Political Party Development In Nigeria: An Opinion Survey Of The Three Senatorial Districts Of Edo State, Nigeria (1999 – 2012)

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

Chapter One


1.1 Background Of Study

The history of political party in Nigeria can be situated within the context of the two-party and multi-party political system (Adejumobi, 2007), which can be traced to the development of nationalist consciousness, awareness and political movements (Agarah, 2004), that began in Nigeria in the 1930s. This activity specifically, is what Coleman (1986:22) described as the “second wave of nationalist movement which was ‘less militant and resistant’ but mainly concerned with sentiments, activities and organizational developments aimed at the self-government and independence of Nigeria”.

A key distinguishing feature of the second wave of Nigerian nationalism was the development of permanent political associations to pursue national objectives (Coleman, 1986), with the various associations formed, by nationalists such as Ernest Ikoli, Herbert Macaulay, Samuel Akinsanya, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemil Awolowo and others constituting the precursors of political parties in Nigeria.

Political parties in Nigeria display certain key features, which include:

Their emergence and evolution has been closely tied to Nigerian constitutional development or evolution of Nigerian constitution. For example, it was the Clifford constitution of 1922 provision of four elective seats for Nigerians in the legislative council that stimulated the formation of the Nigerian National Democratic Party of Herbert Marcaulay. Similarly, political party formation enjoyed a boost from the Richard’s constitution of 1944 provision of regional assemblies while retaining the four elective seats to legislative council. Similarly, the Macpherson constitution’s regional assemblies and regional executive councils and system of indirect elections to Nigerian legislative Houses in 1951 strengthened political parties activities in pre-independent Nigeria.

Most parties have ethnic and regional bases or display identity orientations. For example, the Action Group (AG), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the Action Congress (AC) had/have their basis in the Yoruba dominated South-West of Nigeria. Similarly, the National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC), the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) had/have their political strong-hold in Igbo land while the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) had/have theirs in the Hausa-Fulani heartland of northern Nigeria.

Only a few of the political parties in Nigeria can boast of having a national spread.

Political parties in Nigeria have been prone to serious inter-party conflicts, divisions, splitting and decamping (Agarah, 2004; Adejumobi, 2007).

These features arise from what has been described by Rosiji (1992) as “caucus or elitist nature” of political parties in Nigeria, the direct outcome of thinking that the educated minority in each ethnic group are the people who are qualified by natural right to lead their fellow nationals into higher political development (Olarinmoye, 2008).

In other words, political elites first create political structures then invite the mass to join. Political parties are created and directed by the elites in society who believe that control of government and of political power should be their preserve. They are, thus, not mass or branch parties with membership drawn from across board and with interests that are parochial, centred on elite objectives and actualization.

Elite parties are therefore non-ideological organizations having less interest in political principles than in securing and retaining political office for its leadership and distributing income to those who run it and work for it (Banfield and Wilson, 1965:66; Scott, 1973:121). The structural and ideological features of elite parties translate into a weak base amongst the masses. Most political parties in Nigeria are poorly entrenched in Nigerian civil society with a gap existing between them and the mass electorate.

The aforementioned disposition of political parties in Nigeria, no doubt, has eroded the central role which, ordinarily, parties whether in consolidated and non-consolidated democracies are supposed to play. This, in no small means or measure, has negated the widely accepted role by policy makers and democracy – promotion organizations, who often display a strong normative bias in favour of cohesive, organizationally developed political parties. According to the US National Democratic institute (2011:22), for instance:

Political parties form the cornerstone of a democratic society and serve a function unlike any other institution in a democracy. Parties aggregate and represent social interests and provide a structure for political participation. They train political leaders who will assume a role in governing society. In addition, parties contest and win elections to seek a measure of control of government institutions.

Similarly, the United Nations Development Programme (2008:5) maintains that “political parties are a keystone of democratic governance. They provide a structure for political participation; serve as a training ground for political leadership; and transform social interests into public policy”.

