if the reader would allow my innovation. No politician or party has ever become the President of this country without crossing the Niger. We are not blessed with a Mwalimu, like Tanzania, that would rally us behind the ideology of a motherland; we do not have a pact that shares powers in predetermined ways like Lebanon; etc. But we have the Niger. It dares every candidate to cross it and pick the mantle of leadership. "Cross me, shake the hands of your brothers on the other side and your ambition is fulfilled", the river has told every presidential candidate in the past and present.
Many candidates attempted but failed, either because they did not know how to sail or because they lacked the engine power to make the distance. Some did not even attempt it as they were satisfied with the little crabs they could pick on their side of the river. Only four succeeded: NPC during the First republic, NPN during the Second, SDP during the Third, and PDP during the Fourth. The opposition parties could not. They allowed the ruling parties to steal the boats.
As the country yearns for change from its present state of decadence, the Niger is once more daring the opposition parties. Unless the CPC and the ACN cross the river, our hope for change next April is diminished. Goodluck can as well start to bake his victory cake and hold pre-election victory party right now. I assure him that he woud not need to rig, such that my brother Jega can have less stressful days ahead.
Last weekend the two sides could not agree on the MoU. On Monday, one side snubbed the other by not turning up at all. Yesterday too, no agreement was reached at. If they fail to reach any by the end of the week, they will both put themselves in that debilitating situation where the high probability of failure will weaken their resolve and drain their support.
The opposition parties should not think that they have much time left. Even after they sign the agreement, they would realize that they need to cover a lot of ground against the ruling PDP which has enormous resources at its disposal, sufficient to buy voters and rig elections. Greater than resources to surmount is the religious divide that the party has entrenched already and which no victory would come to the opposition without it being bridged. And bridging it would require a lot of sagacity, time and effort. The comfort of Abuja hotels is not for the opposition now.
If the talks between the parties fail, let the candidates start talking directly, perchance as individuals they might not be encumbered with the divergent interests of their parties. If theynarempatriotic enough, some of them will withdraw for someone. It is interesting to learn that Buhari is already exploring this option by inviting Ribadu to discuss the issue a week ago, an invitation which the latter honoured without delay. The advantage here is that neutral intermediaries would be allowed a role to play. But this too has to be pursued quickly; otherwise, any delay would be to the disadvantage of the emerging candidate.
So let us pray that the opposition parties and their candidates would muster the courage to agree soon and cash on the promise of the Niger. Otherwise, let them give up hope of making a big catch next April but content themselves with the crabs and snails that they would pick on their own side of its bank.
If they do not hearken to the call of the river, the PDP would, as it has been doing before.
25 January, 2011