Of political parties and the 2019 elections
As the nation throttles towards another general elections, the frantic moves by groups to get registered as political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the effort by a coalition of 39 political parties to ratify unity candidates for the 2019 polls should not take anyone by surprise. Nigeria has gone through this before. Despite the ceremony and portrayal of importance around both events, they are merely periodic rituals that crop up as a prelude to general elections. Perhaps, for the value they seem to achieve, these last minute permutations should provide another means of frank admonition and good counsel to politicians, especially closet politicians who come out of their slothful hibernation to play out the occasional dirty politicking they have always known.
At the head of the coalition drama is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with 38 others in a political alliance under the aegis of Coalition of Unity Political Parties (CUPP). The MOU, which was read by Chief Tom Ikimi, resolved to commence work on a blueprint manifesto. It also resolved to field a joint presidential candidate and pick common candidates for governorship, National Assembly, state assemblies and even the Federal Capital Territory. The MOU also stated that the coalition was determined to “promote core values for the restructuring of the country, sharing of political offices among persons and groups across the six geo-political zones while promising to install a unity government with a joint manifesto that will usher in a structured economic and fiscal federalism.”
What is the aim of this amalgamation? What is so different between the content of this MOU and the manifestoes of the major political parties? While Nigeria needs a credible opposition, this new coalition might perhaps have emerged without substantial principles. And it may not in any way be different, in emptiness of promise, from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
This development is a far cry from the relatively principled politics of the First and Second Republics. In those days, political parties were markedly differentiated by their ideologies and programmes and how they wished to implement them. A semblance of this experience was observed in the parties of 1979. The unmistakable nationalism of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the consistent welfarism of the United Party of Nigeria (UPN), the Talakawa ideology of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), among others were clearly recognised based on ideologies and programmes.
Like the gang-up of the coalition, the deluge of applicants seeking party registration is also questionable. With barely a few weeks to the August deadline for fresh registration of political parties, 136 applications are processed by INEC. Should all the applications scale through, Nigeria would, in addition to the existing 68, have about 204 political parties slated for general elections in 2019. What kind of thinking conceives such proliferation of parties? Are Nigerians so ideologically diverse that they must have such number of political parties?
Indeed there are justifications for increasing application for party registration. The perceived non-performance of the current administration by Nigerians in certain quarters, the unpopularity of some principal figures in the ruling party, and the seeming insensitivity of the government have imbued some groups with the confidence that they could do better. Above all, what may be the chief motivation for groups seeking party registration is the perceived loss of credibility by the APC. The argument to this effect is that, if the ruling party, which enjoyed unprecedented good will of Nigerians, would, despite its vociferous attacks on the former ruling party, and with all the eloquent manifesto it presented to Nigerians then, has refused to implement the programmes outlined in the manifesto, then it may have nothing to offer in the next dispensation.
Even though citizens have the right to freedom of association, and on the basis of such association may aspire to enjoy the good life through legitimate means, this number of political parties calls for concern. Whereas the Electoral Act states that any association of persons can register as a political party, if it meets the criteria, Nigerians should worry about the sincerity of purpose of such political parties. With N60 million dangling as an annual support funding by INEC, it is very unlikely that majority of the political associations applying for party registration are altruistic. They must be doing it for the subvention that comes with it. Which is why this newspaper has consistently opposed the idea of government registering political parties and funding them.
Besides the moral issue of the party itself, there are logistical problems associated with many political parties. Early in the year, when INEC had registered only 68 parties, the chief technical adviser to the INEC chairman, Prof. Bolade Eyinla, at a forum, had decried the increasing number of political parties. One of the arguments he gave for his misgivings was that too many political parties could cause logistical problems, including the production of ballot papers. Just as he remarked, one of the challenges posed by fielding many political parties for elections is the management of party agents. 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.
Related to this is the fact that 100 political parties must appear on the ballot paper. Should a party be omitted on the ballot paper, that election exercise is cancelled.
Nigerian politicians and those aspiring to be one must understand that a political party is not a casual assembly of family members and friends. It is neither a gathering of adherents of the same faith, nor a business meeting. Elementary political science teaches that a political party is an organised group of persons with common views and driven by an ideology for social mobilisation, with the sole aim of gaining control of political power through elections in order to influence policies and machinery of government, and influence the direction of affairs of the society.
Gaining control of political power is an exercise that demands the utmost deployment of peoples’ sincere intentions, inner convictions, demonstrable capacity and measurable potential for success. The philosophical depth and profound desire to seek the common good and sagaciously attend to differences within a civil society is what makes groups aspire to seek power.
Any political group that can muster such capacity is very much welcome. Nigerians, however, do not want to see any opposition that will short-change its people with empty promises and needless sloganeering. Nigerians need credible political parties, driven by a concise, all-inclusive ideology; parties with realistic programmes that can solve the people’s problems. Nigeria should have viable parties, not just special purpose vehicles for grabbing power and looting the commonwealth. Without such political parties, the beauty of multi-party democracy is blighted and the future of the country is at risk.