Scholars are similarly effusive. Some of the world’s foremost political scientists have placed parties at the centre of the modern democratic experience, arguing that strong parties are a sine qua non of successful democratization. Strong parties are said to be the prerequisite for political stability in modernizing countries. Without effective parties that command at least somewhat stable bases of support, democracies cannot have effective governance (Diamond and Gunther, 2001). More recently, in one of his final publications, Lipset (2000) extolled the indispensability of political parties for the survival of both transitional and established democracies. The more vigorous and healthy they are the better assured is the health of the democratic process (Agbaje, 1998). It is therefore difficult to imagine any modern democracy without political parties as they are the connecting links between diverse groups of peoples and governments.

The most common classification of political parties is that which emphasizes the degree of competitiveness in a political system. Hence, there can be one party, two party or multi-party political systems. A more basic classification of political parties, in the words of Agbaje (1998), is that which highlights the nature of the membership of political parties. Thus, there can be:

  1. Branch/mass parties whose membership is composed of different sections of political society.
  2. Caucus/elitist parties whose membership is drawn mainly from the upper class of society.
  3. Religious parties whose membership is determined by nature of religions affiliation.
  4. Broker parties with membership drawn from both the rich and poor classes of society.
  5. Charismatic parties formed around individuals with unique talents and whose membership cuts across identity and class lines (Olarinmoye, 2008).

Juxtaposition – wise, while a great deal of the problems confronting political party development in Nigeria’s history can be linked to behavioural and attitudinal dispositions of the political elite, on the door-step of the institutions that have been saddled with the responsibility for the regulations of these parties, experiences have shown that there is an elitist manipulation of political parties. This is coupled with the fact that the roles of political parties are punctured, and truncated by various negative activities such as polarizing and widening gap between and /or among ethnic groups. Also, the syndromes of unhealthy rivalry, marginalizing tool, exploitative mechanism, expropriating role, as well as, the low institutionalization of these political parties have snowballed into inter and intra party rivalry/crisis.

1.2 Statement Of Research Problem

Political parties have long been recognized as essential components of representative democracy. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how the governance of modern states could be accomplished without meaningful political parties. By organizing voters, aggregating and articulating interests, crafting policy alternatives and providing the basis for coordinated electoral and legislative activity, well-functioning political parties are central not just to representative government but also to the process of democratic development in transitional democracies like Nigeria.

Parties perform a number of essential functions that make democracy in modern states possible. Ideally, they represent political constituencies and interests, recruit and socialize new candidates for office, set policy-making agendas, integrate disparate groups and individuals into the democratic process, and form the basis of stable political coalitions and hence governments. Collectively, this means that political parties are among the primary channels for building accountable and responsive government.

Beyond these functional activities, parties also provide a number of deeper, systemic supports that help make democracy work effectively, for instance:

They mediate between the demands of the citizenry on the one hand and the actions of the government on the other, aggregating the diverse demands of the electorate into coherent public policy.

They make effective collective action possible within legislatures. Without the predictable voting coalitions that parties provide, there would be chaos as legislative majorities shifted from issue to issue and vote to vote.

By providing a link between ordinary citizens and their representatives, parties are also the primary channel in democratic systems for holding governments accountable for their performance.

Yet in many transitional democracies in general, and in the Nigerian State in particular, parties struggle to play these roles. Instead, parties exhibit a range of pathologies that undercut their ability to deliver the kind of systemic benefits on which representative politics depends.

For instance:

  1. They are frequently poorly institutionalized, with limited membership, weak policy capacity and shifting bases of support;
  2. They are often based around narrow personal, regional or ethnic tiers, rather than reflecting society as a whole;
  3. They are typically organizationally thin, coming to life only at election time;
  4. They may have little in the way of a coherent ideology;
  5. They often fail to stand for any particular policy agenda;
  6. They are frequently unable to ensure disciplined collective action in parliament, with members shifting between parties;

As a result, parties often struggle to manage social conflicts and fail to deliver public goods and thus to promote development.

