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The Legislatures in the First and Second Republics

Abstract and Keywords

This study examines the Nigerian democratic experience and governance in the First and the Second Republics. The First Republic began in 1960 with a parliamentary constitution bequeathed to the country by Britain. Despite the euphoria of independence, the inability of the political elites to manage the inherited system and maintain inter- and intraparty harmony as well as interethnic understanding led to the democratic reversal of 1966. The military and the political elites reached a consensus between 1976 and 1979 on the need to adopt a presidential system which they considered to have the elements to achieve stability. However, the Second Republic which began with the presidential constitution of 1979 collapsed in 1983. This chapter discusses the legislative politics, executive-legislative relations, and the reasons for the collapse of the republics. It argues that the adversarial politics of the ruling elites undermined both the parliamentary and presidential constitutions of the republics respectively.

Keywords: legislature, bicameral, constitution, parliamentary, elections, representation, constitution


Nigeria inherited a parliamentary system of government with a bifurcated executive at independence in 1960. The system was bequeathed to Nigeria by the British colonial administration, and provided for a federal system, parliamentary democracy, and a bicameral legislature. The political class deployed both tribal politics and regional/ sectional parties as tools for political recruitment, mobilizing support and consolidation of power. As not only was the center turned into a theater of conflict, the regions also became political battlegrounds for the parties as they sought to outdo one another either by divide and rule, formation of alliances, or through realignment. The parliamentary democracy collapsed under the strain of political crises that engulfed the political process between 1960 and 1966 (Adebayo 1986; Ojo 1985, 1998). While the First Republic lasted, the parliamentary system operating at the federal level was also replicated at the regional level between 1960 and 1966.

The military terminated the First Republic parliamentary government in January 1966 and governed until a new civilian regime took over on October 1, 1979, marking the beginning of the Second Republic. After a successful democratic transition, a presidential system styled after the United States was adopted under the 1979 constitution, and the legislative, executive, and judicial arms became separate institutions with each one staffed by different personnel and exercising distinct powers. Despite such alterations to Nigeria’s political structure, the Second Republic collapsed prematurely in 1983. Both stretches of military rule, from 1966 to 1979, and from 1984 to 1999, are elegantly described by Osaghae in this volume.

(p. 208) This chapter briefly examines the parliamentary democracy of the First Republic, from 1960 to 1966, and the presidential democracy of the Second Republic, from 1979 to 1983, and the reasons for their collapse. The chapter focuses on how these institutions operated, the composition of the legislature, and the relationship between the executive and the legislature. Legislative inaction, instability, and poor institutional design that promoted political polarization and corruption were important factors in the failure of Nigeria’s first two attempts at democracy. Both of these failures lend support to Fish’s (2006) finding that the strength of democracy depends on a strong, functioning legislature. The conclusion discusses how these failures have important implications for the current democratic dispensation since 1999, which has also suffered from an unproductive legislature, gridlock between the legislative and executive branches, and weak political accountability.

The Legislatures under the Parliamentary System, 1960–6

The foundation for independence started gathering momentum in the 1950s, with the 1957 Constitutional Conference held in London and the 1958 conference held in Lagos. At the two conferences political elites reached a consensus that the Western and Eastern Regions should become self-governed in 1957, the North in 1959, and the entire country in 1960 (Gberevbie and Oni 2014). At these conferences, important issues emerged relating to the creation of more regions, especially for minority groups who feared domination by majority ethnic groups, and the right fiscal arrangements. A commission was set up for the purpose of addressing the issues but its concerns were never addressed.

On October 1, 1960 Nigeria became an independent state, but nevertheless remained a dominion state of Britain. What this entailed in respect of the legislature was that the parliament consisted of a governor-general who represented the Crown, the Senate, and the House of Representatives (T. I. Ojo 1997). According to Ojo, without any one of these institutions, a legislative measure could never become an Act or law. Thus, the 1960 constitution did not change the legislative power of the British Crown in Nigeria.

