The constitutional order we are operating today expressly bans independent candidature. You cannot run for elective positions if you are not sponsored by a political party that is approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
It was the same in the Second Republic – 1979-1983. The political parties of that era were distinct, colorful and powerful. They were the National Party of Nigeria, NPN; The Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN; The Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP; The Peoples Redemption Party, PRP and the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP. These parties actively participated in the first lap of four years. And as the 1983 elections approached, the Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO approved another one, the Nigeria Advance Party, NAP whose application to participate in the 1979 election was rejected.
The parties were not only led by reputable politicians, men of ‘timber and caliber’, they had programs that gave them identity and colour. The NPN led by Meredith Adisa Akinyole, Adisco Wonder as his fans called him promised “food and shelter”; the UPN, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, “Awo the Sage” as is fans fondly called him, was identified with free education; the NPP had a veteran politician, Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya as National Chairman, the GNPP was led by Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, the chief advocate of ‘politics without bitterness’ while the PRP was led by the tireless advocate of the common man, Malam Aminu Kano, leader of the Talakawa.
Even NAP the late comer, led by Tunji Braithwait, made a solemn promise to engage mosquitos, cockroaches and rats in battle once elected into government. Sadly they never got elected into a single office.
There is a very little difference between the system we practiced in the second republic and what we are practicing today. Both systems are presidential, with minor amendments between the suspended 1979 constitution and the 1999 constitution of today.
The difference came in the mannerisms and character of the leadership the country elected 1999. Early in the life of the government which came into office on May 29 1999, the Chairman of the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party PDP, Chief Solomon Lar sounded a warning. In a letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo captioned “Improving relations between the party and the government”, he decried the marginalistion of the party by the government it had brought to power. He said the government was not consulting the party on issues and as a result, the government was implementing policies that were not what the party had promised the electorate.
Lar’s accusation was a pointer to the departure from the style of government we had in the second republic. Whereas in the second republic the governments operated the manifestoes of the parties that sponsored their elections to the letter, we started this republic with the governments operating programs that had no bearing with the manifestoes of their parties. The ruling party which had the mandate to offer national and rational leadership led in this aberration as its national Chairman Chief Lar yelled out. Other parties soon followed suit. For instance the All Nigeria Peoples Party ANPP never promised Sharia in their manifesto. But immediately he came into office, the Governor of Zamfara, Ahmed Sani Yerima declared Sharia in his state thus kicking off a constitutional, political and religious crisis that left many dead and valuable properties destroyed across the country.
From a democratic culture where political parties dictated what programs the federal, state and local governments operated, we became a country where government policies at all levels were the exclusive responsibility of the president, governors and local government chairmen. This was clearly an aberration.
The political parties before they were recognized by INEC were tasked by the electoral body to submit a party constitution. This was one condition on which they were recognized. None of the party constitutions recognized the president, the governor or the local government chairman as the leader of the party in his turf. But immediately they came to office, the president appointed himself the leader of his party and the governors, local government chairmen all did same in open contempt of the constitutions of their political parties.
What this meant in practical terms was that the president became a tyrant at the national level while the governors and council chairmen were tyrants at their lower levels of government. Their views on all issues, no matter how ill-informed, became the law. In the emerging scenario, we were confronted by tin pot dictators scattered all over Nigeria. The governors soon bonded together and became the most powerful political group in the country. They nominated the Ministers that represented their states in the Federal Executive Council, Ambassadors and heads of federal departments, influenced who went to Senate and House of Representatives, appointed their own cabinets, populated the state houses of assemblies that are constitutionally mandated to act as checks on them with their yes men and women, appointed local government chairmen and councilors. In sum, they controlled the three levels of government – the federal, the state and the local governments. In a discussion with me at the time, my big uncle Professor Jibril Aminu told me that “one with governor makes the majority in Nigeria today.”
Today, the political party has become a necessary inconvenience to Nigerian politicians. They need it because the 1999 Constitution as amended has expressly banned independent candidature. It is impossible to contest elections without a political party. So the political party of yesterday that was a think-tank where policy was formulated debated and passed has become a mere tool, a platform for grabbing power. There is nothing like a party ideology in Nigeria again. You cannot look at any party and say this is what this party stands for. Politicians in Nigeria are behaving more like prostitutes than men of honor. A politician is in bed with one political party in the morning, in the afternoon it is bed with another and that does not stop him from spending the night with another political party.
In a fissiparous third world country like Nigeria, strong political party systems are a necessity. They serve as mobilization vehicles that run across ethnic and religious boundaries. They cement communities. In their absence, people resort to primordial sentiments to canvass for support and votes. That explains why we are where we are.
We are in the year 2020. The next general election is in 2023. Already all the major political parties are in an aggravated state of commotion. Politicians cannot afford the luxury of building parties, of formulating party policies that will resolve issues that will improve the welfare of the people. Rather, they are engaged in grueling duels to capture the parties for the sole purpose of capturing power. No third world country can make progress this way.