The failure of political parties in the second republic of Nigeria

The failure of political parties in the second republic of Nigeria


Obasanjo pursued Mohammed’s desire to return the country to civilian rule. As a first step, a new constitution was promulgated that replaced the British-style parliamentary system with a presidential one. The president was invested with greater power but could assume office only after winning one-fourth of the votes in two-thirds of the states in the federation.

Many political parties emerged, but only five were registered: the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the Unity Party of Nigeria, the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), the Great Nigeria People’s Party, and the Nigeria People’s Party. All promised to improve education and social services, provide welfare, rebuild the economy and support private industry, and pursue a radical, anti-imperialist foreign policy.

The PRP was notable for expressing socialist ideas and rhetoric. Shehu Shagari, the candidate of the dominant party, the right-wing NPN, narrowly won the 1979 presidential election, defeating Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

The NPN’s party leaders used political power as an opportunity to gain access to public treasuries and distribute privileges to their followers. Members of the public were angry, and many openly challenged the relevance of a democracy that could not produce leaders who would improve their lives and provide moral authority.

Even in this climate, however, Shagari was reelected president in August–September 1983, although his landslide victory was attributed to gross voting irregularities. Shagari was not able to manage the political crisis that followed or to end Nigeria’s continuing economic decline, and the military seized the opportunity to stage a coup on December 31, 1983, that brought Maj. Gen. Muhammad Buhari to power.

Delineation of Concept

A constituent assembly was elected in 1977 to draft a new constitution, which was published on September 21, 1978, when the ban on political activity was lifted. In 1979, five political parties competed in a series of elections in which Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was elected president. All five parties won representation in the National Assembly.

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In August 1983 Shagari and the NPN were returned to power in a landslide victory, with a majority of seats in the National Assembly and control of 12 state governments. But the elections were marred by violence and allegations of widespread vote rigging and electoral malfeasance led to legal battles over the results.

On December 31, 1983 the military overthrew the Second Republic. Major General Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the leader of the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the country’s new ruling body. The Buhari government was peacefully overthrown by the SMC’s third-ranking member General Ibrahim Babangida in August 1985.

Babangida cited the misuse of power, violations of human rights by key officers of the SMC, and the government’s failure to deal with the country’s deepening economic crisis as justifications for the takeover. During his first days in office, President Babangida moved to restore freedom of the press and to release political detainees being held without charge.

As part of a 15-month economic emergency plan, he announced pay cuts for the military, police, civil servants and the private sector. President Babangida demonstrated his intent to encourage public participation in decision-making by opening a national debate on proposed economic reform and recovery measures.

The public response convinced Babangida of intense opposition to an economic recovery package dependent on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.


Activities of political parties

The first elections under the 1979 constitution were held on schedule in July and August 1979, and the FMG handed over power to a new civilian government under President Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979. Nigeria’s Second Republic was born amid great expectations. Oil prices were high and revenues were on the increase. It appeared that unlimited development was possible. Unfortunately, the euphoria was short-lived, and the Second Republic did not survive its infancy.

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Five major parties competed for power in the first elections in 1979. As might be expected, there was some continuity between the old parties of the First Republic and the new parties of the Second Republic. The National Party of Nigeria (NPN), for example, inherited the mantle of the Northern People’s Congress, although the NPN differed from the NPC in that it obtained significant support in the non-Igbo states of southeastern Nigeria.

The United Party of Nigeria (UPN) was the successor to the Action Group, with Awolowo as its head. Its support was almost entirely in the Yoruba states. The Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), the successor to the NCNC, was predominantly Igbo and had Azikiwe as its leader.

An attempt to forge an alliance with non-Hausa-Fulani northern elements collapsed in the end, and a breakaway party with strong support in parts of the north emerged from the failed alliance. This northern party was known as the Great Nigerian People’s Party under the leadership of Waziri Ibrahim of Borno. Finally, the People’s Redemption Party was the successor to the Northern Elements Progressive Union and had Aminu Kano as its head.

Just as the NPC dominated the First Republic, its successor, the NPN, dominated the Second Republic. Shagari won the presidency, defeating Azikiwe in a close and controversial vote. The NPN also took 36 of 95 Senate seats, 165 of 443 House of Representatives seats and won control of seven states (Sokoto, Niger, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Kwara, and Rivers).

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The NPN lost the governorship of Kaduna State but secured control of the Kaduna legislature. The NPN failed to take Kano and lacked a majority in either the Senate or House of Representatives. It was forced to form a shaky coalition with the NPP, the successor of the NCNC, the old coalition partner of the NPC.

The NPP took three states (Anambra, Imo, and Plateau), sixteen Senate seats and seventy-eight House of Representatives seats, so that in combination with the NPN the coalition had a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Nonetheless, the interests of the two parties were often in conflict, which forced the NPN to operate alone in most situations. Even though the presidential form of the constitution was intended to create a stronger central government, the weakness of the coalition undermined effective central authority.

The UPN came in with the second largest number of seats and effectively formed the official opposition, just as the Action Group had done in the First Republic. The UPN took five states (Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, and Bendel), 28 Senate seats, and 111 House seats.

Awolowo continued as spokesman for the left of centre. The Great Nigerian People’s Party managed to win two states (Borno and Gongola), eight Senate seats, and forty-three House of Representatives seats. The People’s Redemption Party, which was the most radical of the parties, won Kano and the governorship of Kaduna, seven Senate seats, and forty-nine House of Representatives seats.

What led to their abysmal failure?

