In January 1986, President Ibrahim Babangida inaugurated a panel of experts, called the Political Bureau, to conduct a nation-wide debate on the political future of the country. The primary aim of the Administration was to elicit from the Nigerian people their honest views on the possibilities of laying new foundations to foster a viable and enduring people-oriented political system devoid of perennial disruptions. The terms of reference of the Political Bureau included the following:

(a) review Nigeria’s political history, and identify the basic problems which have led to our failure in the past and suggest ways of resolving and coping with these problems;

(b) identify a basic philosophy of government which will determine goals and serve as a guide to the activities of government;

(c)  collect relevant information and data for the Government as well as identify other political problems that may arise from the debate;

(d) gather, collate and evaluate the contributions of Nigerians to the search for a viable political future and provide guidelines for the attainment of the consensus objectives;

(e) deliberate on other political problems as may be referred to it from time to time by the Military Administration

The assignment given to the Political Bureau was comprehensive in nature; it encompassed political, economic, social and cultural issues. Accordingly, the Bureau identified thirty issue-areas for the public debate, and these included, among other things, women in politics, labour in Nigerian politics, state and religion, political parties and forms of representation in government, ethnicity in Nigerian politics, minorities and under privileged groups, rural and community development, the rural population in Nigerian politics, traditional rulership and administration, revenue allocation, social and political mobilization for development, corruption in public life, public bureaucracy, role of the mass media in governance, and Nigeria’s external relations and foreign policy.

Organised purposely to ensure adequate participation by everyone, especially by the people at the grassroots level of society, the debate was monitored at the local government level and doubly coordinated at the state and national levels. This strategy was in consonance with Babangida’s admonition to the Political Bureau that his ‘Administration is firmly set on a course of government by consultation with the people’. In addition to numerous memoranda sent to the Bureau, at its invitation, by individuals, groups and associations, the Bureau sponsored professionally relevant associations to hold debates on various aspects of the problem. Publicity and enlightenment committees were set up in all the states and local government areas, and members of the Bureau toured the entire federation in teams to supervise and monitor the contents, organisation and collation of the issues at all levels.

The Report of the Political Bureau was set out in three parts. Part I dealt with the background to ‘Nigeria’s Political Experience’. A comprehensive review of the Nigerian society, its political history and political economy is undertaken in this part. In dealing with the nature of the Nigerian society, the Bureau analysed the social environment in which Nigerians live in order to locate some of the major problems that had constrained national development. In its social stratification analysis of the society, the Bureau identified the nation as comprising traditional rulers, landed gentry, industrial and commercial elites, intellectual and military elites, the quasi-proletariat and workers, peasants and the unemployed.

In dealing with Nigeria’s political history, the Bureau’s Report dwelt on the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial political systems. Colonialism was identified as being responsible for the unbalanced federal structures of the country, for regionalism and sectionalism, alienation of the populace from the institutions of governance and major agencies of the state such as the judiciary, police and the army. The Bureau examined the rather pervasive but erroneous view of the state in Nigeria as an instrument for social exploitation and of personal and group aggrandizement. Examining the political economy of Nigeria, the Bureau maintained that colonial rule was designed to subjugate, dominate and exploit the Nigerian people and their resources. It was during the colonial period that the prevailing structure of economic dependence and the socialisation of Nigeria as a producer of primary products and importer of manufactured goods was developed and consolidated.

Part II of the Report dealt with the need for a new political order for Nigeria. The Bureau regarded proper identification of a specific philosophy of government which derived its values, mores and aspirations from the Nigerian people as vital for the development of a new social, political and economic order for our society. The contribution made by people on the issue of the appropriate philosophy of government included a critique of the conventional ideologies such as capitalism, socialism, Islamic theocracy and African communalism and such new concepts as `meritocracy’, ‘triarchy’, etc. The contribution from the numerically dominant rural masses were emphatic on the need to establish adequate social, economic and political rights which were seen as indispensable to the existence and realisation of social justice.

The Bureau Report noted the indispensability of a new political economy for the evolution of political and social systems which would be self-reliant, just, democratic and durable. The review of the political economy dealt with such salient issues as land and rural development, agriculture, parastatals and privatisation, the role of multi-national corporations, ideology and development, labour and indigenisation of the economy, etc. The Report identified the multi-national corporations as controlling the commanding heights of the national economy. This fact, in addition to the condition of under-development and the uneven and skewed nature of our economy brought about by colonial requirements, were contributory factors to the impoverishment of the Nigerian people. It was also largely responsible for the skewed developmental patterns which historically favoured the urban sector of our society vis-a-vis the large majority of the rural population. The Bureau proffered various pertinent recommendations for ensuring the development of a new political economy which would project national independence.

Other issues covered by the Report included a review of various political and constitutional systems. The pros and cons of forms of government such as the parliamentary and presidential systems, diarchy and triarchy were examined. Similarly three major constitutional systems, confederalism, unitarism and federalism were reviewed. The Bureau opted for presidentialism and federalism as most suitable for Nigeria in view of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nature of the nation. Other issues included an examination of democratic political processes, special groups in Nigerian politics and society, and many other special problem issues in Nigerian politics such as citizenship and the nationality.

