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History of Politics and Elections in Nigeria (Posted 7th April, 2003) Tell others about this page! Email it to them.


Politics and elections can be perceived as Siamese twins (inseparable) when viewed from a democratic prism. Though, the political history of Africa paints a different picture, with series of coups and counter cLord Lugardoups, civil wars, secessions and rebel uprising, all showing the possibility of politics devoid of elections. This grim reality actually underscores Aristotle’s assertion that all human beings are political animals either through conscious acts or unconscious actions. 

Putting a date to the history of politics and by extension elections in Nigeria can be a bit tricky as a starting point can as well extend beyond pre-colonial periods, when the present day modern Nigeria was more or less an unformed embryo. What is called Nigeria today was the result of Sir Frederick Lugards’ amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorate in 1914, with the whole territory named the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. By that time British administrators, traders and missionaries had been at work, particularly in the southern area, for about 100 years, during which the influence of western education and other social institutions had continued to expand while portions of traditional local systems declined.  

Colonial Period (1914 – 1960) 

Herbert MacaualyEvents do not occur in a void as such because there are historical connections to every development. According to a book titled: Nigeria: a country study, one of the serial Area Handbook Series published by the American University, Washington D.C., it notes that activities of Portuguese navigators have been noticed in the West African coast since the early 15th century. In 1481 emissaries from the King of Portugal visited the court of the Oba of Benin. By 1851, Britain captured the colony of Lagos in a bid to have a firmer grip over its commercial interests in the coastal town and proclaimed Lagos a Crown Colony in 1861. In 1885, the Berlin-West African Conference of major European powers agreed to entrust Britain with the sphere of influence of the Niger River Basin.

The 1914 unification introduced the principle of indirect rule of administration which literally gave the power of administration to the traditional rulers but with instructions and prodding from the colonial officers. In 1916 Lord Lugard formed the Nigerian Council, a consultative body that brought together 6 traditional leaders – including the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano, and the Alaafin of Oyo – to represent all parts of the colony. Though it is on record that they have no major role to play in policy formulation as Lord Lugard dictates the policies of the British Crown to them. 

Colonial Constitutions and Political Parties 

Nnamdi Azikiwe, Former Governor General, then President of NigeriaWith the exit of Lugard in 1920, Nigeria experienced 4 successive constitutional changes with the Hugh Clifford Constitution of 1922 being the first followed by the Richards’ 1946 Constitution, 1951 Macpherson’s Constitution and the Federal Constitution of 1954 popularly known as the Lyttelton’s Constitution. Political agitation for representation led to the birth of political parties in Nigeria. The first party to emerge was the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1922. The party was founded by Sir Herbert Macaulay, reputed to be the father of party politics in Nigeria. It contested seats in the Lagos Legislative Council created by the 1922 constitution. Though, different associations and groups existed before the formation of the NNDP but they were not organised in a party structure. By 1944 another party – National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) - emerged with the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as the Secretary General and Herbert Macaulay as the President. It was initially a coalition of all the major labour unions, social groups, political clubs, professional associations and over 100 ethnic organisations, the NCNC had an almost national spread and appeal.

Obafemi Awolowo, leader of opposition in the First RepublicThe Action Group led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was founded in 1951 as the political party arm of the socio-cultural organisation, Egbe Omo Oduduwa and the Produce Trader’s Association which he gave leadership role. Other political parties soon came into the political picture, like the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) led by the late Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana (war leader) of Sokoto, Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) led by Alhaji Aminu Kano, United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) led by Joseph Tarka, Bornu Youth Movement (BYM), Ilorin Talaka Parapo (ITP), United National Independent Party (UNIP), Niger Delta Congress (NDC), Benin-Delta People’s Party (BDPP), Mid-West State Movement among others.

With the 1954 constitution which introduced principle of ministerial responsibility under British-style parliamentary form of government, events in the Nigerian state moved rapidly. By 1957, the Western and Eastern regions became formally self-governing in regional affairs within the Federal structure and in the same year the Federal Executive Council was created to prepare Nigeria for independence. In the year 1959, the Northern region became self-governing and the National parliamentary elections in December, 1959 led to the formation of a coalition government under the prime ministerial-ship of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

See also:  
  Independence and the First Republic (October 1, 1960 - January 15, 1966
  The Era of Military Dictatorship: First Phase (January 15, 1966 - October 1, 1979)
  Aguiyi Ironsi (January 15, 1966 - July 29, 1966)
  Gowon Junta (July 29, 1966 - July 29, 1975)
  Murtala/Obasanjo Administration (July 29, 1975 - October 1, 1979)
  Return to Civilian Rule and the Second Republic (October 1, 1979 - December 31, 1983)
  Second Phase of Military Incursion into Politics (December 31, 1983 - May 29, 1999)
  Buhari Regime (December 31, 1983 - August 27, 1985)
  Babangida Administration (August 27, 1985 - August 27, 1993)
  Shonekan's Interim National Government, ING (August 27, 1993 - November 17, 1993)
  Abacha Administration (November 17, 1993 - June 8, 1998)
  Abubakar Administration (June 8, 1998 - May 29, 1999)
  Obasanjo Administration (May 29, 1999 - To Date )
  Civilian to Civilian Transition 2003: Which Way Forward?

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