Types of Party Systems in Nigeria

There are several party systems adopted by countries that practice democracy across the globe.  Since gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria has attempted democratic rule four times, however, the first two attempts were not so successful. In the Third Republic and the current Fourth Republic, two different types of party systems have been adopted during their respective dispensations. This article seeks to discuss the type of party system that has been practised and is currently practised in Nigeria. Read on. 

Types of Party Systems in Nigeria

The types of party systems in Nigeria would be discussed below: 

  • Two-Party System 

The two-party system is one of the major types of party systems practised by several democracy-practicing nations, such as the United States. As the name implies, only two political parties are concerned with conquering power or keeping it. Sometimes, however, there might be a third party, but the elective positions for grasp usually go to the top two political parties usually placed on either side of the centre. This type of party system was practised in Nigeria from 1991 to 1993, which was commonly referred to as the Third Republic. 

The first and second attempts at democracy in Nigeria were disrupted by the military. After the coup that disrupted the Second Republic in 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari’s military government placed a ban on political activity in the country in May of that year. Six years after political activity in Nigeria was banned by the General Buhari administration, President Ibrahim Babaginda on assuming office lifted the ban on party politics in May 1989. This was done in preparation to hand over to civilian government. 

Based on the directives of the then-military President Ibrahim, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) was to register two political parties out of the 13 political associations that existed at the time. These two parties were required to be drawn from a national basis, rather than a regional or tribal basis. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) couldn’t stamp its authority on any of the 13 political associations that applied to take up the two slots as it felt that none of them fulfilled the requirements. 

Consequently, the military President announced the creation of two new political parties, namely the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC).  The political position of the Social Democratic Party was centre-left while that of the National Republican Convention was centre-right. 

In December 1991, gubernatorial and state legislative elections were held in Nigeria with only the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention on the ballot. A month later, in January 1992, the gubernatorial and state legislative candidates that were successful at the polls took office. The presidential election did not follow immediately, rather it was postponed to June 12, 1993, due to the political unrest that existed at the time. 

The June 12 presidential election of 1993 was between Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). MKO Abiola’s performance at the polls was great as he came out tops in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, the military polling stations, and in over two-thirds of Nigerian States. MKO Abiola even defeated Bashir Tofa in the latter’s hometown. 

Eleven days after the June 12 presidential election, Ibrahim Babaginda annulled the election that MKO Abiola won based on all indications. This remains one of the most controversial decisions in Nigeria’s contemporary history. IBB was faced with mounting pressure on both the international and home fronts, leading to his resignation on August 23, 1993. Ernest Shonekan assumed the position of head of the interim national government, but he was unable to manage the political uprising that resulted from the annulment. With the annulment, political parties were proscribed, thus putting an end to the short-lived two-party system. 

  • Multi-Party System 

During the Abacha regime, five political parties were registered in a bid to transfer power back to civilian rule. But after the death of Abacha in June 1998, General Abdulsalam Abubakar upon taking the reins of power dissolved those parties and cancelled all the elections that were conducted. General Abdualsalami rolled out a fresh transition programme and set up the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). 

For the 1998 local government election, INEC granted provisional registration to nine (9) political parties. The conditions to attain full registration were for the parties to score at least 10% of the total votes cast in 24 states. Only three political parties were able to meet the requirement. These were the Alliance for Democracy (AD), All Peoples Party (APP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). 

These three parties contested for the elective positions in the 1999 general election. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came out tops as Olusegun Obasanjo won the presidential election and a large portion of the elective positions were won by PDP candidates. 

By August 2022, the number of political parties grew to 6 following the addition of the United Peoples Party (UNPP), National Democratic Party (NDP), and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Later in 2002, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and others took INEC to court over the electoral umpire’s tough requirements for political party registration. The courts ruled that INEC should throw open the doors for the mass participation of political parties in political activities in the country. As a result, there were 30 registered parties by December 2002. 

There were concerns, however, about the PDP’s nationwide dominance in the first 16 years of the Fourth Republic. Many feared Nigeria was tilting to a one-party system, at least at the federal level. However, the coalition of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPP) in early 2013 ultimately led to the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and brought about a stiffer opposition, which saw the APC win the presidency and won the majority of the seats in both federal legislative chambers.

Though Nigeria now practices a multi-party system, only a few parties win the majority of the positions. For example, in 2019, 91 political parties were registered but the APC and the PDP were the major contenders for the elective positions. Similarly, in the 2023 election, 18 political parties featured presidential candidates but only the APC, PDP, LP, and a distant fourth ANPP were contenders. Needless to say, most political parties have been unlucky in clinching power at the polls in Nigeria. 

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