The executive, under the First Republic parliamentary system, did not emerge through direct popular support given in a general election. Rather, as J. D. Ojo (1998) avers, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which drew its major support from the Hausa–Fulani Muslims in the north, formed an alliance with the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), which drew support from the Ibo and was largely in control of the Eastern Region. The alliance gave the NPC and NCNC the majority needed to form a government at independence. Thus, with the adoption of the Westminster model, the executive derived its power from and in fact existed at the continual pleasure of the legislature. However, the federal structure was lopsided, as Osaghae (1998) (p. 209) contends, the combination of two and later three regions (Midwestern Region added to the existing two in the South) was smaller in size than the only one region in the north. The lopsidedness in the size of the regions was such that the Northern Region controlled by NPC could have taken control of the government alone without any support from other regions in the south, if it had won a majority of seats in parliament. While the NPC won the largest share of seats in the House of Representatives, it fell short of the majority needed to form a government.

The results showed that two possibilities emerged from the elections that ushered Nigeria into independence. In one scenario, the Action Group (AG) and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) could have formed an alliance with the majority needed to form a government. This option was rejected by the leader of NCNC, perhaps because of the rivalry between him and the leader of AG. Possibly too, the leader of the NCNC also rejected the request of the Western Region-based AG to go into a coalition hoping that the less sophisticated north could become subservient. The second option was settled for, with the NPC and the NCNC forming the government with 237 seats at independence in 1960. Under the arrangement, the NCNC, the junior partner, produced the governor-general, who represented the Crown and performed ceremonial functions, while the NPC, the senior partner in the coalition, produced the prime minister who was head of government with full executive power. The AG with seventy-five legislators became an opposition party (Agagu 2007; Anifowose 1982). The Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), the Action Group (AG), and the United Middle Belt Congress also formed an alliance and became the opposition in the national parliament.

The 1960 constitution replicated the democratic institutions of the center at the regional level. At the national level was a Senate as well as a House of Representatives. In the regions, bicameralism was manifest in a House of Chiefs and a Regional Assembly. While the prime minister headed government at the center, the premier headed government at the regional level (Lafenwa 2014). The members of both federal and regional cabinets were drawn from the House of Representatives and Regional Assemblies respectively. In the opinion of Adebayo (1986), the fusion of personnel and powers in the First Republic turned legislatures into a weak and docile institutions.

It should be pointed out that while the leader of the NPC decided to stay back in the North as the premier of the region, the leaders of both the NCNC and the AG decided to cede the office of the premier of their respective regions to other members of their parties while they proceeded to the center. Unlike the leader of the NPC who preferred to stay back in his region as the premier, the center appeared to be more important to the leaders of both the NCNC and the AG and therefore should not be left in the hands of just anybody. The decision of the leader of the NCNC seemed to pay off, as he eventually formed a coalition with the NPC and was appointed the president. The leader of the AG with his alliance therefore became the opposition. Playing the opposition role, however, appeared to unsettle the ruling coalition. Also the premier of the Western Region, a member of the AG that formed the opposition at the center was also not comfortable with the AG playing opposition at the center. He preferred to be part of the alliance that (p. 210) ruled the country. The internal disagreement within AG and other issues created a rift that the NPC-led government covertly and overtly exploited to undermine the AG and the opposition leader until the crisis that decimated the party broke out in 1962. We will discuss this later when explaining the collapse of the First Republic.

The 1960 constitution was reviewed in 1963. The emergence of the 1963 Republican Constitution resulted in the complete termination of direct influence and authority of the Crown of England in Nigerian politics. The 1960 and 1963 constitutions did not make provisions for the office of executive president. The 1963 constitution vested in parliament the power to delegate any of the functions of the president to any other person as the parliament may find desirable.

The imperative for maintaining a coherent and highly disciplined cabinet and majority meant that the executive required firmness in action, sanction, and sharing of patronage. As typical of any parliamentary system, the First Republic was under the firm grip of the executive (prime minister) who dominated policymaking (Aiyede 2006). Legislatures in the First Republic, both at the central and regional levels, were too feeble to affect the course of governance. Jimoh (1999) avers that all colonial constitutions in Nigeria and the 1960 independence constitution were designed in such a way as to make the legislatures ineffective. Rather, the British intended them to be only deliberative Houses. Hence, the legislatures were mere window dressing and toothless institutions which performed limited legislative functions.

