Parties everywhere, but where are the gains?
SUNDAY ADEPOJU, in this piece, examines the rising public concern over the proliferation of political parties in the country, which many claimed had become more of liabilities than asset to the nation’s democracy.
There seems to be a similarity between the popular saying, water, water everywhere, but there is none to drink and the current trend in the political arena in the country. Whereas there are 91 registered political parties, less than five of them can in real sense be said to exist, function and inspire confidence. Even when they claim to be in existence, they are nothing but mere appendages of individuals, who cannot subsume their personal interests into the true philosophy behind the formation of a political party. Thus, such parties usually become the object for self-serving negotiation, prostitution and treachery before, during and after major elections.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is empowered to register political parties in the country. It derives the mandate and power by the extant laws. Following public concern about the large number of political parties that led to gross abuses of privileges conferred on parties by the system, the commission once wielded the sledge hammer by deregistering a number of them. But the late legal practitioner, Chief Gani Fawehinmi challenged the action of the INEC, saying it lacks such power. The matter dragged to the Supreme Court, which delivered judgment in favour of Fawehinmi thereby leaving the political space open-ended. Today, there are more pending applications before INEC by more political associations desirous of becoming full-fledged political parties.
It will be recalled that the commission had declared that more than four scores of registered political parties had indicated interest to contest the 2019 general election. But only the APC, PDP and other fringe political parties like the African Democratic Congress (ADC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) tried to register their presence or a semblance of relevance. Along with others, the lesser parties courted either the APC or the PDP, which subsumed them at the threshold of the elections proper. They lack principle and philosophy, as well as direction. The consequence, according to scholars and other experts and professionals, is poor leadership content and programme, as the major attraction for the promoters of the parties is their personal desire to expand or build personal empires.
One of the issues that have always topped public discourse after the return of Nigeria to civil rule in 1999 is the deluge of political parties, absence of their real and genuine impact on the political system. Since the first slab of the Fourth Republic, this has been the bane of the country and its elections as virtually all the parties have added little or no value in deepening democracy. There is, however, an exception that the 1993 election gave room for only two political parties – Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC). From the electoral process leading to the Second Republic, five parties presented presidential candidates. It is recalled that the 1999 general election allowed three political parties and that only two – PDP and the All Peoples Party (APP) – presented presidential candidates, as the once vibrant Alliance for Democracy (AD) struck a deal with the APP but with the marriage not strong enough to win the presidency. During the 2011 general election, there were 63 parties and the figure rose astronomically to 91 before the 2019 poll. This was because on August 16, 2018, the INEC issued certificates to 23 newly registered political parties. It is embedded in the country’s Electoral Act that latest six months to general elections, political groups and associations that meet the requirements should be registered. This is in line with Section 78 (1) of the Electoral Act which stipulates that all applications for registration as political party to be concluded latest six months to a general election. In line with this, a Professor of Political Science at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Femi Otubanjo, had observed ahead the 2019 general election that “INEC was a victim rather than villain in the registration of political parties; It’s hands are tied by the constitution” to register merited groups and associations’ applications for registration.
De-registration of parties
After the 2011 general election, the then INEC boss, Professor AttahiruJega de-registered six political parties for failing to participate and field candidates in the election. He had ostensibly relied on Section 225 of the Electoral Act. The six parties included Democratic Alternative (DA), National Action Council (NAC), National Democratic Liberty Party (NDLP), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN), Nigerian Element Progressives Party (NEPP) and National Unity Party (NUP). Some of the grounds for such deregistration, according to law, include: a breach of any of the requirements for registration, failure to win 25 per cent of the votes, failure to win at least one ward in the chairmanship election. It is rather unfortunate that many of the parties that are on ground, even now, may not meet such criteria.