The aftermath of the aforementioned is poor electoral process snowballing into legitimacy crisis which is one of the major impediments of an enduring democracy (the Nigerian State inclusive). The political topsy-turvy arising from poor/ weak parties and party system development notwithstanding, the factors that negatively impacted on the Nigerian party and party system development are multi-faceted, which ranges from ethnicity, poor party institutionalization, lack of independence in the operative of the judiciary and the electoral body, poor political culture among others (Ibada, 2007; Omodia, 2007).

However, the fundamental thrust of this research study is to unravel the causes, nature and trends of political party and party system development as key structure of the democratic political institutions in undermining or strengthening the electoral process in Nigeria. This is, no doubt, indispensable considering the conception that functional political party, especially in a multi-party system tends to enhance the quality of the democratic process in terms of democratic representation and political participation through effective political education that also enhances and provides functional support for the electoral process (Dinneya, 2006; Bello, 2008). In other words, it could be argued that a strong electoral process cum democracy exists when there is strong parties and party system which manifest the tenets of democracy both at the intra and inter party levels.

To lend credence to the import of the problem which this study seeks to espouse, it is apposite to reiterates the aphorism that political institutions can easily be judged as good or bad on the extent and degree to which they provide political satisfactions or utility to citizens. Political utility can therefore be “estimated for the inclusiveness of citizens in the participation process and the fit between policy-making decisions and citizens preferences” (Colomer, 2008:1). It can be discerned that the nature and character of institutional designs are likely to influence political party institutionalization in Nigeria. In a recent study, Kura (2008) establishes that institutional designs have contributed in weakening and destabilizing political party oppositions in Nigeria. The ruling party has unlimited access to state resources that it uses in not only strengthening itself but also wooing opposition politicians through clientelistic networks. The nature of the presidential system gives abundant power to the president to appoint all strategic officers, such as principal members of electoral institution, top ranking police and army commanders, e.t.c. Thus, in a state characterized by clientelism and neo-patrimonalism, these officers have become instruments of the ruling party. They are used to destabilize opposition parties and serve as instruments of dominant party system formation (Kura, 2008).

However, these deficiencies in party and party system development in Nigeria, vis-à-vis their impact and effects, are so widespread that they have become a central concern in the body polity of the nation, to the extent that they are increasingly seen as a threat to stable democracy within the Nigerian state. The recognition of such impediments to democratic development has spurred growing attention, both domestically and internationally, on how stronger, more capable political parties can be evolved, sustained and developed in Nigeria.

1.3 Objectives Of Study

Based on the research problem discussed above, the objectives of this study are:

  1. To unfold the machinations and manipulations of political parties by the politicians/elites in such a way that political parties are elitist in formation, development, and operation.
  2. To examine the extent to which the multi-party system in Nigeria has facilitated and engendered political socialization of the electorate, recruitment of political leadership, and serve as a unifying force in a divided polity.
  3. To examine and scrutinize the extent to which the electoral system (simple plurality system or first-past- the post) affects the development of political parties in Nigeria.
  4. To identify the main institutional designs influencing party formation, institutionalization and development in Nigeria.
  5. To proffer solutions to the problems be-deviling political party and party system formation and development in Nigeria.

1.4 Statement Of Hypotheses

Deriving from the above, the researcher proposed the under-listed hypotheses which are in their null and alternate forms:-

