The existence of vibrant political parties is indispensable for the sustenance of democracy in any polity. In Nigeria’s first and second Republics, political parties were regionally based, and their activities led to the collapse of those democratic experiments. This paper explores a paramount aspect of Nigeria’s democratic project from 1999 to 2010, and the role of various political parties in facilitating the sustenance of democracy in the country. The paper posits that there is a direct relationship between the character and conduct of a country’s political parties and the degree of democratic sustenance in that country. Basically, this paper argues that seven years into the country’s current democratic experiment, Nigeria has scored low when placed in a similar matrix with countries that are heading towards stable and sustainable democracy. This paper is informed by the roles political parties play in the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria. Some research questions that were posed form this are: Is democratic competition fully at play in Nigeria’s 4th and 5th Republics? Does the structure and organization of the political parties reflect a true democratic order? Are there any perceived inadequacies in the political parties in Nigeria? Are opposition parties alive to their responsibilities in the country? It was argued that the opposition parties in nigeria which ought to serve as alternative parties form which the electorate should choose if they so decide have been strategically weakened through the overt and covert strategies of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and the lack of total commitment on the part of politicians to the national course. This paper ultimately argue that more than 90% of the political parties in Nigeria are fragile entities, hence, they have only developed shallow roots in the society, and concludes on the note that Nigerian political parties have failed in the democratic responsibilities of aggregating social interests, representing specific constituencies and serving as intermediaries between state and society.
SECTION I: INTRODUCTION
Myriad of scholars in the field of political science heave maintained that the pertinent institution in a democracy is the political party. Democracy exists where the principal leaders of a political system are selected by competitive elections in which the greater parts of the population have the opportunity to participate. As a matter of fact, the condition of the parties in a political system is the best possible evidence of the nature of any democratic regime in its original formulation. Democracy means direct and popular participation in the affairs of the polity. This was thought to be the right of every freeborn citizen in those days. With the rise in population and the accompanying spatial expansion, direct democracy has become encumbered and representative democracy has, for centuries, become a feature of democratic societies.
Political parties’ organization in Nigeria and elsewhere have been known to be the vehicle through which various interest groups seek to attain power to achieve their perceived societal goals as spelt out in their manifestoes. Generally, parties are usually fashioned in a way as to prepare the organization for an eventual ascension to power through the proper articulation of the need of the society.
Nigeria, though has made little progress in the last few years, the country has notoriously emerged as where noting works. Part of the explanation for this phenomenon is that our actions as a nation are not anchored on a solid philosophical foundation. The contradiction of our colonial past, and the inability to embrace a workable political system stem from the opportunism and narrow vision of most of the post-colonial political elites. The collapse of our system is a direct aftermath of the failure to work out a sustainable political party system based on a coherent ideology.
The political parties in Nigeria are formed along ethno-cultural, geo-political and religious lines. This has not helped the democratization process since it encourage ethnic chauvinism and parochialism, irredentist sentiments, and geo-political exclusivities. In everyday activities of government, one notices the festering of primordial loyalties such as ethnic sensibilities and overt projection, or other selfish political tendencies. The political class has always remained bereft of viable political ideology on which the country’s political future could be anchored. This bankruptcy in ideology and vision has reduced political parties to a bread and butter game, where monetization of the political process is the bedrock of loyalty and support. This indubitably, erodes the aim of the democratization process.
SECTION II: Conceptual Clarification and Theoretical Framework.
It is a common knowledge that most concepts and terms in the social science discipline are ambiguous in meaning and controversial due to differing angles and perception. Therefore, to remove such complication, major concepts utilized in this paper are generally defined and particularly operationalized to capture the mind, intent, and meaning which the research seeks to impose on them.
