The Independent National Electoral Commission has powers to reduce the number of political parties in Nigeria, says senior lawyer, Femi Falana, decrying what he calls “unprincipled proliferation” of parties.
Nigeria, a multi-party liberal democracy, currently has 91 political parties registered by INEC and there are reports even more groups have pending applications seeking official recognition to contest in elections. Most of the parties were not able to poll up 20 thousand votes in the last national elections and lack presence in most parts of the country.
“This unprincipled proliferation of political parties” is “a mockery of multi-party system,” said Mr Falana in a statement on Sunday.
The Supreme Court ruling, 2003, in the case between INEC and Second Republic former governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, paved the way for the liberalisation of the party system in Nigeria,
“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,” said Mr Falana. “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.”
Switching party alliances after winning election on the platform of one, failure of INEC to wield the stick when parties impose candidates in violation of the law and the “shameless” ditching of candidates by parties to endorse President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic in the last presidential poll shot off from the opportunism accompanying “unprincipled” expansion of the political space, suggested Mr Falana.
“INEC’s powers to deregister
He pointed at the relevant legislation empowering INEC to deregister political parties certain grounds.
“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 per cent 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.”
Going by the results of the elections, the 91 registered political parties may have been reduced to less than 10 that may have scaled the constitutional hurdle, he said.
He suggested that many would hail the legislation in view of the “prostitution of the political system by political parties (that are) ill-equipped to promote participatory democracy, economic, freedom, human rights and rule of law.
“But it ought to be pointed out that the planned de-registration of political parties that fail to win elections is likely to limit the political space to the so-called mainstream political parties that are not committed to any political philosophy or ideology,” he said, drawing a caution.
This is similar to the view of popular lawyer Jiti Ogunye who asked the worried public to be wary of knee-jerk approach on the grounds of parties’ following and electoral success, which he said were not enough to de-register parties based on existing law.
“Nigeria, being a multi-party country, the political space should be tolerant of all sorts of political birds, such that these birds can fly without colliding with one another,” said Mr Ogunye, reported by Punch newspaper of March 7. “That should be our primary consideration.”
Mr Falana’s view about having 91 political parties with more groups seeking registration is a concern for other senior lawyers, including Akin Oyebode and ‘Folake Solanke.
“It is a lack of discretion,” said Mr Oyebode.
“Finally,” Mr Falana continued in his Sunday statement, “to sanitise 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 with the provisions of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of State Policy enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution.”