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1.1     Background of the Study

          Political parties are traditionally the most significant intermediary organization in democratic societies. Students of political parties have commonly associated them with democracy itself (Orji, 2013). Political parties, as “makers” of democracy, have been so romanticized that scholars claim that neither democracy nor democratic societies are thinkable without them (Omotola 2009). In other words, the existence of vibrant political parties is a sine qua non for democratic consolidation in any polity (Dode, 2010). It is patently ironic that political parties largely pursue (and profess) democracy outside the gates and resist it within the gates (Ibeanu, 2013). Competitive party and electoral politics is expected to deepen and consolidate the democratic transition, which the country embarked upon in May 1999 (Jinadu, 2013). Well functioning political parties are essential for the success of electoral democracy and overall political development of Nigeria (Adetula and Adeyi, 2013).

          Democratic governance with its ideal of elective representation, freedom of choice of leaders, rule of law, freedom of expression, accountability among others, has become the acceptable system of government all over the world. It is a form of government in which the supreme power of a political community rests on popular sovereignty. According to Oyovbaire (1987) democracy as a system of government seeks to realize a generally recognized common good through a collective initiation and discussion of policy questions concerning public affairs and which delegates authority to agents to implement the broad decisions made by the people through majority vote. Thus, in contemporary times, democracy has been referred to as the expression of popular will of the political community through elected representatives. The contemporary democracy, according to Raphael (1976), rests on representative government.

   Democratic governance in Nigeria has been a different thing when compared to what is obtainable in other parts of the world. The respect for human right and the rule of law which are the main features of democracy are not visible especially between 1999 and 2007; election rigging and gangsterism is the order of the day that one can hardly differentiate between democratic government and autocracy (Osabiya, 2015).

          Accordingly, Osabiya (2015) further asserted that in modern societies, political parties are very essential to political process. They have become veritable instrument or adjunct of democracy in any democratic system. Political parties are not only instrument for capturing political power, but they are also vehicles for the aggregation of interests and ultimate satisfaction of such interests through the control of government. Obviously political parties are crucial to the sustenance of democratic governance.

          Towards the end of the last century, Africa like the rest of the world witnessed the “third wave of democratization” when authoritarian regime and one party governments were replaced or supplanted by elected civilian governments or administrations. Nigeria described by Ette (2013) as one of the strongholds of dictatorship in the continent was caught in the snowballing effect of the wave after twenty-nine years of military dictatorship. After several years of failure attempt by the past military regimes of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Sani Abacha, democracy formally gained root in the country on 29 May, 1999.

          Nigerians were full of hopes and expectations that hard earned democracy will usher in improvements in standards of living, good governance, improvement in security and what Mohammed (2013) described as freeing of natural resources from the iron fist and jaw of greedy officials to that of enterprising and efficient social services delivery in health, education, sports and prevention of modern day slavery such as human trafficking as well as rehabilitation of infrastructural facilities, poverty alleviation and reduction in unemployment, inequality and improvement in general socio-economic development.

          Disturbingly, seventeen years after the inception of the present democratic dispensation, the political landscape is yet to show clear evidence of good governance. Elections and electoral processes are subverted; there have been wide scale of political violence and killing in many parts of the country; upsurge in ethnic militia groups who make life unbearable for the citizenry; general insecurity and high profile terrorism in the northern part of the country as well as kidnapping and bunkering of the petroleum pipelines in the southern part of the country which obviously have become a major threat to her democratic process and consolidation (Adeosun, 2014).

          A true democracy is a sine qua non for the development of all sectors of any country’s economy. However, democracy incorporates the exploitative and allienative tendencies often demonstrated by the capitalists against the downtrodden. Democracy, from an empirical view point could mean “a socioeconomic and political formation that grants the hoi polloi (common people) the irreducible instrument of determining and participating effectively in the day-to-day smooth governance of their country”. That is, the general transformative and re-structuring powers of that state are vested in the hands of the electorates (Golden, 2010).