Although the three biggest parties, the NPC, NCNC, and AG were largely regional and tribal parties, the struggle and desperation to extend their respective membership and support base to other regions precipitated the interparty acrimony and conflict from which the First Republic did not recover. Cut-throat competition and adversarial politics among the multiethnic groups further contributed to the collapse of the First Republic (Adebayo 1986; Isijola 2002). In the next section, we briefly discuss the collapse of the First Republic.

Reasons for the Collapse of the First Republic

The parliamentary democracy of the First Republic lasted from October 1960 to January 1966. Considering the evident adversarial politics that characterized the era, the collapse was unsurprising. At independence, each region was firmly under the control of a political party founded under the platform of ethnic grouping. The power struggle over the control of the respective regions by the indigenes as well as the efforts to extend their influence to other regions, in part precipitated the political crisis in politics (Anifowose 1982). Other factors that led to the fall of the First Republic include the Western Region crises of 1962, the 1962/63 census crises, and the electoral violence of 1965 among others.

(p. 211) The first indication that all was not well was the intraparty crisis within the Action Group (AG), the then ruling party in the Western Region, in 1962 (Obikeze and Anthony 2003). The party was founded to appeal to ethnic Yorubas, using the “Egbe Omo Oduduwa” (meaning “the descendants of Oduduwa”) cultural organization as a springboard. The Yorubas saw the party as their own and the party drew the bulk of its members and support from the Western Region. One major challenge that arose early on, was that the leadership of AG could not agree on common issues regarding the administration of the Western Region as well as the national government (Gberevbie and Oni 2014). The irreconcilable difference between the premier of the region and the leader of the party at the center, the violent conflict inside the chamber of the Western Region as well as a declaration of a state of emergency in the region by the NPC-led federal government. This spurred many events that put democracy in jeopardy. The leadership of the NPC played partisan politics with utter indiscretion by declaring a state of emergency over internal conflicts/affairs of the Western Region Assembly (Anifowose 1982). The action raised some questions about the sincerity and the interest of the federal government in the crisis. The internal crisis of the AG also broke up its alliance with other opposition parties. The Western Region crisis set the stage for the bitter political struggle and cut-throat politics that followed and also laid the groundwork for the democratic reversal.

The sacking of the premier of the Western Region in 1962 by the governor, who remained loyal to the leader of the party, was indeed a turning point in the political history of not only the Western Region but also the entire country. The conflict inside the chamber of the Western Region Assembly, provided an opportunity for the central government, under the control of a coalition government of the NPC and the NCNC, to weaken the AG (Anifowose 1982). To be sure, the faction of the deposed Western Region’s premier enjoyed the support of the coalition government at the center. To undermine the AG and weaken the political base of the leader of AG at the center, Obafemi Awolowo, the central government declared a state of emergency in the Western Region and imposed a federal administrator on the region. Although the administrator was an indigene of the region, the action was a calculated attempt to erode the power and influence of the AG vis-à-vis the NPC. In the regional elections conducted in 1962, the NPC-led center imposed on the region the United People’s Party (UPP), a new party formed by the deposed premier, Ladoke Akintola. Using divide and rule to conquer as well as federal might, the federal government succeeded in paving the way for the NCNC and the UPP to form a coalition government in the Western Region while the AG became the opposition party. In what many Yoruba believed to be a premeditated action, the federal government took over the Western Region from Obafemi Awolowo and charged him with treasonable felony in court. While Awolowo was tried and imprisoned, other leaders of the party were persecuted by the NPC-led government.

Apart from the AG crisis, the struggle between the NPC and UMBC for control over land held by ethnic Tiv people was also a major cause of the 1960 and 1964 political violence in the north. With the Tiv political violence in 1960, followed by the Western Region Assembly violence of 1962, more Tiv violence in 1964, and then the (p. 212) Western Region’s electoral violence of 1965, politicians doomed the new democracy (Anifowose 1982).

Consequently, when the 1964/65 election was conducted, it took place in a warlike atmosphere. The alleged statement by the premier that no matter how the election went he would win raised concerns about possible plots to rig the election. The matter was made worse because of the NPC-led government’s support for the NNDP. The federal election was marred by the crisis (Anifowose and Enemuo 1999). The Western Region election of 1965 was characterized by widespread violence and intimidation of supporters and candidates (Kew and Lewis 2010). The appeal for postponement of the election by UPGA to both the prime minister and the president was disregarded leading to the boycott of the election in the Eastern Region and four of the five constituencies in Lagos. Although the NPC won a majority of seats in the federal elections, the president refused to advise him to form a government due to serious problems with the credibility of the electoral process. The president threatened to resign rather than asking the prime minister to form a new government, but in the end a political compromise was reached. This itself is evidence that all was not well within the coalition. It was the frequent misunderstanding between the president and the prime minister—the dual executive—that helped plunge the nation into a severe constitutional crisis.

