LawPolitics

Is Nigeria Sliding Towards A One-Party State?

OZEKHOME

By PROF MIKE OZEKHOME, SAN, CON, OFR.

INTRODUCTION
“I like the noise of democracy.”
James Buchanan Jr.

The lie that Nigeria is operating a multi-party system of politics or government, with a whopping 18 legally registered political parties (see: INEC, 2023), is daily being perforated by the actual practice of politics (realpolitik, as the Germans call it) in the country; a classic example of appearance being way different from reality.

The body language of Nigerian politicians—and the atmosphere of its political trajectory—has always been tilted in favour of at best a two-party and at worst, a one-party set-up. This could be traced back to the First Republic, during the clash of the alliances between the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) and the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), well into the Second Republic when the dominant ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) sought to smother into oblivion any voice of dissent or opposition but rather foist on the opposition, the Hobson’s choice of choosing between either entering the Big Tent of the NPN, or facing a well-oiled witch-hunt.

This is usually climaxed either in having some opposition actors being hacked to death by the assassin’s axe or being rammed into distant goals (better described as ‘dissenters centres’) from their habitats, on various trumped-up charges. A bad precedent was thus set; and it came to become one which would be so faithfully followed for much of the past sixty-three years, by whichever set of its disciples made a majority in the Government of the day, otherwise called ‘the ruling party’.

DEFECTIONS AND STOMACH INFRASTRUCTURE: THE LINK
The ruling party syndrome (or ‘party spirit’, as George Washington, America’s first and greatest president, once termed it), has continued to plague and foul the Nigerian political space with its corrosive stifling and depletion of opposition or alternative voices, so much so that since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria continues to totter precariously on the precipice of one-party politics or government.

The situation has got to its worst nadir since the last general elections of 2023. With the spate of defections (or decampments), anti-party activities, and spineless opposition at the federal and state legislature levels of late, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has since emerged the behemoth winner, clawing at the foundations of the nation’s democracy like a leviathan. And its ever-yawning jaws are closing in on the rest of the other seventeen (17) registered political parties.

 

The death of Opposition is nigh and the fate of democracy in Nigeria is benighted against a bleak socio-political one-party future. It makes one wonder what politics Nigeria is really operating. A co-operative for people-oriented service or a trusteeship for egotistic personal vendetta? The reality appears to be a woeful weave of the two. My OZEKPEDIA neologism either coined or rephrased this genre of politics as “Akpu”, or “Edikang ikon”, “tuwo shinkafa”, or politics of “omisaghue and amato”.

Ozekpedia has also termed it “come-and-chop”, or “chop-I-chop” politics. Maverick politician ang great achiever, Ayodele Fayose (Peter the Rock), former governor of Ekiti State, once called it “stomach infrastructure” politics. Before Fayose, colourful Nigerians such as Busari Adelakun (Eruobodo) and Lamidi Adelabu had coined “Amala” or “Gbegiri” politics.

All refers to the sorry non-ideological stance of Nigerian politicians (sorry, “Politricians” according to OZEKPEDIA) where over 90% of leading lights and major players in the APC today were once the controllers of the PDP (now a mere shadow opposition).

WHAT IS POLITICS?
This simple question of what the essence of politics is all about has agitated great minds for centuries. No definition is quite exhaustive. A few shed some directive light. One was so brief or flippant it acquired a universal notoriety. It is “who gets what, when and how”. This was by Harold Dwight Lasswell, a leading American political Scientist, Communications theorists and Law Professor at Yale University. The question that comes to mind then becomes, “Who gets what?”

The answer to this poser could be found in the etymology of the word politics, which is the Greek word ‘politiká’, meaning “affairs of the cities”. Without undue resort to polemics devoid of practicality, it is our submission that power is the search result of politics.

So, the question “Who gets what, when and how?” acquires the reply POLITICAL POWER. Now, politics is the ways and means of acquiring political power, which is the power an individual requires to partake in the politics of his country for the formulation and implementation of positive policies directed towards the welfare of the country.

Appadorai defines politics simply as “the science concerned with the State and of the conditions essential to its existence and development”: see The Substance of Politics (1975) 11th ed., p. 4. Put in homely metaphor, politics is therefore the avenue through which the venue for the consecration of the “affairs of the cities” is routed. And nations have blazed and failed on the effect of their politics!

MULTI OR ONE PARTY- QUO VADIS, NIGERIA?
The looming spectre appears to be a gradual gravitation towards a one-party system of Government. How? Of Nigeria’s 36 States, APC, the ruling party, controls a majority of 20 states. PDP trails behind with 13 states; while the Labour Party (LP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the New Nigeria People’s Part (NNPP) clutches on to one state a piece.

For APC to override any decision of the entire Governor’s forum (if we go by two-third majority vote), all it needs to do is to pluck out four governors from PDP, APGA, LP and NNPP. Sikena! Opoo!!

