•Weighs options •How situation hurt 2019 polls
•The electoral body has the power to delist weak parties – Ekweremadu
•Stakeholders proffer solutions

By Clifford Ndujihe, Henry Umoru, Chris Ochayi, Gabriel Ewepu & Yinka Ajayi

THE 2023 general election is four years away but the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is already in a quandary over how to conduct the polls.

Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Mahmood Yakubu

While lamenting that umpiring the 2019 exercise in which 91 political parties took part was Herculean and affected its performance adversely, the INEC said 200 parties may take part in the 2023 elections, which it said would be very difficult to organize.

Currently, Sunday Vanguard gathered that the electoral umpire is weighing options to wriggle out of the snarl. Some of the options include seeking a constitutional amendment to de-register weak political parties and review the requirements for registering political parties.

The issue generated mixed views among some political parties, civil society groups and stakeholders, who proffered suggestions on the way forward.

Penultimate Thursday, the INEC said it was worried over the number of associations that have applied to be registered as political parties ahead of the 2023 general elections, saying that except there was an urgent reform of the extant electoral law in the country, over 200 political parties might participate in the next general elections.

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who made the revelation at an Electoral Reform Roundtable organised by Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, in conjunction with Kofi Annan Foundation, lamented that the number of associations seeking to be allowed to field candidates in 2023 was more than the existing political parties.

Yakubu, who was represented at the event by INEC’s National Commissioner, Mr. Festus Okoye, equally lamented that the commission has over 809 pre-election cases still pending in courts, adding that over 70 Certificates of Return have been withdrawn from various candidates that emerged from the 2019 polls, and 800 pre-election cases are pending in courts.

He said: “Let me just say that one of the biggest challenges the commission has as at today, relates to the plethora of pre-election matters that are still pending in the various courts of law. As at today, the commission has in its docket a total of 809 pre-election matters, while we have 800 post-election matters…

“We have also expressed concern over the number and quality of political parties in Nigeria. Our ballot papers are getting longer, the result sheets are getting bigger and it is also creating a big challenge for the voters in the field. I think we need to have a national conversation on this matter to see if we really need the number of political parties in existence in the country. This is because as at today, the number of political parties fighting to be registered can be said to be more than the number of political parties already in existence.

“The implication is that if we register all the political associations that have applied for registration, we are going to go into the 2023 general elections with over 200 political parties. I do not know whether this is really what the Nigerian people need.”

Indeed, the commission had earlier said that a large number of political parties that participated in the 2019 general elections caused it a lot of logistics problems.

Mohammed Haruna, the National Commissioner in charge of Kwara, Kogi and Nasarawa states, said this penultimate Saturday in Ilorin while speaking with journalists after its workshop to review the 2019 general elections.

Citing the high number of litigation arising from the 2019 elections, 809 pre-election and 800 pre-election cases, he said: “So you can see that with these kinds of problems we had, there is really a need to look at the number of political parties. We really need to do something about the 91 political parties, not just the quantity, which generally speaking the public have begun to complain that 93 political parties are on the high side,” he added.

He noted that 76 political parties contested for the Presidential election, adding that this was the source of the serious logistics problem that the commission had. “We underestimated the kind of logistical problem that implied the size of the ballot papers, result sheets and so on. By the time these materials started arriving, we realize that it was a huge logistical problem.”

With an electronic voting number of parties is immaterial – Chekwas Okorie

Speaking on the issue, National Chairman of the United Progressive Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said the INEC is raising the unnecessary alarm because there is functional democracy in other countries with a huge number of political parties.

His words: “The INEC alarm that there could be as many as 200 political parties by the turn of the 2023 general elections is unnecessary. There are functional democracies in the world that have such a number of political parties in relative terms.

“INEC should proceed to the Ninth National Assembly without delay with an electoral amendment bill that will among other things grant the commission powers to insist that registered political parties must have functional offices in at least 2/3 of the states of the Federation before it will be eligible to field candidates in a Presidential Election or functional offices in the states before they will participate in governorship and other elections.

“The legal provisions to de-register political parties must be express and unambiguous. Above all, if the Electronic Voting System is instituted then it would not matter anymore the number of political parties that qualify to participate in elections. Electronic Voting System will make the use of thugs unattractive. The deployment of security agents during the election will be minimal.

“Election results will be transmitted simultaneously from the polling units to the various monitoring platforms and the central server. The 2019 general election recorded a national participation average of 35% according to INEC. Electronic Voting System will attract over 70% participation of registered voters and the number of participating political parties will not pose a serious challenge to the Commission. There is no better alternative to a multi-party democracy provided that participation and conduct of elections are regulated under the appropriate legal framework”.

We need more parties  –  Galadima, ACPN Chairman

In the same vein, National Chairman of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN, Alhaji Ganiyu Galadima said that in a democracy, the more the participants the better.

