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INEC’s hammer on 74 political parties… weighing the implications

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Two days ago, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) deregistered 74 political parties in the country and sounded the death knell on their existence. INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who announced the decision at a press conference in Abuja, said the commission relied on section 225A of the Constitution to carry out the action.

The section provides that INEC shall have power to deregister a political party for (a) breach of any of the requirements for registration (b) failure to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in (i) on state of the federation in a presidential election or (ii) one local government of the state in a governorship election (c) failure to win at least (i) one ward in the chairmanship election (ii) one seat in the national or state House of Assembly election or (iii) one seat in the councillorship election.

Yakubu explained that following the conclusion of the 2019 general election, including court-ordered re-run elections arising from litigations, the Commission was able to determine the performance of political parties in the elections. He added that they were also assessed on the basis of their performance in the Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which coincided with the 2019 general election to arrive at the decision.

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He further rationalised the action, saying: “Prior to the Fourth Alteration, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) had provided for the deregistration of political parties. Based on this provision, the Commission, between 2011 and 2013, deregistered 39 political parties.

“However, several of the parties challenged the power of INEC to deregister them, particularly on the ground that the Electoral Act is inferior to the Constitution and that deregistration infringed their fundamental rights under the same Constitution.

“Subsequently, the courts ordered the Commission to reinstate the parties. It was for this reason that the National Assembly amended the Constitution to empower the Commission to deregister political parties.”

With the action, only 16 political parties now exist in the country as against 92. They are Accord Party (AP), Action Alliance (AA), African Action Congress (AAC), African Democratic Congress (ADC), African Democratic Party (ADP), All Progressives Congress (APC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Allied Peoples Movement (APM).

Others are Labour Party (LP), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), National Rescue Movement (NRM), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Young Progressives Party (YPP) and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).

Prior to INEC’s decision, many concerned Nigerians had at various times called for the whittling down of the number of parties in the country.

In 2018, former Senate President in the aborted Third Republic, Chief Ameh Ebute, expressed concerns over the existence of 68 registered political parties in the political terrain, saying they were unwieldy for the nation’s democracy to make any meaningful development.

Ebute had argued that registration of multiple political parties without firm ideology was counter-productive to flourish partisan politics.

“On the issue of political parties, it is my view that there is no political ideology for politicians to consider before jumping from one party to the other. The only ideology for now is fighting for access to the national cake so as to have a share of it. I am in support of a two-party system. This will enable politicians choose whether to be a progressive or a conservative.”

Also in October last year, The Director-General, National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, said that 91 registered political parties were too unwieldy for the country.

Sulaiman, who served as National Planning Minister under former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, argued that Nigeria requires just three functional political parties to deepen democratic culture among the citizenry.

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“Some political parties today don’t even have offices in various states across the country, but then, they occupy space in the ballot paper, thereby causing confusion. When you talk about the inconclusive election, over-voting, some Nigerians in the rural areas could not differentiate between certain symbols because we have a ballot paper that is as long as one kilometer. So, the earlier we have a ‘guided democracy’ the better for us,” he said.

Also last year, thee Justice Development and Peace Initiative of the Catholic Diocese of Ekiti urged INEC to deregister 33 political parties.

The Director of Ekiti JDPI, Reverend Father Emmanuel Akingbade, alleged that the parties were weak and had not performed.

Akingbade, in a letter to INEC Chairman dated, January 12, 2019, hinged his call on the provision of the 1999 Constitution, which he said provided that “INEC has unfettered power to deregister a political party which participates in a governorship election and fails to win at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in one local government area of the state in the said election.”

“We request you to deregister all the political parties that participated in the Ekiti State July 14, 2018 governorship election with the exemption of the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party for outright failure to make 25 per cent of the votes cast in at least one local government area of the state.”

The Youths Alliance for Democratic Advancement also made a similar call last year, saying the country’s electioneering process would continue to suffer retrogression if the long list of political parties on the ballots, which constituted confusion and accounted for high number of void votes, was made to remain.

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Ekiti State Coordinator of the NGO, Michael Ogungbemi, had said that “the idea that 91 parties participated in the general elections was not good,” adding that registering 91 political parties in a developing country like Nigeria with high level of illiteracy would not help the electoral system.

“Instead, INEC should tentatively register most of these parties for local governments and state houses of assembly elections with performance benchmarks or criteria that if they score certain percentage of votes, they would qualify to participate in the governorship and National Assembly elections and up to the Presidential election.

“If not checked and controlled, INEC may register up to 300 political parties before 2023. Apart from these, INEC would not be able to manage this number of political parties in the future,” he added.

Thus, to advocates of less number of political parties in Nigeria, INEC’s decision could not have come at a better time. But many stakeholders in the political arena, especially leaders and members of the deregistered political parties, see the action as a rape on democracy. While some of them have already declared their readiness to seek judicial redress, others have kept mum. But in the end, the decision would have far-reaching implications for the country’s electoral process come 2023. Find out how in the reports below.

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