Coming to the National Assembly (NASS), the APC is also dominant. Of the 109 Senators in the Upper Red Chambers of the NASS, APC tops with 60; PDP 37; LP 8; SDP 2; and APGA 1. Two-thirds of 109 Senators is 73.80, for APC to have its way through in the Upper Chamber on matters that requite two-third majority votes, all it needs to do is to lobby and get additional 13 Senators from the other parties – a mere piece of cake, based on the non-ideological “come-and-chop” politrics we presently operate in Nigeria.

The same is the story in the 360-member Chambers of the House of Representatives (the Green Chambers).
Is this movement towards a one-party state good for Nigeria? does it allow for plurality of ideas and strong democratic precepts? We shall now look at the gamut of all these.

WHAT ARE POLITICAL PARTIES?
A political party is a vehicle for the attainment of political power. This vehicle usually contains a group of citizens who act together as a political unit and seek to obtain control of the Government or take part in it. Political parties articulate the desires of the masses they represent. They give life to politics, educate the electorate and help in carrying on elections. They may act as watchdogs of Government depending on the system of party politics in practice in the polity.

 

DIFFERENT TYPES OF PARTY SYSTEM
A party system is the adopted way by which the Government of a country allows political participation through political parties. It is the system of government by political parties in a democratic state. There are various types of party system practised all over the world. The most common are:
(a) One-party system;
(b) Multi-party system.

ONE-PARTY SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT
As the name implies, in a one-party system of government, the train of political power or politics travels on a monorail. Only one political party is legally eligible to vie for power.

All other parties aside the ruling party are banned. Although they may exist in closets; they must remain closeted to all political intents and purposes. It is a case of Either,—no Or! In the world today, countries that practise one-party system of government include Russia, China, Bulgaria, Rumania, Finland, Yugoslavia, North Korea, Cuba, and Czechoslovakia.

They are usually Communist countries, with the Communist Party as the one and only recognized political party. A one-party system is characterized by the presence of only one legally recognized political party, absence of an official opposition, absence of opposition parties during elections, limitation in the scope of political education, sameness of the state and the ruling political party and presence of only one political ideology, if any. A one-party system has its advantages and disadvantages. It is to these we now turn.

ADVANTAGES OF A ONE-PARTY SYSTEM
The following are the reasons why a one-party system is preferred by all the countries that practise it. They include:
(a) Political Stability: a one-party system of government is characterized by political stability as there is usually a long-term security of tenure or a life-tenure into the bargain. The incidence of deadly power struggle amongst political parties with the attendant orgy of blood, arson, pains and pangs is removed. Divisive tendencies are eliminated or nipped in the bud.

(b) Speedy Decision-making: Socio-political decisions are reached much more quickly and easily because there are no much nay-sayers in the absolutist system. The decision of the party is always right. And because of this centralized decision-making process, the decisions made are more focused, direct and result-oriented.

(c) Less Expensive: A one-party system is easy to run because it is usually shorn of all the heavy expenditure that is required to run a multi-party government. There are usually fewer avenues for the wasting of scarce national and individual resources.

(d) Ensures National Integration: A one-party system promotes national unity because every step of the government is taken or seen to be taken in the best interest of the nation, not the leaders. Political, cultural, religious, ethnic or tribal fears are allayed, because they are hardly allowed to rear their ugly heads in the first place. There is a reduction or outright absence of sectionalism, favouritism, prebendalism, tribalism or ethnic and religious bigotry.

(e) Ensures continuous Economic Development: In a one-party system, the incidence of tenure-based development as happens in a multi-party system where elections could be easily won by any political party than the ruling party and thus government changed unexpectedly from time to time as happened in Nigeria in 2015, is totally removed or drastically reduced. Here, the government’s security of tenure gives it time to plan and execute developmental programmes on a long-term basis for the benefit of the people.

(f) Useful in Times of National Emergencies: A one-party government is always together and speaks with one voice in times of national emergencies. The interest of the country as represented by the ruling party is always ensured and protected.

(g) In a one-party system of government, no much time is wasted or dissipated in unnecessary media war, criticism, squabbles, and high-powered political propaganda. Every member of the society has a stake or is made to believe they have a stake in the government and works to build rather than pull it down. The usual centripetal and …

DISADVANTAGES OF A ONE-PARTY-SYSTEM
The following are the reasons why a one-party system should be avoided in favour of more liberal or democratic ones as will be discussed anon. They include:
(a) Prone to Dictatorship: In a one-party system, the ruling party sees itself as the state (L’Etat, c’est moi – I am the state – by Kind Louis XIV of France, 13th April, 1655). It acts and reacts arbitrarily and whimsically without much consideration to external interests, rights or suggestions. Any form of opposition is seen as treasonable, and must be crushed. Tolerance is obfuscated. There is no supremacy of the law but of the leaders. Political debate is stifled and the words of the leader of government become the law of the land.