(a) Political Party: Political Scientists have defined political parties from different perspectives. This may be defined in the words of Ranny and Kenall (1956:1) as autonomous organized groups that make nominations and contest elections in the hope or controlling personnel and policies of government. Josephy La Palombara (1974:323) defines political party as a formal organization whose self-conscious primary purpose is to place and maintain in public office, persons who will control alone or in coalition, the machinery of government. A political party therefore, is a group of persons united by a common interest or ideology and engage in power struggle for the purpose of controlling the machinery of government and public policies.
(b) Democracy: Democracy is a term used to describe an idea, process or system of government. As an idea, process or system, democracy entrenches and expand or seeks to entrench and expand the rights, ability and capacity of the people in any community, large and small, from the most complex to the least complicated, to take control of their lives through participating as fully as possible, in discussions and decisions on issues and events that affect them and their community. When such participation is full and direct for all members of the community and in regard of all matters, issues and events such as in very small communities, then direct democracy is said to have been attained. In the modern day, the most prevalent form of democracy at the nation-state level, given its sheer geographical size, population , and complexity, is what has come to be known as indirect or representative democracy. By this, is meant a democracy is which people participate in taking and implementing decisions on the common affairs of the community indirectly through their representative elected or selected for that purpose.
In formulation of a theoretical framework that will guide the paper, the Elite theory is adopted as the guiding principle in analyzing the subject matter. This is because political parties and governance are dominated and decided by the elites. This is why polices is always perceived as “Madness of many and the game of the few”.
The concept of Elitism was propounded as a counter to the revolutionary theories anchored on social class analysis in Europe in the years of Fascism. The classical exponents of the elite theory are two Italians, Viltredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, and Robert Michel, a Swiss. To them, every society is ruled by a small (minority) group of people and who possess the attributes that made it possible for them to ascend to the top. Such people are always the best. The elite therefore consist of those successful persons who rise to the top in every occupation and stratum of society. The elites wherever they are, generally come from the same class, that is, those wealthy or intelligent.
Political parties in Nigeria are controlled by very few individuals in the party that have besieged the available posts and positions in the upper hierarchy of the parties. These few influential and powerful individuals who are in the minority make all the decisions while others follows. They are the elites.
As rightly observed by Gaetano Mosca, in his work, “The Ruling Class” (1930), that in all societies, two classes of people exist: a class that rules and a class that is ruled. The political parties are dominated by the dictates of the elites while the masses being ruled follow without choice. It was evident that in the 2003 general elections, some governorship aspirants did not campaign, but at last they won; not because of their popularity, but just because the elites want them there. Former Governor Chris Ngize of Anambra Sate is a very good example. Otunba Omisore won a Senatorial, seat while in detention. All these are the handiwork of elitism.
Robert Michel’s theory of the elite is focused on organization, particularly political party organizations. He argues that leaders or elites usually take advantage of the fact that the majority of human beings are pathetic, indolent, slavish, and susceptible to flattery. In the case of Nigeria, political leaders take advantage of the harsh economic state of the country, where over 80% of the people live below poverty level. The elites make promises prior to their emergency and distribute “peanuts” to the people in order to set their mandate and support.
SECTION III: ROLE OF POLITICAL PARTIES TO DEMOCRATIC SUSTENANCE IN NIGERIA.
It is commonly held that the survival of the democratic processes is directly linked to the ability of the political party to aggregate freely, articulate, represent, and to organize set limits in the quest for the use of political power. It is equally obvious, however, that for the party system to become capable of discharging these roles efficiently and effectively, certain criteria must be met, including autonomy, complexity and coherence (Ragsdale and Theis, 1977). In this regard, too, Richard Vengroff’s (1993) argument becomes especially relevant. Drawing from the experience of Mali, Vengroff asserted that the degree to which a party system is able to meaningfully contribute of the political process is related to the existence of several factors: the development and maintenance of strong party organization with t he depth and breadth necessary for their operation, and the degree of the institutionalization of the party as indicated by its historical roots, longevity, survival and continuing support. The capacity to meet these conditions is a determinant of their potential contribution to the institutionalization of democratic government.
