Kaduna State: Opposition Parties and the Need To Strengthen Public Accountability
By Yusuf Goje
Aside Kano and Lagos, one is bound to say that Kaduna State is the most politically conscious state in Nigeria. This is because of the critical role it played, as the then administrative and political headquarters of Northern Nigeria, in the pre and post independence era. It is also common knowledge that not a few military, political and business leaders in the country frequent and have personal houses in choice areas (popularly called GRAs) of the State.
Since the return of the present democratic dispensation in 1999, the State has continued to play critical roles in determining the outcome of our national elections. It has also been a hotbed of local politics laced largely with primordial sentiments.
However, the “Change Tsunami” in 2015 swept out of power the then incumbent party for 16 years, People’s Democratic Party (PDP). As a result, the stakes have now become higher with expectations of healthy competition of innovative ideas by political parties. The opposition especially has no reason not to meet up with these expectations, as the believe that defeating an incumbent in an election is possible, has now been affirmed.
Some keen observers had anticipated that the outcome of the elections in Kaduna State in 2015, which brought in the incumbent All Progressive Congress (APC), will ignite the vibrancy expected of the opposition parties. Especially in the area of holding the incumbent party accountable and offer alternative solutions.
Unfortunately, the opposition (made up of about 90 registered political parties excluding the ruling party) as it stands today has not performed to the expectation of citizens in terms of keeping the incumbent on the edge. Particularly, in deepening the debate on the implementation of government’s development plans, policies, budgets and service delivery.
Lest we forget, the role of political parties is not restricted to mobilizing voters to support its candidates win elections and seize power; but to initiate and promote its political agenda and policies, in or out of office. In view of this, it is worrisome that the opposition parties in the State habitually go into hibernation immediately after elections. All we see sparingly are few splashes of press releases/conferences, many of which offer no concrete alternative and ideologically-driven solutions.
For instance, since 2015, the APC led government in the State has initiated a number of governance reforms around public financial management system and open government partnership. Till date, we are yet to see the opposition parties come up with a comprehensive alternative plan/polices/programs and through healthy debate take the incumbent up to debate these reforms.
In other climes, for instance the Great Britain, after every round of elections, a ‘Shadow Cabinet’ is appointed. Members of the Cabinet are professionals/experts drawn from the main opposition party in the House of Commons and Lords. This is in order to continually examine the work of each government department; and develop alternative policies in their specific areas and hold the government accountable.
This is to buttress the fact that the opposition’s primary role after elections is to regularly question the incumbent government and hold them accountable to the public. They have the responsibility to ensure that the incumbent does not take any steps, which might have negative effects on the people of the country. Equally important, they should not always be antagonistic, as there are developmental issues that need collaboration (across party lines) with the incumbent for the benefit of citizens.
Due to the fact that most of the opposition parties are inactive in the State, the civil society organizations and actors are usually, and mistakenly so, perceived to be the defacto opposition. It is common to hear civil society partners being labeled as apologists or accused of being sponsored by the opposition parties.
Also, the absence of an effective opposition in the State has made it more difficult for incumbents to be defeated in elections. Even though the jinx was broken in 2015, but the subsequent election in 2019 has revalidated the earlier notion. During periods in-between elections, opposition parties are usually nowhere to be found when it comes to engaging the governance process.
Most of them only appear when elections are fast approaching with the usual rhetorics of how bad the incumbent has governed. In an attempt to sway public opinion in their favor, they rely more on sentiments and usually without convincing facts and figures to back it up.
It is a fact that politics is gradually evolving away from that of cash and carry, to being governance-focused. Two main factors have contributed to this gradual political transformation. First, is that presently, conditions for accessing external loans/grants and investment (multilateral institutions, donor agencies and private sector) compels duty-bearers – regardless of party – to carry out governance reforms. These reforms are especially focused on transparency, accountability and citizen’s engagement.
While secondly, the advent of the internet has democratized access to public information. This is influencing and empowering (with knowledge and timely information) citizens to assess political parties base on preparedness to meet their expectations. It has also equipped them with social media tools to mobilize, organize and engage political and governance processes.
Also, there is evidence of increasing citizen’s awareness on the role expected of them and their duty bearers in a democracy, and entitlement to quality public service delivery. This is against the popularly held notion among citizens that it is out of goodwill that elected leaders provide public services.
In this light, opposition parties should take this as a wake up call, not criticism, to rise up to their expected responsibility. As many of the electorates, in coming elections, will look beyond sentiments or money to determine who to vote.
This because many are fast losing faith in party politics and representative democracy. The popular narrative now is that political parties (in the country) have little or no deep-rooted ideological difference, aside being mere vehicles for ascending to power.
In conclusion, opposition parties in Kaduna State should take this as a wake up call to rise up to their responsibilities in a democracy. They should provide citizen’s with viable options and take lead in holding incumbents to account. As it is said, ‘variety is the spice of life’.
Yusuf Ishaku Goje, is the Head, Leadership, Governance & Advocacy
Coalition of Associations for Leadership Peace Empowerment Development (CALPED)