Nigeria’s multi-party system and Lilliputian platforms
During last year’s second quarterly consultative meeting with chairmen and secretaries of registered political parties in Nigeria, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Mahmud Yakubu disclosed that the commission had received 32 applications from various groups for registration as political parties.
In line with this, INEC recently issued certificates of registration to five new political parties that have met the criteria for transition from political associations to political parties. The new political parties are Action Democratic Party (ADP), All Democratic People’s Movement (ADPM), Advanced People’s Democratic Alliance (APDA), New Generation Party of Nigeria (NGP) and the Young Progressive Party (YPP).
It would be recalled that before now, the country had 68 registered political parties, but INEC under Professor Attahiru Jega deregistered 28 of them for failure to meet up with the legal and constitutional requirements and guidelines.
Justifying the deregistration then, Jega said the action was in line with the provisions of section 78 (7) (ii) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, which empowers INEC to deregister parties, if any of the requirements for registration is breached.
The decision was however challenged in court by of the deregistered parties, Fresh Democratic Party (FDP), which got Justice Gabriel Kolawole to declare the action of INEC illegal. The judge also voided the provision of Section 78 (7)(ii) of the Electoral Act, which allows INEC to deregister any party that did not win either National Assembly or State Assembly seat, for being inconsistent with the Constitution.
Before Kolawole’s verdict, three other judgments on the matter were in favour of INEC. Even though, INEC had appealed Kolawale’s judgment, nothing has been heard of it since then.
In 1999, there were three major political parties-Alliance for Democracy (AD) with firm grip of the Southwest; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but by 2003 elections during which defections were elevated to new heights, three more political parties, National Democratic Party (NDP) All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA) and United Nigerian Peoples Party (UNPP) were registered. Again, ahead of the 2007 polls, many parties were registered that were mainly unknown to the electorate.
Apart from the PDP, defunct APP, ANPP and APGA, defunct CPC and LP at the state level, other political parties have only served as parachutes for a soft-landing for majority of the aspirants that lost out in the major parties’ primaries. After winning the election, they always found their ways back to their old parties in most cases.
Before the 2015 general elections, there were 40 registered political parties but only the All Progressives Congress (APC), which was the major opposition party, the ruling PDP, APGA and LP made any impact or showed presence.
With INEC’s new registrations, the number of political parties is now 45 with a promise from the body that more could be registered before 2019. But the questions are; why are more groups angling to register as political parties and how have the registered parties fared since 1999? Have they lived up to the expectations? Of what advantage or usefulness are other political parties apart from the major ones, APC and PDP? Are there any difference between the parties and their ideologies? Why has it become difficult for the mushroom parties to form alliance or coalition?
The Guardian investigations reveal that most of these political parties have similar constitution and manifesto, which their leaders and members neither abide by nor uphold. While it has become obvious that aggrieved members of the major parties form these new ones as alternative platforms, some were formed for the purpose of seeking political relevance and personal aggrandisement.
It has also been discovered that members of the major parties who sometimes abandoned them along the line are financing registration of some of these mushroom parties. The recent leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), allegedly instigated by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar ahead of 2019, is a pointer to that direction. Since PDM was formed before 2011 elections, Atiku has been constantly linked with the party, despite his persistent denials.
Many Nigerians have continued to canvass for the return of the two-party system on the ground that the multi-party system is distractive and diversionary. Others who are opposed to the two-party system are of the view that it shrink the political space and provide limited opportunities.
Speaking in Abuja when the leaders of the Inter-Party Advisory Council of Nigeria (IPAC) visited him recently, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu said, “Giving subvention to political parties was the case in the past, but we had to amend the constitution to remove that. It was thoroughly abused by some people. They register a political party and wait for election. Government gives them subvention; they put it in their pockets and make no efforts to win. To them, political parties are platforms for making cool money from the government.”
Rather than government funding, he urged political parties to agitate for the introduction of proportional representation to widen political representation.Founding member of APGA, Chief Maxi Okwu told The Guardian that he has no issue with the registration of new political parties by INEC.
“With the latest five, the total number of registered political parties is 45 now. Note that this is still below the number of political parties proscribed by the then Head of State, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi in 1966.
“The 1999 Constitution as amended allows it. In a liberal democracy, multi-party is also the norm. As at 1966, we had a system of registration of party symbols for participation in an election. Today, there is a formalised and rigid process of party registration as against recognition. This is a military legacy caused, no doubt, by a reaction to the proliferation of political parties and association during the first republic.
“I would rather opt for the dialectical process of selection through political engagement. Historically we have naturally gravitated to a two dominant party situation. By 1966, it was becoming a clear face-off between two major platforms; the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) and United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA).
“In 1983, before General Muhammadu Buhari-led coup, we were getting down to NPN versus Progressive Parties Alliance (PPA). Today in the crowd of Lilliputian parties you have the dominance of APC and PDP. What I would recommend further is that the sections of the Constitution that insist on national looking parties in operations and character be amended to allow mushroom regional parties to exist. They could then canvass local issues and from there grow to become national through alliances. That was how the ACN grew and became a major partner in the present APC.
“Secondly, for a party logo or symbol to appear in the ballot paper, that party must field a candidate. Today INEC has the burden of printing a long ballot paper, which includes many parties not in contention for that election.”
Also speaking to The Guardian on the issue, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, Gregory Offor, blamed the National Assembly and INEC for the proliferation of political parties without the application of constitutionalism, transparency and accountability in their activities.
According to him, “There are various constitutional and other legal instruments guiding the operation of political parties. These include the 1999 Constitution as amended and 2010 Electoral Act as amended. Others include the statutory rules of INEC and other informal rules. These laws provide elaborate provisions of the extent and limitation of a political party with respect to its activities, campaigns and political financing.
“For instance, section 225 (2) of the 1999 Constitution is unambiguous on the finances of political parties. Sub sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the same provision are even more forthcoming on the roles of INEC in checking the financial dealings and status of political parties. For instance, sub- section 3 states that no political party shall -(a) Hold or possess any funds or other assets outside Nigeria; or (b) Be entitled to retain any funds or assets remitted or sent to it from outside Nigeria.”
With such tight control over the finances and administrations of registered political parties, the fundamental question is; what is the National Assembly expected to do when a political party contravene these provisions? Does the Commission or National Assembly have the powers to punish erring political parties?
The truth of the matter is that INEC has not been performing these constitutional functions since the return of democratic governance in 1999 as checks would indicate; neither has the National Assembly been proactive in putting the Commission on its toes to comply with these provisions. That is why everybody is forming political parties and behaving as if Nigeria is a lawless society.