General elections 2003


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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General elections 2003: Whither Nigeria?



Ahmadu Kurfi

culled from Daily Trust of February 2, 2003.


The first ever federal elections were held in 1954, during which the Northern
People's Congress (NPC) won in the Northern Region, capturing eighty-four out
of ninety-two seats allocated to the region. In the Western Region, the
National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) won twenty-three seats against
Action Group's (AG) eighteen and the commoners liberal party won one seat. In
the Eastern Region, NCNC won thirty seats and the AG in alliance with United
National Independent Party (UNIP) won seven seats and the others five seats.

During the 1959 federal elections, three political parties, namely the AG,
NCNC and NPC dominated the political scene, each of which drew its main
support from one of the constituent regions of the country. The AG was
associated with the West, the NCNC with the East and the NPC with the North.
As a result, the voting pattern that emerged was tribal or ethnic or regional
although both AG and NCNC made considerable efforts through alliances to win
seats outside their main bases. Altogether, over twenty political parties,
tribal unions and independent candidates contested the 1959 federal elections.

Result of the 1959 poll

The official figures of the elected members of the major parties in the House
of Representatives were:

NPC : 148 members

NCNC: 89 members

AG: 75 members

These overall results showed the position of the parties after alliances had
been involved and declarations of allegiance made. The results of the
elections before this consolidation were:

NPC: 134 seats

NCNC: 81 seats

AG: 73 seats

NEPU: 8 seats

Mobolaji: 6 seats

Igala Union: 4 seats

Igbira Tribal Union: 1 seat

Niger Delta Congress: 1 seat

Independents: 4 seats

NCNC and NEPU were contesting as one and two of the independent candidates
declared for the AG. The other two and all the successful candidates of the
small parties declared their support for the NPC.

The 1964 federal elections

Two big political alliances contested the 1964 federal elections. These were
the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) made up of the NCNC and AG with
splinter groups from the North, the Northern Progressive Front. The UPGA was
led by Dr M. I. Okpara, premier of the Eastern Region. The Nigerian National
Alliance (NNA) on the other hand was made up of the NNDP, which had been
formed by the same dissidents of the AG, and the NPC led by Sardauna of
Sokoto, premier of Northern Nigeria. Stripped of their ideological pretences,
the formation of the alliance set the stage for a political battle between the
North and the South, making the campaign for the 1964 elections bitter and

The campaigns for the election were characterised in all regions with
thuggery, violence, arrests and imprisonment of political opponents by
agencies of regional governments and denial of permits to hold public meetings
or processions. Other negative acts were the placing of obstacles against free
assembly, expression of free speech and conduct of violence, free election
campaign and canvassing for votes.

The offices of the Federal Electoral Commission, as well as that of the
Ceremonial President of Nigeria, were flooded with telegrams of complaints of
harassment, citing mediation, violence, etc against political opponents.
Nonetheless, the commission went ahead and fixed December 30th as the date of
the poll. Nominations of candidates closed on December 19th and by that time,
it had become known that 66 NNA and 15 UPGA candidates had been returned
unopposed be no election contests in 81 federal constituencies out of 312. The
large number of candidates returned unopposed acted as an alarm signal to UPGA
leaders of their impending electoral defeat. On their part, it was felt that
the "irregularities" that produced such "victories" provided sufficient and
valid reason for the postponement or boycott of the election. The Prime
Minister, Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, could not agree with the
President, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe on this point and ordered that the elections
should proceed on December 30th as planned. Two members of the Federal
Electoral Commission representing the East and Midwest Region resigned their

Voting was not countrywide. In the East, the boycott of the election was total
and nearly so in Lagos, but voting was done in some parts of the Western
Region and the Midwest Region. In the North, voting went ahead, the only
evidence of boycott being in two Northern Progressive Front's strongholds, the
Kano and Jos Sabon garis (stranger quarters).

The result of the election proved to be a "resounding" victory for the NNA in
the country as a whole, a situation which the president (UPGA sympathiser)
considered unsatisfactory. He declined to reappoint Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa
as prime minister and threatened to resign rather than exercise power to call
on a person, i.e the parliamentary leader of a majority party to form a
government. This stance produced a serious constitutional crisis which could
have involved the armed forces and police if the commanders (all expatriates)
had not strictly adhered to their respective roles as laid down in the 1963
constitution. A broad-based (all inclusive) federal government was formed in
January 1965, which was toppled by a section of the military (sympathetic to
UPGA) exactly a year later on January 15th 1966.

The military ruled the country from 1966 to 1979 when general elections were
held to usher in a civilian government. The results of this election computed
on the basis of regions from which the then 19 states of the federation were
carried out were as follows: -

1979 election

House of Representatives election

Party      East     North      West    Total


1. UPN     2         13           96         111

2. NPP    60          16           2           78

3. NPN    37          121         11           169

4. PRP     -           49           -           49

5. GNPP    4          39           -           43

Total      103       238        108           9440

Senatorial election

1. UPN                 -           4            24          28

2. NPP                 12           4              -         16

3. NPN                  6          29            1           36

4. PRP                   -           7             -          7

5. GNPP               2            6             -           8

Total                       20         50           25          95

The voting pattern in 1979 was not much different from that of the 1959
election as indicated below.

