2011: CAN THE OPPOSITION SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY?
There are some ominous signs on the horizon as far as the likelihood of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) being able to retain its monolithic lead in the polity after the 2011 elections goes. Apart from what is shaping up to be a bruising battle for the presidential ticket between several candidates from the North on the one hand and the incumbent President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan on the other, internal party divisions in certain key states have begun to metamorphose into partisan splits as some disgruntled members of the PDP have openly jumped ship mainly for the burgeoning ranks of the Alliance Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
The most worrying of these movements for the ruling party should be that of Rivers State where some senior figures have suddenly announced their switch. In Delta State the most vocal opponent to the incumbent Governor has been reported as considering switching parties if the PDP goes ahead with its court sanctioned congresses and selection of candidates. This latter threat if true should be much less worrisome to the party than that of Rivers State precisely because the ruling party's administration in Delta State appears to be holding the upper hand in public credibility.
The reason why the opposing aspirant might consider switching camps might be because the link between the state government and the PDP hierarchy is so strong that it would be fruitless to challenge the incumbent Emmanuel Uduaghan unless the state executive of the party can be jettisoned. A court ruling that has made this virtually impossible for now might have given the opponent the jitters. While some disenchantment has spilled over from the perception that former Governor Ibori endorsed his successor the widespread perception of the Uduaghan Administration as being committed to a visionary programme of development has helped to strengthen his chances of being returned for a second term. In any case his main opponent is regarded in some circles as being more tainted by the Ibori stigma than himself.
In neighbouring Bayelsa State the exact opposite is the case. Open and highly vocal opposition to the restoration of the mandate of the incumbent PDP Governor there is now commonplace. Even the supporters of, and apologists for, that regime have acknowledged that they are facing tough resistance, although they have consistently characterised this as being mounted by their party rivals rather than being a symptom of popular sentiment. This might appear to be ripe and fertile grounds for the resuscitation of the fortunes of opposition parties in the state but it is commonly believed that the PDP has an iron grip on the political machinery of the rural communities and the Local Government Councils.
The scenario there will probably depend largely on what occurs at the PDP party congresses where the Government of the day might use all means whether fair or foul to manipulate a victory. In that event it will remain to be seen whether a mass exodus to another party would occur. Of course the frightening aspect is that this is the President's home state and if such an exodus occurs the implications for his Presidential bid on a national scale are almost too terrifying, at least for his handlers and supporters, to contemplate. This could be one of the reasons why the opposition parties in Bayelsa State appear to have been remarkably discreet in showing their teeth. Apart from some timely comments over the PDP government's mismanagement of the state's affairs from the young and articulate ACN leader in the state the opposition has been noticeably reticent. In fact in Bayelsa State the allegation that the best opposition is within the ruling party itself rings true. If the party cleanses itself and restores its credibility some of its opponents who have a sentimental attachment to the idea of winning the Presidency for the state might not want to rock the boat.
The most credible representatives of the people's disenchantment in Bayelsa State might reside within the ruling party for now. What remains to be seen is the extent to which they will maintain their loyalty to the party structure if they are not allowed to bring about change through an effective primary exercise. In Rivers State though the critical factor is not so much the question of the conduct of party primaries as the question of whether the Amaechi machinery can resist the restoration of the same political machine that attempted and failed to withhold his mandate in the last elections. The news that one of his most determined rivals, the former Secretary to the State Government and one-time Minister of Transport Dr. Abiye Sekibo, has absconded from the PDP and joined the ACN is not to be taken lightly. Dr. Sekibo had been an important member of the very same Peter Odili-led machinery that installed the PDP as a virtual monolith in Rivers State politics.
He worked closely with both the former Governor and the present Governor Amaechi when the latter was Speaker of the House of Assembly. This suggests that he must have access to information and strategies that were used to build the party's base in the state and that his crossing to the opposition might signal a paradigm shift of political forces. However this is also challenged by the fact that after the restoration of Amaechi's mandate through the instrumentality of the Supreme Court, public perception of the relevance and efficacy of that machinery took a distinct nosedive. Governor Amaechi emerged from this political imbroglio looking distinctly more populist in intent and action than his predecessors who were caught in the dilemma of having to acknowledge defeat without having faced their nemesis (one of their own) in an electoral contest.
This time around some of his former collaborators turned adversaries are prepared to challenge him on the ground in a straightforward contest as members of another party. This has strengthened the opposition's credibility as a force in the very state where those who are joining the ACN now had worked assiduously to render it redundant in the past. However it is worth questioning the extent to which their decision to seek political relevance through membership in another party has actually signaled any change of heart on their part as far as political ideology or objectives are concerned. Their membership of the ACN cannot conceal the fact that those who have declared their new loyalty have to carry the burden of having been among the major architects of the legacy of the very PDP that they have abandoned.
The question of whether they can totally exonerate themselves from blame where blame is considered to exist or ignore the legacies that Amaechi might be promoting as the party's contribution to the state must play a part in their activities now. In addition to this they have to prove that their personal relevance in the state can override the powerful political machinery that the Governor inherited from them and which he must have at least attempted to take control of since he came to office.
These complex challenges are among the reasons why the issue of the rebirth of the opposition in Rivers State is of particular interest as the 2011 elections draw closer. For the opposition to wrest such an important state away from the ruling party many of those who helped to establish its supremacy in the state must work for the success of a party where they have hardly any common ground with the founding fathers . This looks like political opportunism and it remains to be seen whether the opposition will benefit from this or whether it will simply be used for selfish reasons and then cast aside.