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Too many parties spoil the cook

[FILE PHOTO] Election Poll

Nigerian politicians are presenting Nigerians with a plethora of choices in the coming general elections.

As of now, the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, has stated that more than 70 candidates would be vying for the presidency.

I guess there may be more than 1000 candidates running for the office of governors. Those vying for the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Houses of Assembly may run into tens of thousands.

You can just imagine the kind of harvests the political parties are making in this season of summer when the harvest is big and the farmers are plentiful and the market of politics is roaring at the neighbourhood.

If the truth be told, politics is the only business in town or else if you are lucky to own a Pentecostal church or you are in league with some lucky imams with unpronounceable names spelt in classical Arabic.

There is no way the electorates would not be confused with 73 presidential candidates. It makes the process cumbersome and less transparent. It mutilates the democratic choice of the people. I wish there is something we can do about it.

One erstwhile presidential candidate who has retreated from the marathon is Dr Olusegun Mimiko, the Iroko of Ondo State politics who is Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s immediate predecessor.

Mimiko has retreated and is now gunning for the Senate and am sure he would make a big impact in the election. On the national scene and as a presidential candidate of the novel Zenith Labour Party, he would have ended up as an also-ran.

Nigerians have always express preference for a two party-state or at least few parties but they simply did not know how to get there.

General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who ruled Nigeria for eight eventful years until he fled office in 1993, attempted to decree a two party structure for Nigeria.

His two parties were the Social Democratic Party, SDP and the National Republican Convention, NRC. For him, the SDP was “a little to the left;” and the NRC, “a little to the right.”

It took a long journey for Babangida to arrive at that no-destination including setting up an Institute for Democratic Studies where politicians and public office holders would be taught on how to become proper democrats.

He built party offices in all the states of the federation and in all local government headquarters and appointed officers for them. The government directly funded the parties and party apparatchiks were cruising about in official cars.

But Babangida two-party system failed the ultimate test. It did not survive. Chief Moshood Abiola won the presidency in the June 12, 1993 presidential election on the platform of the SDP.

Babangida annulled Abiola’s victory and when Nigeria erupted in revolt, he fled, but not before he installed an Interim National Government, ING, headed by boardroom titan, Chief Ernest Shonekan, a former chairman of the United African Company, UAC, Plc.

General Sani Abacha, who seized power from Shonekan in November 1993, wanted a one party state that would perpetuate his rule under the guise of democracy.

He formed alliances with fellow African dictators like Muamar Gadhafi of Libya, Field Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko of then Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and Jerry Rawlings of Ghana and sought to learn their ways.

He threw Chief Abiola into detention and hounded his leading supporters, who escaped jail or assassination, into exile.

In the end, Abacha founded five parties and all of them were to work as one. The late Chief Bola Ige, first elected-governor of old Oyo State, dubbed them “the five fingers of a leprous hand.”

Then Abacha died suddenly in 1998 and following the short interregnum of General Abdulsalami Abubakar under whose charge Abiola died, the politicians were back in business. They struggled to form only two parties, the People’s Democratic Party and the All Peoples Party, APP. They knew Nigerians wanted only two parties and the political leaders tried very hard to work towards that goal.

However, not everyone would like to associate with those chorus boys of the Abacha era, especially when they wanted to take commanding positions in the two parties.

Thus the influence of the Abacha people destroyed the original APP and the Alliance for Democracy, AD was formed.

In the end, the AD and the APP jointly fielded one presidential candidate in the 1999 general elections, Chief Olu Falae who picked his running mate Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, from the APP.

Chief Falae lost to the PDP candidate, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military Chief of State who was a leading political prisoner during the Abacha era.

Nigerians were about settling down to a future of two or three parties when Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the great human right crusader and legal titan, intervened.

He took INEC to court for not registering his National Conscience Party, NCP, he won. Since then, INEC has registered an army of parties.

Now the army is rampaging. How do they expect Nigerians to make a choice out of 73 presidential candidates? In truth, the choice still boils down to only two: Major-General Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling APC and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, the flag bearer of the opposition PDP, once the government party of the ancient regime.

I don’t know of any Nigerian who can name more than 10 presidential candidates. I don’t know whether there is any woman among them.

In 2015, Professor Remi Sonaiya, the presidential candidate of Kowa party, showed herself to be a formidable debater who understood the issue. She made a noticeable ripple but did not do enough to change the course of the river.

Our politicians need to make conscious effort to create a formidable alliance that could offer credible change.

We know this is a tough assignment, but there is no alternative if our democracy is to endure. If this is not done, we may end up with a one party state.

An example was in India which from independence in 1948 had been dominated by the Congress Party.

Ultimately the same family produced three prime ministers; the father, the daughter and the grandson. Yet India is the world largest democracy which for many years presented the people with choices but hardly any alternative.

What our politicians need to work on is a credible alternative at both the federal and state levels. In some states, some party lords have become like traditional rulers dispensing favours like chieftaincy titles.

During the Second Republic, serious attempts were made to create a credible alternative to the NPN behemoth.

There were only five parties in 1979; the NPN, the Unity Party of Nigeria, and All Nigerians Peoples Party, ANPP, the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP and the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP.

Towards 1983, the National Electoral Commission, NADECO, registered another party, the Nigerian Advanced Party, NAP.

During the First Republic, our leaders also tried to end up with only two giant political alliances, the Nigerian National Alliance of the Northern People’s Congress, NPC led by Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, led by Chief Ladoke Akintola.

On the opposite side was the United Progressive Grand Alliance, UPGA led by Dr Michael Okpara of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group.

It was the military coup of January 15, 1966 that arrested the full development of Nigeria into a polity dominated by two parties or at least two big political alliances.

The plethora of parties must be a logistic nightmare for INEC especially in the printing of ballot papers. It is also creating nightmarish scenarios on the national scene in some states.

Though election is next month, many parties are still in court over their candidates, especially for the governorship and presidential elections.

Last Sunday, Ibikunle Amosun, the APC governor of Ogun State led Adekunle Akinlade, the governorship candidate of the Allied People’s Movement, APM, to President Muhammadu Buhari.

We don’t know what they discussed but the four men came out smiling at the camera. I know one former President who would have driven Amosu out of the villa with his protégé of another party. But our dear President is now a born-again democratic, open-minded and large-hearted.

He is tolerant like a successful polygamist and welcomes all tributaries like the mighty Niger. The fall guy here is Akinlade. It is not easy, especially in Africa and more especially in Yorubaland, to have two fathers.

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