Let the parties be, INEC
Against the background of the shortcomings of the recent general elections in the country, the jury is out performing a post-mortem. So far it has stumbled upon a strange, large number of political parties in the country. This may not be cheering news for the electoral management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which sees the size of existing political parties as unmanageable and a bugbear. In the last elections, it contended with logistic problem arising partly from the number of parties. Openly and in a manner ahistorical, some groups are advocating the reduction of parties so that the number can be manageable and possibly make elite contestation for power less burdensome. Others have advocated reducing the parties to a three-party system to rid the democratic process of the mockery of multi-party democracy, allow for informed choice on the part of the electorate and avoid wasting resources because government partly funds the existing parties. It is equally argued that more parties make for a weak opposition. These arguments are plausible, but do they have roots in the principles of democracy? Are they mere products of the demagoguery and political charlatans? Are the 91 or so parties too many for a diverse country like ours?
It is our considered opinion that to address these questions we need to go back to interrogate what a party is. A party is an aggregation of individuals with similar interest or vision of the development of their society. These individuals bind together within a framework that allows them to contend for political power. In a class society such as ours, a party is that session of a class that is conscious of its interest and gives vent to it by seeking to control power relations to realise its interest. The greatest strength of any political party is its links with the people. Within a democracy, political party is the engine room of the process and the people constitute the repository of popular sovereignty.
Despite its limitations, the democratic process in Nigeria is the liberal democratic model, a form of democratic process, which allows for the representation of the electorate through periodic, free and fair election. One of the features of liberal democracy apart from its cluster of negative rights, which flourishes, is multiparty system. It is from the fundamental rights, especially the freedom of association both guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Banjul Charter) and the 1999 constitution as amended. Article 20 (1) (2) of the UNDHR states that, “Everyone has the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and association” and that “No one may be compelled to belong to an association.” The Banjul Charter in article 10 (1) and (2) further emphasises the point that “Every individual shall have the right to freedom of association provided that he abides by the law” and “Subject to the obligation of solidarity provided for in 29 no one may be compelled to join an association.” This is consolidated in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which states, “right to peaceful assembly and association” as a fundamental human right. Scrutiny reveals that even provisions of Section 222 seem to vitiate the fundamentals of Section 40.
Given the fact that parties are also evolutionary, it will be disingenuous to argue for the de-registration of parties. In other climes with liberal democratic model, parties are flourishing and not encumbered as segments of the political elite as our country has sought to do. The United States with two dominant parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, still has a number of other parties. The United Kingdom with Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Change UK as dominant parties, has several other minor political parties. These countries pride themselves as the mother of democracy. Even so, there are equally rooms for independent candidates. Nearer home, South Africa with a population of about 58 million has over 48 political parties in its just-concluded elections. It is important to note that even the democratic space prevalent today was not obtained on platter of gold. The ruling group has always sought to limit the democratic space and to concede to their demand is to mock the resistance of the Nigerian people and deride their popular sovereignty.
Recall that the late Gani Fawehinmi and coalition of parties challenged in court the attempt to limit the democratic space some years back and its outcome denied the right of the electoral body to limit the number of political parties in Nigeria. This de-empowering of the people was further engrossed in the amendment of 2017 to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No 9) Act, 2017 enacted on May 4, 2017.
In all this, a sense of history is lost. On the eve of the military coup d’état of 1966, there were about 81 political associations in Nigeria. Besides, the management of political parties and elections is no rocket science. Prior to independence, the colonial authorities managed elections in Nigeria effortlessly by listing participating parties/associations on the electoral roll.
On a final note, let it be known that to de-register political parties on the following grounds of non-performance at the election; party proliferation; financial grants and the inadequacy of the electoral management body to have a hang on the process is abuse of democratic principles and subversion of the fundamental rights of Nigerians to associate and dictate the direction of politics and contribute to national development. The question of whether a party should live or wither should be the prerogative of the citizens; not of some self-serving elite or demagogues and political charlatans. Let the parties be – in the interest of robust democracy in the most populous Black nation on earth.