The Role of the Opposition in Meeting Nigeria’s Challenges
Nigeria’s Continental and International Importance
“Nigeria is important to Africa and to the world.” Steve McDonald, the Director of the Africa Program and the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity, remarked that despite the country’s integral economic and political significance in continental and international arenas, there is still destabilizing internal discord between Nigerians and their government. “There is an unfortunate residence of inequality in Nigeria,” stated McDonald, and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Executive Governor of Lagos State and current National Leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and his party demonstrate how the presence of a viable opposition can balance the governing power.
Tinubu’s Leadership of the ACN
“Nigeria is its people and they are some of the most entrepreneurial, ingenious, hardworking people that I have ever met. I am a big believer in Nigeria, even in the worst of times.” Howard F. Jeter, former U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, used his introduction of Tinubu as an opportunity to stress how, during his ambassadorship, he realized that “Nigeria is the essential country in Africa and what happens in Nigeria will impact the entire continent.” According to Jeter, Tinubu’s leadership of the ACN, the principal opposition, has resulted in a remarkable change in the party administration’s performance and efficacy because of his direction and mobilization of the population. The ACN has emerged as a major force in Nigerian politics due to its devotion to serving the people, accountability and coherence of discourse and structure. Jeter commended Tinubu for not only being a man who is dedicated to the wellbeing of his country, but one who could lead it through its current challenges and to future successes.
How Can the Opposition Help?
“I have devoted most of my adult life to promoting democracy in Nigeria. The battle has been neither short, nor easy.” Tinubu reassured the audience that he was not a member of that “class of politicians who has benefited from the struggle [for democracy] without participating in it.” On the contrary, his “life has been defined by the achievements and setbacks recorded in this struggle” and “[he] understand[s] with every sinew and fiber of [his] being how far [Nigerians] have come and how far [they] have yet to go.”
Consequently, Tinubu’s political experience has afforded him valuable insight into the socioeconomic challenges that his country currently faces. His position as the leader of the key opposition party has shown him how Nigeria is still in political limbo where the government’s authoritarian and democratic tendencies are in constant contradiction. As a result, Tinubu believes the current regime is unable to effectively handle the internal security, ethnic, and governance issues that have come to characterize the nation. If elected, the ACN, under Tinubu’s leadership, would be able to confront these impediments to stability by not only decentralizing power from the national executive, but by promoting civic engagement with the constituency at local and national levels to assure that these systemic reforms would, in fact, benefit the people of Nigeria directly.
He further argued that “[t]he overriding concern of the (ruling party) People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) political community is to retain power, not to advance the public welfare,” and, as a result, this party has broken the social contract between the government and the governed. Conversely, Tinubu believes that his party represents a sustainable, progressive alternative as it seeks to help Nigerians surmount the systemic obstacles to securing their economic and social wellbeing. Tinubu maintained that his party, unlike that of the incumbent, is invested in advancing the status of the Nigerian citizen beyond the margins and is willing to forgo the benefits associated with authoritarian rule to ensure that the people are provided for in every sphere.
The Future for Opposition Politics in Nigeria
If there were an election held in Nigeria today, President Goodluck Jonathan would not be reelected, Tinubu asserted, because he has proven to be a “disappointing” public servant. That Nigeria’s socioeconomic and political situations do not continue to degenerate, new and inventive approaches need to be taken on the part of the governing body. However, the PDP and President Jonathan are opposed to anything that might undermine their administration’s absolute control, Tinubu postulated, and this atmosphere is not conducive to democratic governance. Although there is much work to be done in terms of reforming Nigeria’s political, social, and economic infrastructures, Tinubu believes that the presence of a worthy opposition party is the first step toward progress, as this will help “to ensure the sanctity of the ballot box, foster respect for the rule of law and to build [enduring] democratic and economic institutions,” all of which are essential for a country of so much continental and international importance.
Former Executive Governor of Lagos State and current National Leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria
Former US Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Steve McDonald // Public Policy ScholarFormer Director, Africa Program, Woodrow Wilson Center.