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 ‘love-him-or-hate-him’ Godfather of Nigerian politics, General Babangida, in the ‘Third Regime’ 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 ‘going round Nigeria to build a coalition with ALL progressives’. 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. Duverger’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 PDP’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 People’s Party (DPP), now of the ACN) has come out to dispel talk of an alliance as just that, talk.
“As 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"