(b) Breeds unbridled Corruption in Governance: It is said of power that it corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton). A one-party system of government could engender so much corruption as there is no opposition to criticize or speak against it. Nepotism, favouritism, prebendalism, sectionalism, tribalism, and other negative “isms” thrive in this government set-up.

(c) Lack of Accountability: In a one-party system where the government is not answerable to anybody but itself the government acts according to its whims and caprices. There are no checks and balances as the government has a blank cheque to do and undo as it pleases.

(d) Undemocratic: As the government is but a select class of the populace, the vast majority of the people are shut out of participation in the administration of their government. Democracy is stifled and the aspirations of the people asphyxiated.

(e) No Freedom of Choice: In a one-party system, imposition of leadership is the order of the day. The most unpopular, clueless candidate could be imposed on the nation without the opportunity given for his screening. Elections, if any, are conducted as a mere formality to rubber stamp the anointed.

(f) Hinders Development: A one-party system inhibits social development because important governmental policies, programmes and decisions are taken without consulting widely and subjecting same to constructive debate, criticisms and input. The progress of the leader of government is often equated with the progress of the society.

Rather than developing the country, the government spends taxpayers’ moneys in stockpiling very costly military hardware which they then use to harass and intimidate the masses of the people in order to maintain their iron grip on power.

(g) Citizens are reckoned as objects of the state and all social freedoms and liberties are crushed and their rights curtailed. Personal growth and innovation are hindered; and there is mutual distrust between the government and the governed.

(h) Breeds civil unrest and culminates in such social vices as armed banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, insurgency, terrorism and bloody insurrections, revolutions and overthrows. There are usually pent-up grievances, bad blood and sour emotions against the leadership class from the lot of the masses. Peace is enforced; no loyalty is real.

(i) The laws of the land could be amended at any time to serve the needs or ends of the government at the expense of the governed. Tenure elongation and other unconstitutional vices are committed with impunity.

(j) Civil rights are often abrogated. In these political enclaves, citizens exist rather than live. Fear hangs in the air, as the Big Brother might be watching, hearing and seeing!

MULTI-PARTY SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT
In his Gettysburg Address, delivered on the afternoon of 19th November, 1863, during the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States of America, defined democracy as “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

This definition has come to become the hanger from which to assess liberalism and/or authoritarianism in the enterprise of government or governance. In it is contained all the hallmarks of free, popular and untrammelled participation in governance or the political process, which is effectively achieved through the instrumentality of multiple political parties vying for political power, during periodic elections.

Multi-party system is that system of political participation that encourages the full and adequate participation of the people in politics, nay governance, through political parties or units of their own choosing. Countries that practise multi-party system include Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, the United States of America, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Tunisia, Ukraine, Turkey, India, Cameroon, Israel, Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, etc.

ADVANTAGES OF A MULTI-PARTY SYSTEM.
The following are some of the reasons why nations choose the multiple party system.
(a) Full Citizens’ Participation in Governance: The multi-party system encourages citizens from all walks of life to participate in the government of their country and contribute in the overall development of their society.

(b) Encourages Liberalism and Opposition: In a multi-party system, citizens are not gagged or caged; opposition is welcome and the ruling government is kept always on its toes by the timely constructive checks on the activities of Government. In Africa, the opposition is more active in South Africa, where the Economic Freedom Fighters, have held the ruling ANC to accountability since 2013.

(c) Prevents Despotism and Tyranny: The multi-party system does not guarantee a stronghold on government for too long. Periodically, elections are held and positions open to all to contest. Bad leaders are often booted out of office through the ballot and those who are elected into office rule with the constant reminder in their minds that only excellent service can guarantee them security in office.

(d) Allays Fears of the Minority: There are minority groups in every society. In a multi-party system where politics is free for all, minority groups can form themselves into parties, or form alliances with other minorities or parties to participate in governance. These reduce the resentment that festers in a system that restricts or restrains popular participation in governance or the electoral process.

(e) Helps in the Facilitation of Peaceful Change of Government: In a multi-party system of government, the process of changing government is always easy, as elections are held periodically and the electorate votes in the government of their own choosing. This allows for peaceful change of government.

(f) Encourages Voter Participation: Multi-party system ensures voter participation is usually high, because the electorate has the power to elect their leaders and have a strong say in the outcome of the elections that throw up their leaders. They feel valued and this encourages active participation in the electoral process. It makes representation more real and public life more honest.

(g) Breeds a ready alternative force to displace and replace a non-performing government.

(h) Reduces the incidence of corruption in governance: Incidence of corruption is reduced because of the abundance of a watchful civil society community that follows up on the activities and programmes of government officials to make sure that the right thing is done always. Through them, many shady deals have been unearthed, exposed and the affected government officials named and shamed.

