By Temilade Aderiye
Edmund Burke (1770), in his pamphlet, Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents, defines a political party as a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavors the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed. Another definition of a political party was given by Anson D. Morse, a historian, and educator. He defined a political party as “a durable organization which, in its simplest form, consists of a single group of citizens united by common principles, but, in its more complex forms, of two or more such groups held together by the weaker bond of a common policy; and which, contrary to the view usually held, has for its immediate end the advancement of the interests and the realization of the ideals, not of the people as a whole, but of the particular group or groups which it represents.”
Several other scholars have proposed definitions for the term political party. One of them is Giovani Satori, an Italian political scientist. He defined a political party as any political group that presents at elections and is capable of placing through elections, candidates for public office (Satori, 1966). This definition distinguishes a political party from other social groups (because only political parties can proffer and sponsor political candidates for elections) while also including the various types or forms of political party systems (multiparty and single-party systems).
According to Wikipedia (2022), the coming together of large groups or factions to campaign for shared interests is a practice that has been in existence for a long time. Some recorded political groups, factions, or parties in history are the Roman Republic’s “Populares and Optimates” parties and the Dutch Republic’s “Orangists and the Staatsgezinde” parties.
There are three main types of political party systems. These include the competitive multi-party system, the two-party system, and the non-competitive single-party system. The multi-party system is the most common party system in which three or more political parties have the propensity to gain control of power together as a unified force or separately. Countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, India, and Brazil use this party system. Two party system is a common system whereby only two political parties can contest for political power. A country that practices this form of government is the United States.
In the US, only two political parties (the Republican Party and the Democratic Party) contest for the chance to rule. Other countries like Uruguay, Ghana, Colombia, Malta, etc., also have this form of the political party system. A one-party system is one where only one party exists and nominates candidates for political positions. It is commonly practiced in communist regimes and authoritarian states. For example, the one-party political party system was in practice in countries like Cuba, China, and North Korea (and the then USSR). Nigeria seems to majorly practice a two-party system with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) being the main political parties that contest political power and have a high percentage of supporters. However, there are other political parties in the country.
The importance of political parties is not only restricted to the common purpose of being used as a means of contesting for or retaining political power. Political parties have the responsibility of providing a stable political order and channeling separate social groups into a single or unified socio-political platform. This stabilizes an otherwise disorganized society. The smooth running of an entire government depends on the political party in power (as well as opposition parties). Political parties are the driving force behind every government-related activity. They help to form and express public opinion, which is the main purpose of democratic governance. Political parties also check a government’s activities and make it possible to hold the government accountable to the citizens. This ensures that the needs of all the country’s citizens are met rather than catering to a small percentage of the nation’s population.
According to Ujo (2000), political parties in Nigeria can be classified into four generations. The first generation included the political parties that existed before 1945. These were the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) and the Nigeria Youth Movement (NYM), which were formed in 1923 and 1936, respectively. The second generation consisted of the political parties that emerged between 1945 and the end of the first republic of political activities in Nigeria. This group included the Action Group (AG), the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU), the Northern People Congress (NPC), and the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC). Ujo classified the third generation of political parties as the parties of the second republic (1979-1983). Lastly, the fourth generation of political parties included National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The formation of political parties in Nigeria dates to the period of the British colonization of the country. Three political parties were formed in 1959, a year before Nigeria gained independence from Britain. These were the Nnamdi Azikiwe-led National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), the Ahmadu Bello-led Northern People’s Congress (NPC), and the Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group. NPC was predominantly dominated by the Northern Hausa-Fulani group. While Action Group (AG) was populated by the southwestern Yoruba people. Although these pre-independence political parties were formed to achieve a united national outlook, this was not the case.
This is because all three political parties became regionalized. NCNC became known as a party mainly for the eastern region, NPC for the northern region, and AG for the western region. The National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) was established in 1914 due to the merging of Southern Cameroon with Nigeria. One major flaw that reduced the success rate of these political parties was the personalization of their activities by the founders and the subsequent degeneration into being culturally influenced rather than being objective and citizen-centered.
When no party could win the majority during the 1959 elections, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) joined forces with the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) to form a stronger national government. This enabled the election of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister and Nnamdi Azikiwe as the Governor-General in the year 1960. In 1963, after Nigeria became a republic, Nnamdi Azikiwe was elected as the Nigerian President, and Tafawa Balewa retained his position as Nigeria’s Prime Minister. The Igbos disagreed with the results of the national census carried out in 1963 because they believed it was more in favour of the Hausa-Fulani tribe than the rest of Nigeria. The Igbos’ discontent led to the separation between the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC). The NCNC political party moved to combine forces with the Action Group political party to form a new party called the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). And this new group was led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. After this split, the Northern People’s Congress decided to join the other faction of the Action Group that was led by Ladoke Akintola. This new political party was named the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). In the African continent, the NNDP was one of the politically inclined organizations that joined the national struggle of many African countries to be liberated from the British colonial government and to have greater participation in the governing process of their countries.
In 1920, the National Commission of British West Africa (NCBWA) was formed by Dr. Akinwale Savage, Joseph Casely Hayford, and other West African countries’ representatives. This occurred during the West African conference that was held to discuss the more inclusive participation of Africans in African politics and the liberation of West African countries from colonialism. A group of people was sent to the office of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to inform him about the newly formed party and to make their demands known. The colonial Secretary-General turned down their request. However, in Nigeria, the situation was different as the Clifford Constitution enabled the more inclusive participation of Nigerians in the country’s political activities. This constitution was proposed by Sir Hugh Clifford in 1922 and made it easier for the formation of the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1923.
