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DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA: HISTORY AND

PROBLEMS TO 1966
BY
IHEDIWA NKEMJIKA CHIMEE
DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA, NSUKKA

INTRODUCTION

The name Nigeria came into existence in 1914. Prior to this date, the
varied culture groups that constitute the polity had existed as independent
and autonomous groups coming into contact with one another through trade
and some other forms of intercourse. As Ijoma observed:
Before the year 1900, different ethnic groups (in Nigeria),
estimated at over 250 in number governed themselves in
various ways. ……However the beginning of the this
century saw the imposition of alien rule on a political
entity called Nigeria.1

After the conquest of Lagos in 1861, the British had extended their imperial
dragnet to much of Yorubaland before the end of the 19 th century. From the
last quarter of the 19th century to the period 1900, places like Benin
Kingdom, the Niger Delta Chiefdoms and the Efik had lost their autonomy
to the British. With the invasion of Arochukwu in 1901-1902, Igboland was
penetrated and taken. The hegemonic Hausa/Fulani Caliphate in the
Northern section of the polity had the baptism of British fire like all the
other groups whom the British had encountered. With the British
appointment of a consul in 1867, which was stationed at Lokoja, the last
three decades of the century saw the loss of autonomy of the Northern Emirs

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and numerically strong. and the British did not take into cognizance the future of the disparate and heterogeneous nation so created in an event of their disengagement. thus it did not achieve any meaningful end for the people as it was a mere 2 . By 1906. The Nigerian Council he created did not reflect the true aspirations of the Nigerian people.and the eventual defeat of the Sultan. did not show interest in unifying the country effectively. which empowered the company to administer “the Niger Basin” for the British government. The Hausa/Fulani are preponderant in majority in the North. His policies insulated the North and isolated if from the south. thus creating a veritable base for ethnic competition and struggle. This situation where a single ‘nationality’ group of culturally related tribes3 in the three regions being in control of affairs there. the Yoruba in the West. the British took over direct control of the area. these two administrative units became one and continued till 1960 when Independence was achieved. neither did nourish democratic spirit in the succeeding years. The foundation of disunity was formally laid by the British administration after the amalgamation in 1914. Nigeria as constituted by the British imperialists is a society with varied cultures and peoples. Lugard who was in control of Nigeria from this date till 1919. Thus with the amalgamation of 1914. As we have stated earlier. did not go down. and was never seen as medium through which political participation was to be achieved by Nigerians. the colony of Lagos and the protectorate of Southern Nigeria were merged under one administration.2. That Nigerian Council was composed of expatriates and only six nominated Nigerians were chosen. 1899. and the Igbo in the East. At the revocation of the charter of the Royal Niger Company on December 31. The composition of the polity was such that leverage was given to the major ethnic groups over and above the minorities found in their regions.

it was when Hugh Clifford took over from him in 1919. (from 1914-1946). Ironically. Consequently. that a semblance of encouraging signs appeared. rather British colonial officials continued to represent the North in this forum. The creation of Sabon Gari for the non-natives in the North was an attempt by the colonial administration to further isolate the two groups of Nigerias. political activities began 3 . and this trend continued till the next thirty two years.4 Nigerians did not have the initial opportunity of understanding themselves and developing a deep consciousness for unity. political activity was not a feature of the colonial state of Nigeria. the same trend under Lugard continued for this legislative council did not have Northern representations in it. Road to Democracy As we noted earlier. when the elective principle was introduced in the constitution of Hugh Clifford. This was a broader council with wider representation of Africans in it. No wonder the political leaders from the two lines of the divide. not until 1922. He quickly abolished the Nigerian Council and replaced it with the Legislative Council for the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. as a result of the ugly foundation the colonialists laid. Lugard did not create an enabling structure for the galvanization of political consciousness in Nigerians. when Richards constitution was proclaimed. Though the 1922 constitution is regarded as haven laid the foundation of elective principle and nationalist activities in Nigeria. it did not bridge the gap between the North and the South.forum for the presentation of his Annual Address of events in the previous year without any legislative authority. did not understand themselves well in the true spirit of democratic culture.

