Time to stem the ugly tide!

By Amos Oladele

At the latest count, we now have 91 registered political parties in Nigeria. This is courtesy of the recent registration of 23 new political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Needless to say, the 91 parties will, even if just on paper, vie for the 2019 general elections.

Instructively, the electoral umpire had set this month (August 2018) as the deadline for registration of fresh political parties, preparatory to the forthcoming general elections. Interesting, too, is the fact that sequel to that deadline, the Commission  had received and processed a whooping 136 applications which meant that if all the applications had scaled through, Nigeria would have had 204 political parties slated for the 2019 general elections,  up from the existing 68 which we had hitherto.

This, no doubt, should be a disturbing development to right thinking Nigerians for a number of reasons.

For sure, the continuous registration of political parties has NOT in any way contravened our constitution. In fact, section 222 of the 1979 Constitution (as amended) provides that all that a would-be party needs to do to be qualified for registration is to ensure that, “(1) the names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission; (2) the membership of the association is open to every citizen of Nigeria irrespective of his place of origin, circumstance of birth, sex, religion or ethnic grouping; (3) a copy of its constitution is registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission in such form as may be prescribed by the Independent National Electoral Commission; (4) any alteration in its registered constitution is also registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission within 30 days of making of such alteration (5) the name of the association, its symbol or logo does not contain any ethnic or religious connotation or give the appearance that the activities of the association are confined to a part only of the geographical area of Nigeria; and (6) the headquarters of the association is situated in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”

Again, Nigerians’ insatiable appetite for political association and ceaseless agitation for political party registration has been bolstered by the Supreme Court judgment in a case filed by the late legal icon and human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN to the effect that “INEC had no power to make guidelines on how an association can become a political party in so far as the Constitution has covered the field in section 222”, adding that “to restrict the formation of political parties weakens the democratic culture”. This judgment marked the beginning of the surge in political parties ever since, such that INEC had no  choice but to register 27 additional parties, bringing the number to 30 for the 2003 general elections. The rest, as they say, is history.

Matters, we must admit, are not helped by the sad realities of our political and socio-economic situation in Nigeria, today, where opinions differ very greatly on the performance or otherwise of the Buhari administration in its almost four years of tenure, the agonizing economic situations  that are prevalent in the country, the seeming lopsidedness in strategic appointments that does not reflect the federal character ethos enshrined in the Constitution, the seeming insensitivity of the government to certain unsettling developments in  the country, the seeming non faithfulness of the current ruling party to its own manifesto; and added to all these being the pains of the wreckage inflicted on the nation’s economy over a 16-year period by the immediate past ruling party which still run very deep.

But, then, can increasing the number of registered political parties in a geometric measure be an answer to people-focused and development oriented socio-political and economic evolution of Nigeria? Our answer is an emphatic No!

For, one, since the First and Second Republics when there was a semblance of principled politics when political parties could somehow be differentiated by their ideological leanings and programmes, there has been nothing of that sort since this Fourth Republic started almost 20 long years ago. And, this is tragic, to say the least.

Again, with an annual subvention by INEC of N60 million to each political party, the sincerity and altruism of most of the mushroom political associations masquerading as political parties is suspect. This view is lent a very strong credence by the fact that real electoral battles, since 1999, have been fought, each time, by two major political parties with one or two others standing on the fringes and the rest virtually missing in action.

It is worthy of note that the chief technical adviser to the INEC chairman, Prof. Bolade Eyinla, at a forum, recently decried the increasing number of political parties, arguing that too many political parties could cause logistical problems, including the production of ballot papers. As he pointed out, one of the challenges posed by fielding many political parties for elections is the management of party agents. According to him, if there are 100 political parties and they all have candidates for a slated position, it means there have to be 100 agents for that election in a polling unit, adding that 100 political parties must appear on the ballot paper; and should a party be omitted on the ballot paper, that election exercise is cancelled.

Also recently, there was a frantic move by a coalition of 39 political parties, led by Nigeria’s main opposition party, the PDP to ratify unity candidates for the 2019 polls.

This explains why this magazine feels very strongly that there is a dire need to stem the ugly tide of ridiculing our nation by allowing just any political association that satisfies those obviously very weak constitutional provisions to be registered as political parties.

Perhaps it is time for us to go back to the drawing board and take a proper and positive cue from the United States of America from where we copied the Presidential System in the first place to do something dignifying for our nation.

Many of our country people may not be aware that in the US, for a party to be included on the ballot, it must, among other things – in some states – have 10,000 registered in members all of who must be verifiable such that for a party to have its logo in a presidential ballot, it must prove that it has 10,000 registered members from each state of the federation. Little wonder that till date, only the Democratic and Republican parties contest in presidential elections in that country.

Maybe, just maybe, we should shed the current laughable toga of unseriousness by going back to the Babangida administration induced two-party system but with constitutional provisions for independent candidacy.

It can hardly be disputed that such an arrangement will make either of the parties to be strong, with guaranteed national spread and without the risk of religious or ethnic colorations. The opposition party at any point in time will be strong; and the chances of the ignoble political party prostitution at election periods, like what we are witnessing now, would be greatly curtailed.

We are not unaware that this would require constitutional amendment which can only be championed by the national assembly.

Unfortunately for Nigeria, this is already beyond the current (8th) Session of the Assembly which, by default or design, has been so drunken with politicking or politricking to such a state of stupor that it has been more in hibernation than in its assigned constitutional action since 2015.

God bless Nigeria.