On The Botched Two-Party Debate

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Recently some state governors publicly suggested a two-party system for Nigeria. And at the commencement of the consideration on the recommendations of the ad-hoc committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution and the repeal of the Electoral Act 2006, Hon. Ndume, a Minority leader suggested the inclusion of the number of political parties to be registered for elections. But  thank goodness that the National Assembly demonstrated that they are; indeed, the representative of the people as it struck off the two-party debate last Thursday. However, being the people’s parliament. The Tide on Sunday gave Nigerians the opportunity to bare  their minds on the contraption of parties into two, supposing it scaled through. Excerpts.

Sebastine Tar Hon. Senior Advocate of Nigeria

It is only in Nigeria to the best of my knowledge that the issue about creating a political party is provided for in the constitution. In Afghanistan there is a general right for every citizen to form a political party. There is no regulation of any kind. But the only condition is that the political parties must not be based on tribe or ethnicity and must not have foreign affiliation. And when you consider the fact that Afghanistan is a monolithic society in terms of the fact that the 2004 constitution of Afghanistan made it the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. You will consider that even in such monolithic society they have allowed multi-party system to operate. Nigeria is too large, too multi-ethnic, too multi-cultural to just have two parties. Japan is a monolithic society as well; they speak one language basically but they are targeting two-parties, may be because of their cultural background. But if you look United States of America uptil today if there is a need to include another state in the US, they will because the constitution says so.

The constitution provides that states may still be incorporated into the union if the need arises. Even though they are practising a multi-party system they have restricted it to two parties not by legislation but by evolution, by growth. They have allowed as many political parties as possible; but by evolution based on ideologies two schools of thought have come up- the Republicans and the  Democrats.

The democrats  are considered to be for the poor, the deprived and the immigrants. So when they are campaigning they campaign along this line. The Republicans are called the grand old party because they are conservative in nature; they are believed to be for the rich and also believed to be anti-immigrants. This extenuating circumstances apply to some extent to Nigeria but not all. We have more people in this country but we don’t have immigration as an issue. And we don’t have ready ideologies that is why you see somebody decamping today to one party and coming back again. So we are not a people emblued with a natural gift of power and keeping to ideologies. So we cannot effectively practise two – party system, at least for now, it could come up tomorrow, it could evolve. So I am against legislating on two-party system. But I will toe the middle line, the number of parties at present are too much I believe that from 10 parties down is okay. No matter the ideological school, culture or tribe, you must necessarily find a space to operate within this 10-party structure. And again, I will add that I am in support of independent candidature so that if per chance you discover that you cannot fit into any of these political set ups then you run as independent candidate.

Caleb Ajagba National Coordinator,  (ITPI).

There is no doubt that the multiplicity of parties in any political system is expensive, breeds unnecessary distractions and creates so much confusion in the minds of the electorate. There are many parties in Nigeria that are existing only on the pages of newspapers with no visible presence anywhere in Nigeria.

The problem of Nigerian political system is that of lack of any clear-cut ideologies. Virtually all their manifestoes and programmes are mere duplications as opposed to what obtains in most developed democracies like UK, USA and Germany.

Electoral politics in the United States has been dominated by two political parties since the administration of George Washington; but they have not always been the same two parties neither were they imposed on Americans.

The development of political parties in the USA was closely linked to the extension of the suffrage as property owning qualifications for voting were lifted during the early 1800s. With a vastly expanded electorate, a means was required to mobilise masses of voters. Political parties became institutionalised to accomplish this essential task. Parties in America emerged as a part of this democratic revolution, and by the 1830s were a firmly established part of the political system as well as special features of American parties.

Today, the Republican and Democratic parties totally pervade the political process. Almost two-thirds of Americans consider themselves either Republicans or Democrats, and even those who say that they are independent normally have partisan leanings and exhibit high levels of partisan loyalty. For example, on average 71 per cent of Democratic-leaning independents and 79 per cent of Republican-leaning independents voted for their preferred party’s presidential nominees in the last four presidential elections. It is estimated that only about nine per cent of the Americans are “pure independents.”

