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‘INEC is disrupting growth of political parties’

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Okorie

National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO describes the de-registration of parties by INEC as unfortunate, noting that the electoral commission ought the expand the electoral space instead of shrinking it.

How would you react to the deregistration of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and other 73 political parties by INEC?
It came to us as a rude shock. But be that as it may, we are yet to get a formal letter from INEC to know what we did or what we did not do to fall under the hammer. A number of options are open to us but we don’t want to take a hasty action- either to challenge the decision in court or do any other thing until the party’s leadership has met. By then we would have received their letter and seen what exactly the problem with UPP in particular is. So, hopefully by next week the party’s leadership will meet and then we will be able to take a decision.

What other explanations are you expecting from INEC when they have already clarified that parties that did not win any seat in the last election were all de-registered?
If that is the only reason, then it is actionable. But whether we will act in that direction or not will be dependent on what the party leaders agree to do.

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I say that is actionable because the principal requirement in the constitution for a party to remain on the register is to have a functional national secretariat at Abuja and to have a spread of the party executive in at least two-thirds of the states of the federation, which is 24.

INEC inspected our office; our national secretariat at Abuja is one of the best six party secretariats in the country. They met all our officers; the executives came from all the 36 states of the federation and went through their identification process and all that. That is one.

On the issue of winning election, not winning election in a general election is not the only reason to deregister a political party. The Electoral Act included not winning local government election, either chairmanship or councillorship. And from the time the law came into effect last year, local government election has not held in more than 30 states of the federation. So, you will not be able to say that a party has not met this requirement when local government election is yet to hold in most states of the federation.

As I said, when you look at all these, you will see that this thing can be challenged in court. Some parties have already gone to challenge it but the way we run our party is that decisions are collective.

So, we will meet next week to look at the issue and decide what we want to do.

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This is not the first time INEC has de-registered parties. When they did it in the past, some parties went to court and the action was upturned. What do you expect this time around?
Well, those who will choose to challenge the decision in court will succeed. As I pointed out, some things must be taken into consideration before such a sweeping decision is made. But the idea of disrupting the growth of political parties by INEC is quite unfortunate. When they did it last time, some parties went to court and came back; between the time they were not operational as a result of being deregistered and when the court nullified INEC’s action, they lost a lot of mileage. That would have even accounted for some of them not making a major headway in subsequent elections. I would have thought that parties could through political action grow or shrink, after all three parties came together to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) on their own; it wasn’t by INEC fiat. And many parties were already considering that type of merger for the elections ahead. These things are developed naturally and democratically. But using fiat to cobble parties together or to stop parties that are already registered is a Nigerian method.

There is no other country in the world where the electoral commission wakes up and decides to give certain conditions and begin to de-register parties that it registered. As we speak, INEC admitted that there are over 120 political parties that applied for registration but are yet to be registered. So, how are you going to handle that type of situation? Will you not register new ones that will start from the scratch while you de-registered those that have already gained some presence nationwide and have been learning the rope and growing?

So, it is part of the confusion we are still having in our electoral system that will make democracy to continue to suffer setbacks.

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But are you not concerned about the confusion the number of political parties on the ballot paper caused during elections in the country?
If you talk about confusion, it is because we are running a very archaic electoral system. If we have gone electronic, who will be confused? It is either you use the laptop, scroll down and see the logo of the party you want to vote for and click on it or you use your smartphone. If you don’t have a smartphone or cannot operate one, then you go to the polling station where the electoral officers will guide you on the laptop that is already there. And you know that INEC acquired more than 150,000 laptops from Zinox during the time of Attahiru Jega. Those computers are in their warehouse. So, we will not need to acquire fresh laptops to be able to use electronic voting system. We already have electronic voters card and electronic register. So, the infrastructure for electronic voting is there. We are only talking about the legal framework, which is expected to be in place before the Edo and Ondo states governorship elections later this year.

So, there would be no confusion even if we double the number of parties we presently have. The thing is that INEC has not even done what it is supposed to do to ensure that Nigerians come out to vote. Thirty-five per cent voter participation according to INEC’s record is very poor. It means that people are not participating in the electoral process. That should concern INEC instead of trying to shrink the political party space.

For instance, if there was no YPP in the country, Ifeanyi Uba, who was unjustly disqualified by APGA, would have been helpless. But there was another party he could use their platform. Today, he is in the Senate. That was the only election that YPP won nationwide and on account of that, the party survived this de-registration. So, you can see that the whole exercise is funny. You are not supposed to be shrinking the space; you are supposed to be expanding the space.

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