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Where are the political parties?

Suddenly, the political parties in Nigeria have gone underground and the so much noise about the power shift in 2023, which was already becoming irritating, has been drowned in the ocean of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Before the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the Nigeria, some political actors had begun to claim ownership of power in the next three years. There had been sponsored publications both offline and online about individuals warming up to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.

In February, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) deregistered 74 out of the 92 political parties and banned them from participating in subsequent elections in Nigeria. Recall that 91 parties participated in the 2019 general election. One more party was registered by court order after the elections, making a total of 92 political parties.

While announcing the deregistration, Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman, had explained that the affected parties failed to meet the constitutional requirement that determine the continuous existence of political parties in the country.

He added that the parties breached their requirements for registration because they failed to win at least 2596 of votes cast in one state of the federation during the presidential election.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, a number of the affected parties were kicking against their deregistration. Some had even gone to the court to contest their legitimacy. Some were also talking tough online and offline, alleging that INEC must have been prevailed upon by some powerful elements that felt threatened by the possibility of losing power to some of the affected parties.

Since the issue of COVID-19 pandemic hit Nigeria, there has been dead silence over how many parties are alive or dead. It has been as usual the war of words between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition group, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), especially on issues of what was perceived to have been done rightly or wrongly.

Of the 18 parties that escaped the INEC hammer, nothing is coming from them at a critical moment as this, either by way of shelling out relief materials, press releases, encouraging Nigerians to keep hope alive or other forms of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. Absolutely nothing!

A political analyst said: “If this were election time, all manner of flyers, with various messages, most times outright lies, aimed to hoodwink prospective voters, would have been flying everywhere; churned out by desperate politicians. Why would they not at this period, send out flyers that speak hope to faint-hearted compatriots?”

The names of political parties are missing on the lists going viral on the social media, of individuals and groups that have donated handsomely towards the fight of the pandemic in Nigeria.

Where are those parties that came up with the crowd-funding strategy to bankroll their campaign activities during the election? Does it mean it is not possible to champion that same crowdfunding at this time in order to help the less-privileged?

We have seen some heavy donations from one or two of the former presidential candidates, where are others? Does it mean they became bankrupt as soon as the elections were over?

Has the APC as a party made any donation? Is it not possible for the PDP to go beyond finger-pointing and name-calling, and announce a palliative for the Nigerian people that tolerated them for 16 stretch years? Or would they give excuse that there is no money? But what of the wealth accumulated yesteryear?

Today, the political parties have gone underground waiting for when the dust settles to begin to heat up the polity again with selfish campaigns.

Speaking with BDSUNDAY on the possible reason for the silence from political parties, Cosmas Ali, a Lagos-based politician, said those expecting political parties to begin to make donations may be misinterpreting the role of parties, particularly when a government is in place.

“I have heard a lot about parties not reaching out and not donating money the way some individuals and other corporate organisations are doing. I think, we are getting things mixed up here. Parties are made up of individuals who pulled resources together, primarily, in Nigeria at least, to seek power through election. It is not as if there is a bank they kept billions of Naira as savings; no. Whatever money that came in was expended during the election period. In Nigeria, most parties raise money on ad-hoc basis. What I mean is, if there is an election, everybody is taxed to make contribution towards it, and after that everybody goes back to his house, unless if the election favours you,” he said.

According to Ali, “You can make a personal donation if you have the resources as a politician, the way some have done; but to expect a party like ours to shell out money the way some corporate organisations are doing is asking for something that is impossible, because in the first place, there is no money.”

Faulting the parties for not creating opportunity to send message of hope to Nigerians at this trying period, a woman, who runs a non-governmental organisation, said the political parties could still make themselves felt by sponsoring jingles on radio stations, and other means that may not cost them so much.

“I am not expecting political parties to make cash donations; I am not even sure if the Electoral Act permits political parties to do so. But I am of the opinion that they can make their presence felt this time around, by sending messages out there to the Nigerian people, through radio jingles and flyers; telling Nigerians to keep hope alive. You know, this is the time that soothing words can help many people; Nigerians have suffered so much; they have gone through a lot; they need soothing words to keep them going,” the NGO woman, who asked not to be named, said.

According to her, “Nigeria has lost many people through fear. Because they faced some situations they felt they would not be able to come out of, they took their own lives. That’s why we have so many cases of suicides in the country today. Do you know what the lockdown mean for many families in Nigeria? These people need encouraging words, and political parties that cannot give out money, can give loving words, and spread some cheers at this time.”

Alex Opeyemi, an information and communication technology (ICT) expert is worried that Nigeria’s brand of political parties is only vibrant during elections.

“I have continued to wonder why we are the way we are in this country. Parties must not exist only for elections; where they do not win election, they die a natural death. In some countries, political parties have existed for many decades; whether they win elections or not, they are there, providing a shadow governance for the people. Shadow government in well-developed democracies means that the opposition, for instance, are exercising power behind the scenes, beyond the scrutiny of democratic institutions in power. But that is lacking here,” Opeyemi pointed out.

He further recalled that “In some countries, there are shadow cabinet made up of senior group of opposition spokespeople who are under the leader of the opposition, they form an alternative cabinet to that of the government. This shadow cabinet scrutinizes the policies and actions of the government, as well as offer alternative policies. Do we have that in Nigeria? The so-called opposition members, just after they lose election, they declare allegiance to the party that has won the election. Or some of them, what we see here, they pretend they are opposition in the day, but at night they are hobnobbing with powers that be. Politics of the stomach, that is what we play here.”

A public affairs commentator, Jibril Edward, said the political class was always short-sighted, and on an ego-trip most of the time.

“Can I say that this coronavirus of a thing really provided a pleasant interlude from the annoying activities and utterances of some politicians, who have almost seen themselves as the next president. They were already heating up the polity; calling other people names. As terrible as this coronavirus outbreak may seem, it has helped to tame our over-ambitious politicians,” Edward said.

“To think that we have not even done one year after an election, and these politicians are already plotting and using uncouth language against some other people is to me, the height of insensitivity. Now, that the virus has grounded every activity, why are they not talking; why have they retracted into their shell? I think they see themselves as tin-god, they should have been carrying on with their campaign. They never learn, and they can never learn.”

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