Western regional elections in 1965 were inconclusive. The Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) was declared the winner with the support of the NPC at the national level; in return the NPC sought support in the national elections. The declaration triggered violence starting from Mushin 1 Constituency in Lagos until the entire Western Region was engulfed (Anifowose 1982). When the NNDP proceeded to form a government, the AG formed a parallel government, engulfing the whole Western Region in violence. However, the scheming of the NPC paid off, as it received a majority of seats in the national election. The election was initially boycotted by the Eastern Region, but that did not stop the NPC government from conducting the elections. This further exposed the mistrust in the NPC/NCNC alliance.

It suffices to point out that while the Western Region crisis was playing out, the agitation for the creation of the Midwest Region was heeded with a parliamentary decision resulting in the carving out of a new region, namely, Midwest Region, from the Western Region in 1963 (Kew and Lewis 2010). However, it is important to point out that agitation for the creation of Midwest and other regions predated the 1960 independence (Obikeze and Anthony, 2003). The NCNC was one of the major proponents and perhaps canvassed for the creation of Midwestern Region after independence not only to weaken the political base of AG and its leaders, but also hoped to use it to expand its political influence and base. Violence further intensified with the creation of the new region because it was seen as a further effort to decimate the political base and support of the AG.

With the NPC achieving a majority in 1964, it did not need any alliance to form a government this time. However, its new status gave it confidence that prompted its members to engage in serious corruption. According to Agagu (2007), the legislature became weak and unassertive. Therefore, the executive was neither responsible to the legislature nor to the electorates but only to the leaders of the coalition.

(p. 213) Furthermore, the population census of 1962/63 that was meant to help in developmental planning and constituency delimitation became a source of conflict. Unlike the 1952/53 census that recorded higher numbers of people in the north than in the two southern regions, the result of the 1962 census put the southern regions ahead of the Northern Region in population. The controversy and massive protest following the 1962 census led to its rejection and call for another census. Another census was taken in 1963, but similar allegations of rigging, fraud, inflation, and wrong counting followed the announcement of the result (Anifowose 1982; Kew and Lewis 2010). The attempt by the premier of the Eastern Region to have the census result cancelled failed, prompting him to threaten to secede. The census result which was published in 1964 had restored the numerical superiority of the North. It was on the basis of the census result that constituency delimitation for the 1964 general election was based. The disagreement over the census figures led to the collapse of the NPC/NCNC alliance at the center and the UPP/NCNC in the west. However, by the middle of 1964, it had led to the emergence of new alliances. The leader of the ruling UPP in the west made some reasonable political gains from the census conflict as his party accommodated some Yoruba members of the NCNC to form a new party called the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). The party eventually formed an alliance with the NPC under the name the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA). The AG and the NCNC formed an alliance under the name the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). It was these two major political alliances that contested the 1964 federal election under a very charged atmosphere.

Indeed, considering the events that unfolded from 1962 to 1965, the path to democratic reversal was well laid and the end result was the military intervention of January 1966. As Adebayo (1986) points out, the First Republic collapsed due to destructive elite competition.

The Nigerian Presidential System in the Second Republic

Most Nigerians were dissatisfied with the challenges and crises that precipitated the fall of the First Republic. But others wanted changes in the political system and a new constitution. The American presidential model anchored on the twin principles of separation of power and checks and balances was adopted in 1979 (Akande 1982). The 1979 constitution, as Ajayi (2007, p. 13) states, was “designed to accommodate the inadequacies of the parliamentary system, especially the conflict arising from the dual nature of powers of the President and the Prime Minister.” Equally important as a reason for switching from the parliamentary system to the presidential system during the Second Republic, according to Aiyede (2006), was the need to strengthen the legislature so that it could function as an effective check on the executive.