The INEC is aware of the danger that the proliferation of parties poses on the electoral process. While reflecting on the political process of the 2019 elections, the INEC commissioner in charge of information and voter education, Festus Okoye, said the number of the political parties that were on ground then created “a logistic nightmare” and “confused voters” especially the uneducated and less educated during the last election. Despite these identified challenges posed by the number of political parties, it is, still, not unlikely that the number of the parties that will feature in the 2023 election will rise above 100 because there will always be applications for registration.
As a result of this emerging trend, there have been recurrent discussions on the low impact of even the major parties in turning the situation of the polity around. This has elicited serious concern and worry among experts and other stakeholders. For example, a lawyer, Femi Popoola, lamented the low impact of parties that are in Nigeria. He attributed the insignificant performance of the parties to the fact some of them are formed by friends and associates who have common interests at the expense of ideological focus. Popoola clarified: “The parties normally come from group of friends, associates, and people who had something to do together in the past and still common interest. These groups, erroneously called parties, are deficient in principles and ideologies. What we have in Nigeria are not political parties, but political groups. Even, the so-called big parties have lost principles and ideologies. The only goal they have is control of power.”
Popoola also added that the purpose of multiparty system is expected to enhance multiplicity of opinions, tolerance and prescribed, however, that the impact of the parties would not be felt. His words: “There will not be any change and the impact of those parties will not be felt. How do we form those parties? Let the parties not belong to the ‘money bags’ who sponsor them. Let the common people form and fund their parties. What we have today is a system under the guise of multi-party system. What we have are the APC and the PDP without clear cut political ideologies and a few others trailing behind them. Now, do all the 91 parties have offices in all the states, local governments?”
In Nigeria, the popular of the ideologies are the so called progressive and conservative, even though the issue of political ideology has been rooted out in the polity as members who claim they progressive ideology are still enjoying under the parties with conservative ideology and vice versa. That is most evident in the gale of defections that often characterised the political field, particularly during crucial elections and sometimes because of intra-party crises.
Still on impact, another lawyer and political commentator, Gbenga Bamgbose, recommended that Nigeria should operate a two-party system, since two major parties have been dominating the nation’s political space. According to him, “The other political parties are just vehicles for achieving selfish and mundane political ends. It is my considered opinion that Nigeria should have two major parties rather than mushroom political parties littering the landscape so that they can have a more meaningful impact on the political and economic system.” Bamgbose also delved into the difficulties that voters encounter while casting their ballot due to long list of parties on ballot papers.In his own opinion, AmudaMosigbodi, a public affairs analyst, expressed that the parties, numbering 91, had been impactful and disagreed that the leaders of such parties had always used the platforms to negotiate for monetary gains or political appointments after the elections. He queried: “How many of them had presidential, governorship and senatorial candidates in the last elections? What we can do is to register them like community parties that the US has. How many of them can win a councillorship seat in elections? If we can answer these questions in a positive way, then trend should continue?” Mosigbodi canvassed a review of the Constitution and the Electoral Act to allow for a reduction in the number of parties the country should operate, just as he advocated for independent candidacy.
On his part, a don at the Fountain University, Osogbo, Olawale Aremu, said majority of the parties had not added value on the system. He said, for instance, that the ADC in Oyo State in the last governorship race was in a mission to decimate the APC and so did many others. He added that the parties are mere platforms to claim that a group of people also present standard-bearers. Therefore, he said one of the solutions to the current problem was for the country to embark on political socialisation and enlightenment on the need to prune the parties. However, an educationist and public commentator, Mr Yinka Ojo, opined that whether the parties had been impactful or not, the system – availability of platforms – allowed people the opportunity of participating in the electoral process. He clamoured for strict adherence to the law stipulates that parties that are meeting up with the set standard be deregistered.
From the preponderance of the opinions, it is expedient for the relevant bodies and institutions to think on a paradigm shift of reducing the political parties that will flood the political space without any significant impact and contribution to the development of the country’s political system and, by extension, national development. Having known that the law of the land affords the rights of groups to apply for registration as political parties,there must be a review of the constitution to devise strategies and amendment to the requirements for registration of political parties.