Contending Issues in Political Parties in Nigeria: The Candidate Selection Process.

AuthorAbba, Sadeeque A.


Elections in Nigeria cannot be thought of without political parties as there is no provision for independent candidacy in the country's constitution. Political parties remain the only platform in Nigeria for democratically elected leaders to emerge. The idea of political party's candidate selection process enjoys unrivalled eminence in political discourses and analyses in Nigeria. However, party primaries and conventions are mere platforms of voice affirmation of elite's consensus, which most times renders candidate selection process less credible. The process through which candidates emerge is often fraught with controversies, which often lead to violence and litigation. In fact, a greater percentage of those that emerge from party primaries are products of imposition, consensus and compromise (Egwu, 2014: 193). Emerging through consensus is not an aberration neither is it undemocratic but it becomes a problem when it is orchestrated by the party's godfathers who see themselves as the owners of the party.

Internal party democracy is one issue which the parties have to contend with. An assessment of the process of emergence of candidates in political parties therefore, becomes necessary to identify the democratic deficits inherent in Nigeria's parties. Focusing on the three main political parties in Nigeria - the All Progressives Congress (APC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the assessment is based on a two dimensional approach of party candidate selection, and political inclusion. Assessment of these parties was done within the following contexts: level of internal party democracy; presence of party rules on selection of candidates; doctrine of party supremacy in the selection process; use of elections to select candidates; consensus politics in the selection process; and finally, the inclusiveness of party dimensions of gender, age, and disability status. The main question the study seeks to answer is: are party selection processes in Nigeria governed by party rules and procedures?


There are two main approaches to doing a research of this nature, namely - quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research uses numbers and statistical methods, and seeks measurements that are easily replicable by other researchers whereas, qualitative researchers are interested in gaining understanding/insights into problems (King, Keohane and Verba, 1994). Qualitative approaches are widely used in disciplines where the emphasis is on descriptive analysis rather than on prediction. Since the study seeks to explain how political parties in Nigeria select candidates for general elections, the choice of qualitative method is appropriate. The preference for this method stems from the fact that a qualitative research allows for the study of motives and causal relationships. Additionally, the method aids in the understanding of why certain actions are or are not taken.

Some of the fundamental methods relied upon by qualitative researchers include in-depth interviewing, and document review. To observe directly parties' selection process is not possible since the authors do not belong to any political party in Nigeria and the timing of the work did not fall within the time frame of party primaries, conventions or congresses. Hence, the reliance on primary sources such as one-on-one interviews with party leaders. External stakeholders such as members of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), especially those who are well informed on party politics in the country, and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are not left out. These individuals have been carefully selected for interview on the basis of the positions they occupy in their respective parties or organisations.

The authors conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with prominent politicians, including party leaders from APC, APGA, and PDP. Officials of Nigeria's Electoral Commission (INEC), and prominent members of CSOs were also interviewed. These individuals were asked in sufficient detail about their views on party candidate selection processes in Nigeria. Without doubt, the views of these people are central to gaining an understanding of the phenomenon being researched. Through semi-structured interviews the authors were able to extract simple factual information from the interviewees. Put simply, the authors were able to gather information from the insiders' perspective. Furthermore, a wide range of literature on party politics in Nigeria was reviewed in order to provide the authors with the benefit of learning from the findings of other related research. A review of party policy documents such as constitutions and manifestos was also done. Party Constitutions in particular served as an important source of information. Moreover, INEC documents on regulation of party primaries, and monitoring were also reviewed. The use of multiple sources to help explain the internal democracy of the three political parties in Nigeria was aimed at enhancing the reliability of data.

Multi-Party Democracy and Nigeria's Electoral Environment

Political parties in Nigeria date back to when the Clifford Constitution of 1922 provided for the establishment of the Nigerian Legislative Council (Dudley, 1982: 45). The first political party to be formed was the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) founded in 1923. The party was led by Herbert Macaulay, a man regarded as the father of Nigerian nationalism. It must be pointed out that there was nothing 'national' about the party as its operations were confined to Lagos throughout its existence (Dudley, 1982; Sklar, 1963). In 1936, the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) was formed, initially as a pressure group but eventually became a political party, replacing the NNDP. However, leadership crisis later led to the collapse of the NYM, whose activities had also been restricted to the Southern part of Nigeria.

The first nationwide political party in Nigeria was the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), which was formed in 1944. Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe were elected President and General Secretary of the party respectively. At inception, the party attracted many followers across the country.

However, Azikiwe's leadership of a pan-Igbo organisation, the Igbo State Union (ISU) weakened the support of the party nationwide (Ezera, 1960: 91-2). The second major party in Nigeria was the Action Group (AG) formed in 1948. The party was an offshoot of the pan-Yoruba cultural organisation, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa (Society for the descendants of Oduduwa-the Yoruba legendary ancestor), which was formed in 1945 by a group of Yoruba students in London (Ezera, 1960: 92-3; Coleman, 1958: 344). Obafemi Awolowo, then, a student in London was the brain behind the organisation. The third party to be formed was the Northern People's Congress (NPC) in 1951. Likewise, this party grew out of a pan-Northern Nigeria cultural organisation, the Jammiyyaar Mutanen Arewa (Northern People's Congress), which was formed in 1949 (Ezera, 1960: 94-6). The party's leaders included Dr. R.A. Dikko, the first Northern Nigeria medical doctor, Yusuf Maitama Sule and Mallam Aminu Kano. It is important to note that the aforementioned political figures were in their youth when they played significant roles in Nigeria's independence movement, and in the political development of the country as a whole. The political inclusion of women in Nigerian politics, particularly during the First Republic shows an abysmal record. That era was dominated by men. Women were not known to occupy public offices and this is in spite of the role played by women such as Mrs Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Margret Ekpo and others during the struggle for decolonisation.

The three dominant political parties (AG, NCNC and NPC) that operated in the First Republic (1960 - 1966) were all embroiled in candidate selection crisis, which almost tore the parties apart before the federal elections of 1959, which ushered in Nigeria's political independence in 1960. What was discernible during that period was the imposition of candidates by the party leaders. The picture that emerged from the national conventions of these parties show that all the written and unwritten rules, procedures and guidelines on candidate selection process were irrelevant as the party lords dictated to the rest of the party. For example, the AG reserved the position of the Prime Minister to the leader of the party, Obafemi Awolowo. Similarly, the NCNC also set aside the position for Nnamdi Azikwe, likewise, the NPC which surrendered the party's ticket to Ahmadu Bello. The only political denominator underlying all these choices is the fact that they were all Premiers of their respective regions at that time.

The political parties that contested elections in the Second Republic (1979 - 1983) were also short of being ideological in character. The five notable political parties during this period were: the Unity party of Nigeria (UPN), which was a reincarnate of the AG and led by Obafemi Awolowo; the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which was a coalition of the rump of the defunct NPC and a faction of all the other former political parties; the Nnamdi Azikwe-led Nigerian People's Party (NPP), which grew out of the defunct NCNC; the Great Nigerian People's Party (GNPP) of Waziri Ibrahim; and the People's Redemption Party (PRP) led by Alhaji Aminu Kano. Ideologically, the NPN, like the old...

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