Femi Ogbonnikan and Vanessa Obioha write that the Independent National Electoral Commission recently carried out one of its obligations by registering 23 new political parties, but the process does not necessarily guarantee political independence, as the voting public are swarmed by parties with no prima facie ideal and vision

    On August 14, 2018, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the registration of 23 new political parties, bringing the total number of political parties in Nigeria to 91.  Expectedly, the news elicited mixed reactions with political pundits revisiting the argument on the credibility and availability of these parties at both federal and state levels.

    To be sure, INEC can only register parties that have adequately met the criteria stipulated in the amended version of the 1999 Constitution. Some of these criteria are that these parties must must provide the names and other contact details of their national and state executive committees, as well as, their administrative structure to INEC. Other requirements include a provision that the association seeking registration as a political party must have its national headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory, and at least, be operational in 24 states in the federation. Once these conditions are met, INEC proceeds to verify before the green light to function as a political party.

    In compliance with the Electoral Act provisions, especially section 78 (1), the new 23 political parties by INEC are, (1) Advanced Alliance Party (AAP); (2) Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP); (3) African Action Congress (AAC); (4) Alliance For A United Nigeria (AUN); (5) Alliance of Social Democrats  (ASD); (6) Alliance National Party (ANP); (7) Allied Peoples Movement  (APM); (8) Alternative Party of Nigeria  (APN); (9) Change Nigeria Party (CNP); (10) Liberation Movement (LM); (11) Congress Of Patriots (COP); (12) Movement for Restoration and Defence of Democracy (MRDD); (13) Nigeria Community Movement Party (CMP); (14) Nigeria For Democracy (NFD); (15) Peoples Coalition Party (PCP); (16) Reform and Advancement Party (RAP); (17) Save Nigeria Congress (SNC); (18) United Patriots (UP); (19) United Peoples Congress (UPC); (20) We The Peoples Nigeria (WTPN); (21) Yes Electorates Solidarity (YES); (22) Youth Party (YP); and (23) Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), thus brings to 91, the total number of political parties in the country.

    INEC National Commissioner and member, Voter Education and Publicity Committee, Mr. Mohammed Haruna, said INEC received a total of 144 applications from political associations seeking registration as political parties. “After a rigorous process of evaluation in accordance with the Constitution and Electoral Act which included assessment of the constitutions and manifestos of the intending parties and verification of membership of the executive committees and offices, the 23 associations met all the requirements and so, have been registered as political parties. This brings the number of political parties so far registered to 91 and will be the last round of registration of parties until after the general elections on February 16, 2019. This suspension is in line with section 78 (1) of the Electoral Act, which requires all applications for registration as political parties to be concluded latest six months to a general election.”

    With the increasing number of associations joining the political race, it is expected that it will open a discourse on party monopoly, as the multi-party system promotes true democracy. Has registration of multiple parties resulted in a free and fair election or promoted the practice of democracy? Or has it led to more confusion and conundrums for the electoral body?

    When INEC was established in 1998 to usher in the Fourth Republic, only three parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) were popular. The general elections that held the following year showed that the PDP commanded a wider spread. The party held on to power for 16 years, leading to defections and coalitions in a bid to dislodge the PDP. In the 2003 general election, the number of political parties in the contest had risen to 20, but the PDP emerged winner again. The apparent monopoly of the ruling party elicited a loud cry from the people, who insisted on more political parties to enable mass political participation.

    The result, so far, has left a bittersweet taste in the mouth of many. Instead of enjoying political independence, the electorate are swarmed by parties with no prima facie ideal and vision. In 2012, under the leadership of Professor Attahiru Jega, INEC had to deregister some of the parties for being moribund.

    Supreme Court Intervention

    What followed next was a messy court case that witnessed the clipping of the wings of INEC by the Supreme Court. Second Republic Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa had gone to court to challenge the axing of his political party, Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). The Supreme Court ruled that INEC had no authority to terminate a political party as long as its national executive committee was still functional.

    Despite the intervention of the National Assembly through Section 78(6) of the 2010 Electoral Act, which provided INEC with the power to de-register any political party that failed to win any executive and legislative seats in elections, the Supreme Court still upheld its judgement citing the freedom of association as contained in Section 40 of the 1999 constitution. The court also declared Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, which said parties must win seats in the state and National Assemblies election as null and void. It insisted that deregistration of political parties was not constitutional.

    Lost Identity of Political Parties

    Apart from the apparent logistics that accompany multi-party system which automatically leads to a high election budget, there are irregularities during the voting process that can hamper the election results. For instance, the inability of the voter to appropriately thumbprint on the provided space of his selected party often times affect the collation of results.  In the new Electoral Act Amendment bill which is yet to get the President’s nod, one of the sections approved electronic means of collating results which may resolve this problem.

    However, identity of these new parties are lost on Nigerians. No one seems to feel their presence. Some of the party names are now a form of entertainment to many who mock their lack of creativity in forming names that clearly reflect true federal character.  There is a growing argument that agrees with the lawmakers insistence that a political party must be recognised by a percentage of the population both at the grassroots and federal level before being allowed to contest in an election. This will further give room for greater mass population.

    The onus is on INEC, civil society organisations and the political parties to provide adequate information on the political parties in order to keep the electorates in the loop.

    Despite the glaring obstacles faced by INEC regarding the increasing number of registered parties, some school of thought believe that the electoral body is moving in the right direction.

    Lawyer and former National Secretary, Labour Party, Dr. Kayode Ajulo considered it a good step in all ramifications to Nigerian federation and constitutional democracy as long as the registration is done with sincerity and based on integrity of purpose.

    He said, “As it is, INEC has a mandate to register any entity once the conditions as stipulated in Section 222 of the Constitution are met.  I know that at the level of secondary school education in Nigeria, it is taught in Government that Nigeria operates a multi-party system and it allows for a democracy since it gives people the opportunity to freely associate or join any political party they want to.