1959 election

Party                      East     North     West    Total


1. AG (and allies)     14         25          34         73

2. NCNC/NEPU           58         8           23          89

3. NPC                    -       134          -          134

4. Others                1           7            8          16

Total                      73        174        65         312

As I observed elsewhere,

"The above tables seem to portray the continuation fo ethnic or block voting
from the 1959 to the 1979 elections. The UPN and the NPP which were offshoots
of the AG and NCNC respectively became more entrenched in their respective
home bases, viz the western and eastern regions respectively, each of them
capturing all the senatorial seats allotted to the majority tribes (Yoruba and
Ibo) in those geographical regions. However, there were gains in the east by
other parties, notably the NPN which captured the majority of both the
senatorial and House of Representatives seats in the so-called minority areas
- the Cross River and Rivers states. The NPN also captured a few seats
allotted to the majority tribes in Anambra, Imo and Oyo states. This was a
significant development and some departure from the pattern that prevailed in
1959 or before. On the other hand, both the UPN and NPP made significant
inroads into what was hitherto regarded as the monolithic North, each
capturing sections of minority areas of the North - four senatorial seats in
Plateau State, NPP (one of which was lost to NPN following court action) and
two each from Kwara State (Yoruba-speaking section) and Gongola State. The two
parties also secured several seats in the North during the House of
Representatives election of 1979. The PRP remains a Northern party obtaining
all its seats in that region whilst the GNPP managed to snatch two senatorial
seats from Cross River State and House of Representatives seats from that
state as well as from Anambra and Imo states.

The electoral scores in the tables appear to give the impression that 'nearly
all the parties proved to be nothing but a resuscitation of the pre-military
(era) parties,' as observed by Labanji Bolaji in his book, Shagari, President
by Mathematics, who asserted that Awolowo remained the close link between the
old AG and the new UPN (both of which he was (is) national president); the
same could be said of Dr Azikiwe and Alhaji Aminu Kano, each of whom provided
a link between their respective defunct parties and the newly born ones which
they also led and to which they like magnets attracted former adherents. The
really new parties were the NPN and the GNPP, which attracted supporters of
the former NPC as well as those of the defunct NCNC, AG and splinter groups.
These two parties had the most geographical spread in terms of electoral votes
secured by each and if the presidential election had gone to the Electoral
College, the presidential candidates of NPN and GNPP should have contested the
election at that level. The NPN, as its name implies, is the most national of
all the parties in terms of votes cast for its candidates and parliamentary
seats won by it across the nation. By and large, the results of the 1979
general elections proved an encouraging pointer to future national integration
in the Nigerian body politics as the following figures on the electoral
performance of the NPN, the largest of the five political parties indicate:

The NPN presidential candidate, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, won 25 per cent or more
votes in 13 states (or, if you like, 122/3 states). He also scored the
following votes in the remaining six states:

1. Anambra: 163,164 votes (or 13.5 per cent of the votes cast there)

2. Oyo: 177,999 votes (or 12.8 per cent of the votes cast there)

3. Imo: 101,516 votes (or 8.8 per cent of the votes cast there)

4. Lagos: 59,515 votes (or 7.2 per cent of the votes cast there)

5. Ogun: 46,358 votes (or 6.2 per cent of the votes cast there)

6. Ondo: 57,361 votes (or 4.2 per cent of the votes cast there)

With regard to the elections to the legislative houses - national and state
Assemblies - the geographical spread of the NPN's successful candidates had
also shown an encouraging trend towards national integration. NPN's 36
senators came from 12 states while its 168 representatives came from 16 out of
the 19 states, the exceptions being Lagos, Ondo and Ogun states. The party's
members in State Assemblies are secured in 17 of the 19 states, the exceptions
being Lagos and Ogun states.

The Nigerian federation constituted (in 1979) 19 states; but within the
borders of these states lived numerous ethnic groups, nationalities or tribes,
numbering nearly 300. Among these we three large groups, Hausa/Fulani, Ibo and
Yoruba, each numbering millions of people and large enough to constitute a
separate national entity or polity. There are also substantial 'minorities,'
such as Tivs, Ibibios, Edos, Urhobos, Ijaws, Igalas, Kanuris, Nupes etc., each
allied to or in opposition to one or more of the large ethnic groupings.
Loyalty to party may have obliterated differences among the ethnic groups
during election, but all the same, the campaign at grassroots or village
levels usually have ethnic flavour as in 1979 when most Yorubas voted for UPN
and most Ibos for NPP, PRP, GNPP, each of which had a Northerner as its
presidential candidate in the same way as the former two parties had a Yoruba
and an Ibo respectively as theirs. The voting pattern during the 1979 election
produced a strong ethnic/block voting, thus perpetuating the famous tripolar
nature of the Nigerian political equation, which now has become quadripolar
with the emergence of the 'minorities' on the political scene.

