The poor showing of majority of the 91 political parties that took part in the recently concluded 2019 general election left much to be desired and this has come under INEC’s power to de-register moribund parties. Can INEC de-register political parties under whatever guise? AKEEM NAFIU seeks lawyers’ views
The performance of about 79 political parties in the 2019 general election has raised fundamental questions about their continued relevance to the nation’s political system.
This is because of the 91 registered political parties which participated in the elections, only 12 won elective positions across the country.
It is not in doubt that the results of the polls have raised questions regarding justification for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to continue to manage the 91 political parties on its list.
Not even the one week extension to the commencement of the polls at the instance of the electoral umpire- INEC could do the magic for these 79 political parties.
For instance, the final results for the presidential election as announced by INEC showed a wide gap between the new parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Where the APC and the PDP recorded 15,191,847 and 11,262,978 votes, to emerge winner and first runner-up respectively, all the other parties that took part in the presidential election excluding the Peoples Coalition Party (PCP), got less than 100,000 votes.
Sadly, the 2019 general election remain the costliest in Nigeria’s history as it was funded by the Federal Government with a whopping sum of N242 billion.
Of this amount, N189 billion went to INEC while the remaining N53 billion was shared by the security agencies for the purpose of election security. This is in sharp contrast with what obtained in 2015, when INEC had a budget of N120 billion to conduct the polls.
Parties’ registration since 2015
Every Nigerian has the right to join and register any political party of his or her choice. This is a fundamental right guaranteed by Section 40 of the Constitution.
It is in this regard that the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had at different fora prior to the 2019 general election disclosed that the electoral umpire would continue to register any association which met the legal requirements for registration as political party
There were only 26 registered political parties in the country during the 2015 general election. After the elections, 20 more parties were registered by INEC making it a total of 46 political parties.
The figure got swelled up on 10th January, 2018, when 22 new ones were issued with certificates by INEC Chairman. This brought the number of political parties in the country to 68.
On 16th August, 2018, 23 new parties were also issued certificates of registration by INEC bringing the total number of parties to 91.
The Commission approved the registration of 23 new political parties having received a total of 144 applications from political associations seeking registration as political parties.
INEC subsequently suspended further registration of parties in line with Section 78 (1) of the Electoral Act which requires all applications for registration as political parties to be concluded latest six months to general elections.
Parties’ woeful performance
Piqued by the uninspiring performance of many of the registered political parties in the just concluded 2019 general election, some senior lawyers have called on INEC to promptly begin the process of sanitizing the electoral space by de-registering political parties that makes little or no impact at the poll.
Speaking on the issue, a rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, noted with dismay that the electoral umpire, INEC, has failed in its duties of enforcing relevant constitutional and Electoral Act provisions regarding registration of political parties.
According to him, the Fourth Alteration, No 9, Act, 2017 carried out on the Constitution by the National Assembly which was enacted on 4th May, 2017 has amended Section 225 of the Constitution to empower INEC to de-register political parties.
He said: “In the case of Independent National Electoral Commission .v. Balarabe Musa (2003) 10 WRN 1, the Supreme Court upheld the fundamental right of Nigerian citizens to form or belong to political parties of their choice in accordance with Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution.
“But the expansion of the democratic space was exploited by people of ill-motivated agenda who set up all kinds of political associations and proceeded to register them as political parties.
“Regrettably, INEC has failed woefully to enforce the relevant provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act on the registration and operation of political parties.
“However, the opportunism of some of the political parties was exposed when elected legislators decamped from one party to another without resigning from the legislative houses to renew their mandate. INEC did not insist on internal democracy when a few godfathers engaged in the imposition of candidates to contest elections contrary to the provisions of the Electoral Act.
“Disturbed by the mockery of multi-party democracy in the country through the unprincipled proliferation of political parties, the National Assembly amended the Electoral Act 2010 to empower INEC to de-register political parties that failed to win any election.
“Since political parties were registered pursuant to Section 225 of the Constitution, the suits filed by the affected political parties succeeded as the Federal High Court declared the amendment unconstitutional and set it aside.
“However, the National Assembly took advantage of the 2017 constitutional review to reduce the number of registered political parties in the country. Thus, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No 9) Act, 2017 enacted on May 4, 2017 has amended Section 225 of the 1999 Constitution to empower the Independent National Electoral Commission to de-register political parties on grounds of:
a. Breach of any of the requirements for registration;
b. Failure to win at least twenty-five percent of votes cast in-
i. One 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.
“From the foregoing, it is indubitably clear that INEC has been conferred with enormous powers to de-register political parties that fail to meet the fresh constitutional prerequisites.
