Political Parties as Instruments of Political Interaction in Nigeria


Political Parties as Instruments of Political Interaction in Nigeria

Elections guarantee political participation and competition. They also provide an opportunity for citizens to make a political decision by voting for the competing candidates fielded by various political parties.

This implies that election which is one of the critical anchors of democracy requires the existence of political parties.

In Nigeria, political parties offer citizens a choice in governance, and while in opposition they can hold governments accountable all these are central to the wider consolidation of democracy.

This article examines the roles of political parties as instruments of political interaction in Nigeria. It traces the history and activities of political parties from the colonial era through the First Republic up to the Fourth Republic.


Political Parties in the Colonial Era

The 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria marked the beginning of a stupendous effort in socio-political engineering. That is the creation of a modern state out of a collection of several independent nation-states and nationalities.

 If this is added to the diversities in religion, culture, tradition, language and geography, one would have a better understanding of the character of political parties in the period preceding Nigeria’s independence later assumed.

Political parties in the colonial era in Nigeria had its origin in the Clifford constitution of 1922, which introduced the elective principle.

The constitution encouraged the creation of political parties so that Nigerians would be able to secure the available seats in the Legislative Council. The elective principle therefore represents the first step in Nigeria’s electoral journey and Herbert Macaulay followed up with the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) which contested and won all three seats allocated to Lagos in the 1992 Legislative Councils elections, one could say that the experiment was off to a good and promising start.

The stated aims of the NNDP includes the attainment of municipal status and local self-government for Lagos, the provision of facilities for higher education in Nigeria, the introduction of compulsory education at the primary school level, the encouragement of non- discriminatory, private economic enterprise, and the Africanisation of the civil service.

The Lagos Youth Movement (LYM) was also formed in 1934. The movement was formed by graduates of Nigeria’s premier institution, King’s College, Lagos. The founding members were Ernest Ikoli, H. O. Davies and Samuel Akinsaya.

The objectives of the LYM were limited and provincial in nature and included making demands about improving the living conditions under the colonial environment.

In 1936 LYM transformed into the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) which was a bigger, pan Nigeria political organization.

The membership of the NYM was strengthened in 1937 with the return of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe to Nigeria from Ghana. The movement immediately opened branches in several cities in the country and followed up with the publication of its Youth Charter and Constitution in1938.

However, ethnic parochialism was introduced into the movement during an election held to fill the seat vacated by Dr Kofo Abayomi who was appointed into the Executive council. Ernest Ikoli who was then the President of NYM wanted to replace Kofo Abayomi in the legislative council, but he was opposed by Samuel Akinsanya who aspired to the same vacant seat.

The party eventually selected Ikoli for the post and this led to the allegation by a group led by Dr Azikiwe that Samuel Akinsanya was not favoured by the dominant Yoruba group within the party because he was from the minority Ijebu stock.

The Nigerian Youth Movement was not able to manage this internal bickering and it eventually led to the breakup of what could have been the first nationwide political party in Nigeria.

The National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) was the next national political party that emerged in 1944 on the ruins of the Nigerian Youth movement. The party was formed from a conglomeration of various groups and associations among which was the Ibo State Union.

It was led by Sir Herbert Macaulay while Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe served as the national secretary. After the death of Herbert Macaulay in 1946, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe became the leader of the party. The party was very outspoken against the colonial authorities and was reputed to have sent a powerful delegation to London in 1946 to express the grievances of the nationalists against Richard’s constitution. The next party was the Action Group (AG) of Nigeria.

Action Group which was formed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo from a Yoruba socio-cultural group, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa. Awolowo in a book written in 1947, Path to Nigerian Freedom admitted that given the ethnic plurality it was only natural for political parties to start off from their ethnic base before aspiring to become a national platform.

The Northern People’s Congress (NPC), like the AG was also formed in 1951 from the Hausa cultural group, Jammiyyar Mutaine Arewa.

Therefore, before the attainment of independence in 1960, Nigeria had three major political parties i.e. the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), the National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC) formerly, the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroon, and the Action Group of Nigeria (AG), with each of them dominant and exercise control over the regional governments in the North, East and West, respectively.


Political Parties in the First Republic

During the first republic in Nigeria, while the three major parties NPC, NCNC and AG controlled the affairs of the three regions, North, East and West respectively, the NCNC joined the NPC to form a coalition government at the very level since none of the party was strong to singularly form the federal government.

This arrangement gave the post of the Prime Minister to Tafawa Balewa of NPC while Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe assumed the position of the Governor-General. Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the AG became the leader of the opposition.

It is instructive to note that the major political parties at Nigeria’s independence were majorly ethnically based. While the NPC was seen as a party of the Hausa–Fulani group, the NCNC was a party of the Igbo and the AG was considered as a party of the Yoruba. These parties, therefore, lacked nationwide appeal. 

