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58 Years After, Political Parties Still In The Woods?



CHIBUZO UKAIBE and TOPE FAYEHUN write on how political parties have evolved in Nigeria since Independence.

Political party system in Nigeria is as old as country. But, how well they have helped to entrench robust political culture, and by extension socio-economic prosperity in the country, has remained topical, if not worrisome, over the years.

In the early political dispensations, the formation of political parties was driven largely by the complex socio-political country and the character of the times.

But in later dispensations, selfish and pecuniary inclinations largely became the reason for formation of political parties. As such, in the later republics, the polity has seen the emergence of myriad of political parties lacking in not structure but national spread.

Although some progress was made to achieve national spread through mergers, the critical ingredient that gives soul to the party, ideology, has remained lacking in most of the parties. Worse still, complaints of  impunity, imposition of candidates, disregard for party constitution has become a mainstay of political parties.

Parties no longer seem to have control over it’s members who are either elected or appointed into public offices hence creating a disconnect in the implementation of party manifesto.

However, pundits aver that the military interventions in governance at different times, also affected the growth and development of civil political culture and by implication the political party system.

The role of political parties in the struggle for political independence in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised. Nationalists during the pre-independence and post-independence periods, had recognised the need for political parties to drive their agitation.

The parties formed between 1923 and 1955 are Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP), Nigeria Youth Democratic Party (NYDP) – formed in the year 1938, National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) formed in 1944 and was later changed to mean: National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), National People Congress (NPC) founded in 1951, National Elements Peoples Union (NEPU) founded in 1951 , Action Group (AG) – formed in 1951 and United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) –founded in 1955.

Although they were more ideologically based, they were mainly regional and woven around individual politicians who they saw as their mentors. This was the scenario until 1959 when three sets of political parties were formed. The parties were the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and Action Group.

However, when Nigeria became an independent federation in 1960, the parties that were already formed were led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo respectively, went to an election and no political party was able to win the majority.

The NPC and the NCNC decided to form the national government which led to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa emerging the Prime Minister and Nnamdi Azikiwe as the Governor-General.

After three years, Nigeria became a republic, and Nnamdi Azikiwe became the president of Nigeria with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister. The census that was conducted that  same year fueled tensions within the polity and instigated the split between National Council of Nigeria(NCNC) and Cameroons and the Northern People’s Congress(NPC).

The NCNC decided to join a faction of the AG and formed a new political party – the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), which was led by Obafemi Awolowo, while the other part of the group, the NPC, joined the remaining faction of the AG and thus created a new party called the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP).

The parties that were on ground then were; Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP), National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC), Action Group (AG), Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC), Niger Delta Congress (NDC), United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC),Democratic Party of Nigeria Citizens (DPNC),Dynamic Party (DP),Igala Union (IU) and Igbirra Tribal Union (ITU).

Others are Lagos State United Front (LSUF), Kano Peoples’ Party ((KPP), Mabolaje Grand Alliance (MGA), Midwest Democratic Front (MDF), Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), Northern Progressive Front (NPF), Republican Party (RP), United National Independent Party (UNIP) and Zamfara Commoners Party (ZCP).

During this period however,  there was serious intra and inter party feuds and clashes. However the military struck on January 15, 1966, leading eventfully to civil war later that year, after intrigues arising from a counter coup.

But when the country returned to civilian rule in the second republic, a new set of political parties emerged on the scene between 1979 to 1983. They were; National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NPP), Great Nigeria Peoples’ Party (GNPP) and Peoples Redemption Party(PRP). Just like the republic before it, the military struck again.

The famous but short-lived third Republic was born with the formation of two parties namely Social Democratic Party (SDP) National Republican Convention (NRC).

This was the first time a two party system was initiated in the political system. It was a deliberate attempt by the military government of President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida to avoid sectional, religious, ethnic and regional sentiments in Political Parties. It was however cut short by another military interregnum.

From 1996 to 1998 under the leadership of General Sani Abacha,  United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), Congress for National Consensus (CNC),Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN),National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) and Justice Party (JP), were created. That process was cut short with the death of  Gen Abacha but it paved way for the Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar regime to set in motion a return to democratic rule.

Three major parties namely Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP) (now defunct) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) were formed ahead of the election.

