…as over 100 political parties are set to contest
By Omeiza Ajayi, Abuja
Except deliberate steps are taken to reverse the trend, the 2019 general elections could prove very herculean and unwieldy for the nation’s electoral management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC.
This is because barring any last minute withdrawal of applications, no fewer than 100 political parties would be participating in the general elections, a situation that could confound a large chunk of the 85 million projected Nigerian voters some of who are barely or non-literate.
However, the Presidential Committee on Electoral Reforms which submitted its report months ago has advocated a more restrictive electoral space to allow for two or three political parties at most. The president is yet to act on the report.
Earlier in June this year, INEC had said it was processing 103 applications for registration as political parties, out of which 54 of such applications failed the initial requirement for registration as political parties.
According to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC “had 95 applications out of which five have fulfilled the requirements for registration while three voluntarily withdrew their applications, bringing the total to 87 applications. Since then, we have received six more applications. This means that the Commission is currently processing 103 applications. Out of this number, six associations are currently undergoing the initial assessment of their logos, names, acronyms and other legal requirements for registration; 33 associations have passed the initial assessment and advised to proceed with the necessary documentation in support of their applications; 10 associations have passed the initial assessment, submitted the necessary documentation and the commission is currently verifying their submissions; finally, 54 associations have failed the initial assessment due mainly to the similarity of their proposed names or logos with existing political parties or associations”.
However, in October the number of political associations seeking registration as parties increased to 108 despite the fact that months earlier, 54 associations had failed the initial test.
68 Parties; 90 in the Offing?
There are currently 68 registered political parties, while there are over 90 political associations seeking registration as at January 2018.
Yakubu explained that at the moment, 90 applications are under consideration by the commission, adding that out of this number, 61 associations have failed the initial assessment of their proposed names, logos or acronyms and have been notified while 25 associations that passed initial assessment, and have been advised to proceed to the next stage of the registration process.
No Plan to Halt the Registration Bazaar
INEC, however, does not have a plan to constrict the political space before the general elections, especially as it has no legal right to so do. According to the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi INEC has no plan to deregister any political party before the 2019 general elections, except where there are proven cases of serious infractions that could warrant wielding the big stick.
“INEC has supervisory roles over political parties; the practice is not to apply the mallet all the time. While the commission has the power to deregister political parties over very serious infractions, this is mostly a last resort action after all other actions have failed,” he said.
Speaking further, Oyekanmi said, “There is no official decision yet on the number of associations to be registered as political parties. The Commission will issue an official statement when that happens”.
18 Parties have no NEC, 17 have no Offices in Abuja
While several associations are angling to be registered as political parties, many of Nigeria’s currently registered parties have continued to operate without regards to some of the nation’s electoral laws.
Lamenting the situation, Prof. Yakubu said while some of the parties have no validly constituted National Executive Committees NECs, others have no offices in the Federal Capital Territory FCT.
Of the registered 68 political parties in Nigeria, 18 are operating with invalid national executive committees whose tenures had expired or were not reflective of the federal character as required by the constitution.
The commission, which gave the offending parties 90 days to rectify the anomaly, also said 17 out of them had no functional offices in the Federal Capital Territory FCT as required by law.
Sections 222(a-f) and 223 (1&2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) requires among others that registered political parties must always maintain a functional national headquarters address in the FCT. In addition, members of the national executive committees of the parties must not only reflect federal character but also have tenures that are renewed at intervals not exceeding four years.
Although INEC declined to name the affected political parties, it said it has formally advised the parties to comply with the electoral law within 90 days.
Electoral Reform Panel advocates Two-Party System
Former Senate President and Chairman, Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform, Chief Ken Nnamani has however advocated the restriction of the political space to make room for two or three major political parties as a way of cutting electoral costs as well as curtailing the incidences of election rigging.
Nnamani who is now the leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, in the South East, spoke at the Nigeria Unity Conference and the formal unveiling of ‘Party Politics Magazine’ by the Secretary General of Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC, Chief Perry Opara.
“The proliferation of political parties is such that it not only creates problems for the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC but even for voters. In Liberia, there was a run-off because the election was inconclusive. The lesson from that is that if they had formed two or three major political parties there would have been no need for a run-off. You may not like to hear this; having many political parties in a country like Nigeria which is bigger than Liberia would cost so much money”, he stated.
In the 2015 general elections, INEC had said while the “core cost” of the election was $547 million, political parties and their candidates spent between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. According to Nnamani, “the idea of everybody aspiring to be the chairman of a political party, even if it is one family, does not make sense. I will recommend very strongly that in future, regardless of our size, after all Nigeria is not larger than the United States of America which has two major parties.
“We have many political parties but one lottery which is Nigeria. We are beginning to get it right in Nigeria. What we are not getting right is this multiplicity of political parties. We (electoral reform committee) have submitted our report. We are not trying to limit participation, but you can find space within a major political party. To make us practice democracy promptly, we need to have two or three major political parties so that the rigging of elections can stop because you cannot rig where you are not strong – you will be stoned to death”, he submitted.
We Can’t Continue like this – Dansadau
Reacting to the proliferation of more political parties, Protem National Chairman of the newly-registered National Rescue Movement, NRM, Sen. Saidu Dansadau, said “if we continue like this, we will end up having a ballot paper in 2019 that is one kilometre long”.
Asking the National Assembly to halt the trend through legislative interventions, he said, “there is no point having political parties that have not won seats – even if it is one Councillorship – in two consecutive elections. They should stand automatically deregistered”.
INEC had on May 17, 2002, announced new guidelines for registration of political parties, a development deemed contrary to the provisions of the constitution particularly sections 222 to 224.
About 33 political associations under the aegis of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties CNPP, led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi approached the courts.
Despite initially losing at the Federal High Court, the late Fawehinmi pursued the case up to the Supreme Court.
In an unanimous judgement on November 8, 2002, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, and Justices Salihu Alfa Belgore, Idris Legbo Kutigi, Anthony Iguh, Akintola Ejiwumi, Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola and Niki Tobi, ruled in favour of Chief Fawehinmi, thus broadening the political landscape of the country by allowing for more political parties.