Intra-party politics and the future of democracy in nigeria onyishi, anthony obayi university of nigeria

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The uneasiness between predilection of politician and the code of appropriate political conducts lies at the roots of political tensions in Nigeria’s nascent democracy. This refers specifically to the dissonance between the ambitions of socially, economically and politically strong men/women and weak institutional basis of political engagement. The autocratic character of intra-party relations has tended over time to underscore the ferocious character of politics, particularly since the onset of Nigeria’s post –military democratic experiment in 1999. For instance, about one fifths of people elected at different levels in the recently concluded National Elections are politicians who crossed over to opposition political parties on account of alleged unfair and undemocratic treatments by their original parties. This category of disgruntled party men only enlarged a pre-existing category constituted mainly by five Governors of the Peoples Democratic party (PDP) and their teeming followers, who had defected from their party, formed the New PDP and subsequently merged with the emerging opposition party – the All Progressives Congress (APC). Yet even within the latter, there had been wide spread allegations of intra-party autocracy and high handedness on the part of those gladiators who claim to own the Party. Accordingly, this paper sought answers to be following questions: is there appositive relationship between intra-party autocracy and electoral tensions in Nigeria? In what specific ways does the undemocratic process of choosing party candidates affect the power and choice of the electorate? Are political’ rules and regulations deliberately designed to grant undue advantage to their leading elites? Has the resumption of party politics expanded or circumscribed the democratic spaces available to the Nigeria electorate? Both documentary and survey research data were deployed to provide the bulk of the data which supported our analytical conclusions.
Key words: strong men – weak institutions – intra party politics – Nigeria –



Man makes and propels the evolution of socio-political institutions so as to forge networks of relationship, exercise a modicum of control in human conduct and regulate the process of human and societal development. This is principally why although institutions are products of man’s historic interaction in society the former also acts as breaks on and regulators of men and ineluctably impact on man’s conduct in ways that ensure societal order and, in most cases, peace and stability. So, man creates and evolves socio-political and economic institutions and these institutions in turn also nurture man and his society. In the majority of cases, therefore there is a presumption that socio-political institutions are invented and/or evolved to support man’s natural guest for progress.

Given the pivotal role of political parties in the provision of democratic ethnos and practice, it is pertinent to focus on the extent to which institutional ethnos are upheld by the dominant gladiators in Nigeria’s party system. This is more so, when intra-party rivalry tops the list of cases of political conflict in Nigeria. This raises another pertinent question regarding the character of party rules, regulations and constitution and the historically prevalent attitude of politicians toward party sanctioned rules. Another issue raised relates to the nature of inter-party relations and the accurate sources of its ferocity – is it the zeal to represent the people, the nation or the urge to fulfill personal ambition (in terms of political offices, access to public resources, prestige, etc.)? This, amongst other goals, seeks to interrogate the popularly held belief that intra-party hostilities arise from principled disagreements amongst key party players over key issues of politics and governance. It therefore focuses deeper on the possibility of intra-party warfare, itself embedded in the syndrome of the “strong man” overriding the party creed and breaking down the necks of the less powerful party members – a situation which produces the paradox of constitution makers being the first culprits of its violation, which raises the question, how and why do politicians display unremitting impunity in intra-party relations? How do they circumvent party rules? And what consequence does this bear for the subsequent inter-party electoral competition. In sum, what is the concrete rexus of intra-party animosity and ferocious inter-party electoral competition and what do all these entail for democracy in Nigeria?