If the above forms the yardstick for the measurement of the state of political parties in Nigeria, it then becomes inescapable to conclude that the key party institutions, to date, have failed to fulfill adequately their functions. Over the years, what became apparent is the lack of proper organization and perhaps, perception of what a party system should be. Indeed, as records of inter and intra-party squabbles show, both in their methods and practices, the political parties have contributed immensely to the crisis that engulf the political system in Nigeria. The rot necessary gets carried into the electoral arena where elections, in particular, have been controversial, often lacking in credibility.
To begin with, elections, as instruments through which government derives the consent of the governed, are integral part of democracies. In spite of its utility for the democratic form of governance, however, the mere fact of election does not make a country democratic. Democratic elections, everywhere, are expected to meet certain minimum of competitiveness and inclusiveness. The former, perhaps, is deterministic of how the outcomes of the polls are accepted or not. This much has been shown by the United States Information Agency (USIA, 1991:16) in arguing that: “Democratic elections are competitive. Opposition parties and candidates must enjoy the freedom of speech, assembly and movement necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly and to bring alternative policies and candidates to the voters. Simply permitting the opposition access to the ballot is not enough. Elections in which the opposition is barred from the airwaves, has its rallies harassed or its newspaper censored are not democratic. The party in power may enjoy the advantages of incumbency, but the roles and conduct of the elections must be fair.”
It needs be stated that electoral processes in Nigeria have historically been marred by a lot of difficulties. For instance during the first republic, it was obvious that among other potent factors, the election crisis of 1964 – 1965 and the Western regional election of October 1965, proved the greatest test for the stability and thus durability of the first republic (Lipset, 1998:38). The resultant conflict occasioned by these and the high level distrust between the highly ethnicized political elites not only threatened the functioning of the political system, but also facilities the intervention of the military on January 15, 1966.
But while one should claim that the elections that ushered in the second Republic in 1979 were relatively calm, portending little or no danger to the survival of the new government, the same could not said of the one held in 1983, that sought to herald the country’s first civilian organized election since 1965. The 1983 election, essentially, were held in the atmosphere of heightened fears and tensions. Politicians of all inclinations issued threats and counter threats that questioned the continued survival of the ship of state. Not unexpectedly, on the election results were released, reforming the incumbent National Party of Nigeria (NPN) government to power at the centre, all hell broke loose and spates of violence gripped the country. The military struck on December 31, 1983, overthrowing the NPN led government of Shagari in a coup.
The 20 Months old Buhari regime that succeeded the ousted government never had a transition programme. It was itself toppled in a palace coup that placed General Ibrahim Babangida at the helms as Nigeria’s new military ruler. In a nutshell, ample attempts were made by successive military governments to install a democratically elected government until 1999, when General Abdusalami Abubakar handed over power to the democratically elected government of Obasanjo.
The Obasanjo’s government, at the completion of the first four year tenure, organized the conduct of new elections as the constitution of the country stipulated. The April 2003 elections were meant to subject the incumbent administration at all levels, to public verdict through free and fair elections. The election at all levels was, no doubt, a showcase of election rigging. The elections were rigged beyond imagination and brought very unpopular candidates to power. Sometimes, party candidates that never campaigned for elections won, while poplar candidates voted by the people were thrown out. Little wonder that most Nigerian electorates went berserk on seeing that the election results were not a reflection of the votes cast. It was also glaring that during the electioneering campaign prior to the elections in 2003, political elites under the umbrella of different political parties, distributed rice, salt, money, etc to the people in order to get their mandate and support. For instance, the former Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State was said to have involved in the distribution of textile materials across the various villages and towns in Rivers State, in order to win the peoples’ mandate for a second term. The gubernatorial election in Rivers State was chronically rigged to the extent that the incumbent governor swept over 90% of the total votes.