age. residence. laid down the qualifications of electors. Nnoli however observes that the split in the NYM was 4 . but did not have the radical touch of a political party as well as a wider reach. It was the Nigerian Youth Movement.to take root as candidates jostled for seats in the municipal areas of Lagos and Calabar. Nnamdi Azikiwe who had supported Akisanya left the movement on spurious grounds. political parties were not the basis of representation.say which was urban based and almost restricted to the environs of Lagos was Macaulay’s Nigerian National Democratic Party. It had wider spread network then any other movement before it and enjoyed popular support from the masses particularly the young people. and a prospective voter had to be resident for the twelve months immediately preceding the date of registration in the municipal area for which an election was being held5 The first political party so-to. The Nigerian (Legislative Council) Order in Council of 21 November 1922. With the victory of the former in the contest for NYM’s leadership. It was in control of Lagos politics and had won seats into the legislative council. it was like a pressure group not advocating for independence but maintaining an attitude of unswerving loyalty to His Majesty the king and Emperor6. and income. Though at this early stage of political development. Though it is not within the province of this work to discuss the details about the NYM misfortune. which emerged in 1934 that challenged the NNDP in subsequent legislative council elections and even won more seats than the latter. Ultimately. So any male of above 21 years. This vibrant organization witnessed a split in 1941 as a result of leadership tussle between Ernest Ikoli an Ijaw and Samuel Akisanya a Yoruba. a British subject or a native of the protectorate of Nigeria could vote. The franchise was strictly limited by qualifications of nationality.

was made permanent by the time Governor Richards took over and enacted the Richards constitution in 1946. and maximizing the privileges being their ethnic leaders conferred on them to the 5 . From the time NCNC was formed. This was the first political party after the fortunes of both NNDP and NYM had waned considerably. from the NYM. by Governor Bernard Bourdillon for administrative convenience. so he had to leave the movement. the inaugural meeting of this conference resolved to form the Nigerian National Council. which his papers derived. and with him. and Azikiwe could not endure losing the patronage. rather involved the ownership and monopoly of the nationalist press7. The constitution of Nigeria into three regions at the eve of the Second World War. that has continued to characterise our political history. Before 1946. this was renamed the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon. the contradiction in the Nigerian Political System had been established by the British through their divide-and-rule policies. Political activities had to wane at the split of the NYM till the time some young men from Kings College met with Azikiwe on the need to form an effective political body8. The series of meetings on this issue perhaps were called as an attempt at salvaging the dying political zeal within the rank and file of the nationalists and to save the nationalist struggle from relapsing into ethnic lines as events were showing9.not associated in anyway with the conflicting interests of farmers. which emboldened the leaders of the nationalist movement in galvanizing. most of his Igbo supporters. Both Ikoli and Azikiwe represented different press interests. On 26 of August 1944. however. the road to democracy was gradually but consistently opening wider with the political firmaments wearing new looks. 10 which in fact became a platform for ethno-regional contest.

it created the leverage needed to support and deepen and sustain a democratic culture. were the most popular political organizations at this time. and was too small to encourage the growth of political parties. the 1946 constitution created an in- road that necessitated the formation of democratic structures like political parties for the ultimate achievement of independence-though ethnic and regional in content and character.detriment of national unity.12 Parties like Nigerian National Democratic Party and Nigerian Youth Movement. Though the number of seats allocated to both areas were limited in comparison to the electorates’ population. Party Politics and the Challenge of Democratic Principles As we earlier mentioned. party politics and political consciousness in Nigeria was given fillip by the emergence of Clifford’s Constitution of 1922.11 what may have determined the low political ebb there could be attributed to the number of registered voters there which numbered only 341. which created the legislative council to which the electorates elected representatives to the municipal area of Lagos and Calabar. Candidates who contested election for the legislative council joined political parties mainly in the Lagos area council. though there were other associations that tended to resemble 6 . However. it was however a booster to political participation. and for the fact that Calabar had available only one seat as against three in Lagos. Though this opportunity was in most instances misapplied by the various regional leaderships in their rabid quest for power and ethnic aggrandisement. but candidates for Calabar stood for election as independents. did not give mush scope for the development and organization of political parties comparable in stature to those in Lagos municipal area between 1923 and 1947.

two other key regional parties had been formed thereby setting the stage for political calculation and support on regional grounds. legislative council election.political parties to which residents of the colony belonged. Between 1947-1952. Election into the municipal areas of Lagos and Calabar between 1923 to 1947 was generally free and fair without ballot stuffing. thuggery. the NNDP/NCNC alliance still went ahead to contest the 1946. The NYM which was already loosing much of its flavour by this time however did not disguise its opposition to the 1947 legislative council election. 1948. and therefore had to align with the NNDP. arson and killings associated with elections from the independence period. The Richards Constitution of 1946 left much to be desired as regards elective representation in Nigeria. Adedoyin and Olorun-Nimbe who won the Lagos seats boycotted Legislative Council Sessions for nearly one year. violence. Though the Richards constitution had created regionalism. This was because electors of the Lagos municipal area in 1947 passed a resolution mandating their representatives to abstain from being sworn in till the amendment of Richards’s constitution as it was envisioned that through that way Nigeria shall have responsible government. The nationalists despised the constitutional structure. Irrespective of the protests against the constitution. Azikiwe. the 1954 constitution had deepened it. the structure of representation for the members of the legislative council was mainly nomination with exception to Lagos where three representatives were elected and Calabar which had one. The Action Group was launched in Nigeria as 7 . but these were largely unpopular in comparison to the above two. and did not take the prescribed oath till March. which was not patterned to encourage responsible government. The NCNC of this time was not popular among the Lagos electorate. However.