Yet, there were other minority political parties such as the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) led by Aminu Kano and the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) led by Joseph Tarka which were in opposition to the

NPC in the North; the Mid- West Democratic Front (MDF) for the Mid-western region, the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) formed by Chief S.L. Akintola and was in opposition to the AG in the West.

The party was formed by Chief Akintola after he was forced out of the mainstream party in the West, the AG sequel to a protracted crisis which rocked the party. Akintola was joined by the remnants of NCNC members, notably Fani Kayode to form the new, NNDP, distinguished from the one formed by Hebert Macaulay in1922.

Before the 1964 Federal Election political parties of the First Republic also teamed up to form grand coalitions to compete for seats. The NPC joined the NNDP to form the Nigeria National Alliance (NNA) while the AG teamed up with the NCNC to form the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA).

The outcome of the 1964 Federal Election was stalemated and led to a constitutional crisis when the then Nigeria’s President, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe refused to call on Tafawa

Balewa, then Prime Minister, to form a new government.

The eventual chain of events in the aftermath of the election disputes can be remotely linked to the collapse of the First Republic, and the intervention of the military, for the first time in Nigerian politics.

In the final analysis, it is safe to say that the defective nature of political parties in Nigeria during the First Republic, especially their primordial base contributed to the political and legitimacy crises in the First Republic, and the failure of Nigeria to sustain and consolidate her first attempt at democratic government within a federal framework.


Political Parties in the Second Republic

The form and character as well as the nature of the political parties of Nigeria’s Second Republic did not change much compared to those of the First Republic.

Five political parties were registered by the Federal Electoral Commission to contest the 1979 general elections.

The sixth National Advance Party was registered in 1983 and it contested that year’s General Elections. Almost all the registered parties had roots in the First Republic.

The Unity Party of Nigeria’s (UPN), is, a reincarnation of the AG, and was led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was also the party’s presidential candidate in both the 1979 and 1983 presidential elections.

The National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was also an offshoot of the old, except that it had a slightly national outlook which made the party to adopt zoning policy for its appointive and elective offices.

The party’s membership was largely drawn from the old Northern aristocracy and the Southern bourgeoisie.

Although the NPN was a conservative party compared to the more progressive UPN, and the more liberal or republican NCNC, its twin policy of zoning, which was anchored on the imperatives of national unity, assisted the party to have more electoral support than the other four parties.

The Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NPP) was the NCNC re-incarnate with the Igbo heartland as its base, but it extended outside the Igbo enclave by capturing Plateau State. Nnamdi Azikwe who had led the NCNC also led the NPP.

The birth of the Great Nigeria Peoples’ Party (GNPP) was the aftermath of the quarrel of the Kanuri born Alhaji Waziri who wanted to double as NPP chairman and presidential candidate. This party can also be said to be a carry-over of the resentment of the pro-

Kanuri's Bornu Youth Movement (BYM) that, in the first republic resented the political hegemony of the Hausa-Fulani group.

The Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) was a NEPU of sorts, and it carried on with the protestant philosophy of Mallam Aminu Kano. But the party’s influence was restricted to only Kano and Kaduna states.

One major feature of the political parties of the Second Republic is that most of them could be identified with a specific programme of action, something close to ideological orientation.

For example, the Unity Party of Nigeria was popular with its four cardinal programmes of free education at all levels, free health services, full employment and integrated rural development.

It was this welfarist programme of the UPN that attracted to the party support of students and progressive minded Nigerians, especially in the Northern part of the country.


National Party of Nigeria was also known for its agriculture and housing policy which later found expression in the Green Revolution Programme and the Popular Shagari Low-Cost Housing Scheme of the NPN controlled federal government.


Political Parties in the Botched Third Republic

The military coup of December 31, 1983, ended the hope of the political parties that competed for power during the Second Republic. Of special interest to the political scientist, has been how to break the tendency of the country’s main political parties clinging to the tripodal division of East, West and North, or ethnic divide of Hausa- Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba.

This was a major charge to the Political Bureau set up by military president Ibrahim Babangida who urged members of the Bureau to fashion out a new way forward for Nigeria. The report of the panel and government white paper provided the background for the emergence of the two-party systems in the country during the aborted Third Republic.

On May 3, 1989, when the ban on political was lifted not less than 30 political associations surfaced.

However, only 13 of them applied for registration because of the stringent guidelines issued by the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC). The parties that emerged were centrist. The military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida rejected all for failing to reach the pass mark of 50%. It went ahead and created two political parties.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) formulated on the assumption (ideology) of a little to the left and a little to the right.

