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Historical Development of Political Parties in Nigeria

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INTRODUCTION:                                                                                                                             The development of political parties in Nigeria dates back to the days of the struggle for political independent in the late 1940s, when the nationalists were at the pre-independence and post-independence periods. In the pre-independence and the early post independence periods, political parties in Nigeria were not ideologically based. Rather, they were regionally based and woven around individual politicians who they saw as their mentors. In the last ten years, however parties were registered based on the exigencies of the time.

This was the scenario until 1998; the need arose for parties that could usher Nigeria into a new era of democracy after over fifteen years of military rule. Historically, political parties in Nigeria have developed and still play a vital role towards the realization of the democratic objectives. Indeed, the last fifty years have seen an evolution of various political parties.

From 1991-1993, Nigeria practiced a two-party system, with the government establishing the Social Democratic party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC). The military government later proscribed 2 the parties after annulling a presidential election in 1993. But Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999.

The restoration of democratic government in 1999 led to a new approach to party politics in Nigeria. The procedure for registering political parties was liberalized, thereby, opening up the political space for mass participation in political activities in the country. Today, there are more than fifty registered political parties in Nigeria, even though only few of them have not been able to win any election. The few political parties that have dominated the political space to the point that fears are being expressed that the country was drifting towards a one-party state. Opposition parties are beginning to cross to the ruling party both at the federal and states levels.

The recently 2011 general election in Nigeria really had some sets backs and it really brought the world attention towards our political system. It also leads to them in asking some questions concerning our democratic system [voice of Nigeria on Thursday April 18th, 2013].

At the empirical level, the bulk of research in political sociology has been directed towards the investigation of the social basis of political cleavage and consensus. These studies are mainly derived from a social stratification theory of politics and have been characterized by a progressive refinement of categories of analysis, from the broad concern with class and occupation to much more refined measures of social status. Nigeria, like many other African countries, has had its fair share of democratic challenges, but it has also recorded some achievement over the years.

Many have argued that Nigeria must necessarily adopt the methods that will guarantee the rights of its citizens to elect leaders of their choice as provided for in the country’s constitution.  As Nigeria consolidation its democratic framework and mechanisms, the multi-parties in Nigeria, need to exemplify a new level of commitment to the yearnings and aspirations of the people for more fundamental and sustainable development.


Aggregate analysis of the social correlates of political participation and voting has been augmented by extensive research on mass public opinion and political ideology. While these research efforts also rely heavily on the use of the sample survey, they represent a refinement in the intellectual concerns of the social stratification approach, since they seek to explore the extent to which political attitudes not only reflect social structure but are influenced by party organization and the mass media.

With the growth of representative institutions and the spread of both literacy and mass media of communication, the processes of government in varying degree, become responsive to mass opinion. In turn, political parties and the administrative agencies of industrialized societies find it necessary to mobilize public opinion in order to achieve mass participation in social and economic institutions.

Systematic research into political opinion has produced a body of data which has considerable theoretical sophistication and which gives deeper meaning to studies of voting behavior and political participation. The techniques of opinion measurement enable the description of attitude structures toward specific political issues, political candidates and political institutions.

These studies focus on the detailed identification of those parts of the social structure which are characterized either by an absence of political orientation or by political orientations which are extremely weak or, at best, limited to very specific interests and issues. Political apathy has been found to be concentrated in lower income groups and is a persistent aspect of highly industrialized societies, even with increasing levels of educational attainment. In one sense, the major findings drive home, to those political sociologists who have held an over politicized view of man, a more realistic image that has long been recognized as valid by most political leaders.

The concept of alienation has come to figure prominently in empirical research into public opinion. While this concept is fundamentally diffuse, it focuses on understanding the social and psychological processes which produce a withdrawal or disengagement from political interest and political participation. Political apathy appears to be a broader category, which includes both alienation and socially inherited disinterest in politics.

Available research does not permit any trend statement about an increase or decrease in political alienation but instead highlights the social groups particularly vulnerable to alienation, such as youth, minorities and intellectuals. These researchers are most relevant when they focus on the process by which a person becomes alienated. They imply that alienation is not a ‘steady state’ but an orientation which can gradually or suddenly be reversed and produce direct intervention, outside the normal channels of political action.

Multi-Party System and Political Development in Nigeria.

Multiparty system is a scourge to the political growth of any society or nation. It is also a reflection of the division that exists within the society and the extent of diversity. This means that once the nation allows a multiparty system to be in operation, it indirectly extends diversity within such society [Oji R: 2002]. Multiparty system also is a group system that exists where there are usually several parties with nearly, equal strength political interest and historical experience play dominant role in adoption of this system. Multiparty system in this understanding, means that the ideology, strategy, interest, history experience etc. all these matters a lot in operation of multiparty system. [Oji O: 1999].

Multiparty system is most times more accurately than the two-party system in a way in which the popular mind is actually divided. And when parties are numerous, there is likely to be less of the uncritical sentiment of loyalty to party, less probability that their members will regard all questions

  1. Multiparty system promotes democracy.
  2. It gives legitimacy and sovereignty to the people.

iii. It eliminates the possibility of tyrants emerging in power.