A brief theoretical examination of “institution”

Let us at this point put the concept of Institution in perspective. The idea and practice of institutions have a long history. So we can only put the concept in historical perspective. This will in turn yield two major categories: the old and the new. But before we examine them an examination of a few definitions may be institutionalism may be in order. Cairney, (2012.75) has distilled six of such definitions:

* the organizational entity (such as the Nigerian National Assembly, the US Congress; a business organization, political party, bank or a family); and the rules, norms and strategies adopted by individuals operating within or across organizations (Ostrom2007:33);
* The areas within which policy making take place. They include the political organization, law and rules that are critical to the overall political system and they constrain how decision makers behave (John, 1998:38).
* Reflects habits and norms more likely to be evolved than to be created. But institutions also may be seen as architecture and as rules that determine opportunities and incentives for behavior (Rhodes, et al, 2006: vii).
* Building blocks of social order organizing behavior into predictable and reliable patterns (Steak and Thelen, 2005:9).
* Humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction (North, in Sanders, 2006:42).
These definitions though competing are by no means conflicting or contradicting. This wide field of definitional nuances has yielded two broad categories of institution namely, the old and new institutions. (See Onyishi 2014:13). Bell (2000:3-4) notes that in old institution, emphasis is on “charting formal-legal and administrative arrangements of government and the public sector”. With respect to this, political science’s main focus would be on political organizations and formal structures, such as the legislature, the executive (with its bureaucratic apparatus), the judiciary, political parties, the electoral system, the formal rules and principles that prescribe their standards of appropriate behavior. Beyond this, not much interest was hitherto displayed in building cumulative theory, through empirical studies of actual behavior (see also Shepsle1989:132, Easton 1971:77, Eckstan, 1979). Thus, descriptions took precedent over analysis and explanation. Accordingly, evaluation of processes to ascertain the level of fit between models of good performance and the actual output of political and administrative processes were scarcely the norm. the behavioral movement soon emerged to criticize this, but it went to extreme and soon began to see institutions – not only as synonyms of formal organizations – but also as “empty shells” into which individual roles, statuses and value are fitted (Shepsle 1989, 13:3). To this extent, “the obligations and duties” imposed by formal legal standards of the state were treated as secondary (March and Olsen, 1984:735). However, in the words of Bell (2000:4) “new institutionalism” amounts to bringing institutions back and its revival and expansion; an approach which, according to him, had been on since the 1980s.

Bell (1980) notes that in political science, there have been ample justification for therenewed interest in institutional analysis. First, social, political and economic institutions have become large, considerably more complex and resourceful, and, prima facie, are important to collective life (see also March and Olsen, 1984:744). Second, there has been a renewed interest in the state (without ideological bias). Third, the economic challenges of the 1970s and 1980s impelled institutional analyses for their solutions. Forth, for public policy to be well grounded, institutional reforms have become increasingly imperative. To take account of all these developments, new institutionalism has come to look at political, economic, legal and sociological sources of political behaviour. In sociology for instance, emphasis is put on the way in which institutional life establishes normative orientations and taken-for-granted practices that shape and influence behavior, often in subtle ways (Dimmagio and Powell, 1991 in Bell 2000:5). So, instead of the behaviouralist sole emphasis on the individual actor, to the virtual exclusion of institutions, the new institutionalism stresses both in appropriate degrees. Thus, Shipsle(1989 in Bell 2000:5) notes that institutions are the social glue missing from the behavioralist’s more atomistic account.

What this persuasive position means is that we need a meeting point for old institutionalism and behaviouralism, which is New Institutionalism. North’s (1990:3) fundamental elements of ‘institution’ rhyme neatly with the core import of new institutionalism: institution involves formal or written rules’, it is alsothe rules of the game of a society and humanly devised constraints that structure human interaction. In consequence, “they structure incentives in human exchange be it political, social or economic” (North 1990). From North’s definition, one key word is “constraints”, which can be operationalized as any form of “regulation” (constraints) that human beings devise to shape (control) relationships in society. To this extent, institutions are created from both formal and informal sources: the first includes those consciously created conditions, such as statutes, laws, regulations formal organizational structures, while the second includes conventions, norms of behavior and self-imposed order of conduct which evolve over time to attain a “taken-for-granted” status. A derivative element common to both forms becomes their enforcement characteristic: the ability of rules of behavior to be explicitly or implicitly enforced (see Onyishi, 2010, 2014).