He said: “ACPN is not against political parties doubling in 2023. Although our party could not participate in the last presidential election but in democracy, we cannot afford to limit the choice of the people.

“Going by how large Nigeria is, 200 political parties are not much. In the US, they operate a multi-party system so Nigeria should not be an exception. In the years to come it may not be the two popular parties that would be the peoples’ desire. Each political party has its own philosophy different from the others. More political parties will also reduce political tension in Nigeria.”

A plethora of parties is not the problem – Shonibare

Acting National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Chief Shonibare, said the number of political parties is not the problem, arguing that democracy cannot be restrictive in determining by some fiat, the number of associations that can contest elections.

He continued: “We need to move away from this narrative of there being too many political parties as if that is the cause of our challenges of not having effective representation, transparent and, selfless governance.

“We had many political parties in the last election. How many of them contested at the polls? Did the proliferation of political parties somehow confuse the electorate to the extent that they still ended up voting for Candidates in not more than six or perhaps eight political parties?

“The ruling parties at National and State levels were busy scheming on taking over as many as they could, to enable them to have multiple political parties supporting their pre-determined scheme to manipulate the results.

“When results are switched, the beneficiary of the manipulation looks for political parties either set up by them for such a purpose or others able to volunteer to be accomplices and circulate rigged results among themselves. For example, if only six political parties contest an election, five can gang up to produce rigged results.

“Democracy cannot be restrictive in determining by some fiat, the number of associations that can contest elections. There is no limitation in any truly democratic polity anywhere in the world. Smaller parties may evolve to be the ruling parties in the future. I do not see the difficulty in a party just contesting local government elections or just being confined to a state.

“This will probably even reduce the massive attendant financial burden of all political parties having to be national political parties. It may even ameliorate participatory democracy at Ward, local government and state levels. More ambitious political parties will obviously spread its tentacles to most parts of the country, as that is the only process that will enable it to govern the entire country.

“The nostalgia we sometimes have with our experiment of political parties by fiat, initially by the Babangida junta and subsequently by the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime is, with respect for those who savour those brief epochs, most misplaced. They were foisting political leadership on us. It gives an unfair advantage to those the ruling power anoint upon its activation, creates a closed shop polity and makes it impossible for any burgeoning association to aspire to power. We don’t read of any agitation in other democratic jurisdiction for the reduction of political parties.’’

INEC’s claim mischievous – IPAC

On its part, the Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC, an umbrella body of many registered political parties, asked INEC’s National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, to resign from office over his alleged derogatory remarks against registered political parties.

The IPAC National Chairman, Chief Peter Ameh, derided Okoye for using “foul and gutter” language against registered political parties which are the main and only reason he is in office.

Ameh said that blaming the inadequacies and shortcomings that characterised the conduct of 2019 general elections on the number of political parties in Nigeria is not only mischievous and totally unacceptable but also completely misplaced

The IPAC leadership said referring to duly registered political parties as ‘’commercial platforms for hire” was most unexpected from a man of Okoye’s calibre as a lawyer.

Ameh said: “It is indeed of great concern to registered political parties Nigeria judging from the mirage of calls to the council who are members of the Inter-Party Advisory Council of Nigeria, IPAC, and who were duly registered by the Commission after fulfilling the Constitutional requirements.

“This is not only insulting to the collective intelligence of all Democrats and members of legally registered political Parties in Nigeria but shows how uninformed the INEC Commissioner is with respect to Procedures and Processes.

“Having assessed, certified and approved the registration of any political Party, it is morally and legally wrong for him to use the platform of the commission to state his personal opinion in any way that “Political Parties are mere platforms and have no concrete and visible presence in most States of the Federation” when such is a pre-condition for political Party registration…

“The federal government of Nigeria and the Independent National Electoral Commission must work closely with all the registered political parties in Nigeria under the leadership of the Inter-Party Advisory Council of Nigeria, IPAC, who are the main key stakeholders in the electoral process and without whom no electoral process can be said to be complete, to proffer permanent solutions to the current mess in the Nation’s electoral system through a holistic review of our electoral laws.”

Multiplication of parties will hurt the process — Obi

To ActionAid Nigeria’s Country Director, Mrs Ene Obi, Nigeria needs a fewer number of parties to excel.

Hear her: “Is duplication of political parties the way forward? We are talking about how to develop our political system and not multiplying political parties. Where are we learning all of these from?

“You can look at the stress of producing electoral materials and it is going to be stressful in terms of how expensive the election itself becomes. Are Nigerians not seeing what is happening in developed countries? I know we need to exercise our rights but we need to be guided.

“Nigeria needs political education. With the current number of political parties, how many of them have offices as locations in the states according to the electoral act? All these political parties on the ballot paper confuse the electorate because most Nigerians are not educated. It is a colossal waste of resources.