and also dominated the polities of the main Regions…. the reliance of the opposition party upon the support of a class-conscious regional power group. From its conception. particularly the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) suffered defeat at the hands of the emirs. and had Obafemi Awolowo.a cultural organization in 1948. this party represented the interests of the descendents of Oduduwa. and West respectively. since the constitutional arrangement empowered the emirs and other Native 8 . He identified them to include the regionalization of party machinery of government. opposition parties.the North. and Nafziger notes that In Nigeria.14 The politics of Regional Houses of Assembly was characterized by struggle. as each party leader sought to consolidate its power by reducing opposition. This fact had been variously discussed. arm-twisting. More so. as its progenitor. betrayals and intimidation. and that the constitutional allocation of power is inconsistent with the real distribution of power in society-the constitution gives dominant power to the numerical majority.15 This led Sklar to observe the three basic contradictions that characterized Nigerian political system. Yoruba – were major rivals in the struggle for power at the centre. the three largest ethnic communities Hausa- Fulani. the north. while the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon had been formed as early as 1944. The regional legislative houses elections unsurprisingly saw these key three parties in control of their regional houses. did not feel at ease with the radicalism exhibited by the members of NEPU.16 During the 1957 regional election. because the emirs being conservative. East. The Northern Peoples Congress formally became a political party in 1951. and as a political party in 1951. Ibo (sic).

won 14 seats out of 23 seats out of 23 seats in the Eastern minority area and in alliance with UMBC. The NCNC had won all the 50 seats in the East. the overall anticipation was that Action Group would win majority seats in the West so as to form a parliamentary coalition with the NPC. the NPC won in the North and the Saduana of Sokoto was designated premier of the North18. At the 1954 Federal elections. the NPC won 104 out of 110 seats in the upper North. consequently making each a regional Lord. The 1959 general election showed the supremacy of the political parties in their respective regions. but this strategy failed as both the North and the East resisted if vigorously. The AG campaigned for the creation of a new states in both the North and East. so as to secure the support of the minorities in the respective regions and to destabilize the party in control. Obafemi Awolowo’s AG won in the West and he became the Premier of the West. Azikiwe’s NCNC won a landslide victory in the Eastern Regional election. The NCNC won 14 9 .17 The story of regional party domination was the same in both the Eastern and Western Regions where ethnic parties controlled the political space. won 25 out of the 74 seats in the lower North. thus making way for a coalition with NPC. but the NCNC won majority of seats in both the East and West. under the 1954 constitution thereby paving the way for the emergence of Azikiwe as the Premier of the Region. each of the three regional parities fought to retain victory and to consolidate its position. and Party politics was anything less than free and fair. Again in December 1953.Authorities to “inject” into the final electoral colleges at the provincial levels additional members equal to 10 percent of the elected membership. their choice candidates were injected into the regional assembly. the AG won 32 out of the 47 seats in the Yoruba sector of the West. Prior to the 1959 general election.

shout slogans or distribute party literature. once again formed a coalition Federal Government.out of the 15 seats in the Midwest.21 10 . and forbade adults from inciting children to do this things. Thus in 1959. For instance. opposition party members were constantly subjected to pervasive restriction on their freedom of action and opinion. universal adult suffrage from single member constituencies was used in the Eastern and Western Regions as well as in Lagos.19 The NCNC which at this time had become friendly with the NPC. while adult male suffrage was adopted in the Northern Region. having Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister while Nnamdi Azikiwe became the President. wear party badges. One was convicted and imposition of a 100 pound fine (or two years imprisonment) 20. and continued in the 1964 general election in the same style. and in the North. two members of the AG were indicted by the Eastern regional government on the grounds of publishing documents charging official discrimination against supporters of their party which were alleged by the government to contain seditions statement. Prohibitions by a regional statute in the North made it an offence for any one under the age of sixteen to attend political meetings. In Western region allegations were rife that the regional government party used the customary courts to intimidate supporters of the opposition. The NPC came out of the poll with 142 seats out of a total of 312 seats. while the AG had 73 seats. The NCNC/NEPU alliance showed second with 89 seats. The political actors during the election of 1959 flouted known democratic principles in campaigning for votes. Intimidation was another feature of the election period especially by the leading parties against their rivals. The procedures for the conduct of 1959 and 1964 Federal elections varied.

