Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Add this to your chapter on Nigerian political parties

An op-ed piece that analyzes the importance of the "new" opposition party in Nigeria. Your textbook won't include any of this.

Welcome to a Two-Party State
At the end of November, Nigeria’s political landscape experienced a seismic shift as five governors and a number of members of the House of Representatives and Senators renounced their membership of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and decamped en masse to the increasingly powerful opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
Citing disgruntlement with the actions of President Goodluck Jonathan and PDP chair Bamanga Tukur, the defected governors and APC released a joint announcement declaring that they had no choice but join forces “in order to rescue our fledgling democracy and the nation.”

In response, the PDP tried to both downplay the merger, with spokesperson Olisa Metuh, remarking that “the defectors have embraced a narrow group of ethnic and religious bigots whose main intention is to unleash a state of anarchy on Nigeria. We remain unperturbed as we are now rid of detractors and distractions."

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the PDP, which has dominated the political scene ever since Nigeria returned multi-party elections in 1999, is facing by far the strongest challenge to its authority in its history…

As president, Jonathan has had to contend with all manner of well-documented economic, structural and security troubles facing Nigeria, but it has probably been the infighting within his own party that has most frequently kept him up at night…

One of the main cleavages in Nigeria is the division between north and south, and to resolve this, the PDP had an unwritten agreement that the presidency would alternate between a northerner and southerner, each holding office for two four-year terms. In addition, any president from the north would have a deputy from the south, and vice versa.

In 2007, after 8 years under southerner Olusegun Obasanjo, northerner Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was elected president… The PDP’s rotational system seemed to be working until in 2010, Yar’Adua died from complications arising from a protracted illness…

However, disgruntlement within the PDP is not all related to north-south politicking. Jonathan has also been accused of running the party undemocratically to shore up his own authority…

The five governors who joined the APC last month… means that the APC has 16 of Nigeria’s 36 governors, while the PDP has 18… and that if you add up voter populations in the states held by the APC as compared to those held by the PDP, the opposition party’s states account for 52% of the electorate.

Although the tide has been turning for some time, the dramatic events of this past year have carved out a new era of Nigerian politics. What this brave new world will look like remains to be seen. The PDP is still reeling from its high-level defections, while the APC has yet to demonstrate whether its ambitions and visions extend beyond just defeating the PDP.

Nevertheless, political analyst Raymond Eyo believes the shift in Nigeria’s political landscape can only be a good thing for democracy. “The defections will benefit the Nigerian people as it deepens democracy and will lead to the enhancement of a two-party system that is more competitive and can be more productive than the present dominant one-party rule,” he says.

Indeed, after nearly 15 years of PDP rule and dominance in which the real decisions over presidents have been made in the party’s corridors of power rather than at the ballot box, many ordinary Nigerians are thirsty for change. Citizens are tired of scandal after scandal revealing high-level corruption, of crucial bills that could reform faltering sectors stagnating in the Senate and House of Representatives, and of political squabbling overshadowing all else in government. Nigeria’s political scene may be in turmoil, but some will be thinking that that’s exactly what was needed.

The author of this analysis is Lagun Akinloye, a British Nigerian who studied Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. He is particularly interested in the history and politics of West Africa, specifically Nigeria. In addition to his role at Think Africa Press, Lagun is an executive member of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK.

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