“Our advice is the federal government should be serious with political education and should use the National Orientation Agency, NOA, to really carry out political education for Nigerians and politicians and de-emphasize the issue of money. We think we need to really look at the salary of politicians, and make sure that you as a politician going to the parliament is to serve the people and not to serve your pocket because right now politics is the biggest business in Nigeria.

“There is a need for review on the political parties on the ground and let us see what is required of a political party. Let us know whether they are really political parties. We just have people milling around, if they are not political parties let them come out and bring down the number of political parties. What we need now is dedicated leaders and not people who will go there and get what they can benefit.”

GEJ concurs, makes case for the two-party system

National Coordinator, Grassroots Empowerment and Justice, GEJ Initiative, Ebriku John Friday, shared Mrs Obi’s views.

He said: “We do not subscribe to the multi-party system. Like the last elections, the electorates were confused due to multiple political parties’ names and logos and made many to commit blunders including not voting parties of their choice. The time and process were all made cumbersome.

“If we are copying democracy from countries that are practising democracy and if we are sincere and want to measure up with them politically, two political party system works.

“Even today in our country with all these numbers of political parties we can count two or three that ring bell everywhere. How many of these political parties registered even at the late hour won elections and why are we deceiving ourselves? We need just three or five political parties. These will end up having strong regional parties that would push the demands of the various regions.

“Presently, we have political parties that don’t have ideologies. Those with political ambitions should just belong to the strong few political parties. Let us have standard, ideal and stable political parties that are having ideologies that can sustain the ideals of the nation. Look at the United States of America, USA, those who are Democrats are Democrats from the cradle same with those who are Republicans. They carry on these ideologies from primary to university and then when they are in government begin to practice those ideologies. We should learn from the civilized societies.

“Is it not an indictment on the INEC Chairman who is talking about de-registering some political parties which he referred recently to as ‘commercial parties’?

“These are political parties that just hit and run, you would not see them after elections. You are talking of de-registering political parties and still registering new ones, why? Is it not merry-go-round? Or how are we sure you are not registering more commercial political parties or stooges for other political parties?”

The problem is beyond INEC – Election observer

Mr Paul James, a political analyst and election observer, said: ‘’The truth is, this is beyond INEC, and this is a matter of legislation. So long as our laws are fluid and so long as they allow that, we are going to see that happen. And, it is also about inclusion. ‘The more the Naira’ that is what people will tell you. I will tell you that most of these parties exist not to serve the interest of others.

‘’I have been observing election for the last 15 years and I was in an election wherein Osun, in 2014, during the election, about 20 parties pulled out and endorsed a candidate. We shall continue to see that impact on especially the political economy of our election because INEC will conduct election based on the number on the register and based on the candidates that are put forward by political parties.

‘’As a people, we need to start telling ourselves the truth especially areas that we think we have the strength. Political parties have to see whether they have the wherewithal. If my strength is to contest a local election, let me remain with local election otherwise we will have to go back to how to amend our laws and maybe give chance to five parties or maybe look at the issue of independent candidates who don’t necessarily have to go through political parties.

‘’The political parties that exist for instance, what have they done for the economy? What Nigerians have spent in conducting an election is more than what we have spent in other sectors of the economy.

‘’I would rather we amend our laws so that we regulate the parties that would contest in our elections. We should look back in retrospect the parties that did not perform well in the last election, to see how if it is possible to punish them and stop them from contesting elections even though in elections you would want to encourage inclusion, politics of participation and have more rooms for competition.”

INEC has powers to  de-register political parties, Ekweremadu

Immediate past Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, on Tuesday, said that the INEC has the constitutional power to deregister weak or poor performing political parties.

Ekweremadu, who was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review for 12 years, expressed shock over the INEC’s that it lacked the powers to de-register political parties without further constitution amendments.

In a statement by his Media Aide, Uche Anichukwu, Senator Ekweremadu said what INEC should simply do, was to look at the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No. 9) Act published in Official Gazette No. 77 Vol. 105 in order to be well guided.

He said that the latest amendments, duly assented to by President Buhari, spelt out various reasons that can make the electoral umpire de-register political parties.

“INEC concern has already been substantially addressed by the 1999 Constitution as amended by the Eighth National Assembly and assented by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“We inserted a new Section 225A, which provides that the INEC shall have the power to de-register political parties for breach of any of the requirements for registration and failure to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election or 25 per cent of votes cast in at least one local government in a governorship election.

“It further empowers INEC to de-register any party that fails to win at least one ward in the Chairmanship election or one seat in the National Assembly or State House of Assembly election or one seat in the Councillorship election.

“What it means is that a political party may continue to exist. But once it appears on the ballot, it becomes compulsory for it to meet certain benchmarks to continue to exist.