24 Meanwhile. The disagreement on the operational tactics of the party and power struggle rent the AG and by 1962 a state of emergency was declared by the Federal Government. While the coalition government intent on finding a leeway to destroy the AG. a commission was set to look into the past activities of the Action Group.A Coker of the then Lagos High Court. which had negative backlash on the political process. the 1959 election was marked by “distressingly frequent” acts of violence during the campaigns. and was headed by justice G. electoral procedure that produced the independence government was one that lacked full democratic practices. he sought to retain the over-bearing powers he had enjoyed while the premier as the leader of the party. As a result. to whittle the influence of AG and ultimately destroy the party and its leadership. but the premier Akintola would not concede such grounds to him. AG and NEPU members were jailed or fined or even caned for addressing meetings without a permit. after Awolowo had left the region for the centre as the national opposition. In the North. or for shouting the name of the opposition leader as a chief. this power was vested in the Native Authorities and lies in the hands of District Heads-who were politicians.22 Generally. The Commission castigated Chief Awolowo and his supporters for having allowed public funds to be wasted in the form of unredeemed loan made by the government to private individuals. Chief 11 .B. Inter and intra-party struggle for the domination of the political space lad to the political parties devising strategies. and may have accounted for why the first Republish did not sustain. Another flaw that characterized politics during the 1959 Federal election was the requirement for permit to hold political meetings. capitalized on the crises to create the Mid-Western region in 1963. After the declaration of state of emergency by the Federal Government. For example.

The supporters of the NCNC in the West were urged to withdraw their support arguing that the party was out to enslave them. This situation played into the hands of Akintola who fanned the embers of Yoruba ethnicity. The 1962/63 census controversy and the general election of 1964 formed the basis for the eventual collapse of the first Republic. At the end of the state of emergency in 1963.Awolowo was arrested along with some of his supporters. they were charged with plotting to overthrow the government and upon conviction Awolowo was sentenced to ten years imprisonment while others got varied terms of imprisonment. which was called United Progressive Grand Alliance. while the old AG became the opposition in the Western Regional House of Assembly. 12 . The hostility unleashed by the NNDP and NPC against the NCNC. The creation of the Mid-Western region had arguably led to the loss of NCNC members in the Western Regional House of Assembly and the weakening of the party in the region. A campaign of hatred was generated against the leadership of the NCNC by the UPP and supported by the NPC. Akintola and his faction in AG who had formed the United Peoples Party combined with former NCNC opposition members of the Western House of Assembly to form a new coalition government in the region with Akintola as Premier. Akintola’s NNDP increasingly became unpopular among the Yoruba people and this led to the party adopting all manner of unwholesome political approach to revitalize its fading popularity and to be in power at all cost. led the NCNC form an alliance with the AG. It accused the NCNC of being an Igbo party and claimed that its participation in the Federal Government was only to foster the interest of the Igbo people. Yet a rift developed between the UPP/NCNC alliances leading to the transformation of UPP/NCNC coalition into Nigeria National Democratic Party under Akintola’s leadership 25.

As it were. the legal machinery was used in favour of the NNDP. in response to weathercock of political expediency. The British colonial administration intentionally created the polity to divide it and its peoples.L. Akintola. and was responsible for the violent convulsion that rocked the region and the eventual military coup of January 15. bringing to an abrupt end Nigeria’s First Republic after barely six years in governance after independence. Mukwugo Okoye observed that the NNDP of S. in order to remain in power even after it had lost the confidence of the Western electorates. Conclusion The development of democratic culture in Nigeria had basic constraints. The regional election into the Western Regional House of Assembly of 1964 was the worst election in the history of party politics in Nigeria. All known democratic principles were disregarded and power calculations remained largely regional. did not have Northern representatives. The Clifford’s Legislative Council for the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. This type of atmosphere could only but breed tension and crisis. perhaps created a world record in its shameless political opportunism. but also. The electoral commission was used to falsify results. Both the Lugardian Nigerian Council and the Lagos Legislative Council which he created. The NNDP/NPC alliance was neck-deep into fraud to retain power. but merely had 13 . because it not only changed alliances. 26 The politics of the period of our study showed graphically the flaws inherent in the political elites’ style of leadership. thugs fought opponents of the NNDP. generally. the election was fraudulent. still did not have Northerners there. 1966. the military struck.

