Third Republic governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, in this interview with ALLWELL OKPI, states that adopting a two-party system would help Nigeria overcome its political woes
President Goodluck Jonathan recently suggested a two-party political system for the country. Do you agree with him?
I’m a staunch supporter of a two-party system. It is the best for the country because it is based on distinct ideologies – the conservatives on one side and the progressives on the other side. If we want to adopt it, then we should have the courage to register the National Republican Convention again. The Social Democratic Party has already been re-registered and many people are showing interest.
Considering the present political situation, is Nigeria ripe for such?
The situation on the ground does not seem to encourage the establishment of a proper two-party system based on ideological distinction. The All Progressives Congress cannot be a part of a proper two-party system. In fact, APC constitutes a danger to Nigeria. It is only complicating our political situation because it is not based on ideology.
Has the two-party system been effective in Nigeria and other countries?
When Ibrahim Babangida wanted to transit to civilian rule, he empanelled ex-permanent secretaries to prepare a transition programme. I was one of them. We analysed the situation of the country and we came to a conclusion that Nigeria has two major religions – Islam and Christianity – but there are the pagans. Nigeria has tribes – Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and others. We looked at the country and decided that the only way to unite this country was by establishing a two-party political system. So, it was the ex-permanent secretaries that proposed it to IBB and he announced it to Nigerians.
Because he was the one that announced it, people thought it was a military idea and people opposed it. But in practice, the bonding that happened in Nigeria during that period is better than the bonding that has happened at other times in this country since amalgamation. If somebody from Sokoto State is going to Anambra State in those days, it was like he was going home. If you were a member of the SDP in Sokoto, and you came to Anambra where I was the governor, you would feel at home. You would have no fear. The same thing happened between states where the National Republican Convention was in charge.
Someone from Enugu NRC could go to Kano, which was another NRC state and feel at home. All the governors were like one; there was no division. In practice, the two-party system has proven to be superior to all other alternatives. In theory, the two-party system is clearly better than other alternatives. In the United State of America, you have the conservatives called the Republicans and the libertarians called the Democrats. Anywhere you have uncountable number of political parties, you will have many problems. It is no use. An example is Israel. In a two-party system, you have two strong parties.
One may be stronger than the other in one area, but rigging of elections will be minimal compared to the large-scale rigging that will now have under multi-party system. I usually say that in a two-party system, giant will meet giant and they will negotiate. But now, we have a situation where a giant meet Lilliputians and there is no negotiation. In any way you look at it, the two-party system is superior. To balance the two-party system, the only thing we have to do is to allow independent candidacy.
Assuming we have a situation where some Nigerians do not believe in any of the two parties. What options do such people have?
Like I said, to give a breathing space, the two-party system should allow space for independent candidates. We should be clamouring for a two-party system plus independent candidacy in order to satisfy the aspirations of people who may disagree with the two main parties.
Are you saying the people who do not conform to the two major parties cannot form political organisations to support independent candidates?
No, people will be free to form smaller political parties but they will not be funded by the government. It does not take away the right of Nigerians to form political associations. It is just that other political associations outside the two main political parties would be independent of the two-party system.
You said SDP and NRC should be re-registered. Do you recommend that Nigeria should return to the early 1990s when the two parties reigned?
That is the best thing, if we can find a way to go there. Every Nigerian should know that that is the best for the country.
But don’t you think the ideologies that governed those parties and the conduct of politicians then have been eroded from today’s politics?
No. There is something called conservatism and there is something called progressivism. These are international ideologies. They don’t get eroded. Sometimes some people are convergent. So, there can be progressivism, conservatism and convergence.
The suggestion of a two-party system today is based the emergence of the All Progressives Congress as a giant umbrella of major opposition parties to challenge the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. Do you think PDP and APC fit into the conservative-versus-progressive mould of a two-party system?
APC clearly does not qualify as an alternative party. Like I said before, APC has no ideology and it is therefore not good for Nigeria.
What of PDP?
PDP has no ideology but it is not the fault of the party. It occurred that way because of how things happened. I was a founding member of G34. When Abubakar Abdusalami came up with the idea of taking Nigeria to civil rule, I proposed that since members of the G34 were the credible people at that time, we should break into two – some into a conservative group, following their own ideologies, and some into a progressive group.
There were many progressives and many conservatives in G34. But it turned out that nobody wanted to be in the opposition. About seven people agreed with me but it was overruled because the majority wanted to be opulent; nobody wanted to be in the opposition; nobody wanted to lose election and grow as opposition. So, people from different parties, including SDP and NRC, joined the PDP. As a result, PDP from the start became a party of ideological strange bed fellows. It is not the fault of PDP; it was the way things happened when the military handed over to civilians.
As Nigeria prepares for the 2015 general elections, how can the country arrive at the type of two-party system that existed in the SDP-NRC era?
We need to evolve. There is no way to do it by fiat. If we have a determined government, Nigeria can become the super power that it is supposed to be. Maybe from there, we can re-register NRC. SDP has been re-registered. We need some support for these two bodies. Just any show of interest or intervention by government can spark up growth and development within these parties.
Can a two-party system also answer the question of the different regions of the country seeking their slot at the presidency?
Two-party system has nothing to do with who becomes President. The Presidency will be a matter of rotation among the geopolitical zones. We can just end up with the South-East, then after that, it will be free for all. Then, we can have the six zones nominate presidential candidates and we will choose based on meritocracy