Political parties are in themselves institutions since they encapsulate rules of behavior, both formal and informal. The role they play in the political process of any society is therefore quintessentially institutional roles. But they operate within a formal structural context which ought to shape the boundaries of their operations. Furthermore, the dominant norm orientation of the operators of the party system in Nigeria, as elsewhere in most emerging democracies, tends to display some dissonance that point to the uneasiness between formal rules and real rules of party conduct. Hence the conjuncture of old and new institutions seems to be marked. I refer specifically to the largely irreconcilable positions of certain dominant elements in the political parties and the formal rules of party politics designed by the founding fathers, ostensibly at least, to align with broad objective of advancing the national democratic cause. The institutional framework enables us to put in bold relief this seemingly irreconcilable goals of individual politicians and the broad objective of intraparty democracy etched on the sterling principles of equity, fair playand transparency, in choosing party candidates for broader inter-party electoral competition. The framework also, directs us to the underlying character of politics in Nigeria which intra-party crisis is but a manifestation: the character of the state, the nature of politics itself, the framing of electoral competition, etc.



The evolving character of Nigerian politics from the last quarter of the colonial period to the present is reflected in the changing character of her party politics. Thus, from the enactment of regionalism by Author Richards in 1946 through the short period during the First Republic lasted, two dominant factors shaped the character of intra-party relations/politics: ethno-religious and, to a lesser extent, some feigning of ideological commitment.

From the beginning of the 1950s, the two dominant political parties in the Northern and Western regions were unabashedly ethnical in intent and purpose – the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the Action Group (AG) were formed to, first and foremost, cater for regional interests and then participate in the national political affairs. One can comfortably posit that the last decade of the colonial era and the first decade of independence reflected a mixed grill of ethnic, clientelist and civic tendencies on the part of leading gladiators in the party system (Lewis: 2007: iii). The construction of identity and political attitudes accordingly toed these lines. Overall, however, it can scarcely be gainsaid that ethno-religious identity enjoyed relative saliency during this period. A few historical evidence may support this proposition. Tyoden (2012:5) avers that “in the cause of advancing its own goals and interests in Nigeria, the colonial authorities had deliberately encouraged the three dominant ethnic groups at the three regions – Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba – to develop and assert their separate social, cultural and even political identities and to pursue the issue of political self-determination from their separate, exclusive, regional-sectional perspectives.

Thus, the NPC and AG emerged from preexisting socio-cultural organizations created to promote ethnic-sectional interests and identities. The AG and NPC particularly sought to ensure that political powers in their regional domains were monopolized by members of their ethnic origins. The first ethnic-oriented political crisis in Western Nigeria became the direct outcome of this identity construction. The landmark party carpet crossing in the Western House of Assembly in 1951 sign-posted this. The leader of the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), Dr. NnamdiAzikiwe, was to be the Premier of Western Region following the victory of his party in the Western regional election. On the day of inauguration, the Yoruba members of the NCNC, who had earlier been intensely brain washed, decided to cross-carpet to the side of the Action Group – a purely Yoruba political party. To set off the exodus, one of the NCNC members (who is a Yoruba), got up and remarked, “Your Excellency”, referring to the Governor, who doubled as the House Speaker, “I don’t want to be part of a situation where Yoruba land would be set on fire, so I am crossing over to the other side”. And this heralded their crossover to the Action Group (Mbah, 2011:3). Consequently, the leader of the NCNC, an Ibo lost to the leader of the Action Group (AG), the Premiership position. The ploy underlying the crossover was just to deny Dr. NnamdiAzikiwe, an Ibo, the premiership position of the Western Region, even though being a resident of Lagos territory, he was constitutionally entitled to this. Consequently, Zik (as he was generally called by his political admirers) came under pressure to return to his home, the Eastern Region, to take up the premiership position. Significantly, again Zik could not achieve this without engendering another ethnic disaffection. Chief EyoIta, (an Efik) had been the leader of the NCNC in the Eastern region. But because the Ibos formed a very dominant majority in the Eastern Region, EyoIta was, as it were, shoved aside in order for Zik, the National leader of the NCNC to become the Premier, thus complicating the intra-party crisis in the NCNC.