Because of these characteristics of the Nigerian politics, it had become
necessary to a form a sort of coalition to govern the country at the federal
level. The results of the 1954, 1959 and 1979 elections left no one party with
sufficient number of seats to go it alone. Even in 1964 when 'Alliance'
partners obtained an absolute majority, it felt advisable to form a
'broad-based national government' so that a significant section of the
population was not excluded from participation in the federal government. Such
exclusion would be seen to have meant loss of perquisites of office and
possibly fair share of the 'national cake!' It would appear that the coalition
syndrome - 'accord,' 'understanding,' 'broad-based' or whatever name it is
called - is likely to be a feature of the Nigerian political scene for some
time to come in the interest of stability and continued existence of the
country as a unified polity. Thus, the tradition of 'shifting political
alliances' between and among the political parties at the centre is likely to
persist; but its importance as a cohesive factor is bound to give way to
genuine partnership between the various groupings brought together in a major,
nation-wide political party which could command a broad enough appeal that
cuts across ethnic, religious and/or regional differences i.e. broad enough to
accommodate the majority of the Nigerian ethnic groups or nationalities and
mould them into a single national block.

Another set of general elections was conducted in 1983 to usher in civilian to
civilian transition. As in 1964, the elected officials attempted to succeed
themselves irrespective of performance and in order to achieve this ignoble
objective, all sorts of stratagems and strategies were devised by political
parties and candidates. The elections were massively rigged in order to
achieve landslide, sea slide and space slide victories over opponents.
However, these pyrrhic victories were cut short by gun slides. The military
intervened once again and ruled the country from 31st December 1983 to 29th
May 1999. Almost sixteen years!

Transition programmes were put in place by the Babangida administration which
decreed only two political parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC)
and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and these contested elections into local
government councils, state and national Assemblies, state executives or
governors between 1991 and 1992. The elected officials were sworn in and were
functioning when presidential election was conducted on June 12, 1993. Partial
results of the election were announced before its annulment by the military
regime. The country was plunged into another political crisis resulting in the
establishment of an Interim National Government (ING) and the exit from power
of the military president, General Ibrahim Babangida who was forced to 'step
aside.' The ING headed by Mr Shonekan was toppled by General Sani Abacha, then
Chief of Defence Staff and Minister of Defence on November 17th 1993. All the
structures established during Babangida's transition programme were scrapped
and the elected officials sacked. Another tortuous political transition
programme was put in place by Abacha who also tried to perpetuate himself in
power but his ambition was scuttled by divine intervention - he died on June
8th 1998. General Abdulsalam took over as head of state and organised a short
transition programme that lasted for less than a year. Elections were
conducted between 1998 and 1999 at the end of which elected civilians were
sworn into office on May 29th 1999 under the provision of a new constitution.

By the time the elected officials-state and federal legislators, state and
federal executives, as well as local government chairmen and councillors - had
served less than half their tenures, they started planning to succeed
themselves just as their predecessors did in 1964 and 1983. TAZARCE (self
perpetuation) is now the vogue just as "unopposed" was in 1964 and 1983!

>From the foregoing analysis, self-perpetuation syndrome seems to be a
recurring decimal in the Nigerian body politics and years ending with 3 turn
out to be years of crisis as indicated hereunder.

(a) 1953 - Kano riots following disagreement over date of self-government for

(b) 1963 - Census controversy leading to election crisis in 1964 and military
intervention in 1966.

(c) 1973 - Census controversy, which culminated in the overthrow of General
Yakubu Gowon's is nine-year-old regime.

(d) 1983 - Massive election rigging by elected officials to perpetuate
themselves in power leading to the toppling of the civilian regime and
prolonged military rule.

(e) 1993 - Annulment of the presidential election of that year and
continuation of military rule.

(f) 2003 - All the signposts to disaster are appearing on the horizon.

On the other hand, the years ending with 9 witnessed peaceful transfer of
power from one set of rulers to another -

(a) 1959 federal elections, which marked transfer of power from the British
colonialists to Nigerians.

(b) 1979 Transfer of power from the military to the civilians

(c) 1999 Transfer of power from military to civilians.

Going by the scenarios outlined above, what are the prospects of the year 2003
when another set of elections will be held between April and May 2003? Will it
witness a peaceful transition from civilian to civilian administration or will
it follow the patterns of 1953, 1963/4, 1983, 1993? What has been happening in
the country during the past two years and especially the last few weeks when
party primary elections were held under dubious and unethical circumstances
seem to indicate a repeat of episodes of these years unless politicians have a
change of heart or a miracle happens that may yet save Nigeria from the path
of destruction and/or disintegration. The prognosis seems to point to trouble
and turmoil's ahead unless all of us, leaders and followers change our ways
positively and embrace the accepted norms of free and fair elections which
confer legitimacy to our peaceful transfer of power from one set of rulers to
another. TAZARCE or self-perpetuation under any pretext will as in the past
forty years lead us to trouble, turmoil, blood and tears. All hands must be
put on deck to avert the impending disaster and save our dear motherland from
disaster. Let all of us join General Yakubu Gowon's prayer, train to seek
divine guidance and salvation.

Alhaji (Dr) Ahmadu Kurfi is the Maradin Katsina and former Secretary of the Federal Electoral Commission that conducted the 1979 Election


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