The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has commence it plans to deregister political parties in Nigeria, which it classified as “commercial and dormant”. The commission has initiated moves for the alteration of the legal framework of the electoral process and the amendment of the Electoral Act.
At present, Nigeria has 91 political parties, even as many associations are still queueing up for registration. About 73 of them participated in the 2019 general elections with less than 10 of them winning seats in the contest.
We recall that preparatory to the 1999 elections, the country had just three political parties. The number rose to 30 in 2003, 50 in 2007, 60 in 2011 and fell to 28 in 2015 as a result of the deregistration exercise that INEC under Prof Attahiru Jega carried out.
With the court pronouncing Section 78 (7) (i) and (ii) of the Electoral Act as contravening the constitutional provisions, INEC had to restore the licence of some of the already deregistered political parties.
In that Supreme Court 2002 judgement sequel to a suit filed by the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi against INEC, the apex court held that the right of association is a fundamental human right. It was on the basis of that pronouncement that the number of political parties ballooned to what it is presently. The late legal luminary had gone to court to challenge the electoral commission’s refusal to register the National Conscience Party (NCP). The Supreme Court dismissed 12 of the 13 guidelines used by INEC for party registration as “unconstitutional.” The court ruled in favour of his argument that parties were merely required by law to register with INEC.
In the 2019 election, a record 91 political parties with 23,000 candidates participated. This number is, in the opinion of experts, ridiculous as it created confusion in the minds of the electorate both in terms of party names and logos as well as clumsy ballot papers with a harvest of voided votes.
It is from this perspective that this newspaper suggests that the electoral act be amended to allow for more manageable number of political parties in the country before the next general election. In the wake of the presumably unwieldy number of parties, organising the 2019 election was a logistic nightmare for INEC. From the results of the presidential election where the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) recorded over 95 per cent of the total votes cast, it appeared that the country may just need a two party system in the long run.
Analysts of the situation are of the view that most of the political parties were not registered for altruistic patriotic reasons. Some briefcase political parties were, as it seems, registered to fleece the unpopular politicians who cannot afford the high fees charged by the two major parties for tickets to contest on their platform. Some of the parties were also registered with the hope of cutting deals with the big parties. This became clear when in the build-up to the 2019 presidential election some of the parties were falling over themselves to endorse the presidential candidates of the APC and PDP.
Ideally, in our opinion, Nigeria does not need more than five political parties. In developed climes like the United States, the political space is mostly dominated by two parties – the Democratic Party and the Republican Party – notwithstanding that 66 other political parties pretend to exist. But in reality, only the two major parties contest the presidential elections. The rest restrict themselves to county elections which are Nigeria’s version of local government elections. Also, Britain has nine political parties, but the Conservative and Labour parties are the dominant parties in British politics.
The 2017 amendment to the 1999 Constitution, especially Section 225 empowers INEC to de-register political parties on the following grounds: (a) a breach of any of the requirements for registration; (b) failure to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in: (i) one state of the Federation in a presidential election; or (ii) one local government of a state in a governorship election; (c) failure to win at least (i) one ward in the chairmanship election; (ii) one seat in the national or state House of Assembly election; or (iii) one seat in the councillorship election.
However, with the Supreme Court judgment cited above, even if INEC goes ahead to deregister these political parties for failure to meet any of these criteria, they may still reapply for fresh registration in what may look like a vicious circle.
To resolve this anomaly once and for all, we call on the ninth National Assembly to review the electoral law with respect to the registration of political parties to make the guidelines very stringent and allow no room for the emergence of more than five political parties.