In the North, the combined effects of the radical orientation of Aminu Kano and the perceived and actual marginalization of the Northern minorities lay at the root of intra-party crises during this period. Aminu Kano had opted out of the Arewa Cultural Group, which had metamorphosed into the Northern People’s Congress, to form the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). This was primarily to give expression to his “Talakawa” stance – a pseudo socialist ideological identity which targeted repudiation of the feudal identity of mainstream Northern political leadership. The formation of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) by Joseph Tanka, arallying figure of the Northern minorities, following incessant cases of marginalization from the dominant Hausa-Fulani political establishment, was another significant factor.

Issues of principle and civic orientation also played out later in western Nigeria in the First Republic (1960-1966) when the former premier, Chief LadokeAkintola, left the Action Group with his teeming followers to form a splinter organization known as the Nigerian National Democratic Party whichlater aligned with the NPC. Similarly, in the East, a leading Ibo politician and a very close ally of Dr. NnamdiAzikiwe, the national leader of the NCNC, Dr. Kingsley Mbadiwe, broke ranks, and with other defectors, formed a new political party known as the Democratic Party of Nigeria Citizens (NDNC) (Mbah 2011:4). True to the prevalent trend, this party formed an alliance with Awolowo’s Action Group during the 1959 General Elections.

A pivotal point to be made about intra-party crisis in the second republic is that although parties of the First Republic were largely re-labelled as new political parties, this was significantly ameliorated by both national and global forces, which we shall focus upon in the subsequent sections of this paper.

Rebellion against First Republic party Lords became more pronounced in the Second Republic, hence it was possible for the National Party of Nigeria (NPC), a supposed reincarnation of the NPC, to enlist strong membership across the nation, in the West Central, South-South and South Eastern States. During this era more functional, and less parochial factors had begun to gain salience in the construction of political identities.

The Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Great Nigerian Peoples Party in the (North East) became sign-posts of this type of identity. In the West, due to personality clashes, ChiefAwolowo’s loyalists, such as AdisaOladdosuAkinlola, Anthony Enahoro, Richard Akinjide, even Chief Akin Omoboriowo, defected from UPN to NPN; in like manner, AlhajiAbubakarRimi, a sitting governor of Kano State decamped from, the PRP to the Nigerian People Party (NPP) following disagreement with the leaders of PRP, MallamAminu Kano and Pa-Michael Imo Udu, the iconic Nigerian labour leader. The 1983 General Elections period in Nigeria marked the beginning of phenomenal and indiscriminate defections of members of mainly the opposition parties – the UPN, NPP, the PRP and GNPP to the ruling NPN. We shall show how institutional factor had made this fashionable among many politicians. Other notable political office holders like Dr. Clement Isong of the old Cross River State, also defected from the NPN to the UPN on account of power play at the national level of his party.

What has now been meekly accepted as the Third Republic in Nigeria’s political history was the period 1991 – 1993 when the Babangida’s regime inaugurated a diarchicalgovernance system, mainly at the state level, supposedly preparatory to completing the civilianization programs slated for the later part of 1993. Two political parties, created by decree, by the Babangida government – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republic Convention (NRC) became the organizational harbingers of party politics in that era. Intra-party politics accordingly had circumscribed institutional contexts plus a not so disinterested military regime at the national level that regularly called the shots. One needs to add that the military government of Babangida also drew up their constitutions and manifestoes, including laying down “the rules and regulations governing membership and the structure and operation of the parties, as well as providing generous grants for their sustenance” (Tyoden2013:11).