rather than pursue national programmes and policies that would engender unity. The current pattern of politics in Nigeria can be traced back to the old problems of Nigeria. the leaders of the various political parties pursued regional and ethnic interests as well as self- rewarding programmes. This constituted a major set back in the development of a virile democratic culture in the polity. 14 . The political elites are squarely to be blamed for the mess that became the political terrain of Nigeria during this period. Democracy is attitudinal in nature and requires openness and accommodation to thrive. perhaps democratic governance would have succeeded in independent Nigeria and the consciousness deepened in the mind set of Nigerians. and not until the nation is taken in with seriousness and commitment by all. This type of situation acted as a catalyst that deepened mutual distrust between the two groups of Nigerians. Regionalism further distanced the groups. Had primordial and sectional politics been avoided and integrative policies pursued by the political party leaders.British officials representing the North. The Nigerian experience during this period showed that elite did not want to sacrifice for the future of the nation but were merely pretending to work for the development of the institutions of democratic governance. The cut-throat competition which characterized party politics during the nationalist period continued after independence and weakened the structures of democratic governance so much so that the civilian regime fell a cheap pray to the military in January 1966. the aspirations of good governance through democratic consolidation may well be an infatuation.

Nnoli. Ihediwa N. Ihediwa N. in Bulletin of Ecumenical Theology. “The Impact of Ethnicity on Democratic Transition in Nigeria: A case study of the Two-Party System. 1967. September 1996. 33-34. 143. 5/2 1993. p. Chimee.NOTES 1. No. O. 242-244. p. 1977.O. G. 5.17.. Sept.L. Okwudiba. Vol. Okoro. G. 6. Nigeria and Elective Representation 1923- 1947. 1965. Sklar. Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers. 8. Ibid. “The Political Class and the Manipulation of Ethnicity in Africa: The Nigerian case to 1966” in Proceedings of the International 15 . Tekena. 1989-1993” A B. Ijoma. 1973.30. London: Heinemann Education at Books. Olusanya. Richard . p.1-2. Lagos: Evans Brothers. Nsukka. “The Sabon-Gari System in the Northern States of Nigeria” in Nigerian Magazine. 2. G. University of Nigeria. “Nigeria’s Path to Western Democracy 1900-1960: A Historical Perspective”. p.A. 3. Olusanya. p 72. Ethnic Politics in Nigeria. Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation.O.4 4. Tamuno. 94. p. pp. 7. p. Olusanya. The Second World War and Politics in Nigeria 1939-1953. Project Submitted to the Department of History. 1963. 9. Nigeria: Nok Publishers. Chimee.

151.L. The Nigerian Federal Election of 1959. and C. 16. 57.4. (ed) Gwandolen. Sklar. Cit. p.2. 50.2. 21. F. 101. Nafziger. “The Political Economy of Disintegration in Nigeria” in Journal of Modern African Studies. 1. F. Research and Development Institute. Nicholson. 17.2006. p. “Political Parties in Nigeria”. No.U. 14. “The Federal Republic of Nigeria” in National Unity and Regionalism in Eight African States. London: Sweet and Maxwell. p. 52. (ed). “Nigeria: A Historical Review” in New Strategic For Curbing Ethnic and Religious Conflicts in Nigeria. 26. No. 10. No. Ibid. p. Wayne E. Richard . Loc.L.L. Olukoju. Carter. 90. London: Oxford university Press. in The Politics and Administration of Nigerian Government (ed). p. 11. Vol. 1973. Kenneth . M. 19. 508. 12. 15. Ayodeji. I.S. p. 20 Ibid. Okafor. Vol. p. 1965. “Contradictions in the Nigerian Political System” in Journal of Modern African Studies. Sklar. 16 . p. Franklin . Nigeria and Elective Representation 1923- 1947. Jr. p. 42. Whitaker. Post. Vol. p. Richard . Tamuno. Ibid. 13. Ibid. Enugu:Fourth Dimension Publishers. 1966. 11. 99-100. 18.3. 1997. 201. Tekena. Blitz. 1965. p.

24. F. 1874. 1970. 17 . Nigeria: The Last Days of the First Republic. 290-291. p. Fadehunsi. Ibid. p. Lagos: A. p. Ibid. Okoye.O. 292 23. Ibid. Olushola. 22. 25. p. 26. p. 1964. London: Oxford University Press. Press.8. 299.9. 10. p. Politics and Problems of the First Republic of Nigeria. Mokwugo. Ife: University of Ife Press.