The grandson of Bishop Ajayi Crowther, Herbert Macaulay, established the first Nigerian political party in 1922. This was known as the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP), and in the years 1923, 1928, and 1933, this party won all the positions in the Lagos municipal elections. This success motivated the formation of the Lagos Youth Movement (LYM) in 1934 by Samuel Akinsanya, J.C. Vaughan, and H.O. Daniels. They were eventually joined by Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and other forward-thinking youths. The movement was renamed the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM).
The 1951 MacPherson constitution ensured the active participation of the entire nation in the politics and governance of the country. This furthered the initial aim of Nigerians, i.e., to be included in the governing process of the country. The Action Group (AG) and the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) political parties were established in 1951 in light of the MacPherson constitution. Action Group (AG) was coined from another party known as Egbe Omo Oduduwa which was established in 1945 by Obafemi Awolowo in London. Northern People’s Congress, on the other hand, was formed from the Jamiyar Mutanen Arewa to serve the political interests of the Northerners. Other political parties would eventually emerge as the opposition to these political parties or for other purposes.
When the Nigeria Civil War ended in 1970, it was followed by several coup d’états; from the one that caused the forceful removal of General Yakubu Gowon in 1975 to the one that took place on August 2, 1985, when Ibrahim Babangida became the president. Yakubu Gowon was replaced by General Murtala Mohammed as Nigeria’s president. However, General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in a failed coup d’état organized by Lt. Col. Buka Dimka in 1976. He was succeeded by General Olusegun Obasanjo. The ban on political activities was lifted in 1979 when Shehu Shagari, Nigeria’s first democratic president, took over from Obasanjo. He ushered in Nigeria’s transition to civilian rule. He contested under the umbrella of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), of which he was a founding member. However, this transition was short-lived as Muhammadu Buhari was brought in as the president by yet another coup in 1983. After the 1985 coup that caused him to become the president, Babangida drafted a new constitution intending to return the country to civilian rule, but his aim was not achieved. Once again, he attempted in 1993 with no success as the election was annulled. The two parties that contested during this election were the National Republican Party (NRP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The 1979 elections had five political parties that nominated candidates for various political positions in the country. These parties included the Greater Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). However, this brief foray into civilian rule was ended by the occurrence of a military coup, leading to the imposition of a ban on political activities. After six more years of being under military rule, Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1998. General Abdussalaam Abubakar set into motion, plans to return power to civilian rule, and elections were held in 1999. Two political parties (Alliance for Democracy and PDP, the People’s Democratic Party) contested for political power. PDP was formed from Moshood Abiola’s Social Democratic Party (SDP), while Alliance for Democracy was based on the philosophies of Awolowo, Action Group, and the heritage of the Yoruba tribe. The 1999 elections were the precursor to the events which happened on the country’s political scene in subsequent years.
On May 29, 1999, General Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as the president under the political umbrella of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took over the power after winning elections against the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Action Congress (AC) opposition parties. However, due to health-related complications, Yar’Adua was unable to complete his first term of office, and he was replaced by his vice, Goodluck Jonathan. Matters became worse for Jonathan when he was elected for a second term in office. This was because of the Boko Haram problem and other issues which caused him to lose the support Nigerians had formerly given to him. The situation nearly led to the break-up of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as many prominent politicians in the party defected to opposition parties.
In readiness for the 2015 election, Action Congress joined the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and this alliance was later joined by a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). This formation was renamed the All Progressive Congress (APC). Muhammadu Buhari, the current Nigerian President, emerged as the flagbearer for the All Progressive Congress, defeating Atiku Abubakar and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso in the party primaries. Having held political power in Nigeria for over ten years, PDP was ousted by APC as the most popular political party in Nigeria. Also, many members of the People’s Democratic Party migrated to the APC which led to a reduction in the power wielded by PDP.
Seven PDP governors came together to form another political party named nPDP. Five of these governors eventually defected to the All Progressive Congress. The man regarded by many as the backbone of PDP, Olusegun Obasanjo, was one of the notable party members that defected to APC. APC’s Muhammadu Buhari defeated Goodluck Jonathan and was sworn in as the President of Nigeria on the 29th of May 2015. As of now, in 2022, the ruling party is the All Progressive Congress while the People’s Democratic Party is the main opposition party. However, other opposition parties exist, and they include the Hope Democratic Party (HDP), the Labour Party (LP), the All Blending Party (ABP), the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), the All Grand Alliance Party (AGAP), Accord (A), the Kowa Party, and so many others. Despite the long list of political parties, only the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) was able to gather some winnings during the election.
Regarding the upcoming 2023 general elections, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC) political party is automatically ineligible for renomination because he has been elected twice as the nation’s president. Thus, on June 8, 2022, the APC nominated Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the presidential candidate, while Kashim Shettima was selected as his vice on July 10, 2022. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) selected Atiku Abubakar on May 28, 2022, as their candidate, and Atiku named Ifeanyi Okowa, the governor of Delta state, as his running mate. Another political party that has a candidate for the presidential position is the Labour Party. The popularity of this party has been attributed to the party’s candidate, Peter Obi. After his defection from PDP to Labour Party, he was unanimously nominated as the presidential candidate on May 30, 2022. He then announced Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed as his running mate. According to Channels Television (2022), a circular released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on September 20, 2022, indicates that eighteen (18) political parties have submitted the names of their nominated candidates for the presidential election.
However, these three political parties (APC, PDP, and LP) are the major game players for the upcoming presidential election in 2023. Nigerians are advised to get ready for the election by getting their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and voting for their chosen candidate, bearing in mind that this decision can make or mar the nation’s growth for the next couple of years.