(i) Shared Responsibility: In a multi-party system governance, there is a shared responsibility. It is not the exclusive preserve of a few privileged and powerful lot. For this reason, the interest of the common good is put over and above personal considerations. Citizens view the government as their common patrimony and do everything to preserve and improve on it as patriotically as possible.

(j) Openness and transparency in government: In a multi-party system the resentment that festers amongst citizens when their voices are muffled by the ruling class in a one-party system is removed, and citizens express their grievances in more democratic ways instead of resorting to criminality, intrigues, subterfuge, insurrection, sabotage, vandalism, and vicious class struggle.

(k) Fear of the Electorate: The fear of what the electorate would do come next election makes the government to channel governmental presence by way of infrastructural development and provision of vital social amenities to every part of the country.

DISADVANTAGES OF A MULTI-PARTY SYSTEM
The following are some of the reasons why nations choose the multiple party system.

(a) Political Instability as a Result of Party Rivalry: As a result of the multiplicity of parties vying for the ultimate goal of ruling the country, it often degenerates into vicious and unhealthy rivalries amongst the various parties. The aim of politics then only becomes the securing of personal, sectional or partisan benefits rather than carrying out a programme of public policy. In the words of Alexander Pope, party politics becomes “the madness of the many for the gain of the few.”

(b) Encourages Division in the Polity: In climes like Africa where religion, tribalism, ethnicity and other primordial consideration inform the formation of political parties, the political parties are always at loggerheads with one another. This often leads to disagreements that invariably degenerates into bloody civil unrests and ethnic cleansing.

(c) Expensive and Corruption Prone: It is very expensive to operate and may engender official corruption. A multi-party system is usually very expensive to operate. Because many political parties are vying for power, they put so much money and other resources into the electioneering, with the hope that all expenses would we recouped once they win and take over government. This system of “investment politics” thus engenders high-octane official corruption and waste of the nation’s resources. In some countries, the cost of running elections are higher than the annual budgets! Many take bank loans and others sell landed properties to contest elections – they invest to reap.

(d) Confusion as to the Choice of credible Leaders: In a multi-party system where the parties are many and the candidates are surplus, the electorate could get confused in the choice that they make. Many factors could lead to this, namely, monetization of the electoral process, vote-buying, bribery, fake promises, lack of a single/national political ideology, and selfish interests.

(e) Leads to Compromise of Political Values: In a multi-party political system, it is may be very difficult for one political party to win election and control the government. In that wise, parties enter into alliances or coalitions to enable them achieve their goals. When such a government borne out of diverse political attitudes, cultures and values band together there is always bound to be clashes and conflicts of interest (centripetal and centrifugal), unhealthy compromises which have very negative impacts on the programmes of the government and the society.

(f) Creates Room for Electoral Malpractices.

(g) Retards national growth and development because of the need for the majority of the parties to agree before critical governmental decisions are made and implemented. And this inter-party consensus may always be difficult to arrive at.

(h) Engenders factional hatred which invariably lead to mutual distrust that defeats the purpose of government, which is the molding of national unity and consensus as well as the conditions essential to the development of the nation.

CONCLUSION
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter”-
Ecclesiastes 12: 13.

All men desire happiness. States exist for the purpose of bringing about the greatest happiness of the greatest number of its citizens. Government is the instrument the State employs for the actualization of this goal; and political parties are the routes or vehicles to government.

Therefore, parties are necessary for the formulation of government and a popular government is the delight of the masses. The success of the State and the respect it gets from the masses of its people is judged by the efforts it makes to give their rights—nay their lives—increasing meaning.

We have exhaustively discussed the system of attaining political power in a democracy with the searchlight beamed across the globe. We have discussed the one-party system and the multi-party system.

They have their advantages as well as their disadvantage, duly appraised and objectively construed. Only after one has gone through these two party systems of government with some objectivity would one realize the dilemma one is cut in in choosing one from the other.

But the litmus test of “the greatest happiness of the greatest number of its citizens” becomes our barometer (to measure or show the changes that happen in the economy, society or political space whether the system is run on one-partysm or multi-partysm), because the State exists for the sole good of the citizen. On this journey, therefore, the State is the means and the citizen the end.

If democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people” for the attainment of the “the greatest happiness of the greatest number of its citizens”, then it should leave wide open the Ark of politics for its multitude to enter in order that they may be rescued from the flood of tyranny of one man or one party calling the shots, for better or for worse.

It is on the basis of the above purpose of the State that this writer prefers the multi-party system, which seeks to accommodate and harmonize different interests and represents the interest of the majority and minority for the good of all; indeed that system which allows all men to join in the roaring chorus of democracy accompanied by the different percussion of its players.