However from 1999 to 2010 there was an explosion of parties. Parties like Action Congress (AC), African Democratic Congress (ADC), African Renaissance Party (ARP),Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), All People Party (APP) – this was later changed to All Nigerian People Party (ANPP), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA),Alliance for Democracy (AD), Communist Party (CP), Democratic Alternative (DA), Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Fresh Democratic Party (FDP), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN), National Democratic Party (NDP), National Conscience Party (NCP), New Democrats (ND), People Democratic Party (PDP,) Peoples Party (PP), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Peoples Salvation Party (PSP), Progressive Peoples Party (PPP), Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA)and United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP).

However, from 2009 to 2014 some new parties also emerged. They are Accord party (AP), Action Congress (AC) – which was later merged into All Progressive Congress (APC), Action Alliance (AA), Action Party of Nigeria (APN), Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD),African Democratic Congress (ADC),African Liberation Party (ALP),African Peoples Alliance (APA),African Renaissance Party (ARP),All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP)- which was later merged into All Progressive Congress All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) – later , a faction of this party merged into All Progressives Congress (APC) Alliance for Democracy (AD), among others.

In 2015 elections, the parties that actively participated in the historic election where the incumbent lost to the opposition are ;  Action Alliance (AA); Alliance for Democracy (AD); African Democratic Congress (ADC); Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN); African People Alliance (APA); All Progressive Congress (APC); Hope Democratic Party (HDP); Kowa Party (KP); Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN); National Conscience Party (NCP); Citizens Popular Party (CPP); United Democratic Party (UDP) and  United Peoples Party (UPP).

Presently, there are 91 political parties following the recent registration of some parties. The newly registered parties include; Advanced Alliance Party, Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party, African Action Congress, Alliance For A United Nigeria, Alliance Of Social Democrats, Alliance Nation Party, Alliance People’s Movement, Alternative Party Of Nigeria, Change Nigeria Party,Congress Of Patriots and Liberation Movement.

Others are ; Movement For Restoration And Defence Of Democracy,Nigeria Community Movement Party,Nigeria For Democracy, Peoples Coalition Party, Reform and Advancement Party, Save Nigeria Congress, United Patriots, United Peoples Congress, We The People Nigeria, Yes Electorates Solidarity, Youth Party and Zenith Labour Party.

However, it would seem that the number of parties, especially in this political dispensation, has not been commensurate with the yearning for developmental based politicking. As it stands only the APC and the PDP currently boasts of a national spread. Still, the swiftness with which members of both parties move from one to the other not only puts to questions their ideological leanings but gives vent to claims that the parties are just tools for weilding political and economic power.

Reacting on how political parties have evolved since independence the national chairman of National Democratic Party (NDP) Prince Chudi Chukwuani, said “parties evolution in Nigeria from 1960 to 1985 can best be characterised as association or coming together of people from the same ethnic groupings or regional alliances.

Party formation was strictly along ethnic lines such as ANC for the Yoruba’s, NCNC for the Igbos and the Northern Peoples Party for the northerners and this party formations along ethnic and regional lines greatly contributed to the failure of those republics.

“During the regime of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babanginda great thought and effort was made to group political party formations along ideological lines and thus we had the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which has a left center ideological base and the National Republican Congress (NRC) which had a right centered ideological base. Thus for the very first time party formations in Nigeria began to be based on national ideological basis.

“But this ideological principles was gravely disrupted during the 1998/1999 General Abdulsalam Abubakar transition program when against the clearly laid down principles for national based parties to be the basis of registration of political parties, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) which was principally a sectional and ethnic based grouping was registered in violation of the constitutional provisions guiding party registration at that time.

“From the mishap of the AD registration the political parties formations have now devolved into what is commonly referred to as husband and wife parties and that is what obtains till date. Most political parties in operation are now personal Propertities of just a handful of individuals known as godfathers.”

For the former minister of Sports and Special Duties, Prof Taoheed Adedoja, its a case of the good and the bad.

He said “The evolution of parties in Nigeria is not about whether they are worse or better. It is about experience and learning. The evolution of parties, particularly with regards to the number that we have, has given Nigerians the opportunity to test and experience democracy and one good thing about the democratic environment in Nigeria is that it has given us the opportunity to belong to a party or to join another party without harassment. And I think that is a positive thing in terms of freedom of expression. We have seen and experimented it.”

But the situation is not all good, as he added “joining political parties in the last few years is not about what the party wants to provide, meaning it is not about ideology any more. If you look at the manifesto and programmes of most parties they are virtually the same the difference is just implementation and timing of implementation, because it is also very important.

“But what we have experienced is that people join political parties not because of ideology. The swiftness with which people change party has actually demonstrated that they are not leaving the party because it has not fulfilled its objectives but because the party has not fulfilled their personal interest.

