Nigeria and failing of opposition political parties

Many Nigerians would prefer every public discourse to be centered on the current state of the economy. While I see nothing wrong with this, the thrust of my engagement would, however, be on strengthening our country’s democracy and the failings of opposition political parties in the country. My reason is simple. I have always insisted that unless the country builds a strong and knowledge based opposition after the 2023 elections, we will continue to recycle power mongers.

Democracy is not synonymous with the pursuit of power. Dictators and coup plotters are all in the run for power. Multi-party democracy envisages virile and strong opposition. It is true that infighting and internal divisions within opposition parties in Nigeria have weakened their unity and effectiveness, making it harder to present a cohesive alternative to the ruling party. But now, cases of corruption and clear violation of laws by opposition figures are providing ethical challenges that make it harder for them to challenge the government.

Like I started earlier, this discourse is about our democracy. So, some people might find some of my positions very uncomfortable. But to transform our country, we must embrace some hard truth and continue to educate Nigerians on how to hold our politicians to account, whether in government or out of government. Is the economy in a bad state? Yes. Is there heightened security challenge? Yes. But in the wake of the internal crisis and corruption allegations rocking the leadership of the opposition party, especially the Labour Party, LP, one wonders how such opposition can hold the government in power to account.

Back to my discourse. In the last couple of days, we have witnessed opposition political parties descend into shameful behaviours. From poor handling of primary elections in Edo state to allegations of financial mismanagement as well as brazen violation of electoral laws. Sadly, it is the opposition LP that first pressed the button to self-destruct. The party has been enmeshed in financial scandals. All attempts by the party and its presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, to offer an explanation, have either exposed his ignorance or deliberate violation of the Nigerian electoral laws and constitutional provisions guiding election financing.

A few days ago, during a press conference, Peter Obi, while trying to provide answers to inquiries on his presidential election spending, told the world that his campaign team received donations from diaspora Nigerians in breach of the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution. The LP presidential candidate was asked on live TV if he had collected money from Diaspora to the tune of $150 million, to which he responded: “All the funds received directly or indirectly from diaspora are not up to one percent of the funds mentioned. And some of it are what has been exchanged and given to Aisha.”

So, Obi did not only admit receiving funds from diaspora but also spending the same during the presidential election. This is a brazen violation of the Nigerian constitution and Electoral Act, especially since he had not domiciled the money with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The law is very clear on this. Assets and money received by political parties and candidates from diaspora must be domiciled with INEC. The party then applies to the commission when it needs to spend the money.

Section 85 of the Electoral Act 2022 states: Any political party that holds or possesses any fund outside Nigeria in contravention of Section 225 (3) of the constitution, COMMITS an offence & shall on CONVICTION forfeit the funds or assets as well as fine of at least N5m”. Section 225(3)(a)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered) provides: ‘No political party shall hold or possess any funds or other assets outside Nigeria; or b. be entitled to retain any funds or assets remitted or sent to it from outside Nigeria’.”

Subsection 4 reads: Any funds or other assets remitted or sent to a political party from outside Nigeria shall be paid over or transferred to the Commission (INEC) within twenty-one days of its receipt with such information as the Commission may require.”

So, I am wondering; how does a presidential candidate not know his utterance was an admittance of a breach or violation of the constitution and Electoral Act section 85? If he doesn’t know, does he not have advisers? The LP chairman is supposed to be a senior lawyer. Unfortunately, Mr Julius Abure, the chairman of the party, who should be advising the presidential candidate, is also being accused of the same offence.

The now suspended LP treasurer, Mrs Oluchi Oparah, alleged: “While on a fundraising tour in the United States in August 2023, Mr. Abure and his cronies raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the party’s diaspora community. To date, he has not declared a single dollar to me or the NWC. Indeed, not a single cent from donations received was ever paid into any of the party’s accounts.”

Sadly, the recent allegations by the national treasurer does not portray the LP as one that is better than the other political parties. The treasurer alleged during her recent press conference: “Under Mr Abure’s watch, over N3.5 billion was raised from the sale of nomination forms for the 2023 general elections. However, apart from the proceeds of the sale of forms from his home state of Edo, which was diverted to Mr Abure’s private accounts, he only declared N55 million to me as treasurer, of the over N3.5 billion raised.

“During off-cycle elections in several states last year, the party raised around N958 million from nomination forms and donations. These funds have completely vanished under Mr. Abure’s oversight, with zero paper trail.” These are serious allegations happening under the watch of Obi as leader of the party. A party that is not able to manage campaign funds of a few billions, how could it have managed a country’s economy?

It is this same misbehaviour of opposition political parties that have seen them failing to hold a simple primary election to elect their candidates ahead of the Edo governorship election. The primaries of political parties in Edo have been a show of shame, even for those who have been the most critical of the conduct of national elections by INEC. Yet, nobody is talking about the misbehaviour of the parties.

With just 193 wards, the political parties cannot organise peaceful, free and fair primary elections in Edo. It is important that most litigations faced by INEC are usually pre-election matters that usually occur during primary elections of political parties. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primary produced two candidates, Mr. Phillip Shuibu and Asue Ighodalo, from parallel primaries.

As for LP, Olumide Akpata, former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president, on February 18, wrote to INEC chairman, Prof Mahmud Yakubu, alleging the lack of transparency by the party. It is rather funny that Akpata has been a very loud critic of INEC during the conduct of the general elections. By contrast, INEC conducted the last presidential elections across 8,806 wards in Nigeria. LP primary was held in only 193 wards but still got into crisis.

This also brings me to a recent intervention by some House of Representatives members asking that the country returns to the parliamentary system of government because, according to them, the current presidential system is expensive to maintain. I see this as diversionary. It is an attempt to divert the attention of Nigerians from the various challenges facing the country and from their ineptitude as lawmakers.

Any system of government is as expensive as the operators want it to be. Where in the world does the government build legislative quarters for lawmakers?We are the ones who want our system of government expensive. These are the same lawmakers who collected cars worth N160 million each from the government at a time the country is going through one of its worst economic challenges. They suddenly realised that the presidential system of government is expensive?

They should be campaigning for a cut in the cost of the budget of the legislative and executive arms of government. The truth is that the behaviour or misbehaviour of political parties in Nigeria is what will help Nigeria out of its woods. While we continue to hold government to account, opposition parties must show high moral standards, demonstrate commitment to ethical governance, internal accountability, and adherence to legal and ethical standards.

These appear to be currently lacking. When opposition figures face ethical challenges, such as allegations of corruption, lack of transparency, or ethical misconduct, it becomes difficult for government to take them seriously.

Nwagwu, chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform, writes from Abuja