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Understanding The Political Party System Of Nigeria Politics Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Political parties are important in any representative democracy. They gather people with similar interests, set policy-making agendas, allow for choosing new candidates for offices, and provide for coordinated electoral and legislative activity. Democratic development requires efficient and functioning parties. Since the start of the third wave of democratization in 1974, various multiparty systems have been introduced in new, restored and emerging democracies around the world (“Political Parties in Conflict-Prone Societies: Encouraging Inclusive Politics and Democratic Development”). The multiparty system has positive and negative aspects. The positive aspects includes: redistributing of wealth to the poor, increasing communications between groups, solving problems between parties, and giving power to weaker groups. However its negative aspects damage the processes of democracy by: preventing minorities from getting power and empowering dominant parties. The multiparty system is evident in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a nation on the west coast of Africa. It is one of the most populous countries in the world. Its terrain varies from hot tropical forests to dry deserts. There are many ethnic groups living in different regions in Nigeria (“Nigeria”). The United Kingdom gained control of Nigeria in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Nigeria was a British colony until 1960, when it gained independence. Once after independence, Nigeria’s political party system was chaotic (“Nigeria: Place”). Nigeria’s ethnic groups, Nigeria’s regions, and Nigeria’s religious groups affected the political party system, creating a weak and ineffective system.

Nigeria’s Ethnic Groups

The different ethnic groups in Nigeria were associated with different political parties which promoted political fragmentation. Arthur Nwankwo refers to Okwudiba Nnoli, an author who writes about the conflicts in Nigeria, about the impact of Nigerian’s different ethnic groups on Nigerian political party system:

There is no nation in the world today, which does not strive for the attainment of full democracy, the material and spiritual empowerment of her people. However, as striving differs in the conscious realization of these ideals, many nations are still caught in the tragic dance of hypocrisy and deceit. Such nations, Nigeria being a ready example, risk the danger of total violence and the pains of collective immolation. We cannot allow this country to suffer that kind of fate of which many states are unworthy examples, which litter the pages of human civilization. To many well-meaning observers and commentators, the democratization process in Nigeria has at best been haphazard and at worst non-existent. The contradictions of our colonial past and our inability to evolve a workable political system stem from the opportunism and lack of vision of most of the post-colonial elite. Okwudiba Nnoli opines that ethnicity, more than any other factor is at the root cause of this. According to him, “politics, during the era of the nationalist struggle for independence from colonialism, was dominated by the conflict arising from the assertion of interests other than national interest. In their inter-class struggles, the hegemonic regional factions of these privileged classes paid lip services to the desirability of national unity, and condemned ethnic particularism. For all intents and purposes these declarations were not taken seriously and were never intended to be. The same people who inveighed against ethnicity and ethnic identify simultaneously institutionalized them by making them a basis for economic participation within their regional enclaves and to a lesser extent for political participation at both the regional and national level” (Okwudiba Nnoli 978: 153-154). (“Political parties in Nigeria”).

In short, Nwankwo argues that ethnicity is the main reason why Nigeria’s democratization process or Nigeria’s political party is in chaos. It is because the Nigerian people fail to realize the larger picture.

To show that the Nigerian people fail to see the whole picture, Nwankwo also mentions:

The conflict arising from the assertion of interests other than national interest is the uncomfortable fact but reality all the same, that the concept of the nation as a Nigeria geographical entity and identity is a novel concept yet to take firm root in the consciousness and psyche of the average Nigerian person and institutions. Put differently, it is my view that the notion of the Nigerian nation and therefore National Interest as a concrete reality of the same meaning and importance in our country is yet to be fully realized (“Political parties in Nigeria”).

Ethnic loyalty dominated political parties in Nigeria. Unlike many African nations, Nigeria never was under the control of a single political party system. According to dictionary.com, a single political party system is “a dominant-party system where only one political party can realistically become the government.” Governments have tried to force Nigerians to express their will through cross-ethnic parties or diverse parties with multiple groups in one coalition (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph 261-268). However, because ethnicity drives much of the political organizing in the country, political leaders have succeeded in undermining the goal of truly national parties through their appeals to ethnic identity. A cross-ethnic party is in that situation nothing more than a coalition of ethnic interests. The NPC (Nigerian people’s Congress) represented conservative, Muslim, largely Hausa interests. The NCNC (National Convention of Nigerian Citizens) was the Igbo’s party, and the AG (Action Group) was a party that was controlled by the Yoruba (“Comparative: Comparing Political Parties”).

According to Nwankwo, “Nigerian’s political parties are made up of connections whose political persuasions are opposed and this also explains the high level of party indiscipline and collapse of the parties. Because of their “artificiality,” all the parties are experiencing cracks or fragmentation. The political class has always remained bereft of viable political ideology on which the nation’s political future could be anchored. This bankruptcy in ideology and vision has rescued party politics in Nigeria to a bread and butter game where monetization of the political process is the bedrock of loyalty and support.”

In conclusion, ethnicity creates disunity in Nigerian’s political party system.

Nigeria’s Regions

The different regions in Nigeria affect the political party system by creating political instability. Before Nigeria’s independence, there were three political parties. Each was divided based on the regions: the Northern Region, Eastern Region, and Western Region. After many years of British rule, several positive aspects were found in Nigeria. There was increased urbanization, improved communications, and trade. These aspects made the Nigerians feel United as a nation. As a result, Nigerian leaders agreed to keep the name “Nigeria.” They also agreed to create a democratic government based on British parliamentary government which shared national and local government power (“Nigerian Independence”).

