About 91 political parties fielded candidates in the just concluded 2019 general election in Nigeria.
At such figure, Nigeria, perhaps, has the highest number of registered political parties on the African continent.
The 84,271,832 registered voters equally make the country’s democracy the largest in Africa.
However, prior to August 2018, the country had 68 registered political parties which participated in the 2015 general election.
The registration of such high number of political parties, few months to the commencement of the general election by INEC came as a surprise to political observers in the country; who argued that most of the newly registered parties lacked capacity and structure across the country to make any meaningful impact in the 2019 general election.
Multi political party arrangement is not new to Nigeria’s electoral system. In the First and Second Republics, the country had multiparty system, but the Nigerian’s People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) emerged the two dominant political parties.
Tafawa Balewa of (NPC) who was named prime minister and Head of Government, and Nnamdi Azikiwe of (NCNC) was named president, controlled the administration.
Equally in the Second Republic, similar situation was the order of the day, despite the presence of multiplicity of political parties, only National Party of Nigeria (NPN) dominated the political scene and produced the Shehu Shagari as the first elected executive President of Nigeria.
In 1999, during the advent of the Fourth Republic, the country had only three political parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD).
But the PDP, however, dominated Nigeria’s political scene for 16 years, until that dominance was cut short by the then newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015; the APC subsequently won most elective positions in the country, including the presidency.
However, as stakeholders, parties, INEC take stock of the 2019 general election, there have been calls for the de-registration of non-performing or under-performing political parties in the country.
Some stakeholders are of the view that the large number of parties had further congested the ballot paper and created more electoral logjam.
It is a common knowledge that several of the smaller parties only exist in name; several of them do not have a functional party secretariat, while some are controlled by an individual or group with no elected national or state executives.
Observers are of the view that a large portion of the parties are not registered for any altruistic reason but for personal aggrandisement or selfish motives of their promoters. At best, they serve as medium for negotiation for political patronage.
Legal luminary, Femi Falana (SAN) recently called on INEC to trim down the parties to the barest minimum, saying that judging by their performance and the 2018 amendment to section 225 of the 1999 constitution which empowers INEC to de-register political parties, not more than 10 of the 91 political parties would survive the constitutional hurdle.
His position was also supported by a civil society group, Youth Alliance for Democratic Advancement (YADA) which believes that the proliferation of political parties is adversely affecting the nation’s electoral process.
Some political observers have also argued that the country could do better with a two party system; just like what was experienced in the Third Republic, where the National Reconciliation convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) were the two political parties.
Political commentator, lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) John Bayeisha, noted that the current multi-party system has not done the nation any good, stressing that two party system would stabilise the nation’s democracy.
“We don’t need more than two parties; it was good for us during the NRC and SDP era; what often happens is that in Nigeria we throw away the baby with bath water; it was because Babangida annulled the June 12 election, that is why that system was discarded.
“But if you look at the so-called multi-party system, is not doing us any good; some of them can’t win election in their family. INEC cannot say they do not have the powers to deregister political parties; there is a law that gives them power to register party; that same law also states how they can be delisted.
“And if what they are saying is true, let them send a bill to the National Assembly; I am sure the lawmakers would support that,” he said.
INEC had recently insisted that there was the likelihood of some of the parties being delisted, but is also seeking a total electoral reforms to empower them to carry out a review of the electoral process.
Speaking in an interview with BDSUNDAY recently, Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner and chairman of the commission’s committee on information and voter education, noted that the commission actions must be backed by law.
“We would be guided by law on the issue, it is constitutional provision; the amendment of the electoral law is clear on our mandate. It is only an amendment to the electoral Act that would make that possible,” he said
Okoye further canvassed a dialogue among stakeholders in the country on the issue, stressing that the commission will seek a reform of the electoral process after the completion of the 2019 general election.
Okoye, however, admitted recently while delivering a keynote address at the on-going state level review of the 2019 general election held in Makurdi, Benue State, that the number of political parties must be trimmed.
“The Electoral Legal Framework for the management and conduct of elections in Nigeria must be aligned and realigned to accord with the lessons and realities of the 2019 general elections.
“The chairman of INEC has flagged off conversation relating to the number and quality of political parties in Nigeria. Presently, there are 91 registered political parties in Nigeria and 73 of the said political parties fielded candidates for the 2019 presidential elections.”
“At the time the commission suspended registration of new political parties before the 2019 general election, 11 associations had paid the one-million-naira administrative fee for registration. Out of the 11, one (Boot Party) was formally advised that its application failed but later the commission was informed by the legal department that the said party had been registered through the instrumentality of the court.
“Nigerians must engage in root and branch review of the number of registered parties in Nigeria. The present framework for the registration of political parties is inadequate to guarantee the registration of qualitative, membership-driven and ideologically-propelled political parties,” he further said.
According to him, “Some of the political parties are mere platforms and have no concrete and visible presence in most states of the federation. The presence of too many political parties on our ballot papers has in some instances confused some of our compatriots that are not well-endowed in literacy.
“It has bloated the ballot papers and result sheets and trucking them to the polling units has become a logistics nightmare.”
The smaller political parties, have however, described the plan as undemocratic, vowing to challenge any attempt by INEC to delist them.
The vice presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Gani Galadima, said that deregistration is not the right step, adding that parties need time to evolve because of the peculiar nature of the Nigerian system.
“That is the position of the law now, that parties could be de-registered, but if you look at it vis-a-vis the fundamental human rights of actions expressed in the constitution, there is freedom of association, talking about association; political parties are also part of the association.”
National chairman of Action Democratic Party (ADP) Sanni Yabagi, blamed INEC for the problems which characterised the 2019 election, wondering why the commission was shifting the blames to the parties.
“The problem is not with the number of political parties in the system, it is about INEC; how ready they are for election and to conduct a free and fair election.
“If you conduct a free and fair election, even unknown parties that present a credible candidates would compete and do well, in this kind of system, it is not possible, INEC can just say they want to delist parties,” he said.