One of the myriads of problems that bedevilled the 2019 general elections was the unwieldy number of political parties that contested the elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, registered 91 political parties and placed 79 presidential candidates on the ballot.
Apart from increasing the cost of our elections, it led to the printing of ballot papers that were so long they were difficult to handle. This obviously accounted for the large number of invalid and cancelled ballots which, in turn, resulted in an unprecedented number of inconclusive elections, especially during the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections.
Efforts were made by the military regimes during their transitions to civil rule to limit the number of parties and candidate for elections. In 1989, all political associations were forced into two platforms – the Social Democratic Party, SDP and the National Republican Convention, NRC. But in 1998, the General Abdulsalami Abubakar transitional regime registered only three political parties – the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; the All Peoples Party, APP and Alliance for Democracy, AD.
It was due to the legal battle mounted by the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the founder of the National Conscience Party, NCP, that threw open political party registration to “all comers”, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA and NCP being among the beneficiaries.
Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution provides for freedom of association, while Section 222 lists conditions for a political association to get registered as political parties. These include registering the names and addresses of its officers with INEC, throwing open its membership to all Nigerians, registering a copy of its constitution (and any alteration of it) with INEC, ensuring it is a national political party and having its headquarters in Abuja. The INEC is obligated to register any group that meets these conditions.
Attempts by the various Chairmen of the INEC to de-register some political parties which did not win elections were severally reversed at the courts.
It seems as if many of these political platforms are merely on a political jamboree and jobbery. They constitute a huge waste of time and public resources. We call for the amendment of the Constitution to allow political parties to be registered to contest elections at local government and state levels and graduate to the national level depending on their growth and ability to create alliances.
If we also factor in the principle of proportional representation, many political parties will become more serious, fight harder to win elections to survive and grow. The winner-takes-all syndrome works against smaller political parties, encourages corruption and impunity and turns officeholders into monsters.
It is time we sat down to sanitise our party system and make party politics more result-oriented.