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Why opposition parties do not flourish in Nigeria

By John Amoda

OCHEREOME Nnanna in  his Vanguard, Monday November 26, 2012 View Point explains  why the planned Alliance between Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu “Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) and General Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) may not work. In the course of his explanation he brings to the fore the larger problem of the fate of opposition parties and the apparent futility of opposition politics in Nigeria. It is this  latter problem that is addressed in this version of the Tuesday Platform.

Nnanna calls to mind various attempts of parties to organise for the electoral defeat of incumbent parties. He observed thus: “We saw it in the first Republic when the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) consisting mainly of the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and the Action Group tried to upstage northern regional giant and ruling party at the centre, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). In the Second Republic, the National Party of Nigerian (NPN) emerged as the dominant national ruling party, while four others – the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) and the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP) formed a group called the People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA).

The effort also failed. At ensuring 1983 general elections, the NPN not only won the election, but also became  even more mammoth, thus triggering fears of Nigeria becoming a one-party state. In the 1998/1999 transition politics, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has established an early dominance and national spread… In other to attempt to head off its imminent emergence as the dominant national party, two regional rivals, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) which had swept the South-West, created a change contraption of a merger with the All Peoples Party (APP). The merger was only for the Presidential election.”

File photo; Tinubu and Buhari - leaders of ACN and CPC
File photo; Tinubu and Buhari – leaders of ACN and CPC

The PPA not only lost the presidential election, the alliance was not institutionalised for oppositional politics with a view of becoming a rival national opposition alliance capable of defeating the PDP in future elections. It seems a fairly predictable outcome that this pending planned ACN-CPC alliance may end in electoral failure in 2015. This prediction poses a question about the Nigerian political terrain, why it is  inhospitable to the development of oppositional rivalry for electoral dominance at the three levels of government. A beginning of an answer to this question  is provided by the pattern of party competition in the process of devolution of authority by the British Colonial Government to Nigerian Independence Politicians.

For answer to this question we have to go back to the development of electoral party politics from the decade preceeding the granting of independence to Nigeria. In that decade it became clear that parties were being formed primarily for transfer of sovereignty from Britain to Nigeria through the agency of electoral parties. In this statement is the explanation of the difference between electoral politics in Britain and electoral politics in colonial and post colonial Nigeria. In the Western liberal democracies elections were the means for resolving differences among factions of the ruling parties in the administration of the government in the service of a ruling class. The British ruling class was established through class struggle politics amongst contending rivals for sovereignty in the United Kingdom. British Liberal democratic elections were conducted by factions of the British ruling to resolve their policy differences class over the administration of the ruling class government. Their factional electoral parties were organised to offer alternative policies, programmes and projects for the implementation of the ruling class interest in power.

British colonial electoral devolution of sovereignty in Nigeria is therefore structurally different from what pertains in Great Britain. In Nigeria’s colonial and post colonial electoral politics the object of party formation is not office holding but the control of government for the purpose of partisan establishment of sovereignty. Politics in Nigeria is sovereignty politics formatted as electoral politics. Domination not office holding is the objective of politics in Nigeria. Unlike Angola for example, where the nationalist parties each had two objectives; the first to end the rule of Portugal over Angola; the second to establish themselves as successor sovereigns, Politics in Nigeria was organised technically as electoral control over the administration of government and substantively as contestations over sovereign ownership of society. Control of government was the means for achieving the sovereign proprietary dominance over society. It was this politics that led to the formation of proprietary regional electoral parties of the Northern People’s Congress (the NPC) the National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC) in the East and the Action Group in the West.

Because this was the essence of electoral politics in the regions, the First Republic Parties recognised the danger of extending the winner-take-all Regional electoral politics to the centre. Thus, from first republic till date government at the Centre had always been “National Union” coalition Governments whose wisdom is institutionalised in the Constitutions as the Federal and State character principle in the sharing of the spoils of office. As the structure of the federation was changed from units of regions to units of states, electoral contestations in the states continued the tradition of elections contested primarily for political and economic control of territory, populations and economic resources. Thus, Nigerian Politics of domination and dominance has been instituted as Civilian or Military Rule. Indeed Civilian or Military sovereignty over society rather than constitutional electoral succession in office holding by factions of the same ruling party has continued to be the rationale of Nigerian Politics.

Experience shows that the group that is capable of putting together a nation-wide electoral alliance of chieftains and notables to dominate the first transition election from British Rule to Rule by Nigerians and from Military Rule to Civilian Rule has been able to use control of government for organising proprietary ownership of the security forces and the economy. From this vantage position at the centre and the state they have organised successive elections in the context of proprietary control of government and society.

The first Transition Ruling Parties whether NPC, NPN and now PDP have not been dislodged from government through elections. The rule of Transition Ruling Parties has been terminated by non-constitutional non-electoral process, and this has been the case in the centre. This course of politics has accounted for the inhospitability of the Nigerian Political Terrain to oppositional politics at the three levels of government both  in  terms of government culture and successions  through elections. And it is from this perspective that the volatility of party dominance in the South-West is of national security importance.


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