Opposition plays a vital role in the democratic process. It does not just proffer alternative view on the ruling party policy thrust, it helps the ruling party to periodically review or consolidate what it had initially considered an unassailable position. Because it gives hope to the party in waiting and reminds the ruling party of its vulnerability, opposition guarantees stability in a democracy. We saw the beauty of opposition party politics in the recently concluded American presidential election.
The divisive issue in that election was taxation. President Barack Obama’s party favoured tax cuts for the middle class. His republican opponent favoured tax cut for the wealthy employers of labour. The Republican Party did not attempt to invalidate the Democratic Party’s thesis that the middle class is the salt of life that guarantees development of societies all through the ages, but instead tried to impress it on the over 10% unemployed Americans that they and they alone could create jobs. Rather than dissipate energy over self evident facts, Obama focused on the twin evil of capitalism- greed and individualism which make the wealthy live on the sweat and blood of the overwhelming poor – his core supporters. Obama won through the Electoral College while Americans are evenly divided as shown by the result of the popular votes. That is the beauty of opposition in party politics in a democracy.
Unfortunately, as against application of intellect in the battle over the minds of the electorate, what we have seen in Lagos since the beginning of the fourth republic has been opposition bereft of ideas, an opposition that strives to alienate the electorate by its acts of open hostility to those it aspires to govern and an opposition that has consistently demonstrated at every point its lack of faith in the electoral process.
In 1999, one of the major problems facing Lagos was traffic gridlock, made worse by indiscipline of commercial bus drivers. It was claimed Bola Tinubu, supported by his young intellectual Turks, after a thorough study of the problem decided to organise and empower the transport unions as stakeholders in his planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. The new administration then introduced Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to control the unruly behaviour of other would-be traffic offenders.
Instead of coming up with idea that could improve the state government’s initiative, the response of Lagos Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) opposition under the leadership of, Bode George and Ogunnewe, the then transport minister, was to unleash newly recruited and uniformed federal thugs on LASTMA men, bringing more chaos to an already chaotic situation.
When the Tinubu administration initiated the ENRON electricity project to improve the electricity supply needs of Lagos, the nation’s economic capital, President Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted to have jokingly quipped during the inauguration that Lagos would soon be like London. The project, designed to take three months dragged on for three years because of bureaucratic impediments erected by federal authorities under the then President Obasanjo.
Lagos State PDP opposition and its federal backers were not done. The state government created development centres to ensure even development. Claiming creation of local government was on the Exclusive List, an assertion which had nothing to do with the state government’s commendable initiative; the opposition prevailed on the Federal Government to withhold the local government statutory allocations. Even after a judicial pronouncement as to the illegality of such vindictive action, President Obasanjo, under pleasure from Lagos PDP, did not budge, stalling in the process development efforts such as the then ongoing construction of General Hospitals in all the Local Government areas.
Now, the National Conscience Party (NCP) has taken over from where PDP left off after its leading light had been consumed by its own war of attrition over sharing of federal patronage. Like PDP, the party has embarked on peddling lies, and the use of blackmail instead of providing alternative policy thrust as government-in-waiting.
Early in the year, it pitched a battle against Governor Babatunde Fashola over his resolve to reclaim the Makoko waterfront from illegal squatters who had turned it into a slum. NCP at the time reduced the argument to the protection of the poor and under-privileged fishermen without telling us what their alternative policy on immigrants who erect illegal structures on Lagos water fronts would be.
And in the past two weeks, Governor Fashola has been under severe strains because of his resolve to put an end to the okada menace in the city. When months after the state assembly’s passage of the Lagos State traffic law, many more months of education and sensitisation of stakeholders, the okada riders chose to defy the law and visit violence on law-abiding Lagosians in search of their daily meals, the Lagos State Chapter of the NCP claimed ‘the restriction of motorbike operators on highways and major roads was a confirmation that the ACN administration of Governor Fashola lacked any serious plan to solve the chaotic transport issues in the state’.
For Mr. Tunde Agunbiade, the state party chairman, Lagos State Government is to be blamed for not providing employment for those who are defying the laws of Lagos. For him, the state governor should do nothing as thousands of non-Nigerians shipped to Lagos by Lagos greedy businessmen who care only for their pockets kill, maim and create anarchy on Lagos major arteries. Agunbiade probably having little value to add to the debate further accused Governor Fashola of ‘imposing an anti-people law without consulting with stakeholders’, when every resident of the state knows this to be untrue.
Mr. Akele, the party’s governorship candidate in the state during the 2011 election also wants the traffic law abrogated. He crudely described Mr. Fashola as ‘a pathological liar”, who used loot from the state treasury to buy and lure voters for his second term in office. He and his NCP, he said, are now set to ‘mobilise other political parties, civil society organisations, international human rights outfits as well as Amnesty International and other relevant masses-oriented organisations at home and abroad to intervene’ in what he said was a ‘genocidal policy against the people’.
Lagosians who massively voted for Fashola will feel insulted by Mr. Akele’s unguarded outbursts and half truths. His efforts along with those of other civil rights groups in ending military rule in Nigeria no doubt deserve our commendation. But beyond this, I think it is equally appropriate to suggest he restricts himself to his area of core competence – civil right activities, where he can best serve the nation. It was obvious during his debate with Fashola and other governorship candidates in the run-up to last year election that his passion for civil right activities left him little time to adequately equip himself for party politics and the intellectual challenges of modern governance. During that public debate, Mr. Akele did not know the number of schools or projected number of teachers needed by the state he had wanted to govern.
And since Fashola, the elected governor of the state who is in possession of records of those killed, maimed, robbed and raped has sworn to implement the traffic law as enacted by his state house of assembly, Akele and his party, in the absence of fresh ideas, should join the governor in advising those who cannot comply to go back to their villages where they will learn the hard way that even there in the village, they cannot pollute the environment, drive against traffic, molest innocent people or because of claim of poverty put up structure on a land not approved by the Village Head.