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Multi-party system and the Nigerian factor in a democratic environment

By Adisa Adeleye

For the purpose of this article, it is assumed that Nigeria is a democracy and currently practising one of its cardinal principles – leaving the choice of governance to more than one political association or political party.  During the just concluded elections, about fourteen political parties contested for a single position of the President.

It could be reasonably argued that the present day Nigeria enjoys a lot of political freedom far from those dark days in the early 1980s when Gen Buhari was a military dictator, and before he was overthrown by another military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida.  The fact that a former military Head of State could aspire to be elected as the President after three attempts is a sign that the seed of democracy is germinating firmly in the country.

The present day democrats owe a great debt to those good old Greeks philosophers who developed the concept of democracy as a government of the people by the people and for the people.  The lovely Athenians of those pleasant days should, also, be admired for enthroning a philosophy which had brought political stability to many civilized countries of the world.

It is observed that many strong political leaders, especially in some developing countries, including our own former President (Obasanjo), did argue, but rather disingenuously, that the Greeks who bestowed democracy on the world did “practice it without political parties”.  To the former President, “multi-party bickering is definitely a luxury we cannot afford”.  That attitude was apparent during his eight years reign as president, and after.  However, the multi-party concept has been accepted in many civilized countries because it guarantees opportunity for the people to make a choice from the contending parties for governance.  After the last elections, some analysts attributed the defeat of PDP to the lack of internal democracy in the party.  Thus, that party was ill-prepared for a strong and well organized opposition.

File: Voter casting her vote
File: Voter casting her vote

However, the past political history of the country pointed to the existence of viral multi-party system – even under the colonial system (British Imperialism).  After dominating the political process for about a decade, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) of Herbert Macaulay was strongly challenged by another party, Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) of younger and brilliant minds of the time – Dr Vaughan, Dr. Azikiwe, Chief H. O. Davies, Chief Awolowo and others.  While the NNDP won Legislative Council seats in 1922, 1930 and 1931, the rival party (NYM) won in 1938, 1940 and 1941.

It should be recognized that in Lagos and later, in many towns of South-West, Obas and Chiefs were active political participants.  In the struggle to extend political franchise in 1930s, the Oba of Lagos, Esugbayi and his chiefs were always seen at the political rallies of the NNDP.  The late Oba of Lagos, Adele was a strong supporter of the Action Group (through the Area Council Party) while his successor, Oba Oyekan was a supporter of the NCNC and a personal friend of its leader, Dr. Azikiwe.

It may be observed that the concept of multi-party system has taken a firm root in Nigeria through earlier experiment in Lagos.  However, its rapid growth has been affected by many attributes of Nigerian politics which have manifested themselves in diverse directions – ethnicity, religion, cultism and monetary inducements (infrastructure of the stomach).  Under the multi-party system in this country, the election results have shown neither the victory for a particular political ideology nor the preference for a particular economic philosophy.  There is neither the Babangida`s party of the Left and Party of the Right, but a party predominantly of the South-East and South-South states and the other parts of the North (North-West, North-East), with South-West and the minorities of the North-Central, making electoral victory and loss, sweet and painful.  It looks as if the recent elections have thrown into focus once again the recurrent problems of political disunity and economic insecurity.

Recently, in the matter of balancing Nigeria`s political equation, the case of the South-East and South-South States comes to mind.  The question of supporting “our son or cousin”, irrespective of performance, should not arise if the concept of multi-party should work.  The clever drafters of the 1999 Constitution have made the making of Nigeria President an uphill task in a democratic environment.  Any successful candidate should enjoy widespread backing, especially by winning four of the six geographical political zones.  Without any organized opposition, the ruling PDP wears a large hat, but in a contest with a stubborn opposition, the party`s thinking cap appeared to be forgotten at home.

As a Leader of Ibo Renaissance, the Anambra State Governor perhaps needs a refresher course in practical political strategy.  A young struggling party which asked its own members to vote for another party deserves not to live.  Any President would need a majority in the National Assembly to execute his programmes.  Why not from the solitary APGA State?   Any political strategists would have learnt from the disasters of AD in the South-West in 2003 elections.  The AD party was “tricked” into Elysian field of the mainstream of national politics.  The gullible AD leaders took the bait and the party lost all States under its control, except Lagos (where the Resident Electoral Officer was reported to have refused to announce fake results).  The Lagos State under Ahmed Tinubu has been able to withstand the storms since, and has now become a part of the winning team.

Some of the pragmatic politicians are still asking about the reported deal by late Chief Emeka Ojukwu for a cooperative political alliance between APGA and the old AD (Ibo and Yoruba) as a bridge towards North/South political evolution.  Lagos since the time of Tinubu has started with a South-East citizen as a Commissioner in its Executive.  Former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi could not see and evolve the same kind gesture.

It may be relevant to ask if the idea of a government of National unity is desirable in a multi-party system especially, if the victorious party has a workable majority in the National Assembly.  Yes, an all inclusive administration may be required to tackle some complex and specific problems like Security, (internal and external), mass unemployment, widespread poverty and weak domestic currency.  All these challenges need strong measures which could stretch the fragile political unity to its full limit.

The country needs injection of massive funds into the economy for infrastructural developments.  But where are the funds coming from in a situation where corruption is endemic and where financial recklessness of political office holders could only be matched by the executive penchant for frivolous spending.  And the vastly dwindling oil revenue is besieged by unreasonable subsidy payment and oil thefts.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.