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BY Olusesan Laoye

With the 2015 general election in Nigeria concluded and the performance of smaller political parties not in any way impressive, there is doubt and serious concern about their future.  There is also the notion that the smaller political parties may have lost out to the bigger ones who are daily consuming them.

Going back to the political antecedent in Nigeria, the only periods   when all the political parties were regarded to be equal and with the same opportunities was in the first and second Republics when there was even room for independent candidate. In the first Republic for instance, people contest elections on their merits and popularity among their people and it was the era when political parties seemed not to matter, despite the facts that we had many political parties playing big according to their geographical locations and ethnic backgrounds. In the First Republic as well, people aligned with the political parties in their respective localities despite the fact that there were bigger political parties. Those in what could be described as smaller political parties then, contested elections in their areas and won while those who did not belong to any party and referred to  as Independent candidate despite the fact that we had three major political parties did contested elections and won as well.

In the first republic, Nigeria had three major political parties, the Action Group, dominated by the people of the Western Region, now known as the South West Geopolitical zone, National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons/National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) which was the dominant political party in the south East which comprised the present day South East and South-south Geopolitical zones and the Northern People’ Congress (NPC) known as the major political party in the then Northern Nigeria which now comprise all the three geopolitical zones of the North East, North West and North Central.

 Other political parties then, where popular candidates contested elections and won despite their small strengths are, Borno Youth Movement (BYM)

The dictates at that time was that the country was split into three geopolitical regions—Western Region, Eastern Region and Northern Region—and its political parties took on the identities and ideologies of each region. The Northern People’s Party (NPC) represented the interests of the predominantly Hausa/Fulani Northern Region, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC)] (later renamed to “National Council of Nigerian Citizens”) represented the predominantly Igbo Eastern Region, and the Action Group (AG) dominated the Yoruba Western Region.

Despite this, it was impossible for any of the major political parties to form the government at the centre. That was why the NPC took control of the federal parliament, and formed a coalition government with the NCNC. Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, leader of the NPC, was poised to become the Prime Minister, but instead, he chose to become the Premier of the Northern Region and supported his Deputy Tafawa Balewa’s candidacy for Prime Minister. This raised suspicions amongst the southern politicians, who resented the idea of a federal government controlled by a regional leader through his designated proxy. In the end, Tafawa Balewa of NPC was named Prime Minister and Head of Government, and Nnamdi Azikiwe of NCNC was named President.

In the second Republic as well, rather than having fragments of political parties prominent in the First Republic as a result of Pre-colonial agitations from different ethnic groups,  five major political parties emerged. These political parties were described off shoots or mergers of some of the smaller political parties in the first Republic. The political parties are the Unity party of Nigeria (UPN), which was an offshoot of the old Action  Group because the leadership was controlled by Late Sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerians Peoples Party (NPP), which represented the old (NCNC),with the late Owelle of Onitsha, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as its leader, Great Nigerians Peoples (GNPP) an off shoot of Borno Peoples Party led by Late Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, the National Party of Nigeria NPN)which drew its major strength from the old  Northern Peoples Party(NPC)  and the Peoples Redemptions Party (PRP) a successor of the Northern Element Progressives Union led by the late Talakawa, Alhaji Aminu Kano.

It could be observed that unconsciously, the second Republic marked the fusion of smaller political parties to bigger ones in the Nigeria. Although in the second republic also, our political parties formed the PPA all of them did not give up their original identity until the coup of 1983 which put political activities into the oblivion. When political activities came up again under General Ibrahim Babangida with the idea of new breed politicians many political parties sprang up again but they were shot lived when General Babangida disbanded them and later came up with the option A4 under two political parties of the National Redemption Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The emergence of the current political dispensation first gave room to three dominant political parties of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Nigerians Peoples Party (NPP) later All Nigerians Peoples Party (ANPP) the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Although there were other political parties, they were not as prominent as these three. But in 2003 the tide changed and more political parties came up and Nigeria had as much as 56 political parties. The rate was so alarming as it was said that people and groups were only forming political parties because of the funds they would get to share without anything to offer. The eventually made INEC to review the procedure of registering political parties and concluded that some of them that had nothing to show for their existence must go.  The exercise at the end of the day led to the deregistering of some of the political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the premise that these political parties never won any election, since they have been contesting elections since 1999. This led to series of protests by these political parties which said INEC had no such constitutional powers to delist them. Some of the cases are still in court.

