INEC and mushrooming of political parties

Except during the ill-fated 1993 election, when only two political parties were decreed into existence by the military, Nigeria polity has the notoriety for multiplicity of political parties that end up confounding the voters during elections. There are many sides to the issue of proliferation of parties. Profusion of parties tells a story about Nigerian politicians, it also gives some ideas about the level of political socialization in the country. More importantly, the variety of political parties mirrors the multiplicity and diversity of ethnic groups in Nigeria. Then, the ballooning of political parties has its impact on the nation’s electoral processes.

Ethnic Tendencies
AT the threshold of Nigeria’s independence, not many people remember that apart from National Council for Nigeria and Camerouns, which later became National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC) and Action Group (AG), that there were many other parties. Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), were also part of the first republic political parties.

While those were well known names, there were others like, Zamfara Commoners Party (ZCP); Mabolaje Grand Alliance (MGA); Igbira Tribal Union (ITU); Igala Union (IU); Borno Youth Movement (BYM); Kano Peoples Party (KPP) and Niger Delta Congress (NDC).

It is easy to deduce that sentiments and sectional interests, rather than strong ideological bases propel the formation of political parties. The ethnic tendencies of political parties could not be described as a recent occurrence.

The incursion of the military into politics further defrayed the need for politicians to come together and rally around a particular ideological framework. What has been going on since the nation’s flag independence is the formation of political parties as mainly vehicles to capture political power.

With close to 400 ethnic groupings in the country, political parties became vehicles for ventilating ethnic identities and furthering minority interests without a definite stand on issues of national development and economic progress.

The fall of Nigeria’s first republic was partly traceable to the lack of discipline and basic uniting ideas in political parties other than access to power. As democratic governance crumbled, the lack of political thinkers and statesmen to guide the country on the path of durable multi-party democracy compounded the situation, thus threatening the fledgling independence.

Instead of entrenching a culture of civility through dialogues and debates among the ethnic groupings and the attendant mushroom parties, the supervening military regimes infested the society with not only the command and obey style, but also unquestioning and ill accountable governance.

Entrenchment of Segregation
FROM the long period of military rule, which threw up several military coups d’état, Nigeria’s second republic birthed five political parties. By 1978, two prominent first republic founding fathers, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, featured in the formation of new political parties.

While Awolowo purposed to participate in the transition process by promoting the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Zik was conscripted into participating albeit on a platform, Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) that was already propped by Bornu businessman, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim.

Ibrahim’s allies believed that his money alone could not propel the party to national prominence as Zik’s political clout could. Instead of staying back to wage political schism, Alhaji Ibrahim retreated to the drawing board and came up with New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

But, not having an identifiable lone promoter, the party that tended towards a national membership of all ethnic groups was National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Yet, given the presence of Zik and Awo on two other platforms, NPN came out with the allure of freshness, devoid of the ethnic competition for power, which the two elder statesmen represented.

Also in the northern part of the country, as if to complete the usual tripod that defines Nigeria politics, Malam Aminu Kano, floated Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). Although there was nothing at the time to associate NNPP with Bornu Youth Movement or PRP with Kano Peoples Party, a pattern of political relationship became evident.

Some politicians displayed the tendency for indifference to collectivism, choosing rather to run with their names or talent. That could explain why five political parties came up during the second republic. It is debatable that the monumental rigging that NPN perpetrated in 1983 could not have been possible if only two strong political parties were on the ballot.

The vote tally after the 1979 election showed that possibility. NPP had three states, PRP two and NNPP one state. With its five states of Lagos Ogun, Ondo Bendel and Oyo, UPN became a weaker opposition than it could have been if it had those states in NPP, PRP and NNPP kitties.

With its overbearing influence and belief that it enjoys near absolute power, NPN rode roughshod over the other parties in 1983 and snatched a landslide that ended up collapsing the second republic. The registration of Nigeria Advanced Party (NAP) by Tunji Braithwaite prior to the 1983 election did not help to check the reckless impudence of NPN.

Military Impunity
THE overthrow of the second republic by the military had a far-reaching deleterious effect on evolution of party politics in Nigeria. Perhaps anticipating a very long stay in power, the Buhari/Idiagbon junta did not make any allusion or promises about a likely return to civil rule.

But nearly two years later when that iron fist regime was itself dethroned, the ecstasy among the civil population knew no bounds. Part of the cheer was the expectation of an early return to democracy. However, what came up after was not only a very long and traitorous wait, but the despoliation of known ethos of democracy.

First was the attempt to dispense with political parties, which were seen by the military as the festering ground for corruption and waste. Later attempt was made to decree just two political parties as the legitimate platforms for electoral contest. In the end was the rubbishing of everything, including the transition and electoral process.

