Nigeria’s march towards a one-party state

Nigeria

Published on Monday 22 January 2024 Back to articles

Nigeria’s opposition leaders are too divided to unite and defeat the ruling APC

Talks about plans to form an opposition mega party have been revived but, once again, it is unlikely to be successful. There is an acknowledgment that the opposition parties are too fragmented and weak to credibly challenge the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in future elections. That could be partially remedied if they could unite but they are still unwilling to set aside their specific interests and alliances. 

Pat Utomi played a key role in the 2015 formation of the APC through a merger of Bola Tinubu’s then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progress Change (CPC), and other smaller parties. On 16 January he claimed that the three 2024 opposition presidential candidates — the PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, and the NNPP’s Rabiu Kwankwaso — have agreed to come together to form an unnamed collective to challenge the APC. None have denied Utomi’s claim which suggests some credibility. Utomi, who was Tinubu’s former ally backed Obi in 2023.

Abubakar began pushing the idea of a ‘super alliance’ after failing to overturn his electoral defeat at the Supreme Court and claims that, unless the opposition unites, they cannot defeat the APC. The widely -held perception, however, is that he is simply trying to create a more formidable platform in order to run for the Presidency in 2027. He has unsuccessfully contested every presidential election since 2007. The expectation was that he was would retire after losing last year but all the indications are that he is still interested in trying again. By 2027 he would be 81 years old and Nigeria’s oldest ever presidential candidate if he wins the nomination of a party. 

Credible but too poor to fund a mega party 

Utomi’s call be considered more credible but he lacks the political clout and network to make it happen. He has never won an election and does not have the necessary deep pockets to put together a coalition and fund it. It will need huge financial resources which Utomi is unable to provide. He may have the thinking to make it work, and possibly some links to raise funds, but this would be insufficient to sustain a strong coalition against an incumbent government that can dispense political patronage with little or no accountability. 

The APC has already dismissed Utomi’s idea. On 16 January its spokesman, Felix Morka, described Utomi as ’a serial promoter of mega parties that never materialised.’ He accused Utomi of engaging in ‘unmitigated delusions of grandeur’ in his aspiration to create an alternative political platform while noting that Utomi had floated a similar idea in 2021 which failed. Although he appeared to mock Utomi’s idea of a mega party, the fact that he deemed it worthy of an official response may indicate that the APC is taking Utomi’s proposal seriously. 

The challenge of forming an opposition mega party 

The biggest challenge does not come from the APC but the opposition parties’ lack of a common ideology. The PDP has the second largest number of governors and lawmakers but it has lost its identity and leadership. It is also now more aligned to the APC and is therefore unable to act as a credible opposition. Its key officials, including its acting chairman Umar Damagum, have a divided loyalty and appear to be sympathetic to Tinubu. 

More frequently the PDP also tends to vote with the government in the National Assembly. Some of its key governors — including Bauchi State’s Bala Mohammed and Akwa Ibom’s Uno Emo — have publicly pledged their support for Tinubu despite claiming to still belong to the PDP. 

Rivers State has transformed into an APC state with 26 of its lawmakers having defected. The PDP has not yet acted on its promise to legally challenge the defectors and to get their seats declared vacant. Governor Sim Fubara has had to agree to a lot of the pro-APC conditions negotiated with Tinubu on 18 December to settle the disagreement with his political godfather and immediate predecessor, Nyesom Wike, who is the current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). There is a high probability that Fubara will either defect to the APC or be removed by  APC-dominated Rivers State Assembly. 

On 7 January five recent PDP governors — including four former governors who refused to support Abubakar in 2023 on the grounds that the Presidency should come from the South — said that they will back Tinubu again in 2027. Apart from Wike, who is seen as the leader of the group, the other four are: Enugu State’s Ifeanyi Ugaunyi (2015-2023  ); Abia State’s Okezie Ikpeazu (2015-2023); Benue State’s Samuel Ortom (2015-2023); and Oyo State’s incumbent Seyi Makinde. All five worked against their party last year and yet remained members of the PDP which indicates just how weak it has become and now appears to be an arm of the ruling party.

Peter Obi is the determining factor

The Labour Party and NNPP both have a single governor and do not have the necessary financial strength to threaten the APC. The real opposition is the so-called Obedient Movement group of non-aligned young men and women that identify with Peter Obi, who they adopted as the new face of leadership that they want. Although he is officially linked to Labour Party, the movement is likely to follow Obi to wherever he decides to move his political tent in the future. It is unlikely to accept any presidential candidate other than Obi so any party that emerges without him is unlikely to succeed.

Obi will therefore be the main determinant of the success of any main opposition party. Established politicians like Abubakar and Kwankwaso do not want to form a coalition built around him but none will survive or gain momentum without Obi leading it. The chances of this being resolved before the 2027 election are slim so, just as happened in 2023, the APC is likely to face a divided and weak opposition party that will once again assure its victory. 

The PDP may be so weakened that it is likely to have its worst showing in any national elections since 1999. The APC will probably make significant gains at the expense of the PDP, with the Labour Party and NNPP gaining some ground but not enough to counter the APC. The latter will therefore end 2027 as Nigeria’s most dominant party ever with the possibility of controlling up 30 states or more. Labour and the NNPP could retain their current states and win a couple more but that is all.

Nigeria appears to be moving towards a one-party state with the PDP’s collapse and the weakness of the other parties. The declining trust in the voting process, flawed elections, and low turnout, all contribute to this and this is likely to damage national unity and the survival of Nigeria’s democracy.

This excerpt is taken from our Nigeria Politics & Security weekly intelligence report. Click here to receive a free sample copy. Contact info@menas.co.uk for subscription details.

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