There is an Igbo proverb that says: When a woman marries the second husband, she understands the true worth of the first husband. It is the same for a man who divorces his wife and marries a second wife. Usually, the first spouse seems bad until the divorce occurs and another marriage takes place. Some people get a better spouse. But many get a spouse worse than their first. Nigeria’s experience seems to be the latter.

It is scary to admit that, as bad as the Peoples Democratic Party was in its 16 years in power, it is better than the All Progressives Congress, which had criticised the PDP and promised to do things better if voted in. In its almost nine years in power, the APC has looked shockingly different from everything it said it would be.

Technically, there was no APC in 1999 when the PDP took over from the military. What the country had was the All Peoples Party, which later became the All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Alliance for Democracy, which later became Action Congress and then Action Congress of Nigeria. In 2009, Muhammadu Buhari, who was the presidential candidate of the ANPP in 2003 and 2007, pulled out of the ANPP to form the Congress for Progressive Change. The APC was formed in 2013 by the CPC, ACN and ANPP. Therefore, in reality, the APC had been in existence as the opposition party through the ANPP, ACN and CPC.

In most true democracies, two or three parties usually rotate power among themselves. The voting masses never allow one party to be in office for too long. Whether the country practises the presidential system, which has terms, or the parliamentary system, which is not termed, it is rare to see any true democracy allow one party to rule for more than 12 years. The people usually get tired of one party and vote it out. That way, the people feel that power truly belongs to them. It also creates an opportunity for a new party to come in with new ideas. The country is the better for it as it continues to improve.

When Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, power fell on the PDP. The APP disputed the results, but the Supreme Court eventually ruled in favour of the PDP. The APP became the main opposition party supported by the AD.

But the key joy of most Nigerians was that finally, the military had left governance. It was time for the people to take charge of governance. And unlike in the past when democratic rule had been short-lived, not lasting up to six years on three occasions, this Fourth Republic has lasted for almost 25 years since May 1999. That’s unbelievably long.

After being in office for some years, the PDP was infected by hubris. Even though the Independent National Electoral Commission conducted elections whose transparency and fidelity could not be ascertained, the PDP was so much ahead of the opposition that it looked indomitable. It was not surprising that Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, who was the chairman of the PDP, boasted in 2008 that the party would rule Nigeria for 60 years. The attitude of many PDP politicians was that nobody could unseat them, because they understood how to “win” elections

(read “results engineering”). Indeed, if the PDP continued to produce presidents like Chief Olusegun who believed in winning at all costs, the PDP would still be in power by now.

However, Obasanjo committed “the error” of choosing a gentleman who was not desperate for power like Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the vice presidential candidate of the party for the 2007 election. The death of former President Umaru Yar’Adua in office meant that Jonathan, as his deputy, would become the president. After completing the tenure of Yar’Adua and completing his own tenure, he wanted a transparent election in 2015, which did not end well for him. That was how the PDP left office and the APC took over.

Ironically, despite being a beneficiary of Jonathan’s transparent election in which he allowed the electoral body to act independently, Buhari did not give the electoral body the type of free hand it had under Jonathan. Even though Bola Tinubu has been in office for less than one year as president, his antecedents as the strongman of Lagos politics since 1999 do not indicate that he would want to act like a Jonathan. Therefore, it will be hard for power to be wrested from the APC.

While the PDP was in power, the three parties that later became the APC regularly came hard on the PDP, criticising it as incompetent, and promising to run a more democratic, transparent, inclusive, productive, result-oriented country, if elected. Ironically, the APC has fallen below the PDP in all parameters. But what makes the APC case worse is that while the PDP did not pretend to be saintly, the APC still tries to project the facade of being incorruptible, democratic, transparent, strategic, frugal, people-centric, result-oriented.

Despite the shortcomings of the PDP, it has given Nigeria one of its best periods of growth in the last 40 years. For example, while Obasanjo was overbearing and egotistic, his eight years in office transformed Nigeria’s economy. Obasanjo saved huge money for the country, paid off Nigeria’s Paris Club debt, transformed the economy to a level that many people stopped buying second-hand clothes, electronics, vehicles, etc. The PDP met the naira in 1999 at about N90 for a US dollar and left 16 years after in 2015 with the naira at about N230 per US dollar. Because of the return of democracy and revamping of the economy, it inspired some Nigerians living abroad to relocate to Nigeria.

In comparison, the APC met the naira at about N230 per dollar in 2015, but less than nine years after, the naira is exchanging at over N1,600 for a US dollar. For decades, Nigerians have experienced the depreciation of the naira. Before the coming of the APC, the naira had depreciated at a somewhat slow rate, which made the prices of good to change gradually within months. However, under the APC the naira has been depreciating at such a fast pace that sometimes the prices of goods change a number of times within the same day, making it very difficult to plan.

Beyond the economy, insecurity has been the most troubling for Nigerians. Towards the latter years of the PDP, insecurity rose in the country through the activities of the religious fundamentalists, Boko Haram. Some parts of the North-East were affected. Occasionally, Boko Haram made forays into Abuja, the federal capital territory, as well as some cities in the North-West. The PDP was roundly criticised for not being able to tame Boko Haram. The APC positioned itself as best suited to end insecurity in Nigeria. When Buhari, a retired major general, took over, many assumed that he would use his military expertise to end the violence perpetrated by the group the way the US ended the activities of Al-Qaeda. On the contrary, more groups sprang up and violence spread to all the six zones of the country. Under Tinubu, it has continued to get bad.

In the past, many Nigerians left Nigeria mainly for economic reasons. Under the APC, financially stable Nigerians started leaving because of insecurity and uncertainty.

Under the PDP, it was believed that corruption was prevalent. The APC portrayed itself as the party that would walk its talk. But under the APC, corruption seems to have become brazen.

One cannot point at one aspect of governance where the APC has performed better than the PDP. Even the Labour Party that is seen as the alternative to the PDP and APC does not inspire much confidence as regards its leadership and elected political office holders. Many of those who supported the party at the 2023 election did so largely because of its presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, who has displayed some frugality and simplicity in governance.

This May will mark 25 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria. It is by far the longest Nigeria has experienced. But the type of democracy the PDP and the APC have played at the expense of Nigeria in the past 25 years has been mediocre. There is no way what the PDP and the APC have to offer will take Nigeria out of the woods. In the final analysis, the answer will still be to have an electoral process that is not susceptible to human influence, which will produce leaders that are completely chosen through the true votes of the people. That is the only thing that will help to keep the parties on their toes.