As Nigeria marks its 49th Independence anniversary today, most people are asking to what extent political parties have helped to entrench and deepen democracy in the nation.
There is no doubt that many Nigerians, especially those who witnessed the lowering of the Union Jack flag (Britain) and hoisting of the Green White Green flag (Nigeria's), will be enthralled with nostalgia and reminiscence but the oscillatory movement of political parties since October 1, 1960 when Nigeria got her Independence from its colonizer, Britain has remained a recurrent issue in the national discourse.
The major political parties that witnessed the ushering in of Nigeria's Independence after nearly two decades of nationalistic struggle, propelled by revolutionary press and an irrepressible nationalism, are the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and the Action Group (AG) were known for their ideological orientations.
While the AG was more or less regarded as a party for the progressives, the NPC belonged to the conservatives, and the NCNC to some extent was seen as a middle course party for both the progressives and the conservatives. It was this ideological orientation that made it possible for the NPC headed by Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to align with the NCNC headed by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in order to form the central government when there was no clear winner in the 1959 election.
The AG led by Chief Obefemi Awolowo refused to align with the NPC in forming the government on the grounds of the incompatibility of their ideologies but retained its stronghold in the then Western Region.
It is believed that the ideological orientations of the political parties then helped in shaping the direction of the government both at the centre and at the regions. There was, undoubtedly, remarkable developments not in the Western Region where Awolowo did not only introduce free education but also used the revenue generated from cocoa to fast-track infrastructural development in the Western Region, including the first television station in the sub region, Western House in Broad Street, Lagos and University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
In the same vein, Dr. Michael Okpara, then Premier of the Eastern Region on the platform of the NCNC deployed the revenue generated from palm produce to the development of the region, including the Eastern Region Broad Corporation, African Continental Bank and University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
The Northern Region where Alhaji Bello called the shot as the Premier was not left behind as the region also deployed the money generated from groundnut production to stimulate its development, including the Northern Textile Mill, Bank of the North and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
It has been argued that those developments were made possible principally due to the coherence of the political parties then which was anchored on internal democracy of those political parties such that discipline was maintained. That scenario helped to make the central government, where Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and Dr. Azikiwe called the shots as Prime Minister and President respectively following the alliance formed by the NPC and NCNC.
However, the pace of the development was truncated when the military took over the government through the major Chukwuma Nzeogwu-led coup of January 16, 1966. The military interregnum lasted for 13 years before Nigeria returned to democratic rule.
In the Second Republic, the five political parties that emerged namely, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigeria People's Party (NPP), and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Great Nigeria People's Party (GNPP) and People's Redemption Party (PRP) equally had their ideological slant. For instance, the NPN which produced Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the president of Nigeria was clearly a conservative party while the NPP led by Azikiwe was in-between conservatism and progressivism and both the UPN and GNPP were progressive in their orientation. The PRP had a radical Marxist slant.
The formation of those political parties was almost a replication of the parties of the first Republic. While Dr. Azikiwe led the NPP, Chief Awolowo led the UPN and Mallam Aminu Kano led the PRP and late Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim led the GNPP. Again, there was relative cohesiveness among the parties largely owing to their ideological orientations although the military did not give them time to demonstrate how much their seeming internal democratic practice could have translated to national development.
The Second Republic was terminated on December 31, 1983 barely three months into the second term of fours years of the NPN - controlled Federal Government.
Then came again the still-birth Third Republic during the transition to civil rule undertaken by General Ibrahim Babangida as Nigerian Head of State. The Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) headed by General Babangida approved two political parties with divergent ideological tendencies. The parties were the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). While the former tilted towards progressivism, the latter was inclined towards conservatism in what was known popularly then as "a little to the left and a little to the right".
Although some contended that Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO) who flew the presidential flag of the SDP was not truly a progressive having been associated with the NPN, regarded as a conservative party in the second Republic, he aligned himself with known progressives. His running mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe stood out as a progressive politician. On the contrary, the NRC had in its membership known conservatives, including Alhaji Bashir Tofa who was its presidential candidate with Dr. Sylvester Ugoh as his running mate.
It is believed that divergent ideological orientations contributed in no small measure to deepening internal political democracy then although the annulment of the presidential election held on June 12, 1993 cut short the life span of the Third Republic.
When General Sani Abacha shoved aside the Chief Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government (ING) he embarked on yet another transition to civil rule culminating in the recognition of five political arties which somewhat espoused different ideological tendencies. For instance, the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) was manifestly a party of the right wing and had more national spread and acceptance while the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDM) headed by Alhaji Mohammed Yusuf tended towards the left wing. However, Abacha's attempt to transform to a civilian president by manipulating the five political parties to adopt him as their sole presidential candidate was a subtraction to the successes they would have recorded entrenching democracy in Nigeria.
When Abacha died in the company of two foreign ladies in June 1998, the parties were expectedly disbanded.
General Abdulsalami Abubakar who succeeded Abacha as President immediately embarked on another transition programme, registering three political parties - Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP) which transformed to All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). It was these three parties that participated in the 1999 general election that ushered in the present democracy Nigeria is practicing. But between 2000 and 2006, 47 other political parties were registered by the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) bringing the number of political parties to 50. Additional four parties were registered by (INEC) last June.
Although many people support the multiplicity of political parties given the divergent religions, social and cultural difference that exist among the people, others argue that the multi-party system has not helped the growth of the nation. According to them, most of the political parties are merely one - man show and therefore, do not fulfill the requirements for a political party.
Apart from that, lack of internal democracy in the parties has resulted in persistent in-fighting and party crisis. The ruling PDP has had enough dose of the crises right from the national to the ward level such that more half of the 28 states it controls have always had one crisis or the other, a situation that has led to the regular formation of reconciliation committees.
From time to time, its current national chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor on assumption of office harped on the need to reconcile warring factions, including those who left the party for one grievance or the other.
His admnition was reechoed penultimate week when the party held its 46th National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja President Umar Yar'Adua although in Saudi Arabia, mandated the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to task the party members on party democracy and due process. He was reported to have turned down a request from Andy Uba to be given the Anambra governorship election ticket as a compensation for his annulled election by the Supreme Court on June 14,2007.
Other parties are not different.
The ANPP has been passing through series of crises as some members at one time or the other have refused to recognize Chief Edwin Umezuoke as the national chairman of the party. In the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the leadership crisis that engulfed the party pitched Chief Chekwas Okorie who founded the party against Chief Victor Umeh, who pioneer its national treasurer.
The Progressive Peoples Party (PPA) last month had a taste of the crisis when after the resignation of its national chairman, Chief Clement Ebri, its deputy national chairman (South), Olu Akerele was declared as the national chairman by a faction of the party.
Most analysts believe that it is the absence of clear cut ideologies and party democracy that are encouraging the spate of crises among the political parties. Besides, it explains the mentality of Nigerian politicians who if he fails to get the nomination of his party for any election, he defects to another party immediately to secure it without caring a hoot if the party's manifesto or programmes are in harmony or not with his vision.
Analysts contend that as Nigeria marks it 49th independence anniversary, it is paramount for the political class to make genuine effort in deepening the nation's democracy by encouraging party democracy.