    “It allows for mass political participation as people are more involved in the government of the day; peaceful change of power and opposition. Even the ruling government can be challenged. If these can be taught in theory; that means it can be seen in practical. The move by INEC to register more political parties is a step to achieving these.”

    However, many political observers are interrogating what the multiplicity of political parties signify for the 2019 general elections.

    For instance, the greater number of Nigerian electorates are in the rural communities and are either stark illiterates or semi-illiterates. This means that INEC has got a lot to contend with, considering the length of a ballot paper. Voters might find difficult to locate their choice of party logo, causing confusion. It is feared that in the coming 2019 general elections, INEC should be prepared to record a huge number of invalid ballot.

    Former and present elective office holders, academia, civil society groups political parties’ supporters and observers have given kudos and knocks but many of them have picked holes in the entire exercise as doing more harm than good.

    Senator Akin Odunsi, who represented Ogun West district between 2011 and 2015, said the multiplicity of political parties is not needed for the country’s nascent democracy. He said Nigeria should not have more than three political parties, in view of the prevailing circumstances in the country. Ideologically speaking, Nigeria should not have registered more than 3 political parties; left, right and centre parties,” averred the Senator.

    “I am amazed that INEC could even go ahead and announce it has registered 91 political parties.

    Where in the civilised climes do you have so many political parties? What could be the ideological differences between 91 political parties? Certainly these are political parties floated for office seeking individuals. It means, if I cannot get a ticket in party A, I can move to party B, C or D. How does INEC expect to cope with electoral materials for 91political parties? We will then go ahead and complain that INEC’s budget for the election is huge.”

    Expressing disappointment at the registration of additional 23 new parties, former Ogun State Deputy Governor and Senator, Adegbenga Kaka, who represented Ogun East between 2011 and 2015, wondered why INEC wants to cause confusion. He described the entire exercise as “a recipe for confusion, chaos and political system dislocations. Ninety-one political parties, what for?  To say the least is unwieldy, difficult to manage and could be highly confusing to the electorates. Though, argument may be enrichment of choices before the electorates and respect for freedom of association as enshrined in our Constitution.
    The damage might have been irredeemably done before any adjustment, in form of natural attrition of the plethora of the weak parties,” said Kaka.
    Also, a legal practitioner and an Osun State APC gubernatorial aspirant in the last July 14 governorship primary poll, Barrister Kunle Adegoke, said the demerits of the exercise outweighs its merits. Adegoke stated that the benefit of the exercise is that, it would afford Nigerians more choices in exercising their democratic rights, while on the other hand, it would create confusion for the predominantly illiterate population.

    “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as altered) requires that any political party that meets the constitutional requirements should be registered. INEC has no further discretion in this matter as we run a multi-party democracy. The benefit is that Nigerians have more choices in exercising their democratic rights. It gives people more opportunities rather than being put in a democratic strait-jacket of probably two or fewer political parties.”

    “The demerit is that, in a largely illiterate society like ours, it serves as an illustrious source of confusion among the people. It is equally costlier to run in terms of logistics and ensuring that all parties are given equal opportunities to the exclusion of none. Any single mistake of excluding any political party that fields a candidate in an election automatically nullifies the entire electoral exercise whether the party has any political capital or no electoral fortune whatsoever,” said Adegoke.

    DR. KAYODE AJULO, LEGAL PRACTITIONER: Kudos to INEC for Doing the Needful 

    “Registration of more political parties is a good step in all ramifications, if the registration is done with sincerity and based on integrity of purpose. As it is, INEC has a mandate to register any entity, once the conditions as stipulated in Section222 of the Constitution are met. I know that at the level of secondary school education, it is taught in Government that Nigeria operates a multi-party system and it allows for democracy since it gives people the opportunity to freely associate or join any political party they want to. It allows for mass political participation as people are more involved in the government of the day. It allows for peaceful change of power and allows for opposition to the ruling government. If these can be taught in theory, that means, it can be seen in practical. The move by INEC to register more political parties is a step to achieving these.

    “We must remember and salute Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN for going to court to have a proper interpretation of the constitution which opened a floodgate of registration of multiple parties in Nigeria.  Apart from leading a campaign for the restoration of civil rule, Fawehinmi spearheaded the effort that led to the expansion of the democratic space by ensuring that the stringent conditions for the registration of political parties designed by INEC were declared illegal by the court. If 500 entities met the condition, they must be registered. The law must take its course and the heavens won’t fall. Kudos therefore should go to INEC for doing the needful.

    “Nigerians have a choice to belong to any political party without any hassle and this was made possible by Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which grants the right to peaceful assembly and association. With the registration of more political parties, no political party can boast of having monopoly over other parties and the true meaning of choice, freedom in spirit and letter is presently at play in Nigeria. The historical perspective of the emergence of political parties in Nigeria is case study of how the constitutional  evolvement of Nigeria  and the path to democracy has been acted upon by a series of factors, among which is the registration of more political parties.  One thing is certain, a more inclusive political culture is being imbibed by Nigerians and that is a good thing to note. In the United States, with multiple political parties, practitioners have been able to make use of the multiple parties to develop political engagements without any backlash and negative tendencies.

    “It is self-evident that the statutory requirements for the registration of political parties were actually made liberal for the political engineering of strong, viable, and vibrant political parties in Nigeria. That is what we should place premium on, while guiding the conduct of the parties to ensure that their negative tendencies are abated. This is achievable by ensuring that their operations are firmly regulated in accordance with our laws in ensuring that multiplication of political parties is not used to stifle peoples will thereby turning to an antithesis of the purpose for multiple registration of political parties.”