The NEC chairman, Professor, Humphrey Nwosu, claimed and rightly too, that the manifestoes of all political associations studied clustered around the center of the ideological spectrum, “a little, to the left and a little to the right”.

NEC was then mandated by the federal government to use the manifestoes already submitted by the associations to synthesize the manifestoes for the SDP and NRC. In retrospect one can say that this observation was a serious error of judgment on the part of the military.

There were indeed political forces within the country that were neither progressive nor conservative, not to mention the fact that the government ought not to have created the parties by military fiat in the first place.

An ideal two-party system ought to have been allowed to evolve naturally. To make matters worse these two parties were treated as government parastatals. The Federal government not only funded the parties, allocated them secretariats at the federal, state and local government levels, but also wrote their manifestoes and constitutions.

The rationale which Babangida said to Nigeria and the wider international community was that with only two parties to choose from, the ethnic majority groups would have no option other than to work together for better or for worse.

It is now common knowledge that Babangida’s political experiment, involving the imposition not just of political parties but of their manifestoes and ideologies as well turned out to be a farce and failed woefully.

For the fact, the parties emerged like government parastatals, while members were strange bedfellows too and worst still Babangida himself who superintended over the conduct of the elections eventually annulled the election results, at its climax with the June 12, 1993, presidential election.

The resignation of Ernest Shonekan led Interim National Government and the emergence of General Sanni Abacha as head of state marked the second attempt in the formation of political parties in the Third Republic.

Five political parties were registered during the Gen. Sanni Abacha’s transition programme. They are, the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), National Congress Party of Nigeria, (NCPN), Congress of National Consensus, (CNC), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) and Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM).

These parties like those under the Babangida’s supervised transition programme were not too distant from the government of the day. They were rightly described by the late Bola Ige as the “five fingers of a leprous hand”. The climax of their unorthodox character was demonstrated as these five parties jointly nominated and adopted Gen Sanni Abacha, then a sitting head of state who was not a registered member of any of these parties as their consensus presidential candidate.

However, this contrived and staged managed transition programme collapsed like a pack of cards when Gen Abacha dropped dead on 8th June 1998.

Political Parties in the Fourth Republic

On assumption of office as head of state, Gen. Abubakar dissolved all the political structures including the political parties that operated during the Abacha’s era. His military administration also hurriedly put together three political parties: The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the All People’s Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) were registered under the newly reconstituted Independent National

Electoral Commission (INEC).

These three parties contested the 1999 General Elections that ushered in the Fourth Republic. Before the 2003 General Elections, the APP transformed to All Nigerian Peoples Party to make the party have a more national outlook.

Similarly, before the 2007 General Elections majority of those elected on the platform of AD became members of the enlarged and newly formed Action Congress of


This new party also involved those who were dissatisfied with the mainstream PDP, including one of the party’s former National Chairman, Chief Audu Ogbe.

Consequent upon the success recorded in the suit instituted by the late legal luminary, Chief Gani Fawehimi, more political parties, including the National Conscience Party NCP, Labour Party, All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) among others were registered by the Independent National Electoral

Commission (INEC).

The number of registered political parties thus moved from 28 in 2003 to about 54 in 2007, as parties were formed majorly for pecuniary interests, with politicians interested only in the subvention doled out by INEC (Olorunmola, 2017).

However, despite the increase in the number of political parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) still dominated the political space.

The dominance was such that members of the opposition parties were then crossing to the ruling party both at the federal and states levels.

Despite the threat by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), after the 2011 general elections, to de-register political parties that failed to win any seat in the general elections, in strict compliance with the provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution, there were palpable fears that Nigeria then was drifting towards a one-party state, notwithstanding the emergence of many political parties.

It was the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on 6th February 2013 by a coalition of opposition political parties and the defeat of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by the APC in the 2015 general election and consequent alternation of political power that put an end to the fears.


Conclusion on Political Parties as Instruments of Political Interaction in Nigeria

The nature and character of political parties in Nigeria is largely a reflection of the level of political development in that country. It is therefore not surprising that the influence of the defunct three regions as well as the three dominant ethnic groups were largely reflected in the origin and development of political parties in Nigeria.

It is only now that efforts are being made through constitutional engineering to ensure that the parties in the country reflect national character. The extent to which this effort will succeed will depend on how leaders and managers of these parties see them as a veritable vehicle for the sustenance and consolidation of democracy in the country.

In this article, we have discussed political parties as instruments of political interaction in Nigeria.

The post began with the examination of the origin and development of political parties along regional and ethnic lines during the pre-independence and post-independence eras.

The article also examined the role of the military in Nigeria in bringing about political parties with nation-wide appeal in the Second Republic.

It ended with a discussion of the state and operations of political parties in the present Fourth Republic.

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