In his famous classic, Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, the American author, John Paden, Lists 81 political parties and 26 tribal and cultural associations, during the First Republic, October 1960 to January 1966. It is worthy to note that the tribal and cultural associations freely contested elections in their own right and many, such as the Kilba Tribal association, Idoma Descendants Union, IgbiraTribal Union, Ibadan Parapo, to name only a few, won local elections in their respective areas of interest.
There were certain character orientation of the parties and associations. Most were not concerned with regional, let alone federal elections, but concerned largely, with ward elections. Their interest was to win election in their wards and constituencies and not to compete at regional or federal levels. That was the major primary interest. In fact, a few were interested only in presenting candidates from their own interest groups. For example, during the election into four council areas, under Kaduna Capital Territory, three of which were won by NEPU, Retired Soldiers Association, in the town, won four seats, but they were affiliated to NEPU.
There was the other character of the parties and associations. The smaller ones were affiliated to the bigger ones. NPC, for example, had about 25 of such affiliates. Indeed, affiliation was the major theme among the parties, but hardly merger.
In the North, for example, with its diverse cultural and religious groups, NEPU was affiliated with NCNC, while UBMC, headed by Joseph Tarka, and the Borno Youth Movement, BYM led by Ibrahim Imam, whom Tarka made possible to win election in Benue, were all affiliates of Action Group of Nigeria, popularly known as AG. Both NEPU and UBMC, also had their own collaborations. Even as the major political parties were regional in influence, they had national spread though these affiliates.
This is to emphasize that Nigeria political parties were never interested in merging one another. One reason accounted for this. There was no formal registration of political parties or restriction on cultural or tribal associations to field candidates. All a group needed to do was to inform the election authorities, ahead of any election, and it was registered, for the purpose of the election.
In all this however, three political parties emerged the most dominant: NPC in the North; AG in the South west and NCNC in the south east. Below them were NEPU, UMBC, and BYM in the North. None of the other regions had the structure of these three. Contrary to those who say that the North cannot win national Election because of presumed division within, the truth is that it was the only region that has been having a multi-party system, at least since 1956, and it has provided national leadership, through electoral processes. Throughout its history, the region has never been a monolithic political entity. During the Second Republic, for example, of the five registered political parties, each won at least one state in the region. In the East, NPN won only in what we call today the Niger Delta, while UPN swept everything in the west. When two party formations operated during the short lived Third Republic, two won a number of seats in the North while the East and West went to one each. Currently, PDP, ANPP and CPC as they were then controlled at least one state in the North that has been Providing more political platforms than the other regions and this has been good for democracy. This has been part of the political life of the region: one of multi-party system against a monolithic party structure in the other three regions.
Back to our theme. The first attempt to merge political parties in Nigeria was in 1950 when NCNC, NNDP and Nigerian Youth Movement, NYM, concluded arrangement to that effect. However, some problems arose just when they were about to sign instruments of merger. The plan did not therefore scale through.
In 1953, there was an agreement between the Northern base NPC and the south western based AG to collaborate but this was not in respect of merger. The only successful merger came in December of the same year when the national Independence Party, NIP and the United National Party, UNP, thus going down, in the annals of our history, as the first parties to merger. The two were based in the eastern part of the country.
The All Progressives Congress, APC is the second in our history of merger through the coming together of three plus political parties, ACN, ANPP and CPC. Past of APGA, but to cut across the two political divides. Furthermore, it was the first attempt by a south west and northern Dominated parties to merge. As we have noted, there was only an attempt at coalition between the AG and NPC in 1953. However, nothing significant materialized, therefrom.
The merger therefore, is historic and quite distinct from the two party formations of the Babangida era, which we may look into soon. But before then, it is important to ask; how long would the merger endure and if it does, would it make much difference in the political fortunes of the people? These are vital questions.
One of the most serious drawbacks in the history of party formation in Nigeria, since the People Union, which could be described as our first political party, appeared in 1916, has been the consistent failure or inability of the liberals to form a broad-based political party or association. The United Progressive Grand Alliance, UPGA, a coalition of Action Group, AG and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC was perhaps the first attempt. But even then, not only was it a coalition for the purpose of winning the 1965 federal election, it was essentially and basically a Southern formation except for the presence of the United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC, based in today’s Middle Belt, in a lose form. The Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU, would have given it the much needed front in the predominant Hausa area, but this was never to be. This in itself is another history.
With the return of party politics in 1979, there was yet another attempt by the liberals to form an alliance, represented by the so called Progressive governors Forum, comprising the governors of NPP, UPN PRP and GNPP, essentially. When it came to picking a presidential candidate, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NPP and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of UPN, found it problematic stepping down for the other. That was how the adventure failed.
It was not until Babangida came out with two party formation that they found themselves on board the same ship. But a problem arose. Twice was the SDP presidential election won by General Shehu Yar’Adua and twice did Falae’s supporters dispute it. In the end, the presidential candidate of the time, the so called 23 first eleven, were banned, though unbanned later.
It was after this that Abiola emerged on the scene. He won the SDP primary and indeed the election proper. Contrary to some held views, the annulment of that election has a lot of inputs from within, details of which cannot be given here. For now, what could be said is that the liberals had the opportunity to form government, for the first time in Nigeria, but some fell into a trap and played havoc from within costing them and the nation that singular victory.