“Unfortunately it is more of personal interest more than the interest of Nigeria as a nation. And I tell you that is very worrisome. What should be upper most in our minds is serving this country honestly. But now it seems that many politicians are serving their pockets less than they are serving their people. I won’t say most because I want to be very careful.”

He added “If you look at the parties today what the environment is telling you is that if you don’t have money you cannot contest any election. That is if you don’t have money you cannot come out to serve Nigeria. We need a rethink about that. The nomination fee that has been charged by various parties jumped in the last one year by 1200 percent. Political leaders have money to pay 1200 percent but the Nigerian workers that are suffering in this same nigeria we say we cannot afford minimum wage. But we can afford afford maximum political fee to attain political leadership. Definitely something is wrong,” he quipped.

While he frowned at the rise in number of parties, Adedoja, a former aspitant for the national chairman of PDP, nonethless recommended that Nigerians do not need that number of parties.

“I think there should be collapsing of political parties to reduce it to maximum of three. I am looking at using Gen Ibrahim Babangida’s words, parties that should be a little to the right, little to the left and of course mid way. Because life is about I agree or I don’t agree. Or I will think about it. It is about extreme right, extreme left or finding a middle ground. But that is in terms of ideology,” he said.

On his part, the convener of the Not Too Young To Run Movement, Samson Itodo, said “factually, our parties have not evolved as strong institutions promoting governance, development and political participation.

“What we have today are just election machines and not ideologically based parties but groups of individuals who are only interested in capturing power for primitive accumulation of wealth. The only elixir of hope is the parties on the block.

“Most of them are investing in building a strong institutional formations to deepen Nigeria’s multiparty democracy. If you look at membership, no party has an updated authentic register of members.

Parties are plagued with internal democracy challenges. Our parties are evolving but at a snail speed.”

If any one understands what it takes to have a strong political party it is former minister of Education, Prof Tunde Adeniran.

The former minister and a professor of politics believes that like in all developing countries, the evolution of parties in Nigeria’s has been a process of trial and error.

He added “We as a country, the political party system would have advanced much beyond the present level but for the fact that we have not had the right kind of leadership both at the governmental level and the level of political level. It is only a few of our parties that we can see leadership that is committed and ready to follow due process and promote the rule of law and of course do things that really stands for national development.

“Until we are able to be self sacrificing to be able to build a party on a basis of justice and fairness we will not be able to make substantial progress. Political  parties are supposed to be a mobiliser to mobilise people ands ensure that things are done in such a way that we don’t only get the type of parties that are structured framework but we also get to ensure that the interest of the people is the final goal.

Unless they are people oriented they cannot build a very vibrant political system. Again, we have to bear in mind that besides the duty of mobilisation, political parties are supposed to educate the citizenry in terms of what they do as citizens and what they do should expect of their government.

“Such that government can be held accountable and the people will know that participation is in the political process is to ensure good governance and they will not be easily compromised the way they are being compromised. By being bought over and so on. We have the monetisation process which is anchored on the disposition of the actors that is why we hear people talk about structures. They are built largely on the dispensation that it is money-determined and that is not good for our system.

Adeniran who was a founding member of PDP but now a chieftain of the SDP added “We need a system that is run in a way that will show commitment to the genuine democracy, run by honest leaders who are committed to democratic principles and social justice.

“It is my expectation that by the time the youths wake up and men and  women of conscience whose orientation is towards the good governance and rule of law in particular, it is only then that we will be able to make the necessary progress and our parties will develope. When our parties develop appropriately and along the lines that will develop the nation then we will be able to have genuine democracy.

“Without good parties we cannot have good nation or a nation that is truly developed, a nation in the true sense of the word that caters for its people. Of course to have good parties we need to have good citizens and to have good citizens we must have good leaders. In other words, the summary of my submission is that the parties in the country today are far from what they should be and to move the parties in the right direction we need good leadership and once we ha e good leadership in the parties, the processes will be what they should be which will throw up leaders who will govern properly,” he said.

He however stressed “Good governance depends on good governance of the parties which also is dependent on good leadership of the political process and the parties. The future of this country which we all know depends on how we, as individuals perform our role as citizens also depends on how we are led by the leaders of the various political parties who in turn will determine the direction of governance based on the people and product that come out of those parties to govern us as a people and as a nation,” he said.

Clearly, the process towards building strong political parties after 58 years was hampered by intermittent military interregnum. But it is expected that alot of improvement would have been made within political parties since 1999 that Nigeria has enjoyed civil rule.

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