A number of weaknesses beset the Second Republic. First, the coalition that dominated federal politics was not strong, and in effect, the NPN governed as a minority because no coalition was formed to challenge its supremacy. Second, there was a lack of cooperation between the NPN-dominated federal government and the twelve states controlled by opposition parties. Third, and perhaps most important, the oil boom ended in mid-1981, precisely when expectations of continuous growth and prosperity were at a height.

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There were many signs of tension in the country. The Bakalori Project, an irrigation scheme in Sokoto, for example, became the focus of serious unrest in the late 1970s when thousands of farmers protested the loss of their land, and police retaliated by burning villages and killing or wounding hundreds of people.

Widespread dissatisfaction became apparent with the Maitatsine, or Yan Tatsine (followers of the Maitatsine), a quasi-Muslim fringe group that sparked religious riots in Kano in 1980, and Kaduna, and Maiduguri in 1982 after police tried to control this activity (see Islam, ch. 2). The disturbance in Kano alone resulted in the deaths of 4,177 people between December 18 and 29, 1980.

In 1981 teachers staged a strike because they had not been paid. As the political situation deteriorated, the federal government looked for scapegoats and found them in the large number of foreign workers who had come to Nigeria in response to the jobs created by the oil boom. In the crackdown on illegal immigration, an estimated 2 million foreigners were expelled in January and February 1983, of whom 1 million were from Ghana and 150,000 to 200,000 from Niger.

The recession that set in with the fall in oil prices after the middle of 1981 put severe strains on the Second Republic. For political reasons, government spending continued to accelerate, and the friction between the political parties and between the federal government and the states only reinforced financial irresponsibility. Nigeria’s foreign debt increased from N3.3 billion (for the value of the naira–see Glossary) in 1978 to N14.7 billion in 1982. By 1983 the nineteen state governments had run up a combined debt of N13.3 billion.

Heavy investment in economic development continued unabated. In addition to finishing a steel mill at Ajaokuta in Kwara State, for example, a second plant opened at Aladje, near Warri, in 1982. Steel-rolling mills also were built at Jos, Oshogbo, and Katsina–sites chosen for political reasons. By 1987 N5 billion had been spent on the steel industry alone, most of this committed under the Second Republic, even though the economics of steel development were questionable.

Corruption once again was rampant under the Second Republic. It had been a serious problem since the civil war, when wartime contracts often were awarded under dubious circumstances. Corruption became more serious after the war, most notably in connection with the cement scandal of the early 1970s, the Festival of African Culture (FESTAC) in Lagos, and the development of Abuja as the new federal capital. Corruption under the Second Republic was even greater.

Major scandals involved the Federal Housing Scheme, the National Youth Service Corps, the Nigerian External Telecommunications, the Federal Mortgage Bank, the Federal Capital Territory Administration, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the Nigerian National Supply Company. In addition, the halfhearted attempts to license imports and to control inflation encouraged smuggling, which became a major crime that went virtually unchecked.

Umaru Dikko came to the attention of the international community because of an abortive plot to kidnap him in London and return him to Nigeria to stand trial for corruption. British authorities found him in a shipping crate on a runway moments before he was to be sent to Nigeria. Dikko was involved in many scandals, including the issuance of licenses to import rice–rice imports had risen from 50,000 tons in 1976 to 651,000 tons in 1982.

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As elections approached in August 1983, an economic decline that reflected low oil prices, widespread corruption, and continued government spending at record levels was proof to many that the Second Republic was in sad shape. The lack of confidence was evident in the massive flight of capital–estimated at US$14 billion between 1979 and 1983.

The second elections under the Second Republic were to be its last. When the results were tallied in 1983, it was clear that there had been a fraud. The NPN increased its control of states from seven to twelve, including Kano and Kaduna. Shagari was reelected president, and the NPN gained 61 of 95 Senate seats and 307 of 450 House of Representatives seats. Not even the supporters of the NPN expected such results. Considering the state of the economy and the public outcry over the rigged election, the Shagari government stayed in power for a surprisingly long time.

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One would have thought that the bloodbath and fall of the first republic would be a lesson for future politicians in averting the mistakes they made in the first republic. But as soon as the second republic commenced in 1979, it became immediately obvious that no lessons had been learnt as politicians once again embarked on a vicious battle for power.

Corruption, election rigging, thuggery arson and general misrule once again became the order of the day, prompting the return of the military in 1983. The military threw most of the politicians into jail for their various excesses in corruption, violence and election rigging.

As the dust of the second republic cleared and the military consolidated power, pro-democracy groups began a ceaseless campaign for a return to democracy. They sold us the dummy that the military was the problem and that democracy once given a chance would provide solutions to critical issues of mass unemployment, poverty, absence of basic infrastructure, corruption and ethno-religious conflicts.

Nigerians decided to believe and give the politicians another chance, hoping once again that lessons have been learnt from the debacles of the first and second republics. Thus after an exhaustive struggle, democracy returned in 1999 amidst much fanfare and hope.



(a) The way political parties are constituted and legitimized have bearing on both the scope and content of democracy in the country as well as on the capacity of government to be responsible and accountable to the electorates. The parties need to be internally democratic and should be interested in deepening the content of democracy in the country.

(b) The survival and sustenance of democracy are to a greater extent, dependent on the ability of the electoral body to conduct free and fair elections through a transparent process. For this to be viable, the existence of an electoral body which is independent in its function is needed.



Nigeria THE SECOND REPUBLIC, 1979-83 (1991) Retrieved from on 26th December, 2013.

Nigeria Second Republic (2008), retrieved from on 27th December, 2013

THE SECOND REPUBLIC, 1979-83. Retrieved from on 27th December, 2013


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