Transforming Nigerian Party System


As we make effort to modify our electoral system; it is pertinent that we at the same time adjust our political culture from that of confrontation to one of accommodation in other to enhance a durable democracy.

Multipartyism as a word emphasises the primacy of our social formations known as political parties but unfortunately comports the idea of “otherness” or separateness unlike the alternative term pluralism which means the quality or condition of existing more than one part or form.

The idea of “otherness” always encourages the assumption of conflict and a need to defend one’s turf. For this reason, pluralism is a preferable term to describe our new political dispensation as it is more inclusive.

The confrontational nature of our politics goes back to our initial political parties formed between 1922 and 1951. The very first political party in Nigeria was the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) formed in 1922 by Herbert Macaulay. This was followed by the Lagos Youth Movement (LYM), formed by Dr. J.C. Vaughan and Ernest Ikoku in 1934.

Then came the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns (NCNC) in 1944. This had Herbert Macaulay  as president and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe general secretary. In 1948 some Northerners formed what was initially called JAMI YAR MUTANEN AREWA but later renamed Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and led by Ahmadu Bello, the Saduana of Sokoto. Then came the Action Group in 1951, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo

There is no political party in Nigeria today bearing any of the above names. After a very brief stay, Nigeria’s foremost socialist politician, Mallam  Aminu Kano departed the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) to join the Northern Elements Progressive Union in 1950.

Chief Obafemi  Awolowo moved from the Western House of Assembly to become the most exemplary of opposition that Nigeria has ever had at the Federal Parliament. At this point, he (AWO) was no longer given the desired free hand to control the Action Group by Chief Samuel Akintola. This created a big rift between them.

In 1958, Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe made frantic effort to ensure the removal from office of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe the man he (KO) had always referred to as not only that tallest tree in Nigeria, but also as Zik of Africa. The attempt not even the deed proved to be KO’S greatest political miscalculation.

All along, all the political parties which have been formed have been personalized affairs wtthout discernible credos so that if the leader was abusive and aggressive, the party itself would follow the character of the leader. They started to disintegrate after a section of the party disagreed with the leader as a person and not over difference of belief.

The time has come for our parties to come up with well-thought out philosophies which will outlast their leaders rather than depend on policy proposals hurriedly crafted at election times.

The famous Convention Peoples Party which led Ghana to independence died after Nkrumah left power because tt was built around the Osagyefo whereas Chama Cha mapinduzi, formerly TANU in still commands the Tanzanian political terrain 24 years after the founder, Julius  Nyerere left office simply because Nyerere built the party around a philosophy of UJAMAA, its short coming not with standing.

Pluralism has a checkered history ever since two of the present British parties the Conservatives and Liberals first emerged as Tories and Whigs in the reign of Charles II.

However, parties in the modern sense began in the wake of the reform Act, 1832. From that time Tories began to call themselves Conservatives and Whigs became Liberals.

The Conservatives came to emphasise the valve of tradition and preference for natural growth to artificial creation. The Liberals on the other hand came to look favourably on all changes tending in the direction of free institutions. In this way, ideals and not personalities have bound the two parties over the years.

The development of party politics in American took a constitutionalist aspect, moving away from the ancient belief that a permanent organised opposition was a danger to the body politic and inherently seditious. However, as the American Republic expanded, it was found necessary to organise and transmit public opinion to elected officials as a guide to policy making.

It was also thought necessary to mobilise the welter of political interests that characterised American society and to encourage organised government.

In this way the belief grew that all of these constitutional purposes were served better by political parties.

Pluralism in American received a shot in the arm by the so-called Sedition Act crisis. When undeclared war broke our between the new state and France in 1798, the federalist majority in Congress (parliament) passed the Alien and Sedition Act whose provision sought to suppress the partisan activities of the Republican Party based on the conventional view at the time that equated organised political opposition with treason. The Republicans campaigned against these laws and were in the end successful in legitimising, political opposition.

In the American Republican Party theory of society in its formative years, agriculture was a pre-eminent concern and commerce was just a useful adjunct to it. The party also believed that equality in society could result from the rule of equal opportunities and individual initiative in a materially abundant environment. This philosophy attracted planters and urban merchants, artisans and craftsmen to the party.

The other major American party, the Democratic Party was born in 1834 as the Whig Party, a coalition formed to fight against the supremacy of the federal government over state’s rights.

A minor by the name of James Kein Hardie put his conviction before the Trade Union Congress in 1887 that the interests of the labouring classes would be properly looked after only after they had a party of their own. At first he did not have support but after many false starts the Labour Party was born out of this conviction in 1906 to succeed earlier efforts such as Labour Electoral Association, the Social Federation and others.

One of Labour’s affiliate associates the FABIAN society, stated its lofty aim to be “reconstructing Society in accordance with the highest moral possibility” and Labour became the first doctrinaire party when it adopted socialism as its credo.

There are some preconditions necessary for proper working of pluralism. A party which operates only from its headquarters is not a party.

A modern party is one which has constituents, a party press, a set of principles or idealogy, constituency organisations and which reply on popular conventions from the local to the national level. In order to achieve this and promote democracy, both the party in government and the official opposition should get equal government subventions.

Ichoku is a retired Director, Rivers State Ministry of Information.


Anthony Ichoku