Published On: Mon, Mar 20th, 2017

Who needs more parties?

Against the backdrop of 86 political associations seeking INEC’s registration to become full-fledged political parties in addition to the existing 40, EMEKA NZE asks: Who needs more parties?

Since Nigeria’s political space opened up with the registration of multiple parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the choice of citizens has ironically continued to narrow as most of them exist only in name and probably websites. Outside that not much is known and can be said about most of the political parties in Nigeria.

Arguably, currently, of the 40 registered political parties only about two political parties are known within the political space. These are PDP and APC. Ordinarily, once registered as political parties they ought to make positive impacts on the electorate. The political parties, ideally, should have structures in the local government areas across the country, in line with grassroots political representation.

Since there are no hard and fast rules in registering a political party, other than the N1 million non- refundable administrative fees, the electoral umpire-INEC will always have avalanche of applications craving to be converted to political parties.
The other criteria for registration of parties are almost walk over as the association seeking registration can obtain mock registers of members, enlist officers spread across 24 states, forge manifestoes/constitutions and adopt names and logos to see their association snowball into a party.

This is why at the last count last week, INEC said the number of such applications stood at 86 but penultimate Thursday, it was 74. Between that Thursday and last week, the figure rose to 86. With the upsurge in the number of applications, chances are that it would have increased to a hundred by now if not more.

This is apart from the 40 parties already in existence. When INEC some time ago moved to exercise one of its functions- to deregister some of the dormant, unproductive parties- the court said no and the parties, ten of them were re-registered.
Had INEC followed strictly the extant laws, especially section 78 (4) of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) on the registration of parties, the number of political parties in the country would have been legion.

The provision states inter alia: “A political association that meets the conditions stipulated in the constitution and this act shall be registered by the commission as a political party within 30 days from the date of receipt of the application, and if after 30 days such association is not registered by the commission unless the commission informs the association to the contrary it shall deemed to have been registered.”
Disheartening however is that with the deluge of parties, their impact is minimal and Nigerians still have a narrow choice of parties to belong to- either to vote or pursue their political aspirations.

In the 2015 general election, the debate still narrowed between the PDP and the APC. Even in terms of defections, it is either a notable politician left PDP to APC or vice versa.
Except for the Labour Party (LP) which ruled in Ondo state and produced some few lawmakers in the state; the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) with its traditional Anambra state and the Accord Party (AP) which made little waves in Oyo state owing to the popularity of the candidate, the rest of the parties’ name could hardly be remembered off by rote or even by their logo.

More saddening is that most of these mushroom political parties hardly make effort to expand their frontiers. Their grassroots presence is zero, their mobilisation in the cities almost non-existent, the headquarters, an INEC prerequisite, sometimes is a private resident or provision shop hurriedly adapted into party office when INEC inspectors are expected.
Yet, when a meeting of political parties is convened by INEC, the small parties assume prominence and make the most noise like the empty containers they are.
If the commission does not exercise restraint in the number of parties it registers, it would run the risk of hiring the national stadium or the International Conference Centre (ICC) whenever it calls for meetings of political parties.

As it even stands now, INEC’s conference hall is already filled to capacity going by the last meeting of political parties.
The germane question: why do the small parties apply for registration since they are not in search of enhanced electoral fortunes? How do they thrive? Since INEC no longer funds political parties, how then do parties pay their administrative staff? Could it be that they don’t have staff to be paid? Who funds them?

Most of the promoters of the mushroom parties are never there to superintend them. Some of them also are card carrying members of the mega parties and use their membership to their advantage when the need arises. They are ever ready to play any role.
In the twilight of Peter Obi’s administration in Anambra state, he had brought Barrister Maxi Okwu the chairman and founder of Citizens Popular Party (CPP) to lead his faction of APGA while Umeh controlled the other faction.

Chief Perry Opara, an early leading figure in Justice Party became a PDP member and now leads National Unity Party (NUP). He is also at the forefront of the formation of one mega party which identity is not yet known.
Alhaji Mohammed Shittu is the founder and chairman of Republican Party on which platform he led the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC). He later joined the PDP and served in its major committees. It is possible that he did not relinquish his position in the party he founded.

One common characteristic with the mushroom parties is that while they lack members, they are their own chairman and as any presidential election nears, most of them transform as presidential candidates of their parties.
As candidates, they also look out for the mega parties’ candidates to invite them for negotiation so that they will call on their ‘numerous supporters’ to vote the big candidate and his party.

Apart from making INEC richer by the N1million at registration and elongating the ballot papers with their names and logos during elections and causing  delays during announcement of results as returning officers are bound to mention all the parties and their meagre scores, the small parties brook more  confusion than help the electoral process.
While they observe party manifestoes in breach, they are devoid, programmes that encourage large membership, their agents are ever ready to be bought to compromise the electoral system at polling booths by overzealous party officials desperate for victory since their parties are out of the equation.
It is in the light of this that Nigerians are calling for caution in the registration of more parties.