By Adisa Adeleye
The pleasant news in the last few weeks is that the country would see a ‘Mega‘ Political Party through the merging of some important opposition parties. Thus, the merging of ACN, CPC and ANPP could give the country the semblance of a strong and virile opposition party, if everything goes well. For the first time, it might be possible to have an alternative party to the ruling PDP at the Centre.
Of recent, the President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has been under severe attacks from different quarters and promises have been made to see that his chances of re-election in 2015 are very slim.
Some Nigerians are worried that the personal attacks on the President are not necessary but should be replaced by the provision of alternative solutions to the problems of the country. Perhaps, this is the more reason why the opposition parties would now prefer to merge together into a single and powerful political party to provide a formidable challenge to the ruling party.
However, it might be argued whether it is necessary to have an opposition party when there are no essential differences in policies between the government and those who are opposed to it. They argued, not without justification, that what is wrong with Nigerian politics is bad constitution and that with the introduction of proportional representation with coalition governments, all would be well. The weakness of this argument is that no institutional arrangement can be devised which will instantly make big groups to collaborate rather than fight.
The position today is that of a big and strong party, the PDP, ruling at the Centre and also, in many of the 36 States of the country. Its hold on the Centre has been firm because of the absence of an efficient opposition. Is there need for any opposition? Or on the other hand, is such opposition desirable, even if the practice of democracy enjoins it? The main political problem of the country could be traced to pluralism, where many nations are lumped together to form a single state, and no serious attempt is being made to evolve a lasting political structure.
Some analysts have argued, (looking at past incidents and antecedents of personalities involved in the merger talks), to conclude that any talks about a strong opposition to the present government would fail woefully. Some have argued that the best opportunity to evolve a coalition of parties and interests was lost after the 1959 elections that ushered in Nigeria‘s Independence in 1960.
Between 1958 and 1960, there was a semblance of coalition of the parties at the Federal level with the late Alhaji Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister. But the 1959 elections and the subsequent political reactions destroyed the basis of meaningful coalition and sowed the seeds of political disunity of the 1960s.
At the 1959 elections, the political party of the North (NPC) won 134 seats with (1,922,779 votes), NCNC won 89 seats with (2,594,577) while the AG won 73 seats with (1,992,364) votes. While the NCNC and AG won their seats with representatives from all parts of the country, the seats of the NPC were won only in the North.
To many people in the South, the NCNC with the largest number of votes won the election and could nominate the Prime Minister if the South could act as one (162 seats against NPC 134 seats). At worst, it could have been a glorious coalition of all parties, even if the late Alhaji Tafawa Balewa retained his position as Prime Minister with the two southern parties having a strong representation in the Federal Government.
However, the political scenario changed with the virile husband, becoming a “beautiful bride”, resulting in a marriage of convenience between NPC and the NCNC, with NCNC as the junior partner. Many Nigerians saw a betrayal of trust by leaders of the south.
Thus, the 1960 alliance between the NPC and NCNC in 1960 informing the Federal Government could not withstand the political volcanoes that led to the Nigerian civil war. Earlier disturbances that affected the alliance were a 1963 Census` dispute and changing political scene in the Western Region that affected the political fortunes of the NPC and the NCNC.
Perhaps, it might be of interest to attempt to explain the failure of Southern leaders (Chief Awolowo and Chief Azikiwe) to agree on the formation of a progressive partnership in 1960. Some in NCNC quarters accused the AG of duplicity i.e. negotiating with NCNC during the day and the NPC during the night. The NCNC quarters also referred to the 1951 elections which the NCNC claimed it won, but was robbed.
The alleged “robbery” at Ibadan by the AG which Chinua Achebe mentioned in his book titled “THE PROBLEMS OF NIGERIA”, would perhaps, be one of the major problems agitating against the Yoruba/Ibo political unity and understanding up till today.
It may be recalled that contrary to the view held by some leaders of the NCNC then, the Action Group (AG) won the elections in the Western Region. According to Mallam Amadu Kurfi in his book titled, The Nigerian General Elections 1959 and 1979 and the aftermath, “The Action Group obtained a majority in the Legislature in 1951 partly by gaining adherents after the election and partly by astute management of the second stage of the elections”. Except in Lagos where direct elections were held, elections in other parts of the country were indirect- primary and electoral colleges (without party labels).
It was known to enlightened Zickistes that Dr Azikiwe‘s visit to Ibadan in 1951 was not to claim victory but to be elected as one of the two representatives for Lagos to the Federal House, being one of the five elected representatives from Lagos to the Western House of Assembly (which is an electoral college for that purpose).
His failure to be elected with Dr. Ibiyinka Olorunmbe for the two seats of Lagos was the cause of Dr Azikiwe‘s disillusionment that led him back to the Eastern Region. In the 1970s and 1980s, the parties of Chief Awolowo and Dr Azikiwe i.e. (UPN and NPP) following their separate ways, could not match the new NPN (National Party of Nigeria) which won the Presidential Elections in 1979 and 1983, under President Shehu Shagari (of the North).
The PDP of today (which is the amalgamation of old, new and military politicians), and which has been performing quite below expectation is being challenged by a possible merger of ACN (old and new Awoists), ANPP (old NPN remnants) , and CPC (ex ANPP and new followers of General Buhari, a former Head of State).
Can the merger work? And for what purpose? As for me, I would prefer a coalition not a confrontation – a genuine national government and a useful national discourse, as a means of ensuring a lasting peace.