Fewer political parties will serve the nation better
In a major blow to those who have perfected the art of registering political parties at every election season, essentially for transactional purposes, the Supreme Court on Friday reaffirmed the deregistration of 74 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). And with that, one of the impediments to credible polls in our country has been removed ahead of the 2023 general elections. We hope the verdict will also compel a change in the polity so that people begin to form political parties based on shared ideals.
Since collective problems are common in societies, the essence of political parties is to aggregate ideas on how to solve these problems. But that is not what obtains in Nigeria where these platforms are mere vehicles for seeking political offices. Indeed, what has become clear in recent years is the increasing desperation for power not necessarily to advance public good but rather to target the enormous spoils of office attached to political positions at all levels of governance. It is this same reason that drives the establishment of political parties that have, for all practical purposes, become business ventures.
As we have argued in the past, there is a fundamental reason why the best democracies in the world gravitate around two major parties. Such a choice even among the most enlightened electorate tends to be binary: either apples or oranges. But even under a multi-party arrangement, a maximum upper limit that is robust enough to accommodate all ideological options, makes more sense than what currently obtains in Nigeria where every politician aspires to have his own party. For democracy to thrive, core belief, national presence, spread of membership and basic infrastructure and not the whims of individuals should guide party registration.
When in February last year INEC deregistered 74 political parties, based on Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), its chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, explained that there were 91 political parties before the 2019 general election with another one registered by court order shortly after, making a total of 92 political parties. He added that the last alteration to the 1999 Constitution in 2018 specifically empowers INEC to deregister political parties on the following grounds: Breach of any of the requirements for registration as a political party; failure to win at least 25% of the votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election or 25% of the votes cast in one local government area in a governorship election and failure to win at least one ward in a chairmanship election, one seat in the national or state assembly election or one seat in a councillorship election. None of the 74 deregistered parties could meet that simple requirement.
Even if people have the right to form political parties, proliferation is counterproductive to our democracy. Beyond the logistical nightmare of administering elections without creating room for endless litigations that we have witnessed over the years, a largely illiterate electorate will find it difficult making informed choices in a situation where too many parties and candidates are on the ballot. Besides, these parties are not built around any ideology or interest group and from experience, majority of them never exert any remarkable influence good enough to win elections. And they never do.
For years, INEC has been burdened with repeat elections that are needless and that trend has only multiplied as the number of political parties and candidates grew. Under what is termed ‘unlawful exclusion’, elections are often nullified on several grounds, including a wrong spelling of names, even if such candidates were electoral no-hopers. In terms of logistics and cost to INEC, the previous close to 100 parties is a nightmare. For the sake of growing our democracy therefore, the fewer the parties, the better for democratic choice.
Now that the Supreme Court has affirmed the position of INEC, there may be an urgent need by the National Assembly to revise electoral law (and possibly amend the constitution) so that political parties deregistered after an election do not, on the eve of another, seek and secure fresh registration.
What has become clear in recent years is the increasing desperation for power not necessarily to advance public good but rather to target the enormous spoils of office attached to political positions