March 17, 2023

2023 elections: Do we still need political parties? 

By Adekunle Adekoya

THE online version of Encyclopaedia Brittanica describes a political party as “a group of persons organised to acquire and exercise political power”. Political parties originated in their modern form in Europe and the United States in the 19th century, along with the electoral and parliamentary systems, whose development reflects the evolution of parties. The term party has since come to be applied to all organised groups seeking political power, whether by democratic elections or by revolution. 

Another online resource portal, Wikipedia defines a political party “as an organisation that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country’s elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold similar ideas about politics, and parties may promote specific ideological or policy goals. Political parties have become a major part of the politics of almost every country.”

In our country, it is no less. When colonialism happened to Africa, ways of doing things by the colonialists in their home country were imposed, which disrupted and ousted the way Africans did things before, starting with governance. That way, political parties also grew . In Nigeria, the first political party was the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, founded by Herbert Macaulay in 1923, shortly after promulgation of the Clifford Constitution earlier in 1922. Other parties soon followed, like the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC; the Action Group, AG; the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC; the United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC; and others.

At independence in 1960, the NPC had formed a government led by Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister. The Action Group, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was the leading opposition party. By 1966, the nation experienced its first coup d’etat, and the civilian government was overthrown. In 1979, the nation returned to democratic civil rule. The parties of that Second Republic were National Party of Nigeria, NPN; Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN; Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP; Great Nigerian Peoples Party, GNPP; and the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP. It is noteworthy that all along the people that populated the aforementioned parties were men and women sharing similar ideologies, worldview, ethos, and empathy for the people they sought to govern.

The Second Republic was short-lived; after four years and three months, another military putsch took place and the soldiers seized power. On December 31, 1983. January 1, 1984 saw the emergence of Major-General Muhammadu Buhari as military Head of State. He is now incumbent president in a civilian setting. Thus began another military interregnum that was to last till 1999. In between, there was the June 12, 1993 saga. Two political parties decreed into life by the Babangida administration sought power — the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and the National Republican Convention, NRC. The candidate of the SDP, the late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola won the presidential ballot in an election said to be the country’s freest and fairest to date. A unique form of voting, introduced by the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, NEC, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, called Option A-4 helped deliver the magic. Sadly, the election was annulled for reasons many Nigerians still cannot understand, and an interim administration was put in place, led by a private sector captain, the late Chief Ernest Sonekan. Just 82 days after, in November 1993, he was ousted, and former Defence Minister, General Sani Abacha took over as military Head of State. Abiola was later arrested and detained.

In 1998, Abacha died, and later, Abiola too. Chief of Defence Staff under Abacha, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, took over as Head of State.

He started a return to civil rule programme and political parties were formed to actualise this. They were the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; the Alliance for Democracy, AD; and the All Peoples Party, APP. The PDP won the election in 1999, and retained power till 2015.

At first, it looked like as things used to be with the character and profile of the men and women that populated the parties. The AD people saw themselves as progressives, while the PDP crowd was profiled as conservatives. Between 2015 and now, Nigerian politicians have changed membership of political parties so much their supporters can’t remember where they started from. In the last eight years, people have left the PDP for APC and back to the PDP again, and vice versa. Some parties have even become special purpose vehicles. Aggrieved political contestants have formed the habit of using these parties to actualise their ambition when they feel cheated, only to go back to where they felt they should be as soon as they secured power.

The current elections have, to me, demonstrated that political parties may have outlived their usefulness as originally intended. With members of one party openly working against candidates of their own party and actively canvassing for victory of another party’s candidate, we may not need parties any more. All over the country, alliances and endorsements across party lines are taking place in virtually all the states. This means the manifestoes (where they exist) of the parties matter little. Just the persons seeking elective office. I, therefore, urge the incoming National Assembly to amend the Constitution accordingly to accommodate Independent candidature as a step towards killing the parties.