(p. 214) The groundwork for the Second Republic took off effectively in 1975. By this time, the military appeared determined to return the country to civil rule. Therefore, a program of transition to democratic rule was initiated by the Murtala Mohammed/Olusegun Obasanjo government (Obikeze and Anthony 2003). In pursuit of this, the military regime set in motion the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC). The CDC was given six items to consider for adoption in the new constitution. These included: (1) a federal system based on democracy; (2) political parties with genuine and national appeal; (3) an executive president; (4) an independent judiciary; (5) institutions for fighting corruption; and (6) constitutional restrictions on the number of states. The report of the committee was subsequently given to a Constituent Assembly (CA) constituted in 1977 by the military government to deliberate and fine-tune the new constitution. The constitution was consequently promulgated on September 21, 1978 with the Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria (Enactment) Decree No. 26 of 1978. The constitution became effective on October 1, 1979 (Obikeze and Anthony 2003). Some of the issues that were very controversial in the CA included sharia courts the roles of the vice president and the deputy governors of the states, among others. The controversies nearly derailed the entire constitutional reform process (Dudley 1982). A compromise was reached and all the issues were resolved.

Another issue was the military’s strong influence. For example the Supreme Military Council successfully pressured political elites to adopt a presidential system in 1979 modeled after the U.S. The model was influenced by the prevailing opinions view that parliamentary government is unsuitable for ethnically fragmented societies, and this systemic flaw contributed to the demise of the First Republic. Those who conceived and drafted the 1979 constitution of Nigeria felt that the presidential system possessed the qualities required to achieve political stability and social cohesion in an ethnically fragmented and socially divided society such as Nigeria (Dudley 1982; Osaghae 1998; Akinsanya 2002; Benjamin 2004).

Consequent upon the adoption of the presidential constitution, a clear separation of powers and personnel between the executive and the legislature replaced the fusion of power that characterized the First Republic’s parliamentary system. The bicameral arrangement operational in the United States was also adopted. By virtue of the provisions of the new constitution, the president or members of his cabinet were only allowed to appear in the national assembly on invitation or when the president found it necessary to address the legislature on critical national issues. Nevertheless, the provisions on attendance of the president and any of his ministers did not confer on them any voting rights.

The 1979 constitution provided for a multiparty system, and five parties participated in the 1979 general elections. The parties included the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UNP), the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), and the Nigeria People’s Party (NPP). Despite the efforts of the military government to avoid the emergence of ethnic parties, some of the parties of the First Republic reincarnated under different labels. For instance, the Hausa–Fulani’s NPC resurfaced as NPN, the Yoruba’s AG reappeared as UPN, the Ibo’s NCNC was repackaged (p. 215) as the NPP, the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) took the new name GNPP, while the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) returned as the PRP. In 1983, one more party, the National Advance Party (NAP) emerged.

However, while the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) won the 1979 presidential election under controversial circumstances, it did not win a majority of seats in either chamber of the National Assembly. On the presidential election, it took the intervention of the Supreme Court to resolve the controversy over whether or not the NPN had met the requirements for actin. The constitution provided that for any contestant to be declared elected as president, he or she must have received at least one-quarter of votes cast in two-thirds of the states of the federation. This was to avoid the emergence of any candidate who was not nationally accepted. The NPN met the requirements very clearly in twelve states, but the situation was not clear in the thirteenth state. The Unity Party of Nigeria, which came second, felt that the election was not won by the NPN. The Supreme Court had to rely on the expertise of a professor of mathematics to determine what two-thirds out of the nineteen states was. The decision ultimately favored the NPN.

The inability of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to command a working majority, despite having the highest number of seats in both houses of the central legislature, forced the NPN with thirty-six out of ninety-five seats in the Senate and 168 out of 450 seats in the House of Representatives into a short-lived alliance with the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) with sixteen seats in the Senate and seventy-eight seats in the House of Representatives. According to Olukoshi (1999), the second-largest party in the National Assembly, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), with twenty-two of the ninety-five Senate seats and 111 of the 450 House of Representatives seats, worked with elements within the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) to form an opposition to counter the governing NPN/NPP alliance while it lasted. The alliances in the First Republic were in this way revived. However, the incompatibility in ideologies and interests between the NPN and the NPP caused the working relationship to end abruptly in 1981, thereby putting the NPN-led government at the mercy of the opposition-controlled legislature. The intolerance of NPN to opposition was at the heart of the acrimony that pulled asunder the NPN/NPP coalition. This was particularly evident in Kaduna State. This is discussed later in greater detail under the reasons for the collapse of the Second Republic.