Under the current dispensation, while the conservative were trooping to form the PDP, as usual, the liberals were contented with smaller party formations, too weak to individually confront the behemoth PDP. And this is how and why they never formed government at the center since independence in 1960. In short, they have been shooting themselves in the foot, crippling their strength to come together.
Thus, one of the most significant achievement of APC is bringing together the liberals for the first time in Nigeria’s history, a credit which has alluded others before it. This historical adventure must be counted as one of the most remarkable episodes in the country’s history.
For sure, it would not be easy consolidating, but as the saying goes, nothing good comes easy. Its greater success story, however, would not be measured by this achievement alone but also by its ability and readiness to provide a true democratic platform for the people, devoid of the imposition of candidates, as has been the practice among all the political parties.
Looking at the faces of candidates before they are allowed to contest elections is a crime against democracy. Leadership in a political party is for guidance not imposition. In the event APC falls for the imposition option, how different would it be from the PDP which is currently suffering from the application of the same doctrine?
It is in this regard that Babangida approach to primary elections were hereby recommended. Under it presidential primary elections were conducted in rotation on zonal basis and total scores calculated with the candidate scoring the highest vote declared winner. This was applied down the line.
This system provided candidates holding party registration card the opportunity to vote for any candidate of their choice. It was indeed a mini national election within each political party, in line with the American model.
There is an alternative: proportional representation of about 50, 000 per zone to vote in their localities, when it is the turn of their zone to do so. This, it should be stressed, is about party presidential primary election only.
Among the benefits of this proposals are (a) the bribing of delegates would be significantly reduced. During the PDP 2011 convention, the media were full with reports that the delegates were massively compromised. (b) During the same period. It was alleged that delegates were hidden away from Atiku Abubakar. Under any of these proposals, this would not be possible. (c) unlike where only 3500 delegates participate in choosing a presidential flag bearer, millions especially under the first , proposal would participate and about 300,000 under the second option. (d) As contestants move from zone to zone where election is holding in a given week. The need to be positively different in offering new perspectives to democracy, should necessarily pre occupy the thinking and vision of APC, some of which have already been noted.
Additionally, the party should give special privileges to women. One way of doing this, if possible, is to provide a platform for women to exclusively vote their own in primary elections, at least for contests into Houses of Assembly, such that they are assured of seats.
This should be additional to the normal processes of choosing flag bearers. This may entail constitutional reforms giving them at least three seats in each State Assembly nominated and elected by them exclusively. This may look discriminatory but quite necessary to give women voice in the democratic process.
The counter argument may be that such a privilege should also be extended to the youths. But women are more discriminated against and more disadvantageous than the youths. Beside, the concept of youths is very nebulous and undefined which may therefore bring complications. Not so in the case of women.
With prudent management of resources, Nigeria could offer unemployed youths and the aged some stipends at least N5,000 per month. The nation could afford it, with proper management and sincere approach. Assuming half of the country’s 160 million population is earmarked for this, it would translate to 400 billion. Of course, statistic have it that we have about 20% of the unemployed and perhaps another 10% of the over aged who have no pension. So, the actual figure may come down significantly less than this projection.
The alternative, in respect of unemployed youths, is to empower them through guaranteed bank loans. The core emphasis is to remove them from the dangerous unemployment market, which accounts for some of our urban crimes, and then give succor to the aged, who are not on pension. How to achieve this are details which a serious government could work out.
APC should consider, as a top priority, the need to deliberately and systematically move the country away from its current drift towards serious economic recipe an assignment which the ruling PDP has been unable to do since 1999. A sound economy is solution to most social problems.
No less important is the need to end the impunity of “I will kill you and nothing would happen” as citizens are constantly told at check points. Issues of extra judicial killings, undue harassment of citizens by people in uniform and such other unfortunate happenings should be thoroughly investigated and those found guilty punished accordingly. For too long, some elements have been getting away with deliberate acts of murder making citizens fear rather than respect them. APC should ensure a truly peoples police, when in power, respected but not feared. This has been in short supply for a long time.
Next is the strengthening of the Primary Healthcare facilities, which would in turn decongest the general and teaching hospitals. This should go hand in hand with adequate funding of the health facilities at all levels. A hospital, no matter how attractive its building is, cannot be so called, when it lacks the facilities and personnel to run it.
In this regard, government should put, in place, all necessary measures to minimize intellectual drain in this field and also end health pilgrimage abroad. This should go hand in hand with fighting quacks within the system which, in any case, would eventually die out if appropriate measures are put in place.
These suggestions cover women empowerment, unemployment, economic advancement, provision of health facilities, reorientation of the police and political reforms. However, these cannot solve all our problems at a go, but would, at least, make the much needed difference.
The goal of government should not be to solve all societal problems at a go, which is impossible, but to lay the necessary structure for achieving it. We wish APC the best.
Those party leaders, at various levels, may not know how history would appreciate their efforts, in keeping aside personal preferences, to nurture the party to where it is today. Same applies to their followers and none party members who gave them all the necessary support and encouragement. Much of this also goes to the former PDP Governors and legislators who equally played critical roles in its take off. History hardly forgets those who act in the higher interest of the common good.
This contrast sharply with the attitude of some, particularly in Adamawa and Kano state who were reported to have vowed not to allow the former PDP members have their way in the APC. Politically, this is untenable; constitutionally its unsustainable and democratically, it is a misnomer. Top priority should be given first to the consolidation of the party and not the disappointing struggle for power so soon. Besides, no serious party man runs away from recruiting more followers except if he is of a raw political mind.