With the expiration of the time line for party primaries, political parties are putting their acts together in readiness for the 2019 general elections. At the close of the exercise, in line with the electoral guideline, a number of presidential candidates emerged. But curiously, only about 21 out of the 91 registered political parties participated in the exercise.
Out of the lot, the two big parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), will be the main rivals slugging it out, not only at the presidential election but also in other major elections, including governorship and National Assembly polls.
When INEC registered more political parties, observers felt it was for effective participation in the political space and also to encourage robust opposition. But that has not happened. Many of the newly registered parties did not even conduct primaries.
Barely three months to the February 2019 general elections, and about a month to the commencement of campaigns, only within these two political parties are visible activities taking place. Nothing pronounced is being noticed in others, pointing to the possibility that some of those who emerged as candidates in those other parties may be merely interested in being referred to, after the next poll, as former presidential candidates.
With the death of Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP) after the 2003 general elections, PDP remained the dominant party until the merger of about five political parties and groups into APC in the build-up to the 2015 general elections. The APC provided virile position to the then President Goodluck Jonathan administration and it eventually swept it out of power. Today, the PDP is also giving the current administration a run for its money.
Since 2003, Nigeria has always had a situation where only two major political parties dominate the political environment and this has not changed till date. Others have always been seen as mushroom parties built around families and friends, especially in the last few years when parties were receiving funds from government.
It is the opinion of this paper that the government and the political class should begin to consider having two strong parties that are rooted and active in every part of the country, rather than scores of parties that do not have national spread. This is the type of democracy Nigeria needs. The military administration under President Ibrahim Babangida experimented with a two-party structure which featured the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). The effort recorded appreciable success but for the June 12 misadventure.
Perhaps it is time to repeat that experiment with the PDP and APC as these are the only parties with membership that cuts across the geo-political zones. They are not only firmly rooted but enjoy the support of Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic and religious leanings.
Today, the APC is in power. If in the next general elections Nigerians find out that it is not living up to expectations, PDP will unseat it. Also, if PDP takes over and rolls out its programmes but does not live up to expectations, at the end of four years, of course APC will return to power.
In developed democracies, what obtains is a two-party system arrived at either through coalitions or ideological inclination. A two-party structure with evenly spread support base would engender the much needed national integration and economic development in the polity.
Indeed, Nigeria operates a multi-party system. By our constitution, we can’t have two parties; we must have many parties, but it is our stand that there must be at least two parties that are strong enough so that, at any given time, one of them can form a government. So, you can be a governing party today and then tomorrow you go into opposition. That way we can have effective competition in the political arena and keep the ruling party on its toes.
Since the return to democracy in May 29, 1999, political parties have not been known to have distinct ideologies. Rather, they have been engulfed with regular internal squabbles and cross carpeting that is not healthy for the nation’s democracy.
Democratic governance has been polarised along divisive ethnic and religious lines and it is indeed worrisome that active politicians are not adhering to the rules of the game. We recommend a two-party structure because it will reduce the cost of conducting elections, compel politicians to be more ideological and engender a more democratic arrangement that will hopefully help stabilise the polity away from needless political altercations that inhibit national growth and development.
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