After reviewing party systems, the Bureau recommended that our past multiple party system should be replaced with a two-party system as a means of domesticating competition and removing the inherent instability involved in a multi-party framework. The issue of funding of political parties was also examined and it was recommended that the two recognised and registered parties should be funded substantially by the state. Given the turbulent political experience of the 1979-1983 period, the Bureau recommended that a limit should be set on the financial contributions that could be made by any individual to political parties. The essence of these two recommendations is to control the impact of money in the political fortunes of political parties and candidates at the polls.

A critical and innovative issue examined by the Political Bureau was the need to generate new value system and political culture in Nigeria. Throughout the Report, the Bureau emphasised the imperative of establishing a new political culture which was considered as an indispensable condition for the development and consolidation of a new democratic social, political and economic order. The new political culture must emphasise such issues as social and political mobilisation for development, patriotism, dedication and accountability in public office, discipline, self-reliance, frugality and the need to eschew all vices such as corruption, dishonesty, ethnicity, electoral and census malpractices and religious bigotry.

The foregoing analysis informed the Political Bureau in its recommendation on an appropriate program of political transition.

In Part III of its Report, the Bureau dealt with the issue relating to the transition program. This is the practical core of the Bureau’s Report and it recommended a gradual, measured and supervised process of military disengagement from governance. It called for a period of some learning in democracy in which a set of reformed institutions and actions which are deemed critical to the development and sustenance of democracy are consciously executed and tested. Such institutions and actions include the Directorate for Social Mobilisation, National Electoral Commission, National Population Commission, Code of Conduct Bureau, Code of Conduct Tribunal, National Revenue Mobilisation Commission, a reformed local government system including the creation of new local government areas, creation of additional states, establishment of a two party structure, promulgation of a new constitution, etc. The program was also to serve as a monitoring instrumentality, both for military rule and military disengagement from governance.

The Political Bureau recommended the setting up of a constitution review panel to produce a draft of a revised version of the 1979 presidential constitution in consonance with the other basic recommendations of the Political Bureau. President Babangida, inaugurated the Constitution Review Committee in September 1987; and in May 1988, the Constituent Assembly was established to deliberate on the reviewed draft. The overall essence of the two constitutional bodies (the CRC and the CA) was the need for them, and indeed the nation, to re-examine and correct loopholes and problematic provisions of the 1979 Constitution which undermined democratic government and national consensus during the Second Republic. These two bodies were also set up to recommend new constitutional provisions, if need be, in the light of the Report of the Political Bureau and the dynamic nature of the Nigerian society.

In May 1989, the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) promulgated Nigeria’s new Constitution for the Third Republic. The 1989 constitution occupies a central place in the Babangida Administration’s Political Transition Program. As a major tool for engineering the process of transition to the Third Republic, the Constitution contains certain transitional provisions to take care of continuing military involvement in governance and the political process. The decree which promulgated the 1989 Constitution into law, ‘The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Promulgation) Decree No. 12 of 1989’ was enacted partly to resolve the problem of continuing military rule during the partial democratic period of transition. A schedule is incorporated in the decree which defines the ratio of military participation vis-a-vis the constitution, and within which elements of the political transition program will progressively give until the schedule ceases to exist by 1992. As the decree boldly puts it:

‘the Military Administration will, during the transition period, `enact certain Decrees by progression in order to bring into force the relevant provisions of the Constitution relative to each of the three tiers of Government’.

Several innovative provisions and amendments to the 1989 Constitution are contained in the new 1989 Constitution. These provisions and amendments are intended to assist in developing and consolidating the necessary foundations for a new democratic order. The Constitution created a total of 149 new local government areas, bringing the overall total to 449 local government areas. These local governments are in addition to the reconstitution of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja as a distinct system of mayoralty.

The implications of this structural reconstitution are several and crucial. First, the politico-      administrative structure of the nation is further democratised, especially at the grassroots level. Secondly, the increase in the number of local government areas adds a new emphasis to the local government system as a truly third-tier of government in the Nigerian federation as well as enhancing the basis of our democratic experimentation. Taken together, these actions have now handsomely tilted the balance of power in favour of the new local government system vis-a-vis the previous arrangement. Finally, the Constitution places a seal of legality on the determination of the Babangida Administration in altering the distribution of our national resources in favour of grassroots. For example, the increase in the share of federally collected revenue has been increased from 10 to 15%. Similarly the adjustment and changes of state and local government boundaries are now the responsibility of a National Boundary Commission.

A fundamental amendment introduced by the new 1989 Constitution in its Clause 220(1) is the institutionalisation of a two party system for the political process. The two recognised and registered parties are to be financed substantially by government in order to forestall the possibility of one party having an undue preponderance of advantage and power. The Administration has approved the construction of offices for both parties in all the local government headquarters, state capitals and the Federal Capital Territory. The two-party structure has the potentials of domesticating and routinising political forces of stability. It is also envisaged that the new arrangement will encourage the professionalisation of party bureaucracy and party politics.