  1. Ho: There is no relationship between respondents’ sex and their opinion about the presidential system having evolved or engendered strong and vibrant opposition parties in Nigeria.
    H1: There is a relationship between respondents’ sex and their opinion about the presidential system having evolved or engendered strong and vibrant opposition parties in Nigeria.
  2. Ho: There is no relationship between respondents’ marital status and their opinion about low institutionalization of political parties and party system in Nigeria.
    H2: There is a relationship between respondents’ marital status and their opinion about low institutionalization of political parties and party system in Nigeria.
  3. Ho: There is no relationship between respondents’ age and their opinion about ethnicity still influencing political parties and party system in Nigeria.
    H3: There is a relationship between respondents’ age and their opinion about ethnicity still influencing political parties and party system in Nigeria.
  4. Ho: There is no relationship between respondents’ educational level and their opinion about the simple plurality (FPTP) electoral system being the best option for the Nigerian state.
    H4: There is a relationship between respondents’ educational level and their opinion about the simple plurality (FPTP) electoral system being the best option for the Nigerian state.
  5. Ho: There is no relationship between respondents’ occupation and their opinion about the multi-party system being the best option for the Nigerian state.
    H5: There is a relationship between respondents’ occupation and their opinion about the multi-party system being the best option for the Nigerian state.

1.5 Significance Of Study

This study is important because its findings will help beam the searchlight on the factors and dynamics shaping political party development in Nigeria. The findings will provide the basis for understanding the intricacies embedded within political parties and other electoral institutions as they affect citizen’s participation in the political process.

Secondly, the study will add to the reservoir of knowledge in the areas of political party development and party polities as they affect a country’s democratic endeavour.

Thirdly, the research study will be a stepping stone for further research into political party related issues and perhaps, as well as, the ways the parties themselves are formed that make them the albatross of elections.

Fourthly, the study will contributes in no small measure in the understanding of the various institutional designs as they affect the development of political parties and party systems in Nigeria.

Fifthly, if the findings of this study are accessed by policy makers, they will surely provide impetus and data that will ensure the formulation, evolution, and development of vibrant, strong and viable political parties in Nigeria.

Finally, it is the researcher’s hope that the study will make good readership piece for scholars, students and others who are interested in political party and party system related issues in our contemporary world.

1.6 Scope And Limitations Of Study

The scope of this study was limited to the examination and analysis of the nature and role of political parties as well as on the opinion of Nigerians on the factors that influence party and party system development in Nigeria, covering the period of 1960 till date, but with a particular focus on the Fourth Republic.

One major limitation to this study was the vastness of the Nigerian landscape, the coverage of which will be problematic, and as such the three senatorial districts of Edo State served as the sampling frame from which data was elicited from respondents.

Moreover, the clandestine nature of political parties in Nigeria also limits the extent to which accurate and reliable information was elicited from the respondents. Thus, the variables selected as factors influencing political party development are by no means exhaustive with particular reference to the Nigerian State.

1.7 Definition Of Terms

To minimize confusion it is helpful to define some of the concepts that were used in this research study.

Political Party

The concept of political party is the most frequently used in political discourse and arguably in need of defining most because of its variety of meanings in different contexts and time periods. One of the most famous and widely used definitions is that by Edmund Burke (1770) as cited by Paul Langford (1981:312), who defines a party as “a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest upon some particular principle in which they all agreed”. However, the emphasis on a shared ideology among party members in this definition does not seem to apply to most parties in non-western nor to some parties in contemporary western democracies- that lack a clear ideological profile, have a much more fluid membership and operate on a more pragmatic, clientelist basis. A more minimalist definition that still captures the representational function of political parties is more appropriate. This research study therefore uses Giovanni Sartori’s (1994) definition: “a party is any political group that presents at elections, and is capable of placing through elections, candidates for public office”.

Party System

The concept of party system subsequently will refer to a collection of parties competing with other parties in elections for the control of public office (Wolinetz, 2002).

Political Party Development

The term political party development is defined as the process through which a political party originates, evolves into an organized structure and becomes either more or less electorally accountable. It is important to note that in practice this is a non- linear, multi-dimensional process.


This is a closely related concept to political party development and is primarily used in the context of party and party system institutionalization. Following Randall and Svasand (2002) analysis, it is here defined as the process by which the party (or the party system) becomes established in terms both of integrated patterns of behavior and attitudes, or culture.

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