By Edwin Madunagu
The impression should not be created, as is being created now, that the type of political party combination that has just resulted in the birth of All Progressives Congress (APC) has been the only type of significant party combination seen in the country since independence in 1960.
We had, in concluding the first segment last Thursday, listed four earlier major party combinations of the APC type: the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) (First Republic), the Progressive Parties Alliance (PPA) (Second Republic) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of the Babangida Transition. Each of these party combinations was more populist and to the left of the incumbent ruling party or the non-ruling, but opposing party (as in the case of SDP).
Beyond the party combinations described above, there were at least two other types of combination: one to the right and the other to the left of the political spectrum. First, the right: the response to the UPGA of the First Republic from the right was the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA). There was also a response to the PPA of the Second Republic; but that response did not involve the creation of a new name.
For, as PPA was being formed, the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was absorbing fractions of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), and even of Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) – as predicted by Tai Solarin in his November 4, 1979 Sunday Tribune article, The stolen presidency. Current opposition leaders and activists would also add that the NPN was absorbing the electoral commission and coercive institutions of state.
The third type of party combination is the one that takes place in the Left of the political-ideological spectrum. To this spectrum belong radical socialists of various tendencies, radical sociopolitical movements and the trade union movement, which, in the historical context, had no reason and still has reason not to be radical and leftist.
Anyone going through the history of the Left, as very loosely defined here, will be struck by the fact that the Left has probably produced more combinations than the Right since independence in 1960 or even since the start of organized radical politics in the mid-1940s. I would, however, definitively add that in Nigeria left or radical ideologies are older than ideologies emanating from the Right.
Of course, under colonialism, any person or group asking the colonialists to go or – at the minimum – respect, or accord some rights to, the “natives” would appear progressive or even radical. But we know that in the mid-1940s when the Left, organized mainly in the trade unions and the Zikist Movement, was articulating and fighting for freedom in clear socialist and popular-democratic terms, the Right was under the tutelage of the colonialists.
We have therefore had three types of what I have called political party combination in Nigeria: two involving ruling class political parties (one combination more populist than the other) and the third involving radical Left groups and formations. We may now look at them together and historically.
To do this we have to bear in mind that party combination and its opposite, dissociation, cannot be separated. This is so not just because, logically, combination is negative dissociation and conversely but also because every major combination of mainstream ruling class parties produces combinations or/and dissociations in other mainstream formations and sometimes also in the Left formations.
It may also be stated here that historically, the Nigerian Left or more correctly, the tendency in the Nigerian Left to which I belong, had reacted most vigorously to “bourgeois combination” when it wanted a particular party or combination to be defeated and not necessarily when it desired the victory of a particular party or combination. This strategy may remain, or rather, re-assert itself, depending…
The following abridged version of our narrative can be divided into five broad historical periods, starting from 1945, which I designate the beginning of militant nationalism, properly so-called. It was also the year of the colonial Richards Constitution and the year of the General Strike that announced the arrival of the Nigerian working class as a liberating political agency.
The periods referred to are: (1945 – 1952), (1959 – 1965), (1979 – 1983), (1989 – 1993) and (1999 – 2013). The first period, (1945 – 1952), witnessed the following party or group combinations: the alliance between the Zikist Movement, the Labour Movement (or rather its radical – leftist wing) and a quasi-religious group called the National Church of Nigeria; the alliance between the Zikist Movement and the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC); and the alliance between the Labour Movement (radical – leftist wing) and the NCNC.
Beyond all these, however, is the fact the NCNC, which emerged in 1944 and other “constitutional” parties that emerged towards the end of the period under consideration, including the AG, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) were mergers or alliances or federations of small groups.
Some notes here: The Zikist Movement was not a youth wing of NCNC. The youth wing of NCNC was the NCNC Youth Vanguard. Although the formation of the Zikist Movement in 1946 was inspired by what the youthful founders saw as the need to protect Nnamdi Azikiwe, the NCNC leader, from colonialist witch-hunt and propagate his new message of freedom and (African) racial pride, the relationship between the two organisations – the NCNC and the Zikist Movement – was characterized most of the time the latter existed (1946 – 1950), by turbulence, frustration and sometimes, bitterness and a feeling of abandonment and even betrayal.
At the root of this was what the young Nigerians in the Zikist movement saw as NCNC leadership’s rightist, constitutionalist and accomodationist slide at a time the Zikist Movement was becoming more radicalized by colonial persecution.
The 1959 Federal Elections, which took colonial Nigeria to independence on October 1, 1960 was a three-cornered fight between the NPC, the NCNC and the AG. With each of these parties were its allies. In strict terms, therefore, we would say NPC bloc, NCNC bloc and AG bloc. The NPC bloc won a plurality, but not a majority, of seats in the Federal House of Representatives.
In the parliamentary system that was handed down by the British, a coalition government was therefore inevitable in the circumstance. There were four possibilities: an NCNC – AG coalition or an NPC – NCNC coalition or an NPC – AG coalition, or a national government embracing the three blocs. An NPC – AG coalition was ruled out ab initio.
The ideological gap between the two parties was simply unbridgeable. Some political historians had suggested that there was, in fact, a fifth possibility: the NPC “buying off” some members of parliament from the AG and the NCNC to acquire a majority.
It is difficult to believe that this last option was seriously or ever contemplated; it would have threatened not only the approaching independence but also the very existence of a nation that was yet to be born. One other option, an NCNC–AG coalition (a coalition that excluded the NPC) would have been only a degree less dangerous to the colonialist – guided road to independence than the option of “buying off”.
The critical point in the entire manoeuvre is that the Action Group leadership’s strong ideological stance in this matter of coalition severely limited the perimeter of bourgeois manoeuvre: the party categorically ruled out both a national government and an AG – NPC coalition.
So, only one practical possibility was left: NPC –NCNC coalition. That was exactly what happened, and it ushered in a series of events – AG crisis, treasonable felony trials, census crisis, formation of UPGA and NNA, 1964 federal election crisis, “reprieve” from national disaster, death and farcical recreation of coalition, the 1965 Western Regional Elections, descent to chaos again, and the January 15, 1966 inconclusive coup d’état.
What happened between January 15, 1966 and October 1, 1979 when an NPN – Federal Government was born under President Shehu Shagari is not part of the subject – matter here. The Second Republic (1979 – 1983) saw the birth of Progressive Parties Alliance (PPA) and unannounced alliance between the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and fragments of opposition parties.
Our narrative then takes a leap from December 30, 1983 to October 1989 when General Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime created the “little to the left” Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the “little to the right” National Republican Convention (NRC).
Someone has referred to the newly-formed APC as the “new” SDP. Yes, there are a couple of elements in common. But there is at least one more requirement for the APC: It has to show that not only is the status-quo totally bankrupt (which is the case), but also that the APC is a historically progressive way forward at this moment, and that it is the only one.