Meeting this week with my mentor in his country home, as I did last week, was very rewarding, as I once again went away with far reaching discussions on democratic norm, despite his tight schedules. On a daily basis, he plays host to different categories of people from diverse areas of life. Name it: politicians, businessmen, diplomats and even the masses. But when his personal assistant, a tall, slim man in suave native attire with well tended beard and moustache told him of my arrival, he excused himself from one of the meetings to attend to me. He thanked me for taking my time out to still come around after our brief introductory meeting of the previous week. The difference, this time is that he came along with about three different books. They were, “48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene, “Democracy In America” by Alexis de Tocquiville and “The Politics Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained”. He handed the trio to me and said: “go and read them. When next you come back, tell me what new things you have learnt from them. But before you go, let me put your fertile mind into introspection, just as I did last week.
“What is the role of the opposition in a democracy? I’m sure many loyalists as well as some in government see the opposition as enemy. My dear, the opposition is our friend. They are friends of the masses as well as of the government. Are you surprised? The hallmark of a complete democracy is the government and the opposition. There cannot be true democracy anywhere if the opposition is gagged or disallowed to have a say. The Opposition’s main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the public. Statesman and author Dr Don Brash says the Opposition represents an alternative government, and is responsible for challenging the policies of the government and producing different policies where appropriate. The opposition party puts the government of the day on its toes in order not to derail. If you go into our history as a nation, especially in the first republic, you will notice that the virile opposition role played by the late sage and then head of the opposition in the legislature, Chief Obafemi Awolowo provided an alternative government, whose policies sharply differed from those of the government in power then. So, in essence, the opposition party is as important as the government in power, all for the benefits of the people in general.” He paused, took a sip of his beverage and continued, “you see, one thing about the opposition then was not about the hustling for power. In fact, the late Chief Awolowo opted to be leader of the opposition rather than joining a coalition or what we call it these days, where the opposition will do anything to ride to power or to wrestle power with the party in power.
“In those days”, he continued, “ideology was what drove each party. People do not just jump from one political party to another without deep ideological consideration. We had pockets of base shifts but not as rampant as we have these days.
“A good government in power must embrace and even encourage the opposition. This is because, it is through the opposition party that it draws strength, identifies errors and makes correction. A government without opposition is like a moving vehicle without brakes. It will keep going, even into the dishes. In order to have credibility, an opposition party must give kudos when the needs arise. It should not always be antagonistic as is being experienced these days. It must be partners in progress. It may sometimes even attend government functions, to support government in times of need and quick to criticize and give opposing opinion and options in times of obvious error on the part of government. It should avoid extreme stances for or against government: its criticism of government must not be to derail it; neither should an opposition party be too close to government. The two extremes are detrimental to good governance and overall polity.
“It is however sad today that the opposition is bereft of fresh ideas. Its opinions are often myopic and ill-informed. Case of the PDP in Osun is a typical example of how not to be an opposition party. They see absolutely nothing good in virtually all programmes of government. They criticize even the most obviously best-intentioned programmes and projects of government and see nothing good in them. This is certainly not how to play opposition. Nobody takes you serious when all you do is talk down on government at all time. This is not smart of them at all. If anything, it diminishes them.
“Another disturbing character of the opposition in Osun and even at the national level is the quality of men they often throw up to leadership position at the party and elective posts. They have this penchant for throwing up men and women of questionable character. And this is often their undoing especially during elections. I think what brings this up is because it is these people of questionable characters that often have the wherewithal to buy their ways up the ladder. It is as if the opposition’s elective and party posts are always up for sale to the highest bidders. This was what played out during the PDP primaries in Port-Harcourt where Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the richest of them, despite the negative baggage he carried to the venue, had the day. It still confounds me, the instruments of thought that brought up characters in the mould of an Ademola Adeleke, to fly the flag of the PDP, in a primary contest that had someone like Akin Ogunbiyi, who has a very intimidating resume.
“My advice for the opposition, at the state and national levels, is that they should always field decent, accomplished men, with little or no controversies if they want to assume the position of alternative government and want to be taken serious.
“We have had enough to ponder upon today, my son. Please find time out of your busy schedule to go through those books I just handed over to you, and let us discuss on them next week. Thank you for coming around”.