Evolution Of Political Parties And Contribution To Democracy

June 16, 2020

According to various scholars, the history of political parties in Nigeria can be situated within the context of the two-party and multi-party political system which can be traced to the development of nationalist consciousness, awareness and political movements that began in Nigeria in the 1930s.

A key distinguishing feature of the second wave of Nigerian nationalism was the development of permanent political associations to pursue national objectives with the various associations formed by nationalists such as Ernest Ikoli, Herbert Macaulay, Samuel Akinsanya, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and others constituting the precursors of political parties in Nigeria.

A political party is an organised group of people who have the same ideology, or who otherwise have the same political positions, and who field candidates for elections, in an attempt to get them elected and thereby implement the party’s agenda.

While there is some international commonality in the way political parties are recognised and in how they operate, there are often many differences, and some are significant. Most political parties have an ideological core, but some do not, and many represent ideologies very different from their ideology at the time the party was founded.

Nigeria and countries such as Germany and India, have several significant political parties, and some nations have one-party systems, such as China and Cuba. The United States is in practice a two-party system but with many smaller parties also participating.

It is pertinent to note that political parties in Nigeria have their characteristics. They include their nature of emergence and evolution which, has been closely tied to Nigerian constitutional development or evolution of Nigerian constitution; ethnicity or regionalism; limited national spread; and intra-party conflicts.

There is no democratic government that can exist in the world without political parties. Nigeria is one of the newest democratic nations in the world. It only got its independence in the 20th Century. However, political party is still a part of our policy process as Nigerians.

The major functions of political parties in Nigeria have been assisting the parliament, formation of public policies, education, representation of interest groups, and simplifying choices.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2018, maintained that “political parties are  keystone of democratic governance. They provide a structure for political participation; serve as a training ground for political leadership; and transform social interests into public policy.”

However, in Nigeria, the task of having parties with truly nationalist disposition had been a challenge until the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Party (NRC) were formed by the Gen Ibrahim Babangida-led administration.

While there were apprehensions over the sustainability of the two parties at the time being creations of the military government, both parties soon assumed a much more robust nationalistic coloration with balanced geo-political spread unlike in the past.

Although the famous June 12, 1993 presidential election was annulled, the performance of both parties with regards to ideology, structure, administration, campaigns and spread had become the hallmark of political party system going forward.

By 1998, the desire to have such format seemed to have caught on. Although the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was more dominant in the South-West, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and defunct All Peoples Party (APP), later All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) had a broader spread. For the 1999 election, an alliance was forged between the AD and the APP to match PDP’s seeming dominance, a party which enjoyed the backing of former military generals.

Although the parties enunciated ideological slants that were not so distinct from each other, the overriding feeling within the polity was for a successful military to civilian transmission to take place.

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military head of State emerged president after the 1999 election on the PDP platform. Years later, while the ruling party unraveled over internal squabbles leading to sack or resignation of its party chairmen, the opposition were locked in a crisis of confidence.

From 2003 to 2015, there was an explosion of parties on the political scene. Within that time, an attempt by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deregister political parties which had increasingly become platforms for political racketeering was upturned by the court.

While the ruling party was accused of weakening the opposition parties, the latter blamed paucity of funds for its poor performance during polls. They also accused the ruling party of diverting public funds for party management.

What’s worse, the major parties neither had ideological base nor requisite administrative capacity as they had become extensions of either the president or state governors depending on the party in question.

However in 2013, Nigeria’s political firmament was significantly altered with the merger of some opposition parties which lacked national spread. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP)  merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The breakout of some PDP governors, federal and state lawmakers saw the hitherto behemoth ruling party weakened ahead of the 2015 presidential election.

The APC merger coupled with its popular presidential candidate, former head of state, Gen Muhammadu Buhari proved too formidable for PDP and its candidate, former President Goodluck Jonathan.

However, many analysts aver the APC is merely another version of the PDP. Besides the ease at which politicians  move from APC and PDP and vice-versa, the seeming lack of adherence to party manifesto, allegations of imposition of candidates and other vices for which the PDP was lampooned seems to be manifesting in the ruling party today.

With the 2019 presidential elections over, INEC has revisited the issue of party deregistration, which has led to legal action. The number of parties had risen to 92. But the commission has reduced the number of parties to 18. Despite legal action by some aggrieved parties, the court upheld the authority of INEC to deregister parties.

As of today, the quests to have ideological based parties still continues.

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