After independence, the three regional parties had trouble sharing power and unifying Nigeria. They tried to establish national institutions such as education to try to unify the country. Education stressed the importance of national identity and unity. They still had problems (“Comparative: Comparing Political Parties”). According to the authors of Introduction to Comparative Poltics, the Northern Region had the majority of Nigerian people in its territory. They wanted the most delegates. Sir Ahmadu Bello, the most powerful Fulani leader in the north, handpicked his assistant, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to be the first prime minister of Nigeria (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph 260-265).

Following independence Nigerian unity began to disappear. First, a section of the Western Region decided to secede. In 1964, the population in the Northern Region’s was larger than the two other regions. Because of this, the Northern Region had many delegates in the national legislature. The north accepted this because it was in their favor. However, the Western and Eastern Regions opposed it. Corruption among the Nigerian government leaders caused problems for regional groups (“Nigerian Independence”).

More problems came up when Prime Minister Balewa and government leaders in the Northern and Western Regions were murdered in a coup staged by several army officers.

General Aguyi-lronsi, an Igbo from the Eastern Region, declared himself the head of state (“Comparative: Comparing Political Parties”). Ironsi’s government was short, but many Nigerians blamed the Igbo people for the coup that brought Ironsi to power.

In July, Northern Region officers assassinated General Ironsi (“Nigerian Independence”). Colonel Yakubu Gowon, a northerner, became the head of state.

Colonel Ojukwu, an eastern military official, was disappointed in the instability of Nigeria. He governed the Eastern Region as a separate nation, expelling all non-easterners. In response to Colonel Ojukwu’s decision, Gowon infuriated eastern leaders by dividing Nigeria into twelve states without consulting them (“nigeria”). On May 30, 1967, Ojukwu seceded from Nigeria and declared the Eastern Region the separate country of Biafra, marking the start of the Nigerian Civil War (“Nigerian Independence”).

After three years of fighting, Biafra finally announced the end of its secession on January 12, 1970. The war had a lasting effect on Nigerian life (“Nigerian Independence”). First, the blockade of Biafra had kept food from entering the war zone. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Biafran civilians died, mostly from starvation and disease. Second, Nigeria remained divided into twelve states, leaving the Igbo isolated politically (“nigeria”). Finally, the civil war increased the power and prestige of the military. Nigeria increased the size of its military from 10,000 in 1967 before the war, to 250,000 at its height.

After the civil war, Nigeria tried to reconstruct the nation, yet political instability continued. For example, Nigerian leaders restructured the political map several times. In 1976 Nigerian military leader General Murtala Ramat Mohammed divided the country into nineteen states. Mohammed also moved the capital of Nigeria from the former colonial capital of Lagos to a new location, called Abuja, in his northern region. In 1991, the political map was again divided, this time into thirty-one states (“Nigerian Independence”).

In conclusion, the different regions created political instability for about thirty following independence that affected the different regional party leaders.

Nigeria’s Religious Groups

The different religious groups affect the political party system by allowing for destructive behavior. Religion has been a persistent conflict in Nigeria for a long time. The two dominant religions are Islam and Christianity.

Islam came from northeast Nigeria somewhere between the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It spread to the Hausa territory by the fifteenth century and greatly expanded in the early nineteenth century. In the north Islam started with coexisting with the different indigenous religions. However, it gradually converted most of them into Islam.

Christianity arrived in the early nineteenth century, but expanded rapidly through missionary work in southern Nigeria. The amalgamation of northern and southern Nigeria in 1914 brought together the two religions and their belief systems. These religious cultures have consistently clashed over political issues such as the secular character of the state. The application of the shari’a criminal code in the northern states has been a focal point for these tensions. For many Muslims, the shari’a code represents a tradition or a way of life and supreme personal law that transcends secular and state law; for many Christians, the expansion of shari’a law threatens the secular nature of the Nigerian state and their position within it. The pull of religious versus national identity becomes even stronger during economic crisis. For example, during the Babangida period, there was a rise in both Islamic fundamentalist movements and evangelical Christian fundamentalism that has continued through the present. Where significant numbers of southern Christians are living in predominantly Muslim states (for example Kaduna State), many clashes have erupted, with great loss of life and the extensive destruction of churches, mosques, and small businesses (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph 300-301).

The Ineffective Party System and Conclusion

Nigeria’s political system consists of many parties. The different ethnicities contribute to the disunity in Nigeria. The different regions contribute to the political instability. The different religious groups contribute to destructive behavior. The Nigerian multiparty system is ineffective because, unlike most democracy which promotes peace and freedom to its people, it creates disunity, instability, and destruction among political parties. The weaknesses of this system includes: a divided country whose people work against each other; a corrupted system where regional parties fight to dominate government; and a nation who can not think together. There are no significant strengths. Although a multiparty system is good for redistribution of wealth and power; stronger communications; and solving problems together, the multiparty system present in Nigeria would best serve no one. Instead of promoting peace like most democracies, Nigeria, consumed in violent opposition between different groups of people, opt to stay in political turmoil.


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