A number of political parties are up in arms against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for de-registering them, reports TAIWO AMODU
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), last Friday, jolted the polity when it deregistered 74 political parties of the existing 92. The national chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, who made the announcement at a news briefing in Abuja, said only 18 political parties have not fell short of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act guiding the operations of political parties in the country.
Yakubu further argued that the 18 political parties survived the commission’s axe after its recent assessment test. Professor Yakubu listed grounds which political parties could be weeded in line with the alteration to the constitution by the National Assembly. The conditions according to the INEC chairman include, ‘’breach of any of the requirements for registration as a political party; failure to win, at least, 25 per cent of the votes cast in one state of the federation in a presidential election or 25 per cent of the votes cast in one local government area of a state in a governorship election.’’
Another requirement was ‘’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.’’ Professor Yakubu further noted that the parties ‘’were also assessed on the basis of their performance in the area council election in the Federal Capital Territory which coincided with the 2019 general election.’’
The early warning
The INEC’s firm decision has courted varied reactions. To those who have dismissed the amorphous 92 parties as unwieldy, it was a welcome development. It was revealed that the electoral umpire itself was not comfortable with the existing number of parties and was only emboldened to take the action it took last week by the recent alteration to the Electoral Act which vested it with the power to de-register parties which exist only in name with no acceptance by the electorate by virtue of their dismal performance at the polls.
Further findings revealed that INEC had raised the alarm that existing parties often observed in the breach its regulations guiding their existence. The commission, while presenting certificates of registration to 21 newly registered political parties on January 8, 2019, expressed concern that 17 of the parties out of the then existing 47 had no functional national secretariats in Abuja, in apparent contravention of the statutory requirement of their existence as political parties.
INEC national commissioner/Chairman, Elections and Party Monitoring Committee, Professor Antonia Simbine, who made the startling revelation, said the parties had been indifferent to its position that its regulations must be complied with.
She said: “Among other requirements, the constitution requires that, as registered political parties, you must always maintain a functional national headquarters address in the FCT. Additionally, members of your National Executive Committees must not only reflect Federal Character but also have tenures that are renewed at intervals not exceeding four (4) years. The commission on its part will at regular intervals carry out verification exercises/visits, to your offices to ensure continued compliance with relevant laws/ regulations guiding their existence.
‘’It is pertinent to note that at the conclusion of a review of the compliance status of registered political parties done in August 2017, seventeen (17) out of the then forty-six (46) registered political parties had no functional offices in the FCT.
‘’Additionally, about eighteen (18) of the then forty-six (46) registered political parties had invalid National Executive Committees whose tenures had expired and/or were not reflective of the Federal Character of Nigeria as required by the commission.”
A year after, the national chairman of the commission spoke in similar vein about lack of fidelity to its rule. At the presentation of certificate to five newly registered parties which swelled the number to 73, Professor Yakubu offered a hint that his commission was determined to instill sanity in the electoral process by moving against parties that only exists in name. He said: “The commission will continue to strictly monitor the activities of all political parties and will not hesitate to apply sanctions against any violation of the law governing the terms and conditions of your registration. ‘I wish to remind all political parties that the law also provides for de-registration of parties. We shall vigorously apply this aspect of the law as the need arises.”
Speculation is rife that some of the non-performing parties exist at the behest of chieftains of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress and its main rival, (APC) the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP). Aspirants, who lost out in the primaries of the two dominant parties, had in recent past, picked tickets in the existing mushroom platforms in circumstances that confound the public and even INEC itself.
Before the last general election, the national chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, had derided some of the parties as trade centres. While receiving a delegation of members of the National Republican Institute (NRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) at his office, the APC national chairman dismissed the number of political parties in the country as too unwieldy and further noted that they could create confusion for the electorate.
Oshiomhole, who exonerated the INEC for the huge number of parties, submitted that the electoral body was handicapped by judicial pronouncements, which frowned at regulation of political associations, seeking registration as parties. The APC chairman said individuals behind the parties only use such platforms to negotiate for relevance as he claimed that some of them were already seeking for financial inducement from the ruling party to adopt President Muhammadu Buhari as their presidential candidate.
The Senate gang up?
Before the INEC axe fell on the 74 parties, the ninth Senate had frowned at the number of political parties after the last general election and demanded that the number be pruned. At a meeting with INEC last October, former Kano State governor and chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya, had frowned at the number of candidates fielding candidates ahead of November 16 governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.
Senator Gaya and his deputy on the committee, Ike Ekweremadu argued that the number of political parties ought to have been pruned in compliance with alteration to the 1999 Constitution which they noted vested the electoral umpire with the power to weed out idle political parties. The former deputy Senate President submitted that by virtue of the Electoral Act, political parties which failed to win a seat in the general elections should be deregistered.
Senator Gaya further revealed that his Committee was determined to reduce the number of existing political parties to three or five. “We need to amend the act to reduce the political parties to a maximum of five. This committee is really committed to reducing the number of political parties to save taxpayers’ money.”
The gathering storm….
Some of the de-registered parties have since kicked against the INEC proclamation.At a press briefing last Friday in Abuja, the umbrella body of political parties, the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) faulted the action of the electoral umpire. A statement signed by Ezeobikah Chukwudi, national legal adviser, IPAC, noted that there was a pending suit before a Federal High Court 3 in Abuja where ruling on its interlocutory injunction has been fixed for February 17 2020. IPAC argued that the INEC’s declaration was thus preemptive and an affront on the judiciary.
The statement read in part: “The Federal High Court, upon hearing the motion for an interlocutory Injunction on the 23rd of January, 2020, adjourned for ruling on February 17, 2020. It is however reprehensible on the part of INEC to take such decision which is an affront on the judiciary, an abuse of the court process and a conscious disregard for the Rule of law. By the action purportedly taken by INEC today, the council is of a firm view that INEC as an institution, no longer has regards or respect for the rule of law in Nigeria and has lost the confidence of political parties in the political affairs of the nation. The council hereby calls on INEC, to immediately reverse the purported decision in order not to infringe on the rights of political parties as guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)’’
The court is expected to make its pronouncement this week on the pending suit before it instituted by the 33 parties who incidentally formed the bulk of political parties deregistered. Will Professor Yakubu reverses himself if the judgment favoured the axed parties?