While coalition governments are not very common in presidential systems, the political parties formed an “alliance” and opposition in the National Assembly. However, by separating the legislature from the executive under the presidential system, the members of the legislature were excluded from the main center of power since the executive was now responsible for the major decision-making of government. The legislature appeared to expose itself to executive manipulation and maneuvering, especially while the alliance between NPN and NPP lasted. This, in part, accounted for the failure of the legislature to check executive excesses. In addition, the performance of the legislature was unsatisfactory in terms of its legislative and non-legislative functions, especially the oversight role of confirmation of political nominees for appointment into public offices. The legislature was simply (p. 216) ineffective in law-making. The failure of the legislature to check executive excesses led to the high level of corruption that characterized the democratic regime of the era. The ineffectiveness was reflected in the amount of time devoted to lawmaking and the quality of legislative output as well as scrutiny of administration (Isijola 2002).

For its part, the NPN saw the need to strengthen its hold on power. Thus, to avoid a situation in which it would need to enter into an unsecure coalition again, the NPN sought and succeeded in luring some members of the opposition parties into its fold. Consequently, some of those who defected to the NPN became the flag-bearers of the party in the 1983 elections. For instance, the former deputy governor of Ondo State defected from UPN to NPN to stand as a candidate in the governorship election. In Oyo State another defector also stood as a candidate in the governorship election. By the time the results of the election were released, the candidate of NPN was declared the winner of the governorship election in Ondo State in 1983. By this, the defected deputy governor was declared winner against the incumbent governor. Members and supporters of UPN felt that the result did not represent the voters’ decision. The fact that the NPN’s candidate received full federal backing caused the political atmosphere in the state to be tense before, during, and after the elections. Ultimately, violence broke out in protest against the alleged electoral fraud.

However, barely three months after the new regime was inaugurated, the military intervened and suspended the 1979 constitution. Thus, the Second Republic collapsed faster than was ever imagined and in fact was shorter-lived than the First Republic. In the next section we discuss in detail some of the reasons for the intervention.

Reasons for the Collapse of the Second Republic

When the presidential constitution was adopted as a replacement for the failed parliamentary democracy of the First Republic, there were high expectations that most of the challenges that led to the premature collapse of the First Republic would not reoccur. Contrary to expectations, however, the presidential constitution of the Second Republic (1979–83) also collapsed after four years and three months. Below are some of the reasons often adduced for the premature termination of the Second Republic.

By the time the Second Republic took off in 1979, the Nigerian economy had become dependent on oil. Agriculture, which used to be the backbone of the economy in the 1960s and early 1970s, had been neglected. As Nigeria became increasingly dependent upon the international price of oil, the economic situation became very volatile. This is because the Nigerian annual budget became tied to international oil prices and revenue. This was further worsened by the ruling elite who mismanaged the revenue from high oil prices. Consequently, when the price of oil fell in the early 1980s, the economy became a major victim. Therefore, halfway into his four-year term, the president was (p. 217) struggling to take Nigeria out of economic recession. Although the legislature passed an austerity bill presented by the executive in 1981, the economy continued its downward spiral. To be sure, the recession, resulting from the fall in oil prices in the middle of 1982, made the Nigerian economy and the state vulnerable. This severely strained the fragile, young democracy. Rather than exercising restraint, government spending continued to rise at an alarming rate for political reasons, and the states only reinforced financial irresponsibility (U.S. Library of Congress n/d). It was under this state of a weak and fragile economy, along with electoral violence and corruption that the 1983 general election was held (Othman 1984). Thus, by the time the military intervened and sacked the civilian administration and abrogated the 1979 constitution, the state of the economy had weakened and eroded the confidence of the public in the politicians. It became very easy for the coup plotters to justify their actions (Othman 1984; Dickovick and Eastwood 2016, p. 514).

