Last week, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced its desire to prune down the number of political parties in the country. Currently, there are 91 political parties, which took part in the 2019 general election. Of the lot, only the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) made any substantial showing in the elections.
A few other parties also got some seats. But in all, of the 91 political parties, not more than six won anything in the 2019 elections. Thus, INEC is now considering seeking a constitutional amendment for registration and deregistration of political parties. INEC’s concerns now are the ‘dormant and commercial platforms’ with little or no visible structures and presence in the states.
According to INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, the present framework for the registration of political parties is inadequate to guarantee the registration of qualitative, membership driven and ideologically propelled political parties.
He also stated that some parties were mere platforms for hire and have no visible presence in most states of the federation. While we sympathise with INEC on the onerous journey of establishing order in the multitude of political parties, we cannot fail to state that the move is in order. We believe that political parties should be ideologically based and have the desire to win elections even at the ward level. But we regret to state that the current arrangement has made a mess of the concept of multiparty democracy.
Much as we acknowledge that every group is entitled to its views and dreams as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, we object to the idea of forming political parties for the purpose of racketeering and endorsement of major political parties during elections. We recall that in the just concluded 2019 elections, most of the 91 political parties were only engaged in the endorsement of the APC and PDP at the national and state levels. The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) was made up of about 30 political parties, which endorsed the candidacy of the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Some of the other over 70 political parties that fielded candidates for the election did not go beyond having their names on the ballot papers as the election was strictly between President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. In some states of the federation also, there were more than 60 candidates for the governorship elections, with many not gathering up to 1,000 votes. As INEC pointed out, beyond the briefcase and the names on INEC register, most of the political parties have no structure, presence or activity to show that they are in existence.
We recall that in November 2002, late human rights activist and lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), had won a case at the Supreme Court against INEC, over the non-registration of his political association, the National Conscience Party (NCP). That set the tone for the entry of all manners of associations into the system as political parties. In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court voided the guidelines used by INEC in the registration of parties. In a unanimous decision, the court voided 12 of the 13 guidelines used by INEC to register political parties, describing them as unconstitutional.
Several years later, INEC under Prof. Attahiru Jega went on to deregister about 28 of such associations registered as political parties, when it felt that the parties were becoming unwieldy, dormant, with many just being portfolio political parties. Incidentally, that move was thwarted at the courts again, following a suit filed by Gani’s NCP and 27 other political parties, against their deregistration by INEC. Justice Gabriel Kolawole of a Federal High Court in Abuja, in a ruling in 2013, faulted INEC on the deregistration, insisting that the Section 78(7) (i) and (ii) of the Electoral Act, 2010 which it relied on was not in consonance with the Nigerian Constitution.
That portion stated that, “the commission shall have power to de-register political parties on the following grounds: “(i) breach of any of the requirements for registration; and for failure to win a seat in the National or State Assembly election.” As at the time of that judgement on July 29, 2013, Nigeria had 54 political parties, when the 28 initially deregistered were added to the list.
Those two judgements formed the foundation for the latest dilemma facing INEC. But we believe that now is that time for the INEC to work with the National Assembly, the presidency and other stakeholders to correct the errors which the courts spotted previously and ruled against the electoral body.
Since they are constitutional issues, we believe that with proper liaisons, INEC should be able to push through the National Assembly, the amendment of the relevant portions of the Constitution to deal with the issue. While we support multiparty system, we believe very strongly that having over 80 portfolio political parties, who add nothing to electioneering does not represent the ideal. The best election acknowledged worldwide in Nigeria took place on June 12, 1993 with just two political parties. We are of the view that fewer stronger political parties would serve the purpose of the country better.
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