Nigeria and failing of opposition political parties

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By Ezenwa Nwagwu

Many Nigerians would prefer every public discourse to be centered on the current state of the economy. While I see nothing wrong with this, the trust of my engagement would, however, be on strengthening our country’s democracy and the failings of opposition political parties in the country.

My reason is simple. I have always insisted that unless the country builds a strong and knowledge based opposition after the 2023 election, we will continue to recycle power mongers. Democracy is not synonymous with the pursuit of power. Dictators and coup plotters are all in the run for power. Multi-party democracy envisages virile and strong opposition.

It is true that infighting and internal divisions within opposition parties in Nigeria have weakened their unity and effectiveness, making it harder to present a cohesive alternative to the ruling party. But now, cases of corruption and clear violation of laws by opposition figures are providing ethical challenges that make it harder for them to challenge the government.

Like I started earlier, this discourse is about our democracy. So, some people might find some of my positions very uncomfortable. But to transform our country, we must embrace some hard truth and continue to educate Nigerians on how to hold our politicians to account, whether in government or out of government.

Is the economy in a bad state? Yes. Is there a heightened security challenge? Yes. But in the wake of the internal crisis and corruption allegations rocking the leadership of the opposition party, especially the Labour Party, one wonders how such opposition can hold the government in power to account.

Back to my discourse. In the last couple of days, we have witnessed opposition political parties descend into shameful behaviours. From poor handling of primary elections in Edo State to allegations of financial mismanagement as well as brazen violation of electoral laws.

Sadly, it is the opposition Labor Party that first pressed the button to self-destruct. The party has been enmeshed in financial scandals. All attempts by the party and its presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, to offer an explanation, have either exposed his ignorance or deliberate violation of the Nigerian electoral laws and constitutional provisions guiding election financing.

A few days ago, during a press conference, Mr Peter Obi, while trying to provide answers to enquiries on his presidential election spending, told the world that his campaign team received donations from diaspora Nigerians in defiance to the electoral Act and 1999 Constitution.

The Labour party presidential candidate was asked on live TV if he had collected money from Diaspora to the tune of $150 million, to which he responded by saying that: “all the funds received directly or indirectly from diaspora is not up to one percent of the funds mentioned. And some of it is what has been exchanged and given to Aisha.”

So, Mr Obi did not only admit to receiving funds from the diaspora but admitted to spending the same during the presidential election. It is important to state that this is a brazen violation of the Nigerian constitution and electoral Act, especially since he had not domiciled the money with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The law is very clear on this. Both assets and money received by political parties and candidates from diaspora must be domiciled with INEC. The party then applies to the Commission when it needs to spend the money.

Section 85 of the Electoral Act 2022 states that: any political party holds or possesses any fund outside Nigeria in contravention of Section 225 (3) of the constitution, COMMITS an offence & shall on CONVICTION forfeit the funds or assets as well as fine of at least N5m”

Section 225(3)(a)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered) provides that: ‘No political party shall hold or possess any funds or other assets outside Nigeria; or b. be entitled to retain any funds or assets remitted or sent to it from outside Nigeria’.” Subsection 4 reads: Any funds or other assets remitted or sent to a political party from outside Nigeria shall be paid over or transferred to the Commission (INEC) within twenty-one days of its receipt with such information as the Commission may require.”

So, I am wondering. How does a presidential candidate not know his utterance was an admittance of a breach or violation of the constitution and electoral Act section 85? If he doesn’t know, does he not have advisers? The chairman of the Labor party is supposed to be a senior lawyer. Unfortunately, Mr Julius Abure, the chairman of the party who should be advising the presidential candidate, is also being accused of the same offense.

The now suspended Treasurer of Labor party, Mrs Oluchi Oparah, said of the National Chairman, Julius Abure: “While on a fundraising tour in the United States in August 2023, Mr. Abure and his cronies raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the party’s diaspora community. To date, he has not declared a single dollar to me or the NWC, essentially stealing donations meant for the party’s development. Indeed, not a single cent from donations received was ever paid into any of the party’s accounts.”

Sadly, the recent revelation by the national treasurer does not portray the labor party as one that is better than the other political parties. How can a party. To quote the Treasurer during her recent press conference, she said: “Under Mr Abure’s watch, over N3.5 billion was raised from the sale of nomination forms for the 2023 general elections. However, apart from the proceeds of the sale of forms from his home state of Edo – which was diverted to Mr Abure’s private accounts, he only declared N55 million to me as Treasurer, of the over N3.5 billion raised, pocketing the rest for himself.

“During off-cycle elections in several states last year, the party raised around N958 million from nomination forms and donations. These funds have completely vanished under Mr. Abure’s oversight – with zero paper trail.”

These are serious allegations happening under the watch of Mr Obi as leader of the party. A party that is not able to manage campaign funds of a few billions, how could it have managed a country’s economy?

It is this same misbehavior of opposition political parties that have seen them failing to hold a simple primary election to elect their candidates ahead of the Edo governorship election. The primaries of political parties in Edo have been a show of shame, even for those who have been the most critical of the conduct of national elections by INEC. Yet, nobody is talking about the misbehavior of the parties.

Nwagwu, is the chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform. He contributed this piece from Abuja