  1. It also creates room for responsible government.
  2. It makes possible effective operation of the rules of law and separation of power.

So therefore, despite the short coming associated with multiparty system in Nigeria, it has a lot of advantages over other party system in general perspectives and more so particularly in a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria.

In Nigeria, multiparty system and political development are not really in good relationship like it is meant to be, because multi-parties in Nigeria especially in fourth republic are all non-ideological type and it is not of development in Nigeria political system [okpata:2002].

The major problem of multiparty system is that most political parties in Nigeria are still in search of role, hence since 1999, the role of political parties is still fluid. In many cases, this so-called political parties since 1999 have become a major part of Nigeria problem [Bamgbose: 2009].

Nigeria since pre-independence and post-independence has changing from various political system, from pre-independence (1922) to second republic (1975) was multiparty system but prior the era of third republic, during military regime under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida regime, we had the two dominant parties which are The National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). These were two existing parties under Babangida (1985) and Abacha (1993). So let us access the historical sociology of multiparty system in Nigeria and also the reason why Nigeria adopted multiparty system.                                                                         

The Colonial Experience                                                                                                               

The foundational developmental circumstance of party in Nigeria is colonial rule and the opposition to it by the country’s nationalist movements, which transmuted into political associations to contest for legislative elections as the country progressed between 1922 and 1960 from non representative government (legislative council), through representative government and responsible government to independence under competitive party and electoral politics.

According to Bamgbose (2009), he estimates that including the three major political parties, a total of fifteen others contested the critical election held in 1959. However, the more prominent of the parties in this emergent multiparty system between 1922 and 1960 were the following:

  1. The Nigerian National Democratic party (1923)
  2. Union of young Nigerian (1923)

iii. Nigerian youth movement (1937)

  1. National council of Nigeria and Cameroon (1944)
  2. Northern Elements progressive union (1950)
  3. United National independence party (1953)

vii. United middle belt Congress (1955)

viii. Bornu youth movement (1956)

  1. Dynamic party (1955) etc

Another critical developmental circumstance of the multiparty system in Nigeria is as result of the country’s social structure, which can be disaggregated variously into class, religion, language, ethno-communal rural/urban divide, Ideology and educational levels. But the emergent of political parties from the mid-1920s under Clifford’s constitution, reflected the dominance of the nationalist movements by a combination of petit-bourgeoisie middle class and proletarian strata of the country’s social structure.

Yet, the logic of competitive party and electoral politics and the unfolding ethno-federal political structure in the country meant that the emergent political parties had to cultivate the support of traditional rulers and traditional institutions, as part of their electoral strategy. This comes out clearly in the close, sometimes symbolic relationship between ethno-cultural associations or organization and a number of political parties, which like the Action Group (AG) and the Northern People’s congress grew out of or became the political wings of these cultural organizations.

The problem of multiparty system in pre-independence era was that, the parties were all ethnic based parties. These parties suffered from “ethno-centric syndrome”. They lacked political ideology and were ethnic oriented. So this was the nature of the multiparty system in the period. Ethnicity therefore is a major element of the country’s social structure. This has had a profound impact on the origin and developmental trajectory of political parties in Nigeria and on the practice of federalism in the country. This ethno-regionalist orientations of the parties, reflected in the fact that, the national leaders of all the three major parties preferred to stay in the regions, becoming regional premiers, impacted in turn on the country’s federal system between 1954 and 1960.

Multiparty System in First Republic [1960-1965]

Just like in pre-independence era, the multiparty system in the first Republic after the independence in 1960 was still under the “ethno-centric syndrome”. The parties were deep in ethnic orientation. It is the contradictions unleashed from 1962 onwards by this federalization of the party system, the declaration of emerging rule in western region in 1962 as a result of ideological intra-party differences, the creation of mid-west region in 1963, the 1962-63 census controversy, the party realignment before the 1964 regional elections and the 1965 federal elections, involving the alliance between the NCNC and AG, on the one hand, and the NPC on the other hand. This party alliance result to political and constitutional crisis and civil unrest of October-December 1965, which precipitated the fall of the first Republic in January 1966.

Elsewhere, it has been observed that the bulk of the literature embodying the attempts to explain the character of politics in Nigerian first Republic and the causes of the eventual collapse of that republic has pointed strongly to the factor of ethnic politics and particularly the nature of the political parties [Ibodje and Dode, 2005].

Finally, the observation was correct because the political parties of that era were more or less regional political machines established by the than regional political elites to serve their narrow interests in the Nigeria tripod politics. So therefore, multiparty system in the first republic did not bring about any political development to the country rather it brought political instability and irregularities. And the nature of these multi-parties and their tripod politics led to the intervention of military into politics in 1966. It is because these parties failed in their responsibility of contributing to the consolidation of democracy in the Nigeria’s first Republic.

Multiparty System in Second Republic [1966-1984].

It was in response to the problems, which led to the collapse of the multiparty system in Nigerian first republic, which led the Murtala/Obasanjo regime to decide to put policies in place that will re-position political parties in Nigeria for national integration rather than disintegration. Hence, the military attempted to solve the problem of ethnicity in the formation and management of political parties.

