The Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was the first political party to be formed after the ban on politics was lifted in September 1978. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the founder of the party which was an amalgam of various groups that were loyal to him. One of the groups was the Committee of – Friends, a circle of friends who had been actively involved in ChiefAwolowo’s several political battles including the treason trial of 1962.
Other leading members of the party were ChiefMichael Ajasin, Chief BolaIge, AlhajiLateef Jakande, ChiefEbenezer Babatope, Professor AmbroseAlii, ChiefPhilip Umeadi and Chief M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu.
Objectives of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN)
The Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN planned to achieve the following aims and objectives:
To achieve a socialist Nigeria “but not in one fell swoop”.
To carry out four cardinal programmes, namely, free education at all levels, free medical care for all, integrated rural development and full employment.
ChiefObafemi Awolowo, the presidential candidate of the UPN came second in the 1979 and 1983 elections which were won by Alhaji ShehuShagari of the National Party of Nigeria.
The party won the gubernatorial elections in Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Bendel and Oyo State in 1979. In 1983, its candidates managed to win the gubernatorial elections in four states, namely, Lagos, Ondo, Ogun and Kwara. The governors elected on the party’s platform implemented the four cardinal programmes especially the free education and free medical programmes.
The failure of the Unity Party of Nigeria(UPN) to win at the federal level and its lack of resources adversely affected the implementation of the party’s programmes. The party also came second in the National Assembly and House of Assembly electioris in 1979 and 1983 respectively.
Problems of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN)
The UPN, like the Action Group of the First Republic, failed to make any meaningful impact as a national party. Thus, despite its pupulist appeals, the party failed to win elections in the northern and eastern parts of the country because of the widespread perception of the UPN as a sectional party.
Sometimes, the party failed to be pragmatic in its approach to politics. For example, the running mate of ChiefObafemi Awolowo in the 1979presidential elections was Chief PhilipUmeadi, also a Southerner from the Eastern part of the country.
In 1983, Chief Awolowo picked the little-known Alli Nakura from Sokoto State as his running mate. With these combinations, there was little surprise that the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) could not achieve presidential victory and with this, the ambition of Chief Awolowo to be president of Nigeria was shattered.
The imposition of gubernatorial candidates by the national leadership of the party resulted in to the defection of the deputy governors of Ondo and Oyo states to the NPN on the eve of the 1983 elections and this made the UPN to lose elections in Oyo and Bendel states.
The failure of the UPN to win the presidential elections in 1979 and 1983 showed that winning elections in Nigeria required more than having attractive party programmes or being populist.