The foregoing considered, it becomes clear that the sustenance of Nigeria’s democracy does not lie in decreeing two parties into existence, but lies in laying solid democratic culture such as ensuring a free and fair election, an accurate voters register and enhanced political education and enlightenment of the electorate.

Two party systems the world over evolve. They are not imposed on the people. Nigerian consititution guarantees freedom of association and expression without undue inhibition. Formation of political parties should therefore be free of unnecessary parliamentary encumbrance, since it is the basis for gaining access to governance in Nigeria. Once a two party system is imposed on the people it will make the political system to be very volatile, stifle virile opposition and cause people with divergent opinions and ideologies to look for a clandestine way to accomplish them.

No doubt at 50 years of nationhood one expects Nigeria to have matured politically including evolving an acceptable political culture and a verifiable ideology. However given several years of military interregnum political development has been stifled.

This therefore calls for caution and patience so that we would not be seen as creating more political problems while trying to solve them.

Vivian Bellonwu- Human Rights Activist

Some might argue that a two-party system is cost effective as the statutory allocation that goes to parties will had to be harnessed into just two parties; But on the other hand, we are looking at a practice that supports democracy. And in that sense, I will say that two-party system is not democratic because it closes  up the system. Nigeria is a country of over 100 million persons and if you just bring out two parties and force everybody to belong to those parties, everybody might not have the window or opportunity of contesting for elective office. But if we have a multi-party system, you’ll find out that a lot of people will have the opportunity of offering themselves for service. Also it is not constitutional because the constitution gives the right of association.

And the Supreme Court specifically ruled that INEC should register anybody or any party that present the requisite qualification. And in line with it, the constitution guarantees that people are free to associate not just to be members but to associate and form a political parties. So if you now force two party systems on the country it goes contrary to the constitutional provision of this country.

It could also encourage imposition because when people now know that it is just two-parties, the stakes are higher and when the stakes are higher, you now begin to have the issue of highest bidder thus bringing us back to money politics or those with so much money hijacking the elective, offices that are available.

And it is not only the richest people that are the best mind, there are people that do not have much to offer in terms of finances but intellectually they have so much to offer. So if you now have a two-party system, such people would not be able to express their aspiration politically.

It will also encourage God fatherism because the money bags will constitute themselves as strongholds so that anybody with political aspiration will have to negotiate with them thereby jeopardizing the interest of the masses.

Richard N. Amadi, Mass Communication lecturer RSUST

To my mind, it should be aleast three to four parties instead of two party system. Because it will be dangerous. There should be room for the opposition party and then the ruling party. There should be aleast four parties so that if there is a coalition then the three parties can gang against the ruling party. There should also be room for independent candidate who can afford to run. Incidentally those independent candidates can be a formidable force to make the ruling party live up to expectation.

Also, like what is obtainable developed countries such as America, when Republican did not do well the other party will take over, through election. But in Nigeria we are still developing politically. Here, it is either the PDP or no other political party. In Edo where AC has fully captured, AC would not want to lose that state; in Lagos State the same; in Abia, APGA would not want to lose it, whether they are doing well or not. So if there is up to four parties, it will be better, so that if for instance PDP wins in Rivers State and would not want to lose Rivers State, the three parties can form a bloc to fight PDP in terms of canvassing for vote.

But what former President Obasanjo did through Iwu by allowing almost 50 political parties is a mess. Anybody can wake up and form his own party and it will be registered because they just want to confuse the people.

Dr. Isaac Didi Essi, Maths/Econometrics Lecturer RSUST

Nigeria is very very corrupt and the first advantage of a two-party system is that it will be less expensive and it is easy to run because you will come out with two presidential candidates. There is also the issue of credibility. It is easier to know the characters of two people than when you have so many.

But supposing the two candidates are of questionable characters then the country is doomed.

Also in terms of monitoring, it will make the work of INEC and other officials to be less. Even in a situation where you have more than two party system, you have the opposition building up and people begin to cluster to group and come out with a mega opposition party. So at the long run it still tilts towards the two-party system – the ruling party and the opposition.