What was however funny about the whole process and the issue of smaller political parties was the fact that despite the fact that INEC claimed that those delisted could not perform, it kept registering more political parties. This was the reason why in the last general election, the country had over 25 political parties with only about 16 of them eligible to contest the last general elections. Between 1999 and 2015 there had also been formations of other political parties, which dominated their catchment areas. For instance in the south West, the Action Congress (AC)  and later Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)came after the AD while in the North, there was the CPC the platform which General Buhari used for his 2011 Presidential election. There were the Progressives Peoples Alliance which the former Abia State Governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu formed, there was also the emergence of Nigerians Peoples Party, All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA) the Labour Party, (LP), the Accord Party (AP) KOWA, Social Democratic Party (SDP), Democratic Alliance (DA.  Some of these parties contested the last general elections.

Although few of them had pockets of seats in some states and the National Assembly, the issue being constantly raised politically is the future of some of these political parties. Some of them were not known before the election and the fact that the election had come and gone, they may not be heard any more until probably when another election is coming.  Many don’t have offices or fulfill the national spread as stipulated by INEC. They only exist on paper. It was also being argued that with the bigger ones which were in control of many states coming together to fuse into one, what then would become the faith of the smaller ones who since they have been in existence have not gained the control of even a local government in any part of the country.

Political observers believed that if political parties like the ACN ANPP, CPC and even a segment of APGA could come together to form a formidable party, then, the future of these smaller political parties is bleak.  But leaders of some of these political parties would not agree that they have no future in the political set up of this country. They believed that Nigeria operating with bigger political parties could lead the country to a one party or two party states, which to them is not good for Nigeria. They believed that though they may not be popular today but if they continue as a political party, some of them could develop to a stage where they would be able to win election and which may not primarily be Presidential, governorship but could be local government, councillorship, state assembly and even national assembly.

One of the top party  members of APGA Owelle Godson Obi, former Chairman of Orumba South Local government and the coordinator of the Senatorial campaign for Dr. Earnest Ndukwe in the last 2015 general election said that some of the political parties especially APGA could not be said to be small because  they control only a state. He argued that some of these political parties have representatives at the States and National Assemblies like the so called bigger political parties. He said what these political parties need is to reposition themselves so that they would be able to win elections in the places where they are popular or where their candidates are very popular. Obi posited that right now APGA would swoon embark on a repositioning exercise which would be driven by its only governor Chief Willie Obiano, Saying that all the things  that would transform APGA and reposition it as a better political party in the East and the whole country would manifest during the parties congress when new people with vision would be put at the helms of affairs.  He argued that the problems of the so called smaller parties have always been lack of fund, and wrong choice of people to represent them. He was also of the opinion that the bigger parties win elections because of the money bags in them and not that they have more respected, credible and trusted candidates than some of the smaller political parties. but for the fact that they have more money. According to him, things are now changing and this change reflected in the last general elections which saw some of the big names in the country who could not make it in the bigger political parties moving to the smaller one to fulfill their political aspirations. He pointed out that if these people stay in their new political parties things would change for better and there won’t be the need for people rushing to grab political positions elsewhere.

Also,  the Director of Publicity and strategy of the Social Democratic Party in Oyo State, Alhaji Wale Adele argued that those called smaller parties if they are properly managed could dominate their environment. He made specific reference to the AC which initially had one State but later controlled the entire region before it fused into the present APC. He said the SDP with the caliber of people in it could become something big if people in the party are still together saying it is a political party that can spring a big surprise in future.

Meanwhile it was argued in some quarters that much should not be expected from the smaller political parties in Nigeria because of the attitude of the politicians who are not always contented with what they have or not wanting to remain in a place to build it. Nigerian politicians according to Alhaji Bolaji Kareem former Commissioner of Works in Oyo state and a chieftain of the APC in the State,   Nigerian politicians are not patient and consistent because they always want to go to where thing are rosy. Alhaji Kareem who was also the former secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Oyo State, and presently the Coordinator of the Institute of Journalists In Ibadan argued that consistency was important in politics but since we don’t have this in Nigeria, it would be difficult for the smaller political parties to survive To him’’ it is better to have big political parties to compete so that Nigerians would have different options at any giving time. They want to vote.’’

What political observers also argued that could not make the smaller political parties survive in the present Nigeria’s political climate was the quest for power. And that was why many Nigerians queried the rationale behind someone like the incumbent governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko dumping the Labour party under the platform he came to power back to his former     PDP, Chief  Kalu dumping his Progressives Peoples Alliance and Gbenga Daniel abandoning the political party he formed in 2011, when these notable Nigerians could have stayed behind to nurture the parties in their respective areas and made it relevant which they said could have giving us a good beauty of democracy as practiced in some developed nation of the world.