While the Ibrahim Babangida regime lasted, it became obvious to Nigerians that their government lived on lies and deception as every effort towards a return to democratic rule and civic process ended in fiasco.

In a bid to entrench a two-party system, which Nigerians welcomed as a panacea to mushrooming of platforms, party secretariats were constructed at nearly all the 774 local government councils of the country. The drain on the economy equated to the loss of integrity in the democratic process occasioned by the IBB regime.

So endemic was corruption and impunity in the polity that even after IBB stepped aside, successive politics imbibed the imprints. But between 1996 and 1998, when General Sani Abacha held sway, he tried to curtail the number of political parties. Abacha’s attraction to less number of parties was not for any nationalistic or patriotic purpose, but ostensibly to facilitate his plan to transmute to a civilian leader.

The parties the military regime allowed registration were aptly described as five fingers of a leprous hand. They included, Committee for National Consensus (CNC), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN) and United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). Expectedly the parties whittled with the demise of Abacha.

Mixed Prospects
THE fourth republic saw a sizable number of political associations at the onset. The three political parties that emerged to participate in the transition process were Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD). Despite the consciousness for a two party system for united political action by politicians, AD branched out from PDP due to irreconcilable differences.

After its electoral victory in the general election, PDP became a political predator, targeting the APP. With a mixture patronage and intimidation, the party succeeded in muzzling out opposition and upholding impunity within its fold, enhanced by the constricted space.

It was at the height of that excess that late Chief Gani Fawhehinmi obtained a favourable court judgment that outlawed the constriction of political parties. That judgment in addition to the payment of stipends to political parties by the Federal Government through the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) opened the flood gate for admission of more parties.

Recently INEC announced the registration of five additional political parties, pointing out that many more applications are still pending in search of registration. There is no doubt that a lot of people are still taking advantage of the November 2002 ruling secured by Gani to float political parties. But the issue remains, would INEC continue listing (registering?) political parties when most often go into hibernation mode shortly after obtaining the green light to function as political parties?

The outcome of 2015 presidential election bore evidence of the benefits of two strong political parties to streamline issues for national development and assist voters make informed choices. However the preponderance of opinion is that indiscipline, arrogance, fear of fair competition and lack of internal democracy governed by rule of law within parties dispose politicians to float parties.

Yet on the flip side of the continuous registration of political parties by INEC is the nagging question about the right of INEC to also deregister comatose political parties. At what point does a political party lose the essence or quality of being a platform?

Is INEC obligated to feature all the so-called registered political parties on the ballot at every election, even when available indices show the level of their lack of seriousness? Does the challenge of unwieldy number of political parties call for the return of refundable deposits by contestants? What percentage of votes should a candidate in an election garner to merit a return of his/her deposit?

However, what should occupy the minds of stakeholders is the impact of a plethora of political parties on the ballot, on voters and voting time. Going by INEC’s improved guidelines, simultaneous accreditation and voting start by 8 am and end by 3pm. If so, then how long should it take a single voter to scan through the ballot housing a long list of political parties to cast his/her vote?

It is not known as yet, if the mushrooming of political parties is the direct effect of absence of independence candidacy. Independent candidacy can help solve the puzzle to some extent, because of paranoid politicians that find hard to congregate with others on a party platform.

Dividing To Combine
THE fact that some promoters of political parties are known to crave merger supports the necessity of political parties. That may be why at the height of registration of a barrage of parties Nigerians started hearing about Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) and Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC).

Just recently some political parties numbering about 15 came together in the name of forming what they styled ‘Mega Coalition’ for electoral collaboration, in which they would adopt and field common governorship and presidential candidates in future elections.

Without saying so, the groups have unwittingly underscored the supremacy of strong political parties as opposed to plethora of fringe ones. It is left to be seen how seamless their proposition of fielding separate candidates for various offices, ranging from councillorship, council chairmanship, state assembly and National Assembly seats, will work.

The promoters stated: “Emphasis shall be on candidates and personalities rather than parties. Nigerians are now aware that politicians promise heaven on earth when seeking public offices only to renege on those campaign promises when elected. Future elections in Nigeria shall no longer be about political parties or godfathers; it would be about personality of the candidates and issues canvassed. The mega coalition will reduce the inconveniences INEC faces in conducting elections. It would make election and candidate management easier.”

In plain language, what Perry Okpara and his co travelers are saying is that many political parties have lost their relevance in the scheme of things, therefore, whoever does not find any of the big parties to join, should run as an independent candidate.

For now, INEC should behave like the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and release the names of political parties that have not complied with the extant regulations governing their existence, including yearly returns of audited accounts and holding of conventions. As it prepares to register new parties, INEC should tell Nigerians how it plans to manage 45 parties plus new ones to be registered.

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