THE IMPERATIVE OF VIABLE POLITICAL PARTIES TOWARDS ELECTION IN NIGERIA
BY AANYA IGOMU
Democracy is popularly defined as government of the people for the people by the people. This assertion can only be achieved through the structure instrumentality of political parties or independent candidates as may be provided for in any nation’s constitution.
In most cases the success of democracy is party pluralism. Advance democracies of the world operate more than one party system. However, party pluralism first emerged in sub-Saharan Africa during the final stages of the colonial period in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The transplant of this Western arrangement of democracy, however, was quickly rejected by virtually all African societies, much like what happened to other political dispensations originating from Europe, such as the modern State, liberal constitutionalism or representative government.
It was only in the 1980s and early 1990s that a new attempt at establishing multiparty systems began to take roots in a continent historically inclined to refuse or distort democratic rules and practices preferring dictatorial or monarchial system of government.
Nigeria, like many other countries in the world, operated a multi-party system since independence where there has been no limit to the number of political parties that could be registered. For a very diverse country like Nigeria, the multi-party model is seen to be the best because it provides several options for different interest groups without subduing any minority group.
From a historical perspective, the development of political parties began during the colonial period when the nationalists formed platforms on which they used for the agitation for independence. The major political parties then were National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC, which was later renamed the National Council of Nigerian Citizens; the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, and the Action Group.
The parties were ethnically and regionally based with the interest of their region as the major focus. There was a coalition of NCNC and NPC that later formed a federal government at independence. There were also other smaller parties apart from the dominant three in the regions. There were disagreements and rivalry between the regions even after independence. Part of these led to the military takeover in 1966 and civil war between1967-1970.
In 1978, five political parties were registered namely the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the Nigerian Peoples’ Party (NPP), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the Great Nigeria Peoples’ Party (GNPP), and the Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP). The Nigerian Advance Party (NAP) was later registered.
In 1979 the parties contested elections and the candidate of NPN, Alhaji Shehu Shagari won. This ushered in the Second Republic. The Second Republic was cut short in 1983 after elections that were marred with irregularities and violence which led to a military takeover.
In a bid to address the problem of ethnicity in politics, the Ibrahim Babangida led military regime instituted a two party system. In 1989 the two parties registered were the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and National Republican Convention, NRC. Even though the two-party system seemed to have advantages, it took the control of parties from the grassroots to the National level.
These was because the law demanded that the two parties must have a national outlook. The two parties contested the famous June 12 elections in 1993 that was adjudged to be the freest election in the country’s history.
The Fourth Republic started in 1999 with nine parties given provisional registration out of the 26 political associations that sought registration.
Since 1999, there have been registration of many parties and merging of political parties which led to the birth of the party presently in government, the All Progressives Congress, APC in Nigeria.
The challenge with the system now compared with the parties of 1960s is that today’s political parties in Nigeria are not based on Ideology. they don’t have clear objectives that could be easily identifiable to them. This has created the common phenomenon where politicians, including elected officials, easily defect from one party to another in pursuit of what is seen as personal or selfish interests rather than ideological philosophy.
Another problem with the Nigerian system is the lack internal democracies in almost all the political parties this as well has hampered the development of the parties as obtained in other climes.
Multi-party model of democracy remained the best option not only for Nigeria, but also in real democratic settings as it gives options to the electorate to choose the best candidate that appeals to them. However, in Nigeria, INEC the electoral body should review the performance of political parties after every election and ensure that non-performing parties are deregistered.
There is also the need for more stringent measures to control the number of political groups that may metamorphosed into political parties should be only on ideology rather than parochial interest.
Political parties should be institutionalized to accomplish the essential task and ideologies in which they are established. It is only then that Nigeria will begin to reap the benefits of a multi-party system of democracy.