Politics in Nigeria dates back to the Pre-Colonial era but for the sake of this post, let us only look at Nigeria’s political history landscape just before Independence in 1959.
Political parties in Nigeria are institutions set up for healthy competition among those vying for particular government offices in the land and there is a need to know and understand how Nigerian politics and political parties have evolved by looking into the history of political parties in Nigeria.
The Development of Political Parties In Nigeria
The history of political parties in Nigeria began when the first political party in Nigeria was established in 1959, the year before Nigeria gained her independence from Great Britain. In 1959, there were three political parties in the country and they include the following: National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). This party was a Pan-Nigerian political party led by the last Governor-general and first President of Independent Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
The second political party was the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and it was led by the former Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. The party was a regional party majorly populated by the Hausa-Fulani from the North. The third political party in Nigeria as at 1959 was the Action Group and it was led by the former Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Like the NPC, the AG was regional too and it was mainly populated and dominated by the Yorubas from the southwestern part of Nigeria.
In the 1959 general elections, no single party was able to win the majority. This led to a merger of the NPC and the NCNC which formed the National government that brought Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in as Prime Minister and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as the Governor-General on Independence day in 1960.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe later became the first President of Nigeria in 1963 after Nigeria became a republic, while Tafawa Balewa maintained his position as the Prime Minister. The census conducted in 1963 was thought to favour the Hausa-Fulani more than the rest of Nigeria and this dissatisfied the Igbos, leading to the splitting of the NCNC with the NPC.
The NCNC then joined with a faction of the AG. This group was led by Obafemi Awolowo and a formation of political party named United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) was formed. The NPC on the other hand joined with the remaining faction of the AG led by Samuel Ladoke Akintola to form yet another political party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP).
In 1967, there was a blackout in politics in Nigeria due to the The Nigerian Civil War. The war which saw Emeka Ojukwu do battle against General Yakubu Gowon in a regional dispute lasted until January 1970. This was followed by a coup d’etat, which led to the removal of General Yakubu Gowon in 1975 and the assumption of General Murtala Muhammed to the position Head of State of Nigeria. Murtala Muhammed was assassinsted in an unsuccessful Buka Suka Dimka coup d’etat in February 1976 and General Olusegun Obasanjo took over from him.
General Obasanjo handed over power to Shehu Shagari, in 1979. Many thought Shehu Shagari did not win the election. He re-contested after his first time and also won in an election many thought was rigged against Obafemi Awolowo.
Another coup took place on December 31, 1983, which brought in Muhammadu Buhari to power as Head of State. Buhari lasted 20 months in power before being overthrown by yet another coup which took place on August 2, 1985 and brought General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida to power as Nigeria’s Military President. Babangida made new constitution and planned returning the country to civilian rule.
Elections actually held in 1993 between Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Party (NRP). Moshood Abiola of the SDP won the election that was touted as the fairest and freest election in Nigerian history.
Nigeria finally returned to civilian rule after another six years of military rule and General Obasanjo (Rtd) came to power under the People’s Democratic Party on May 29, 1999. He handed over to late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of the same political party after defeating the oppositions Action Congress (AC) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
The AC won most of the states in the Southwest, while the CPC won most of the states in the Northern part of the country. The PDP still won the majority despite this strong show of opposition. Yet another political party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) participated in the election but was only able to win a couple of states in the south eastern part of the country.
However, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua could not complete his first term in office. His vice, Goodluck Jonathan took over and he was sworn for a second time in 2011 after winning convincingly at the polls.
Jonathan’s rule coincided with disputes in his party’s hierarchy (PDP). This led to the near-breakup of the PDP due to the exit of many of the political bigwigs of the party to the opposition parties.
In preparation for the 2015 election, the Action Congress formed an alliance with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and they were joined by a faction of the APGA. They named their newly formed political party as All progressive Congress (APC).
The exodus of many members from the PDP to other political parties, especially the APC, led to the shake in the stronghold of the then ruling party. Some aggrieved PDP governors formed a faction of the political party and called it the nPDP. The nPDP were made up of 7 state governors; 5 of them later defected to the newly formed APC.
To add insult upon injury for the PDP, some of its leaders started exiting the party and joining their lot with the new APC. Notable among them is Olusegun Obasanjo, who many saw as the main force behind the PDP. Trouble started brewing when Obasanjo resigned as the chairman of the PDP’s Board of Trustees (BOT).
Inability of the then president, Goodluck Jonathan to settle the rift led to the outright defection of Obasanjo to the APC. At that point, many concluded that Jonathan would end up being defeated at the polls.
Muhamadu Buhari of the APC was able to defeat the Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP at the polls and Muhamadu Buhari was sworn in as President on May 29, 2015. The APC is presently the ruling party, while the PDP is the main opposition party.
Other political parties that participated in the 2015 general elections aside the APC and PDP were the Labour Party, the National Conscience Party, the Hope Democratic Party, the United Progressive Party. The Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, the United Democratic Party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance, the African Democratic Congress, the Kowa Party, the Alliance for Democracy and the Action Alliance.
From the above history of political parties in Nigeria, one can say that the formation of political parties in Nigeria was marred by selfish interests from the part of politicians who seek to enter power for their own personal gains rather than for the good of the masses.