A nation of mushroom political parties, By Dan Agbese



I am sure it must come as a big surprise to many of us that we now have 67 registered political parties. INEC registered 21 new political parties only last week. Before then, we had 46 political parties about which most of us were somnolently ignorant.
But more political parties are coming. The chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said in Abuja this week that 80 more political associations have applied for registration as political parties. If they scale through, and they should because there are no conditions to be met for INEC approval, we would lead the world with 146 political parties. Indeed, Yakubu said that “We will continue to register parties as long as they comply with the provisions of the constitution.”
That our country has been turned into a nation of mushroom political parties should not, on the face of it, be a good enough reason for anyone to pull his beard in contemplation or confusion. This is about the quest for power. Under our laws, the right to seek an elective political office is conferred on an individual only by his membership of a registered political party. Come to think of it,it is also good to know that with so many choices available to the electorate beyond APC and PDP, the moguls who lead and claim ownership of the two parties cannot do us yanga any more.
When we are done with chuckling over this patently unhealthy development in our political system, it would be nice to interrogate what is responsible for this flood of new political parties and what such a large number of political parties portends for our democracy. For one, Yakubu let it be known that the large number of political parties would create serious problems for his commission. He cited the design and preparation of ballot papers to accommodate them as one of the critical problems facing the commission.
But it is not getting easier for the commission. It is getting harder. Said Yakubu: “By the time the issue of independent candidates comes into the fore, there will be more problems for INEC.” Independent candidature has been captured in the current constitutional amendments now before the state houses of assembly. The commission should feel free to accept my commiseration.
By the way, I love the sonorous sounding but jocular names of some of these new political parties. Among them are All Blending Party, All Grassroots Alliance, Alliance for New Nigeria, Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, Justice Must Prevail Party, National Interest Party, National Rescue Mission, New Progressive Movement and Alliance for National Development and Liberty.
My informed guess is that in the next election circle in 2019, we would likely have, not two, but 67 or 146 presidential candidates; and more than twice that number jostling for governorship in the 36 states of the federation. A crowded field never before seen in this country. To be sure, not all of them would be able to shake body but all of them would fill our stomach with wild promises of the impossible, such as banishing hunger and turning Nigeria into Dubai in the time it takes to say Dubai.
So, is it about political power? That would be an easy conclusion. But, despite the fact that politicians are the only professionals who love to wear self-deceit on their sleeves, none of these parties stands a chance of winning a local government council seat. Are they in it for the ego of owning a political party? Or are they doing this because they are driven to it by the fencing out policies of APC and PDP moguls that keep out good men and women and keep in the scoundrels?
A new political party in our country is usually the gathering of the aggrieved and the disaffected; men and women who have been arrogantly denied the right to fully participate in the electoral system and the quest for personal political power by the moguls in their parties. It is entirely possible that beyond providing us with some comic relief, the owners of these new parties might have been driven to embark on this rather unproductive option in order to create their own political space where they are not oppressed; and where they might oppress others. It is the way the political cookies crumble.
But what is at play here is much more than the ambition to own a political space through the ownership of mushroom parties that would not taste power until hell exchanges places with heaven. The issue hews to the lack of a primary custodian of our electoral system. I have raised this issue before and I raise it again because unless and until we have a primary custodian of our electoral system, our democracy would remain the pathetic victim of the cynical manipulation of by the owners of the political parties. As matters stand, INEC has no powers to refuse to register an association wishing to turn itself into a political party.
The electoral umpire has been systematically stripped of power since the second republic when FEDECO was legally the custodian of the electoral system. Under its enabling law left behind by the departing generals, the commission reserved the right not to register an association as a political party if it was not satisfied that it had met the basic requirements such as national spread confirmed by its offices in at two-thirds of the then 19 states. The commission also had the power to disqualify those it felt had either worn their integrity thin or soiled themselves with anti-social activities such as theft/corruption and engaging in armed robbery and the drug trade.
INEC does not enjoy these and other powers exercised by FEDECO any more. The national assembly has stripped it of the basic responsibilities of properly owning and policing the electoral system. It has been turned into an umpire whose capacity to properly officiate in the political soccer game is severely circumscribed by the self-serving amendments to the electoral act by the national assembly. INEC has no powers to disqualify whoever the parties put up as their candidates for elective offices at federal and state levels.
This is clearly a travesty of the role of an umpire. One result of this was that former Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a retired deputy inspector-general of police, had the shock of seeing men he had arrested or prosecuted for drug running and armed robberies sitting there with him in the hallowed chambers of the senate of the Federal Republic. The irony of law breakers empowered to make laws for the good governance of the country grated on Aliyu, as indeed it should have on the rest of the country.
The integrity of an election owes less to the casting of the votes on election day and more to the process leading up to it. A free and fair election is the totality of the fairness in the electoral process and the casting of the votes at the polling booths. If the process is rigged or flawed, as ours generally is, it takes some nerve to promote such an election as free and fair. It is not in the nature of human principle that a wrong could produce a right.
We should remedy this.The remedy is simple: a) the right of INEC to be the primary custodian of our electoral system must be returned to itand b) we must make INEC the true electoral umpire with the full and legal rights to have a say in how the parties conduct their so-called primaries and who they put up as their candidates for elective offices. It is wrong, as the legislators have done, to make the political parties the custodians of our electoral system by legislative default.Ourlack of a proper and legal custodian of our electoral systemvested with the powers to police it has ruined the integrity of our elections despite the honest efforts by Professor Yakubu to make the best of a bad situation. In addition, the commission should have the power to reject or approve associations seeking to be registered as political parties. The existence of a large number of mushroom parties is not the fine face of political pluralism. It is the dark face of nonsense. And it is hardly a credit to our democratic credentials as a nation.

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