Another major challenge tthreatening the Second Republic from the outset was the fact that most of the parties that emerged were essentially reincarnations of the old First Republic parties. The old parties simply reappeared under new labels. As a consequence, the old rivalries returned under different platforms in the Second Republic. Although the NPN won the presidential election its inability to win a majority of seats in both the Senate and House of Representatives meant that it needed to build a coalition to have the legislative majority required to pass its measures (Obikeze and Anthony 2003). Like the First Republic, the NPN, a party dominated by the Hausa–Fulani and the NPP, a party controlled by the Ibo, formed an alliance. One of the major reasons for the alliance’s collapse in 1981 was the impeachment of the governor of Kaduna State by the NPN-dominated Assembly. While the PRP produced the governor, it did not win a majority of seats in the State Assembly. The national ruling NPN therefore appeared to be in support of the move that culminated in the impeachment. From the onset of his administration, the governor faced harassment until he was removed in 1981. The leadership of NPP openly opposed the action, leading to the breakdown of the alliance between the two parties at the national level in 1981. Thereafter, the NPN started to find it difficult to pass its measures in the National Assembly (Fashagba, Davies, and Oshewolo 2014; Lafenwa 2014). In an attempt to overcome the precarious situation in which the NPN found itself, it became desperate during the 1983 elections. It was this desperation that led to massive electoral violence.

Further, the numerical disadvantage of the NPN-controlled government in the National Assembly and the collapse of the coalition of the NPN and the NPP in 1981 set the stage for a serious electoral battle in 1983. To avert a repeat of its numerical disadvantage, the NPN was able to attract several ambitious politicians to its fold as the preparations for the 1983 elections drew closer. The NPN-led federal government provided all-round support to the politicians who defected from the other parties. This created tensions in states such as Ondo and Oyo, in particular. The unwillingness of the UPN to lose any of its states to the NPN and the desperation of the latter not to go through another humiliating experience in the legislature and the two-thirds problem precipitated a very serious conflict as the states in the old Western Region witnessed (p. 218) some serious political violence. The NPN ultimately succeeded in capturing the majority in both states and national elections in 1983 through massive fraud and violence (Obikeze and Anthony 2003; Kew and Lewis 2010).

Thus, economic crisis, corruption among politicians, electoral malpractice and violence, and the political intolerance gave the military a platform for its intervention to terminate the Second Republic in 1983 (Othman 1984).


Nigeria operated different systems of government in the First and Second Republics. The parliamentary system of the First Republic (1960–6) was jettisoned in 1979, when the country returned to democracy after thirteen years of military rule. This time, Nigerians opted for a presidential system of government with the hope that it would better manage the nation’s heterogeneous society. Despite the expectation of the designers of the new constitution, the Second Republic collapsed after four years and three months, even earlier than the First Republic. The parliamentary constitution had managed to last for five years and three months.

Although many reasons have been given for the collapse of both republics, the role of the legislature in each was a major factor. First and foremost, in both the First and the Second Republics, the party that received the highest number of seats did not have the majority required to take control of the National Assembly. Thus a coalition was formed between the Hausa–Fulani-controlled NPC and the Ibo–controlled NCNC in the First Republic before a government could be formed. Similarly, a northern party, the NPN and a southeastern party, the NPP, had to form an alliance in the Second Republic for the NPN which received the highest number of seats in the two national chambers to have the simple majority required to be able to pass its bills in the National Assembly. However, in both instances, the legislative coalition collapsed halfway into the tenure of the regime. The breakup of the coalition threw the ruling party into a situation in which it was at the mercy of the coalition of opposition parties that controlled a majority of seats. In this regard, the Fourth Republic has, arguably, had a governing advantage since each election has produced clear legislative majorities.

In both the First and Second Republics, while the coalitions lasted, the legislature supported the executive blindly. This was particularly more pronounced in the First Republic, due largely to the fusion of power between the legislature and the executive.

What is surprising was the fact that the parliamentary system characterized by a fusion of power exposed the First Republic to executive abuse and made the system very volatile and fragile, but the separation of powers in the Second Republic failed to remedy these institutional defects. Considering Fish’s (2006) claim that a strong democracy is a function of a strong legislature, whatever undermines the legislature will therefore expose the democracy to reversal and erosion. This helps us to know why democracy was unstable and fragile in the First and Second Republics. It suffices to point out that what (p. 219) the collapse of both Republics suggests is that the operators of the constitutions rather than the provisions of the constitutions accounted for the instability.


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