          The rudiments of a true democracy are good governance, fair and legitimate elections, justice, equity, accountability, transparency, responsible leadership, political education of the masses, respect for the rule of law and importantly corporation among the different branches of government. Regrettably, the practice of the so-called democracy in the 21st Century Nigeria is intrinsically characterized by electoral frauds orchestrated by political parties (Obidimma & Obidimma, 2015).

          Moreover, mainstream rhetoric in Nigeria media and popular discourses of the polity is often centred on the claim that Nigeria is “consolidating its democracy”. The evidence on the ground, however, contradicts this claim (Momoh, 2013). It is perhaps most appropriate to liken the relationship between political parties and the sustenance of democratic rule in a particular society to that which exists between the umbilical cord and the foetus (Yagboyaju, 2012).

Political parties are at the heart of examining the health of any form of democracy (Orji, 2013), for example, maintains that ‘to talk, today, about democracy, is to talk about a system of competitive political parties. Their roles and activities are critical in any assessment of democratic practice. With the transition to civil rule in 1999 (Signalling the commencement of the fourth republic), political parties had the mandate to produce the right calibre of people to govern (Momoh, 2013). One of the most complex and critical institutions of democracy is the political party (ies) (Omotola, 2009). Therefore this research study seeks to critically explore political parties and democratic consolidation in Nigeria’s fourth republic.

1.2     Statement of the Problem

          Consolidating Nigerian democracy through the conduct of credible elections has remained an albatross. The history of Nigeria’s democratic experiments demonstrates that elections and electoral politics have generated so much animosity which has, in some cases, threatened the corporate existence of the country (such as happened after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election) and in other cases instigated military incursion in to political governance, most notably in 1966 and 1983. At the heart of electoral crisis in Nigeria is the lack of credibility for the official results of elections leading to the rejection of such results by a sizeable portion of the Nigerian voting public. Since the 1964 general election, the first to be conducted by the post-colonial Nigerian government, elections in Nigeria have consistently been characterized by the contestation of results and organized violence.

          While there is a plethora of factors that account for electoral crisis in Nigeria, the institutional factor (designing a credible electoral system) appears to be the most salient. In addition, the process of implementing such an efficient electoral regime is challenged by sociological variables such as the pluralist character of the Nigerian nation, underdeveloped political culture and irrational political parties’ behaviour.

          Since the inauguration of the Fourth Republic, a pattern is already emerging which points to the fact that political elites have not learnt much from the mistakes of the past. The various crises plaguing the major parties and emerging ones and the various inter-party crisis of the defections in the National Assembly, cross carpeting of governors among others are vivid instances of this tendency. Lack of party discipline continues to feature prominently in all the major parties. One of the fallouts of lack of party discipline among party men is factionalisation within the parties. The registration of new parties in preparation of 2007 has raised the phenomenon of carpet crossing and decamping. This tendency has further oiled “the zero-sum game” of the Nigerian political landscape. This action ends up heating up the polity; a situation that portends dangers to democratic consolidation.        This danger has resulted to the high level of political abduction, harassment, arson, and assassinations, withdrawal of credible and qualified professionals in the race. It is against this backdrop that this study seeks to examine the relationship between political parties and democratic consolidation in Nigeria’s fourth republic from 1999-2015 with a special reference to Makurdi Local Government Area (LGA) of Benue State.

1.3     Objectives of the Study

          The major objective of the study is examine the relationship between political parties and democratic consolidation in Nigeria’s fourth republic from 1999-2015. Other specific objectives are:

1)    To examine the relationship between political parties and democratic consolidation in Nigeria’s fourth.

2)    To explore the effect of inter-party crisis on the democratic process.

3)    To investigate the influence of the electoral process on power transition in Nigeria’s fourth.

4)    To find out the challenges of political parties in Nigerian Fourth Republic.

1.5     Research Questions

The questions that this study seeks to address are:

1)    What is the relationship between political parties and democratic consolidation in Nigeria’s fourth?

2)    Will inter-party crisis have any effect on the democratic process in Nigeria?

3)    To what extent will the electoral process have an influence on power transition in Nigeria’s fourth?

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