“Going by the results of the 2019 general election, the 91 registered political parties may have been reduced to less than 10 that may have scaled the constitutional hurdle.
“To sanitize the political system, INEC is called upon to formulate new guidelines for the registration of political parties within the ambit of the Constitution. This should be done in view of the fact that not less than 100 political associations are said to have submitted applications for the registration of new political parties. “With respect to registered political parties, INEC must fully comply with Section 225(2) of the Constitution by sanctioning them if they fail to submit a detailed annual statement and analysis of their sources of funds and assets. This will go a long way to check the monetization and brazen manipulation of the democratic process by political godfathers.
“More importantly, INEC should henceforth exercise its powers under Section 224 of the Constitution by ensuring that the programmes as well as the aims and objects of every political party conform to the provisions of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution.”
Another silk, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, noted that it is ridiculous that the country is having 91 political parties saying it makes no sense having regard to performance of the many of the parties in the last elections.
“Let us in the first instance agree that what we call political parties at the moment are simply platforms. They are not political parties in the real sense of it. I recall in those days, political parties have financial members. These are people who contribute money. These parties have manifestos which members believed in and subscribe to. We must go back to what attains in those days where it is party members that nominate those that will run for elective positions.
“I ask you, what is the difference between APC and PDP? I see none. What are the programmes of these parties? We don’t even know them. So, that’s why I said at the moment, we don’t have political parties. We only have platforms through which people get political power. But we need political parties with ideologies.
“At the moment, we have too many political parties and we don’t need more than two. However, the Constitution does not specify the number of political parties that we can have in the country. It simply recognizes the right to form associations.
“The power of INEC to de-register political parties must be subject to the constitutional provision. We must check the unnecessary proliferation of political parties in the country. Look at how ugly the ballot paper for the 2019 general election is, it’s too long. I believe having 91 political parties is ridiculous. It makes no sense and it puts INEC through a lot of logistical challenges. We don’t need more than 5. There are things we should not do and this proliferation of political parties should be discouraged.
However, Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN) while acknowledging INEC’s power to de-register political parties, called for caution to avoid litigation.
He said: “It will lead to litigation. A lot of them will fight delisting. Besides the present conditions for registering are quite liberal because of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution.
“I agree too many parties. A way out is to compel by law that unless you have a certain number of votes or percentage of votes cast at a general or local government election, you will be delisted. There are several legal options to control proliferation without impeding democracy and freedom of choice or multiparty democracy.”
A former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Adekunle Ojo, while also acknowledging INEC’s power to de-register political parties, asked the electoral umpire to stop registering them.
“The position of the law is to the effect that INEC can validly de-register any political party that it had earlier registered if such party is not able to win any elective position after the elections. So, constitutionally and legally, INEC can de-register some of them. But I have some concerns about INEC saying it is registering political parties.
“Should INEC be registering political parties? I asked this question because even if INEC de-register some of these parties now, they will still come around when another general election is around the corner to say they want to contest again in 2023. They will come under a different name and it may be difficult for INEC to discover that they had earlier been de-registered. So, at the end of the day, we are likely to find ourselves in the same situation of having too many political parties. “In climes where things work well, parties were formed not necessarily to vie for political offices, unlike what we have here that about 73 political parties contested the presidential election. You can imagine a situation whereby all other parties that took part in the presidential election outside APC and PDP were only able to gather 5,000 votes. That tells you that they don’t have any business participating in the election.
“At a point in time, the law permits payment of grants to parties and that was the reason behind the springing up of many political parties in this country. Besides, INEC cannot be unduly strict in its guidelines for registering political parties, otherwise, those who feel aggrieved might urge the court to invoke the relevant Section of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of association.
“I think if INEC focuses more on regulation of election by just recognizing political parties, it will make the job easier for it. INEC has no business registering political parties all it need to do is to regulate the activities of those that intend to vie for elective positions.
“As far as I am concerned, registration and de-registration of political parties by INEC is sheer waste of time and resources. You can imagine how much was spent in registering these parties and how much will be spent to de-register them when the need arises”, he said.
To the President of Voters’ Awareness Initiative, Mr. Wale Ogunade, there is an urgent need for INEC to sanitize the political environment.
He said: “If indeed INEC can de-register political parties by virtue of the amendment done to Section 225 of the Constitution, then, it becomes incumbent on the electoral body to carry out the task based on parties’ performance at the last general elections.
“There is no need filing the gap with unnecessary bandwagon and there is absolutely a need to sanitize the political environment. This is becoming too burdensome. Most of these political parties were composed of merchant politicians who used their political platform to garner wealth.”