“So, it is incumbent on INEC to filter out and de-register those political parties that appeared on the presidential election ballot but did not garner at least 25 per cent of votes in at least one state of the federation. It should also look at parties that contested election in the states and de-register those political parties that did not poll up to 25 per cent of votes in at least one local government area in those states they contested the election.’’

How parties rose to 91

In 1979 (see table), only five parties took part in the elections. The number of marginally increased to six in 1983. And in the other years, the figures were 1999 (three), 2003 (28), 2007 (50), 2011 (63), 2015 (27) and 2019 (91).

Why and how three parties contested national polls in 1999

To ensure that only parties with national appeal and spread took part in the transition elections of 1999, the INEC said only parties that made an impact on December 5, 1998, local council elections would be allowed to contest presidential, governorship, federal and state assembly polls.

Indeed, to avoid cluttering the political space with redundant parties, participation by any of these parties in the subsequent rounds of the election was made dependent on its winning at least 10 per cent of the total votes in the council elections of 1998 in at least two-thirds of the states in the federation.

Consequently, INEC invited interested political associations to submit their applications for registration as political parties. About 26 associations submitted their applications with only nine receiving provisional approval to participate in the December 1998 council elections. These were the Alliance for Democracy, AD, All Peoples Party, APP, Democratic Advance Movement, DAM, Movement for Democracy and Justice, MDJ, National Solidarity Movement, NSM, and the PDP.

The rest were the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, United Democratic Party, UDP, and United Progressive Party, UPP.

At the end of the 1998 council election, the AD won 100 local councils, APP had 182, and PDP secured 389 out of 774 local councils in the federation. The PDP and APP met the requirement in more than 24 states while the AD did in about 18 states.

The INEC granted PDP and APP automatic permanent approval and included the AD as a ‘’third force.” The AD was very strong in the South-West, where the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election hailed from. South-West leaders led by late Senator Abraham Adesanya played crucial roles through the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, which fought the military to a standstill asking for the restoration of the June 12 mandate and at worse a return to civil rule. A prominent member of NADECO said then that they ‘’arm-twisted” INEC to register AD by saying: ‘’If you don’t register us, we will tell the whole world that you did not register us because we are NADECO.”

The other six parties divided the remaining 103 councils with none of them getting the stipulated percentage. Thus, with more than 70 per cent of the local councils divided among AD, APP, and PDP, the electoral umpire granted them approval to participate in the state assembly, governorship, National Assembly, and presidential elections.

Ahead of the 2003 elections, more political associations applied and met the amended requirements for registration, which did not include electoral performance but stressed national spread. The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, fought and ensured registration for his National Conscience Party, NCP and his victory opened the flood gates for other political associations to be listed. Thus, 28 parties took part in the 2003 polls, 50 in 2007, and 63 in 2011. Then, the parties were funded by INEC.

Later, the regime of Professor Attahiru Jega stopped paying grants to the parties and went further to proscribe redundant ones. The prescription led to other round legal fisticuffs that returned a host of the ballot.

Number of Parties that took part in past elections in Nigeria

Year                     Parties

1979                     5

1983                     6

1999                     3

2003                     28

2007                     50

2011                     63

2015                     27

2019                     91

Experience in other lands

Nigeria is not the only country with many parties. However, in some countries, parties get on the ballot based on performance.

How it works in India

India, for instance, is a country of 1.3 billion people. It practices a Parliamentary system of government and has three types of political parties, namely: national, state recognized and unrecognized parties. There are seven national parties, 49 state-recognized parties, and a host of unrecognized parties.

Based on the performance in elections a party can move through the ranks to become a national party.

To become a national party in India, a state-recognized party must have two per cent of seats from at least three states in the 543-seat Lok Sabha (parliament).

To become a state recognised party in India, a political party must win at least three per cent of the total number of seats in the legislative assembly.

An unrecognized party cannot contest an election on its symbol. This party has to choose from the list of ‘free symbols’ issued by the poll panel.

The USA example

In the US, whose pattern of democracy Nigeria is practising there are dozens of political parties but, only certain parties qualify to have the names of their candidates for office printed on election ballots.

To qualify for ballot placement, a party must meet certain requirements that vary from state to state. For example, in some states, a party may have to file a petition in order to qualify for ballot placement. In other states, a party must organize around a candidate for a specific office; that candidate must, in turn, win a percentage of the vote in order for the party to be granted ballot status. In still other states, an aspiring political party must register a certain number of voters.

As of May 2018, there were at least 32 distinct ballot-qualified political parties in the United States. There were 230 state-level parties. Some parties are recognized in multiple states. For example, both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are recognized in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. These two parties account for 102 of the 230 total state-level parties.

Three minor parties were recognized in more than 10 states as of May 2018. They are Libertarian Party (39 states), Green Party (27 states) and Constitution Party (15 states).

Disclaimer

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