Determined to keep the cost of governance low, the AFRC approved various constitutional amendments. The 1989 Constitution has reduced the number of seats in the Senate allocated to each state from five to three. Similar reduction has been effected in the membership of the state House of Assembly. Another cost-saving measure is the limitation in the number of special advisers for the President and special assistance for the state Governors. Furthermore, the work of legislators is now to be on a part-time basis.

Conscious of the impact of religious bigotry on nation-building and the dangerous bickering on the Sharia debate at the Constituent Assembly, the Administration introduced new constitutional clauses to deal with the problem. These clauses stipulate that the Sharia Court is given jurisdiction only on matters relating to personal life and property of Muslims, and that only states which require such courts shall have them created. Furthermore, such courts will hear cases involving only Muslims. Another contentious national issue that has been finally laid to rest by the new Constitution is the status of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Clause 263 of the 1979 Constitution had stipulated that the FCT should be treated ‘as if it were one of the States of the Federation’. Many Nigerians were apprehensive about the negative political use to which the clause could be put and was feared to have been put. In response to these fears and to further strengthen the cause of national unity, the AFRC expunged the contentious provision and declared that the FCT, Abuja, is not a state. The 1989 Constitution defines the FCT as a Mayoralty comprising four area councils, one senatorial district and four federal constituencies. With this amendment, a potentially dangerous issue which has had the capacity of polarising both the political class and the nation has been resolved. All these innovations in the 1989 Constitution have strengthened political stability and national unity.

These crucial constitutional innovations will, in due course, have far-reaching implications on the people’s conception and practice of power and of politics and national service. Furthermore, the emphasis on local government areas as the unit of our developmental effort has now forced the younger generation of politicians to concentrate on developing a strong presence in the rural areas where the majority of our population reside. There is now a clear appreciation that electoral victory depends to a large extent on winning rather than merely manipulating the minds of people. Politics is, therefore, no longer likely to be conceived as an esoteric game for smart urban dwellers, with little or no attention paid to the aspirations of the rural population.

An equally important effect of the new constitution on the political behaviour of our people is the realisation by the political class that politics must now be national in orientation. The era of ethnic and religious is fast receding. The two party structure, stipulated by the constitution, has now placed salutary constraints on bigotry and political intolerance. There is an appreciation by the new political class that political alignments must cut across ethnic, religious and class lines in order to achieve victory at the polls. In short, there is a growing realisation of the need for national consensus. Indeed, by making the work of legislatures a part-time job, the Babangida Administration has not only reduced the financial incentive which prompted many people to seek elective offices in the past, but it has also emphasized the need for commitment to selfless service to the nation.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC), established in 1987, is one of the major reformed institutions charged with organising and conducting elections and implementing all other aspects of the electoral process. NEC is, therefore, a primary instrument for ensuring the evolution of a democratic Third Republic. It is also the mechanism through which the desired new leadership would emerge.

In the political transition program, elections have been deliberately graduated from 1987 to 1992 in order to allow NEC officials and indeed the AFRC to monitor the electoral process and adjust the conduct of the electorate. For example, to ensure the evolution of a national and democratic two party system, NEC has listed certain major guidelines for the formation of political associations seeking registration. The guidelines include, among other things, the following:

(a) Membership of a political association shall be open to every Nigerian citizen, irrespective of his or her place of origin, ethnic group, sex or religion, except that no person below the age of 18 years shall be a member of a political association;

(b) Political associations shall be well established in the federal and state capitals and in the headquarters of the local governments of the federation;

(c) The constitution and rules of political associations shall provide for the periodic election on a democratic basis of members of their executive committees or other governing bodies;

(d) Person affected by the Participation in Politics and Elections (Prohibition) Decree N.25 of 1987 and as amended by Decree No.9 of 1989 shall be eligible for holding an executive position in a political association;

(e) The organisation of a political association at each level of government shall reflect, where possible, the federal character of Nigeria.

In addition to the foregoing guidelines, any association seeking registration was expected to pay a mandatory registration fee of N50, 000. This requirement was designed to eliminate frivolous political associations from the electoral process. Also, each association was required to compile a comprehensive list of its members throughout the country, which contains such vital information as addresses to enable physical verification by NEC.

The essence of the reformed electoral process is thus the construction of a new democratic, national, non-ethnic and non-religious polity. The rigorous guidelines were designed to ensure that the electoral process is not trivialised, as in the past, by the formation of unserious, sectional and undemocratic parties. Following the lifting of the ban on political activities on May 3rd 1989, a medley of political associations emerged to seek registration. Thirteen of these associations submitted their applications to NEC for consideration. But only two parties will be recognised and registered. As already indicated, the purpose of legislating the two party structure is to domesticate competition and to ensure the establishment of a stable and enduring democratic political culture in the country.

From the preceding analysis, it is quite clear that the Babangida Administration has put in place a huge array of well thought-out and clarified political and constitutional arrangement and processes. It is to be hoped that the dialectical relationship in the social dynamics between structure and behaviour or between the system of politics and economics on the one hand and the social conduct of people on the other will gradually build up positively for a better socio-political order to emerge during the period of transition to the 3rd Republic and beyond.