Political Parties in Nigeria

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Introduction

Democracy no doubt is the world’s current new bride. To the extent that everyone - Politicians, Journalists, statesmen and even laymen – call themselves democrats while those who wish to defend a regime no matter its nature call it democracy (Williams 1995:65), one could aptly say the world is in the age of democracy. But as democracy is gaining currency the world over, it need be stated that the Institution of political party constitutes the lubricant of the current democratic wave. This is because, political parties serves as vehicle for expressing myriad of world views held by citizens as well as an instrument to garnering the informed and active participation of the citizens in the political process which constitutes the hallmark of any democratic practice. As noted by Hague and Harrop (1987:141-142), party competition is the hallmark of liberal democracy because it is the device which makes governments responsive to the electorates by providing voters with some choice while simultaneously restricting that choice to a few broad alternatives. In other words, the greater the number of parties and / or the latitude of freedom, the more democratic the political system is or becomes while the the more they are conscripted, the lesser the likelihood of a democratic political system. This view was also shared by Anifowoshe (2004: 59) when he noted that the condition of the political parties in a political system is the best possible evidence of the nature of any democratic regime. It must however be stated that while parties constitute the piston in the engine of democracy, the nature and activities of political parties themselves may constitute a stumbling block in the way of democratic growth and sustenance. This has been the paradox of party politics in Africa where the institution has remained largely underdeveloped. Instances abound where activities of parties have been a major factor in the decline of democratic politics or outright termination of democratic administrations and their subsequent replacement by military authoritarian regimes. In this context, the Nigerian state is a reference point. Nigeria became independent in 1960 after years of colonial rule. Independence ushered in a multi party democracy under a Westminster parliamentary model. However, due to a number of circumstances including intra and inter party bickering and, political excesses of parties and their leaders among others, the first democratic republic was truncated in January 1966 following a bloody coup detat championed by the five Majors. The abrupt termination of the first republic also ushered in a thirteen-year long military rule that lasted till October 1, 1979. Nigeria had another taste of multiparty democracy between October 1979 and 31st December 1983. However, like most of the parties of this period themselves, the problems of the first republic reincarnated to mare the democratic processes, culminating in the military coup of December 31st 1983 and the beginning of a second phase of military rule in the country.

Indeed, the second phase of military rule in Nigeria which lasted between December 1983 and May 29, 1999 was the most dramatic and traumatic in the history of the country. It was a period mostly characterized by series of coups and counter coups, political maneuverings and above all, endless transition to civil rule programmes or what Diamond et al (1997) has aptly dubbed ‘Transition without End’. But while the political imbroglio of that period cannot be blamed out-rightly on the excesses of political parties and their leaders, the need to avoid such was always advanced as a defensive mechanism for continuous tinkering with the then transition process. For instance, reasons for dissolution of the 13 political associations that first prelude the third republic and their consequent replacement by government created SDP and NRC and, annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that eventually...
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