Clearly, at the run up to the 2007 election, things were not any better than the previous one. The obstacles were many and varied. The danger signals included the impeachment debacles in a number of states, the shoddy preparations by INEC, the Obasanjo/Atiku face-off, the spates of assassinations and attempted assassinations of high profile aspirants, the simmering crisis in the Niger-Delta, and the heightened, widely perceived selective indictment of elected officials, etc.
Essentially, the electoral process in Nigeria therefore did not serve as a peaceful means to bring about change and neither did it offer the people the chance to exercise their choices in a free manner. It rather reflected a Hobbesian state of affairs where each party was in war with the other party, and was ready to employ any means to achieve political power. Such a state of affairs therefore created obstacles in the smooth functioning of the democratic process.
Up till date, the only thing political parties in Nigeria currently do is merely the provision of candidates to contest for elective offices in various capacities. As a matter of fact, in vibrant and ideal democracies, political parties are not perceived as mere platform for contesting elections or political appointments. Rather, they play plethora of roles like educating their members politically, informing members in administrative offices about public opinion on national issues, as well as maintaining a strong ideological base that would ensure its survival in future elections.
The current Nigerian political parties, seldom, and in some cases, does not perform there roles. Political parties in Nigeria have no ideology or philosophy. Apart from that, they are formed along ethno-cultural, geo-political and religious lines. This has not helped in the sustenance of democracy as it encourages ethnic chauvinism and parochialism, primordial sentiments, and geo-political exclusivities. These are factors that have inhibited the parties from performing their roles as political parties. Political parties and politicians in Nigeria do not cooperate to ensure the survival and sustenance of democracy in Nigeria. Political intolerance and lack of intra and inter-party democracy has become the order of the day. Not only that, politicians and party leaders have abused democracy and have taken democratization in Nigeria to mean insatiable thirst for power, wealth and influence for personal and parochial ends, rather than as a means of consolidating political and economic independence for promoting societal welfare, laying the foundation for national security, socio-economic and technological transformation.
Therefore, it can be said that political parties in Nigeria both the PDP, ANPP, ACN and other parties, by sidelining the national interest and the interest of the people, have not served as true representative of the people. They therefore have swayed the masses away from them and have created obstacles in the legitimization process.
SECTION IV: CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In the final analysis, we are able to see that the problem lies not in the form or type of government, but the style our leaders adopt in governing the masses. This lies in the fact that the civilian government which resumed on May 1999, till date had little or no credit that could score political points for the ruling PDP and its other political parties opponents, where the same mistakes that were made by the players on the political stage since the days of the first republic are still repeating itself.
In conclusion, we should understand that from the days of nationalist struggle to the post-independence era, the practice and procedure of democracy in Nigeria have witnessed one long and often torturous history of political quagmire. We need not therefore search or consult a Seer to tell us that the general insecurity plaguing the country is a savage indictment of our social and political disorder, and it does not offer any message of hope to the future.
(a) While Constitutional Right Project (CRP) believes that there is need to strengthen our democratic institutions, a total overhaul of present electoral laws regulating party registration should commence.
(b) Due to lack of philosophy and ideology, political parties go against the dictates of their manifestoes. Our political parties should have a clearly defined philosophy and ideology that will enable them conform with the dictates of their manifestoes.
(c) The linkage between political parties and ethnicity is not in the best interest of the Nigerian people. This is an area where de-linking is appropriate and necessary. This can be made possible if the people have political education. The people should understand their rights, responsibilities, and the role of the State. They should be educated to demand accountability on the part of those elected into office. They should be in a position to recall those who have failed to deliver. A proper understanding of the various political issues will there for prevent them from being used as pawns by the leaders in the name of ethnicity.
(d) The way political parties are constituted and legitimized have bearing on both the scope and content of democracy in the country as well as on the capacity of government to be responsible and accountable to the electorates. The parties need to be internally democratic and should be interested in deepening the content of democracy in the country.
(e) The survival and sustenance of democracy is to a greater extent, dependent on the ability of the electoral body to conduct free and fair elections through a transparent process. For this to be viable, the existence of an electoral body which is independent in its function is needed.
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