There is much talk going at the moment amongst the political class of coalitions, alliances and mergers. The general consensus seems to be that the election machine of the PDP will simply be unstoppable come 2011 and the only way that non-PDP politicians can have a say is by forming a coalition (or coalitions). The story bubbled earlier in the year as legislators debated whether to include a two-party amendment into the Electoral Reform Bill, on that occasion the idea was shot down, albeit after some political manoeuvring, but nonetheless it raised the profile of the grand coalition agenda. The idea was first floated by the â€˜love-him-or-hate-himâ€™ Godfather of Nigerian politics, General Babangida, in the â€˜Third Regimeâ€™ and eventually lead to what was considered the freest and fairest elections ever held in Nigeria which was contested between the National Republican Convention and the Social Democratic Party ( Who won the election with candidate MKO Abiola).
As the elections have drawn nearer, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) are reported to be in talks over an alliance (but probably not a merger) with the All Nigerian People Party (ANPP) and their splinter party the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). In addition to all the politicians who are criss-crossing the carpet from one party to the other, Presidential aspirant Pat Utomi of the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP), the day after announcing his candidacy indicated on his Facebook page that he would be â€˜going round Nigeria to build a coalition with ALL progressivesâ€™. The question is now why the sudden clamour for unity?
There are two scenarios here that though inter-related are best looked at separately. The first of which was that raised in May in the legislature, where The National Assembly sort to pass an amendment limiting the parties allowed to run to two. The argument being that a two-party system is a stable political system that has succeeded in polities all over the world (and indeed in Nigeria albeit briefly) and will have a number of beneficial consequences include reduced cost of elections, greater accountability and higher participation. As such it was advisable to have it in law. This move although apparently supported by many was opposed by PDP legislators, but is also opposed by a number of academics who contend that besides the problems of rigidity and restricted choice this may imply, the emergence of two-party politics in the US or Japan or for that matter anywhere in the world has never been induced by the passing of law or amendment of constitutions. These changes have always happened by evolution, with two parties emerging as dominant over time but with the existence of other parties not expressly outlawed. This is of course the second scenario for Nigeria, that parties will splinter and merge, grow and wither and two parties will emerge; one of which in all likelihood has already emerged, The PDP.
There is a degree of inevitability about as French sociologist Maurice Duverger outlined in what became known as his principle. Duvergerâ€™s law asserts that a plurality election system, like the one that exists in Nigeria, tends to encourage a two party system, as opposed to a system of proportional representation which tends to favour a multiparty system. The argument being that in a country like Nigeria, where each legislative seat (and the Presidency) is divided by a simple majority of votes casted by constituents, the party with the most seats is the majority (or gains the Presidency) and the second party is in minority (or is in opposition). In each individual seat there is no role for the party that comes third, and any party that consistently comes third across the seats will have no role at all on a national level. People will stop voting for them as they will begin to see it as a wasted vote and/or the party itself will seek to ally itself with one of the more successful parties. This model has been applied to analysis of the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom and is widely accepted, however it is only a theory and it is the practice of politics that concerns Nigerians.
This would be a good time for the opposition parties to unite. The PDP is suffering a dip in support; people are dissatisfied after 12 years of the party in Government. The pressure for free and fair elections is overwhelming, this combined with the cheap publicity via modern technology means that the elections will be more open than in previous idea. The concept of a non-partisan coalition chimes with the electorate and the theme of change that the parties are planning to run on and cooperation might give them the financial muscle to challenge the PDPâ€™s hegemony. In practice, amalgamation looks unlikely. Though the parties are currently in talks with the view to some sort of understanding, there are a number of issues in the way so much so that Alhaji Bafarawa (formerly of the Democratic Peopleâ€™s Party (DPP), now of the ACN) has come out to dispel talk of an alliance as just that, talk.
â€œAs a democrat and I believe ACN is a democratic party. Whoever that is taking our ticket must be our member. I am assuring you there is no way ACN will adopt a presidential candidature without recourse to democracy. There is no way merger will work”
The CPC is a splinter of the ANPP and such is unlikely to enter any coalition with them, leaving the ACN to choose a suitor. The major problem hindering any agreement is that there is no real acknowledgement of who is the â€˜secondâ€™ party and who is the â€˜thirdâ€™, in other words who will be senior and who will be junior partner. The CPC is a new party that although has considerable support particularly in the North, has no tangible political assets to bring to the table. The ANPP despite its state Governors and significant stake in the legislator has taken some political blows as a result of the defections that have plagued the party this year. The ACN would seem to be perched in the driving seat with the popular acclaim for Governor Fashola of Lagos and its recent court successes in the South-West, however they donâ€™t appear to be able to put forward a heavy hitting presidential candidate and such seem to be very much playing second fiddle to the other parties. The latest gossip is that the coalition will be between the CPC and the ACN, with former head of state, General Buhari, being lined up as the presidential candidate with a running mate from the ACN, possibly former governer of Lagos State, Mr Tinubu.
If a deal is struck, there will be a number of losers including ACN aspirant, Mallam Ribadu, who seems to have been overlooked as well as Pat Utomiâ€™s SDMP and a whole host of smaller parties who will have little or nothing to bring to the table. However, in this writerâ€™s opinion a deal is not likely to be struck, Nigerian politicians are not well known for their cooperation or their selflessness. For progress to be made one or more parties will have to give up their claim to the presidency and accept a diminished role. The parties will have to choose a platform on which to run and that is proving a sticking point at the moment as all sides would want to preserve their political capital by running on their own party ticket. Then there is the question of what will happen in the likely situation that the PDP retains power, the PDP currently has 26 of the 36 gubernatorial seats while the other parties combined have only 10. What are the realistic prospects of any coalition continuing beyond the elections and forming a credible opposition? One can only speculate and on some level that is the problem in Nigeria, there is no power in opposition and so every election is winner takes all. Duvergerâ€™s theory doesnâ€™t hold up for Nigeria because there is no second place, no shadow cabinet, in effect no opposition. Opposition that should be shadowing government activity, scrutinizing government agenda and formulating alternative policies simply doesnâ€™t exist. It should act as check on the party in power and should fight to get the upper hand on its opponent by reflecting the will of the people. So this brings us back to the first scenario and perhaps instead of the National Assembly trying to legislate on a two party system, they should legislate on reform to the Assembly that will allow for or even require credible opposition and maybe this will bring about the evolution of a two-party system if it is indeed inevitable.
Enyinnaya Emmanuel Chukwueke
Green Label Project, Changing Nigeria Together