In the electoral provisions contained in the transition programme of that period, most political parties that were to be registered, were required to have “national spread” to be national in out-look and programme, before being eligible for registration and subsequent participation in election [Ibodje and Dode, 2005]. When the ban on partisan parties was lifted, associations came up for registration as political parties. At the end, five political parties, out of about fifty political associations that applied for registration were given the nod to function as political parties in second republic. And these parties included:

i.Great Nigeria People‟s Party (GNPP)

  1. National Party of Nigeria (NPN)

iii. Nigerian People‟s Party (NPP)

  1. People‟s Redemption Party (PRP)
  2. Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Cited [Yaqub, 2002].

Two-party System in Third Republic [1985-1998]

In the third republic of Nigeria (1985-1998), there was a change in the political system from multiparty system to two-party system, which were National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). It was General Babangida who ousted the Buhari/Idiagbon regime on August 27, 1985 inaugurated his administration’s forty-six member political bureau on September 7, 1987. Recall that the Buhari/Idiagbon coup terminated the second republic.

The 1989 constitution that was promulgated by Babangida merely modified most of the contents of the 1979 constitution. In terms of party formation, the 1989 constitution (which was never operationalized) and electoral laws differed from those of the second republic by making provision for only two political parties. This was after the disqualification of all the political associations that sought for registration as parties for allegedly being unable to meet the requirements spell out. The National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) were finally imposed on Nigerians.

Multi-party System of Fourth Republic 1999-2012.

There was a total failure of the two-party system of the third republic under Gen Abacha’s regime, which led to return of the multiparty system in 1999 under Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar regime [Yaqub, 2002]. The Abubakar’s administration announced that it would not stay in office one day more than was necessary, his administration allowed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to grant provisional registration to nine political parties, with the conditions that after the local government elections of that year, those that had 10% votes and above in at least 24 states of the federation would qualify to contest the sub-sequent states and federal elections. Eventually, some parties like the Alliance for Democratic (AD), All People’s Party (APP), and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were all registered. Some months into the fourth republic, with Obasanjo as the then President, politicians began to clamors for the registration of more parties.

The government refused to register more political parties, hence unregistered associations went to count and won. The court’s judgment was in favor of the political associations, thus opened the floodgates for up to 30 parties by the time 2003 elections took place, and also in 2007. But as at 2011 election, the number of parties in Nigeria grew up from to up to fifty parties [Bello, 2011:2].

So therefore; the implication of these anti-democratic practices of the political parties is that, the likelihood of attaining democratic consolidation in Nigeria looks dim and unattainable. The fragmented party system in the fourth republic, which is made up of a large number of opposition parties that are largely divided. Because of these serious divisions, the power of the incumbent party is reinforced, while other parties offer no real opposition in the legislative.

Analysts have also argued variously from the political economy point of view, that this nature of party politics persists in Nigeria because of the economic weakness of the opposition parties (weak economic base). They buttress this argument with the fact that while the ruling PDP can pay generously for her expenses, the opposition parties are economically down casted, hence their members decamp and cross-carpet easily [Bello, 2011:2].

So therefore, the multi-party system in fourth republic failed to deliver democratic consolidation because of the present elites (money bags) and undemocratic activities, lack of ideology, low level of politics of socializations, hangover and lingering effects of military dictatorship, politics of money, corruption and bribery, the under-developed nature of the legislature, foot-dragging by the judiciary, lack of a vibrant civil society (Advocacy) groups, but the one that is of in this work, is the weak fractured and un institutionalized (fragile) political parties especially of the opposition [Omotayo,2011].

Contemporaneously, apart from the ruling PDP, no other party seems to have the prospect of winning elections because; PDP is the dominant party [omotayo, 2011]. Because, judging from the recently concluded election of 201, although it has been commended by (EOM) as one of the most successful in Nigeria political history, but there were still cases of stuffing of ballot boxes, under age voting and outright falsification of election results have been reported in some states. In fact, with regard to post-election violence, the leadership Newspaper on [Wednesday, April 20th, 2011] had it on their front page.


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       International African Studies,Vol.3,No.2.

Bello, N. (2011). ACN Petitions Tribunal over Defeat in Ondo Legislative Polls: The Guardian,   

      Lagos on 25th August.

Ibodje, S. (2005). Political Parties, Voting Pattern and National Integration in Nigeria in B. Owu

and A. Momoh, Elections and Democratic Consolidation in Nigeria. Lagos: A triad

Association Ltd.

Oji, O. (1999). Elements of Political Culture: The Nigerian Example. Enugu: Marydan


Oji, R. (2002). Political Parties, Pressure Groups and Public Opinion in the Political Process.  

       Enugu: John Jacob‟s Publishers Ltd.

Omotayo, A. (2011). Post-election Violence in Nigeria: 121 people has Killed and 15,000

displaced: The leadership Newspaper, 20th April.

Yaqub, N. (2002). Political Parties in the Transition Process in Bob Onuoba and M.M

Fadakinte, Transition Politics in Nigeria: 1970-1999. Lagos: Malthouse press limited.

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