The 1979 General Elections In Nigeria

By January 1979 all the political parties have started traversing every nook and cranny of Nigeria canvassing for votes from the electorates. Parties held rallies, picnics and national conventions to mobilize, educate and enlighten the people about the programmer of their parties and also about the election procedure. The five political parties fielded candidates for seats in the Senate, House of Representatives and the States House Of Assemblies.

The constituencies created for the election by the FEDECO were as follow:

1. Presidential Election 1
2. Gubernatorial Election 95
3. Senatorial Election 95
4. House of Representatives Election 449
5. State Assemblies Election 1347

The staggered elections which were by secret ballot were held in the following order as arranged by the FEDECO:

1. Senatorial Elections- Saturday, July 7, 1979

2. House of Representatives Elections- Saturday, July 14, 1979

3. State Assembly Elections- Saturday, July 21, 1979

4. Gubernatorial Elections- Saturday, July 28, 1979

5. Presidential Elections- Saturday, August 11, 1979

The summary of the 1979 gubernatorial election results released by FEDECO showed the performance and strength of the political parties in each State of the Federation.

From the results, it was seen that the voting pattern along the ethnic lines of the 1959 elections continued in the 1979. The political parties that controlled the State in the Second Republic were members of the defunct political parties that controlled the Regions under which the new States fell. For example, the NPN which controlled majority of the States in the Norther part of Nigeria in 1979 was made up of majority of the members of the defunct NPC. The same was applicable to the UPN that controlled all the States in the South-western part of Nigeria which was the area of influence of the defunct Action Group in the First Republic. The case of the NPP which was the offshoot of the NCNC over the control of the South-eastern States was not different.

However, there was some noticeable improvement in the performance of the parties over that of the First Republic. The UPN, NPN and NPP made some inroads into other parts of the country outside their traditional strongholds.

Finally, on October 1, 1979, General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over the reins of power to Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari, the Presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria, having been declared the winner of the Presidential election by the Federal Electoral Commission and thus marked the second attempt at democracy in Nigeria.

The election of the first Executive President of Nigeria in 1979 was controversial and in fact, contested at election tribunal up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria as provided for by the 1977 Electoral Decree.

The Progressive Parties Alliance (a collection og UPN, NPP, GNPP and a faction of PRP) led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo contended that the declaration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari as winner was unlawful since he had not satisfied Section 34A subsection 1(c), (ii) of the Electoral Decree which stipulated that for a winner to emerge, he/she must have one-quarter of lawful votes cast in at least two-thirds of all the States of the Federation.

The election was, however, confirmed because the Court was satisfied that Alhaji Shehu Shagari met the constitutional requirement in 12 states of the Federation and two-thirds of the votes cast in the thirteenth State. The case was rested on the premise that it was impossible to have one-quarter of human-being and the two-thirds is greater than a half hence, the thirteenth State was regarded as a whole.

The Military leadership of Murtala/Obasanjo regime was faithful with its transition programme and othe corrective administrative measures promised on coming to power through a bloodless coup in 1975. Therefore, the disengagement from politics in Nigeria in 1979 by the military was an epochal event in the history of African politics. It was the first time any African Military Leader would ever voluntarily handover power to civilian rulers.

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