Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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Political party formation in Nigeria under a presidential system began in September 1978. General Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nigerian Head of State in that month lifted the ban on political parties and the imposition of state of emergency – all of which had been on when the military seized power in 1966.
Political gladiators and enthusiasts heaved a sigh of relief and took a plunge. They kicked off party platforms in the quest for electoral victory in the 1979 General elections. By December 22, 1978 when the Chairman, Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) Chief Michael Ani announced the formal registration of Political Parties, many Nigerians were already in high spirits.
Five Political Parties were recognized by FEDECO out of 52 political associations. The others, including the one oddly named ‘You Chop I Chop’ party, were rejected. The National party of Nigeria (NPN), the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), the Unity of Nigeria (UPN), the Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP), and the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) were the only recognized parties.
To some political scientists and historians then, the membership of political parties was a clear indication that they were reincarnations of the proscribed parties of the first republic. They thus expressed fears of the politics of ethnicism and regional partisanship being revived. To some extent they were right.
One thing you could not take away from the parties of the Second Republic was that they offered the voter a wide range of choices on the ideological spectrum. There was the NPN, an arch conservative party, unapologetically capitalist with deep roots in traditional institutions. The manifesto of the party emphasized food and shelter.
The UPN on the other hand was more socialist inclined. Its policies were hinged on free education from nursery to tertiary level, free medical health services, rural integration and community development and full and sustainable employment.
The other two parties the NPP and GNPP did not exhibit any distinctive clear ideological identity. They had all along existed as one platform until there was some disagreement on the sharing of political offices before they split.
The only other party that stood out clearly was the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) led by Malam Aminu Kano. In the first Republic he had formed the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), a radical political party which defined democracy as “the rule of the common people, the poor, the illiterate.” It was a party with a clear Marxist orientation, counting on the lumpen proletariat, the talakawa, to rise up and overthrow their overlords – the capitalists and their collaborators, the traditional rulers. The PRP thus stood out as a party with a clear and radical view of solving Nigeria’s problems.
Towards the election of 1983, another political party was registered – the Nigeria Advanced Party NAP. This party proclaimed its readiness to rid Nigeria of cockroaches and rats as its most distinctive ideology.
On December 31st 1983, the military struck. Political parties were banned and the squabbling politicians herded to gaol. The incoming military government led by General Muhammadu Buhari was so preoccupied with sanitizing society and jailing political office holders that it had no time to fashion out a political program let alone allow the blossoming of political parties. Before long, that government was booted out.
The new government that came to power in August 1985 led by General Babangida announced a transition to democratic rule program once it settled in. As the transition program made progress, politicians were allowed to form parties even as they were given stiff conditions. In December 1989 the government refused to recognize any of the six political associations recommended to it for registration by the National Electoral Commission, NEC.
It went on to promulgate decree 83 to set up and regulate the operations of the two political parties it set up – the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). One was said to be ‘a little to the left’ and the other ‘a little to the right’ of the ideological spectrum.
Death came knocking on the doors of the political parties again when the governments transition scheme was ruined by the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential elections believed to have been won by the SDP. By the end of that year, full blown military government emerged and all political parties again were banned.
General Sani Abacha, the new Head of State appointed members of his electoral body NECON which in 1995 released very stiff guidelines for party registration. By the following year, NECON registered five political parties: Committee for National Consensus (CNC), United Nigeria People’s Convention (UNPC), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), and Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM).
Some politicians however remained suspicious of Abachas intentions. Chief Bola Ige for instance said the five parties were the “five fingers of a leprous hand”. These suspicions gained currency when in April 1998, four of the five political parties adopted Abacha as their consensus presidential candidate.
That transition project came to a sudden end with the equally sudden death of Abacha. Thus, began the journey under the supervision of General Abdulsalami Abubakar who took over after Abachas demise and brought us to where we are today. At first, not many politicians of substance believed the military were going to quit the political stage. They had been led into dark allays on several occasions and were naturally suspicious.
The few politicians of note who took the risk teamed up in the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) which was so formidable that it became an all-conquering behemoth in the elections that led to the departure of the military on 29th May 1999. Beginning from President Olusegun in 1999, Nigeria was ruled by the People’s Democratic Party for sixteen years. In the 2015 presidential elections a merger of some opposition parties presented a formidable team which defeated Goodluck Jonathan an incumbent President for the first time in Nigeria’s history.
The defeat of the PDP was celebrated. Here was a party without an ideology. The only thing that held the avaricious and greedy men in the party together for so long was their agreement that Nigeria was at best a Casino or at worst a war booty which they were free to milk dry or loot abundantly. They were simply incapable of thinking that Nigeria was their country and that it needed good leadership.
Sadly, as we approach 2019, we appear to have gone back to that ground zero. It is difficult to say what the ruling party, the APC really stands for. Much hope was raised in the integrity of Muhammadu Buhari who as the presidential candidate of the APC advertised himself as the man to end corruption and insecurity, the two evils that threatened Nigeria’s existence by 2015. But as the time worn saying goes, ‘one tree cannot make a forest.’
President Buhari’s much talked about integrity does not translate into a party ideology. His influence in this respect could best be described as a tad smug on the party. Many of his party men do not share his view. Today we cannot swear what the APC stands for. Is it the security of life and property?
The rampaging Boko Haram insurgents who were daring enough to create an emirate in the days of Goodluck Jonathan may have been checked or even brought to heel. But they are now complemented by the cattle rustlers and herdsmen who have made life very, very cheap in Nigeria under Buhari and the APC.
The most frustrating thing about it all is that when you turn around and look at the sixty or so political parties vying for power in 2019, you see very little alternative choice. They are all alike.
The tragedy of having such a scenario in a country like Nigeria is that the voter has no alternative but to cast his vote – not based on a detached assessment of what is best for his country – but by the sentiments of religion, region and tribe.