If we accept the simplistic description of democracy as a government of the people by the people for the people, then, there should be room for a multi-party arrangement. We should accept Thomas Hodgkin's definition of political parties as, "all organizations which regard themselves as parties and which are so generally regarded."
In Nigeria, political parties which can contest elections for political posts are those registered by the electoral regulatory body (INEC). Since the return of democracy in 1999, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) has been the dominant political party in Nigeria, and also, the ruling party at the Federal level.
The main Opposition as of today is made up of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), APGA, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Labour Party (LP) and some other smaller ones. In fact, the present Nigerian political scenario reflects democracy in practice.
If the latest move by some political parties (ACN, ANPP, CPC, and a faction of APGA) to merge to become a virile opposition party to the ruling party, it is nothing new in an attempt to deepen the concept of democracy. There should be no objection to the idea of a democratic single party formed by voluntary merger of all other parties and behaving like an ideal democratic party. In some cases, such a merger could lead to a strong ruling party and thus, turn the country into one party state.
The fear of Nigeria becoming a one-party state is perhaps, the main reason why the proposed merging of some political parties into a formidable opposition party is welcomed by many political analysts.
Though many people do doubt the success of such a merger, based on the antecedents of the parties involved, it is the intention that should be carefully examined.
If, as some have argued that the aim of the opposition is mainly to unseat the ruling power (PDP) at the centre, then it could be logically argued that the first thing before an opposition gets to power is to democratically remove the incumbent through better organization and provision of alternative better policies.
Those who are criticizing the merger proposals of some parties or wishing early death of such a merger are themselves, enemies of democracy. There should always be a choice before any voter of how the country should be ruled.
The ruling party should by its activities convince Nigerians why its mandate should be renewed while the Opposition party or parties should, at the same time, present to Nigerians better ways of running the country.
I think the problem of the new opposition party should not be how long it will last, but how long will its impact be on the political and economic development of the country. Nigerians and especially members of the ruling party, should allow the opposition to grow and stay strong in order to allow the country, at any moment of time, to make a choice in any election. In a stable polity, the government in the Opposition should co-exist and work peacefully towards the attainment of national security, political stability and economic development.
It is expected that both the ruling party and the Opposition would by practice and promises educate the people about their different approaches to questions of national interest. However, if there are no observable differences on important policies and issues by the government and the opposition, it would be preferable for single parties to merge into a coalition rather than forming a confrontational opposition.
This may be difficult because of the fear that merged parties may become one large single party with dictatorial tendencies. An observable advantage of the merger of opposition parties into a single party is the emergence of the two-party system which is always good for the growth of democracy.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) of Herbert Macaulay and the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) were the two recognized political parties in Lagos and were always contesting for seats in the Lagos City Council and the Nigerian Legislative Council.
The political stability was ensured by the ability of the electorate to choose between the programmes of the two parties. Also in the 1950s especially in the Western Region, the sharp political contest had always been between the Action Group (AG) led by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the NCNC led by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe.
At the Federal elections in 1954, the people of Western Region voted in favour of the NCNC and thus, that party represented Western Region in the Federal Council of Ministers in Lagos. The difference between the AG and NCNC in those days was the picture of AG as a party of rich people and that of the NCNC, as a party for the commoners.
It could be recalled that during the military era, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida came with the idea of two parties - that of the Right and another of the Left.
The two parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), were the two main registered parties before the annulled Presidential Elections of 1993.
The subsequent Abacha coup and the further years of military rules destroyed completely the two party system of the Babangida era.
The present political horizon featuring a single large party, strong and well organized, but always in turmoil and a weak and divided opposition is not ideal for a country well endowed like Nigeria. However, the question is, how do you remove peacefully a ruling party that is performing below average in a plural society?
It is observed that democracy is easy to achieve and security is easy to maintain in a society which is not sharply divided. In Nigeria, tribalism has been enthroned and religious acrimony, a vogue. Every criticism, however constructive, is viewed through the dark glass of ethnicism and religion.
In my honest opinion, in as much as a strong opposition is desirable in a democracy and a two-party system is admirable, the new merging party All Progressive Congress (APC) will have to convince many patriotic Nigerians that it is not a party being set up to actualize the wish of certain people that power should return to the North, or a soft landing arena for a certain politician. The party should be for Nigeria's interest only.