Two major, somewhat persuasive, reasons were adduced by the Regime for wholly forming political parties on behalf of politicians: one had to with the desire to attenuate ethno-regional cleavages, the second was to nip in the bud the menace of “money bags” thus eliminating the control and dominance of party politics by over-bearing personalities (Tyoden, Ibid). General Babangida himself justified his action thus:

The two party system was recommended by the Political Bureauand accepted by the Armed Forces Ruling Council in the strong conviction that such a system would induce all tendencies in our pluralistic society to seek accommodation under the umbrella of the two parties (Olagunnju et al 1991:40).
Inter-party relations within the SDP and NRC were largely influenced by the mode of their creation and the statutory context within which they operated: there was no privileges relating to having founding fathers and or financial sponsors – almost all members became co-founders and co-joiners. But these were more in appearance than in reality as rich and influential politicians still enjoyed preponderance of privilege when it came to choosing candidates for elections. In addition, the constitutions of the parties made party chairmen the leaders of the parties. In fact, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) had reason to comment on the fact that party chairmen were so powerful that they sometimes operated against the collective will of the entire Executive Committees at a given level or even against the collective will of the generality of party members” (Daily Times; 1993:6).

However, in comparison to the first and second Republics, the theme afforded more internal democratic opportunities; yet these was the appearance of solidarity tendencies: the People’s Solidarity party, the People’s Front and the Consultative Forum which tended to create significant cleavages within the two parties. This portrays the enduring nature of the internecine struggle for political power amongst the country’s politicians. This tendency however stopped short of inducing defections.

Intra-party Crisis in the Current Dispensation

After sixteen (16) solid years of military rule, interspaced with a three year diarchy mostly at the state level, the Nigeria military regime under General AbdulsalamiAbubakar, effected a rather haphazard hand-over to a civilian regime led by a former military head of state, Chief OlusegunObasanjo in 1999. Thus was born the current Fourth Republic. A towering feature of incipient politics throughout the federation became the pervasive crises rocking all political parties that participated in the re-civilization electoral activities of 1998-1999. In this, the ruling PDP generated the negative demonstration effects on other smaller parties – the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All People’s Party (APP). Let us present a fairly detailed narrative of the scenario.

In portraying the crises inside Nigeria political parties, a useful methodological course will be to provide indicators of crisis situations. One is visible alteration within the ranks of party membership at all levels of the federal structure. The second is high turnover in the election and/or appointment of members of the executive committees of political parties. A third indicator is the breakup of parties and subsequent formation of factions. The fourth manifestation of party crisis is rampant defections across parties. Because the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had held sway at the National center and overwhelming number of states – in fact at times as many as 23 states out of 36 states more reference will be made to it. We shall however focus on party crises at the state and federal levels in view of the large number of local and ward chapters of all the parties. The PDP has since 1999, had more than its due share of crises, having had a spectacular rate of turn-over in its National Executive Committees. For instance, during the first term in the presidency of the PDP which lasted only 4 years, the Party had more than 3 National Chairmen – Chief Solomon Lar, the pioneer chairman, Chief BernabasGemade Chief AuduOgbe. It was ditto for other key officers like the national secretary. The states and local governments had their own due share of unusually high turnover. This trend was reproduced in other two major parties – the AD and APP. Through the second tenure – 2003-2007, there was even higher rate of turnover, as the souls of all the parties were virtually seated in the pockets of the political chief executives depending on the level of government in the Federal structure at which a party holds political sway – for the PDP it was at the Federal, State and local levels. For the AD it was the six states of the South West – Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti and this only for one term of office 1999-2003; because from May 2003 the President who is also of South West extraction, had tricked all the Governors of the AD into a deceptive pact that turned out to be mommental political suicide. And so the AD almost fizzled out of the country’s political, landscape as the PDP swept five states leaving only Lagos, where the Governor, Bola Tinubu had displayed delectable smartness and never yielded his political constituency to President Obasanjo’spolitical trap.

