Who is afraid of political parties?
A report the other day that the House of Representatives turned down a motion to activate Section 78 (7) on the de-registration of political parties that do not meet the threshold in the Electoral Act to remain alive is curious. The lower arm of the national parliament based its action on extant Supreme Court ruling to the effect that the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) has no powers to de-register parties.
The motion, entitled ‘Call on the Independent National Electoral Commission to Implement Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act, 2010’ was in pursuant of the anti-freedom process. The said Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act confers on INEC the powers to de-register political parties. The motion had it sailed through would have mandated the House Committee on Electoral Matters to “investigate in order to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the non-implementation of Section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act, 2010, by INEC” with view to activating the relevant section of the Act.
Not too long ago, the INEC and some politicians mulled the need to de-register parties based on flimsy thoughts. The grounds for the move to de-register political parties such as non-performance at the election; party proliferation; financial grants; and the inadequacy of the electoral management body to effectively manage the electoral process constitute abuse of democratic principles and subversion of the fundamental rights of Nigerians to associate and dictate the direction of politics.
Indeed, we have argued on this page with a great deal of intensity on the issue of de-registration of political parties. Our reasons were varied and cogent. We argued then that to de-register political parties in a liberal democracy violates the foundation of freedom, political freedom of the citizenry. Also, we noted clearly that a party is an aggregation of individuals with similar interest or vision of how best to run the affairs of their society. It is the vehicle for contestation for control of state power to implement the party’s vision of society and indeed, in a liberal democracy. Even in countries outside the liberal democratic zone, it is the engine room of the process and the people constitute the repository of popular sovereignty.
Equally, we posited that citizens’ right to form parties is a fundamental human right and it is guaranteed by various multilateral conventions on human rights of the citizens. For example, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Banjul Charter) and the 1999 Constitution as amended guarantee individual’s freedom to associate.Article 20 (1) (2) of the UNDHR states that “Everyone has the right to 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 article 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. We also went down on a memory lane and noted that on the eve of the military putsch in January 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 the strength of the above, we came to the conclusion that the engrossment 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 was counterproductive to the political freedom of the Nigerian people and the question of whether a party should live or die should be determined by the people not at the whims and caprices of self-serving elite or demagogues and political charlatans.
It is apposite to restate the importance of political parties. As some scholars have argued, parties are of critical importance to any democratic process despite the cynicism of some political actors, especially self-serving ones and those averse to the reign of freedom in the polity. However, the dynamics of any political system reveal itself through the mechanism of the party. Parties produce and reproduce nation building ideas. It is in the contestation for power to translate party manifestoes into reality that energises the democratic process. Besides, they protect and guarantee the social order. It can be used for both progressive and reactionary purposes. Even when parties are run by frivolous leaders, it does not matter as they can barely stand the test of time.
It is therefore time to jettison the anti-democratic desire to limit the political choice of the Nigerian people through constriction of the space for party development. That is why no one should be afraid of political parties. The trouble with our democracy is not just political party organisation, it is the operators of the system, notably the political actors who need to purge themselves of anti democratic sentiments.All told, all the forces behind this toxic campaign against the people’s right to organise themselves in the most populous black nation on earth should beat a retreat today.