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The increasing number of political parties -Tribune Editorial

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For some time now, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been concerned with the issue of proliferation of political parties. Recently, the commission warned Nigerians to brace up for the possibility of contending with an avalanche of parties in the 2019 general election. In 2017 alone, 27 associations acquired the status of political parties, and 80 other associations are on the verge of registration. In effect, 67 parties are already preparing for the next round of elections in the country. In Nigeria, most parties are formed by people who think that they have no chance in the main parties, and it is quite easy to meet the requirements for registration. By the current  practice, a prospective party must have, among others,  a unique name, logo and acronym with no religious, ethnic or sectional connotations;  a chairman, secretary, national and state executive committee members; a draft constitution reflecting the Federal Character Principle of the 1999 Constitution,  and a draft Code of Conduct and manifesto. It must also have a headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and offices  in at least 24 out of the 36 states of the federation. To meet these requirements, politicians go to the extent of labelling shops as state secretariats of their proposed parties.

In a very significant sense, the proliferation of parties has not helped the nation’s democracy. Most of the parties are not institutionalised and their sponsors abandon them as soon as they have served narrow interests. Yet ideally, parties ought to mature with the nation’s democracy. Indeed, a democracy can be gauged by the character and nature of the parties that it parades. When Nigeria restored civil rule on May 29, 1999, there were only five parties, namely Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alliance for Democracy (AD), All People’s Party (APP), National Conscience Party (NCP) and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). However, bereft of any clear-cut ideological underpinnings, the parties soon became embroiled in crises, producing such offshoots as the Action Congress (AC), later Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP) and Accord Party (AP). Today, parties are formed at the drop of a hat.  All the same, it is important to realise that the proliferation of parties is not a uniquely Nigerian phenomenon. For instance,   in India, there are more than 1000 parties operating at different levels.

Alarmed by the sharp practices in many of the registered parties as well as their poor performance during elections, INEC has, at various times, sought to clip their wings by de-registering them. However, this action has always been resisted by the promoters of the parties as well as key members of the human rights community. More fundamentally, it has always met a brickwall in the law courts because of its violation of key provisions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. Yet INEC has not stopped asking the National Assembly for powers to deregister parties. To be sure, accommodating new parties in the ballot always requires a lot of money. As things stand, INEC will have to conduct the 2019 general election with an unusually long ballot paper. The length of the ballot paper as well as the difficulty in distinguishing some party logos from others will also present problems for the electorate, particularly those with little or no formal education. Given this background, it will be apposite to ask what the electoral commission is expected to do in the face of these challenges.

In our view, de-registering parties is not the way to go. What INEC ought to do is to set out stringent criteria for parties to appear on the ballot. This is the practice in many countries of the world. In those countries, parties must exist for a specific time frame, as well as meet other requirements, before being allowed to present candidates for election. Going by this line of action, the existence of parties would not necessarily be threatened because of their poor performance in elections. The practice also allows for the possibility that a party which is not popular during a particular round of elections might become the darling of the electorate next time. Against this backdrop, we urge INEC to go back to the drawing board, consult widely and roll out stringent criteria for party participation in elections, particularly general elections. It should seek an amendment of the Electoral Act to capture the new changes.


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