The crises in the leadership of so many chapters of almost all the parties, had provided ready-made excuse for party members who are enamored of party flirtation in search of greener political pasture. Hence, the political lexicon of Nigeria soon became saturated with “defection”,“decamping”, “cross-carpeting” etc. Such cases have become legion and they apply to all the political patties. What is more, between 2007 and 2011 general elections not less 60 political parties mushroomed and about 25 appeared in the ballot papers of the 2001 General Elections.

Right from the inception of the present Republic, Politicians have shown no qualms about moving in and out of political parties, depending on their perceptions of political advantage; the First Senate President in this dispensation, Senator Evans Enwerem, was originally the governorship candidate of the All People’s Party (PPP). In Imo State (Mbah 2011:6). But he lost his bid to bear the flag of his party for the subsequent general election. He decamped to the PDP before the general election; upon offer of senatorial ticked by the Party leadership. He did not only win election to the senate but was also rail-roaded by Chief Obasanjo’s Presidency and the national leadership of PDP to the Senate Presidency. In Plateau State, AlhajiAlhassanSbaibu, for a relatively frivolous reason, decamped from the All Peoples’ Party (APP) and joined the PDP in 1999. As a compensation, the President appointed him member, Northern Nigeria Development Company (NNDC). In Cross River State,not less than severe prominent APP and AD members cross-carpeted to the PDP. Another striking decamping during the Obasanjo regime was that of his Vice–President, AlhajiAtikuAbubakar. He was a foundation member of the party, having played active role in late Musa Yar’Aduah’s PDM. He defected to the Action Congress which became the new name of Alliance for Democracy (AD) after an open pitched battle with his boss, the President: contested as the presidential candidate of the Action Congress in 2007 general elections, returned to the PDP in 2011 (Mbah 2011) and ludicrously decamped again from the PDP; became a leading force in the formation of the New PDP and subsequently joined the emergent organizational colossus now known as the All Progressives Congress (APC).intra-party crises, real and contrived, resulted in a spate of defections also involving governors of different party affiliations: the Governor of Bauchi state up till 29th May 2015, Alhaji Isa Yuguda was a PDP member, failed to pick the party gubernatorial ticket in 2007, decamped to now All Nigerian People Party (ANPP), won the election under latter’s platform and subsequently decamped back to his original party, the PDP. The former Governor of Imo state as originally a member of PDP, decamped to Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), won election under its platform and almost immediately reverted to PDP; Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State followed the same pattern by changing party identity from PPA to PDP. The Governor of Ondo State, Dr.OlusegunMimiko won his governorship election on the platform of the Labour Party (LP) but later decamped to the PDP. In the North, AliyuShinkafi of Zamfara State (ANPP) and SaminuTuraki of Jigawa State (ANPP) defected to the PDP ( Mbah, 2011:7).

The Nigeria National Assembly is by no means spared of this gale of defections and cross carpeting, as no fewer than 13 Senators and 35 members of the House of Representatives had switched party between 1999 and 2013, when a ‘psunamic’ rapture balkanized the so called Africa’s largest party, the PDP. At the Mini-Convention that the PDP conducted in 2013, seven state governors – Kano, Kwara, Rivers, Sokoto, Adamawa, Niger and Jigawa– with their teaming supporters walked out of the venue, the Eagle Square in Abuja,moved to the Yar’Adua Centre where they addressed a press conference and announced their intention to form a new party to be called the new PDP. After initial running battle with the parent body, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the n–PDP decide to strike a deal for a merger with the now mega party – the All Progressives Congress (APC). The party eventually won the presidential election in March 2015 and a reasonable majority of state governorship seats. Ever since its inauguration at thecentre the pattern of defection has reversed in its favour. Early August, 2015 a former state chairman of the PDP and leading members of the party in Bayelsa state decamped to the APC at the state party rally that was massively attended by both national regional and state officials of APC plus their teeming supporters/ followers. The decamped members reeled out a plethora of reasons for their action. However, we shall take up analysis of reasons for decamping inthe sequent section of the paper.

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