The weeding out of 74 of our 92 political parties was only to be expected when recently the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) finally swung its constitutional axe over the political parties. INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, carefully explained the action, recalling that the 1999 Constitution vested his commission with the power to register and regulate the activities of political parties. He also noted that in 2018, the Constitution was amended through “the Fourth Alteration to the Constitution (Section 225A)” which had also further empowered INEC to de-register political parties. Prior to the Fourth Alteration, the Electoral Act (2010) as amended also provided for de-registration but when INEC applied its provisions in an attempt to de-register some parties, some political parties went to court and succeeded in getting the decision reversed. “Subsequently, the courts ordered the Commission to reinstate the parties.”
And it was for that reason, therefore, that the National Assembly amended the Constitution to fully empower INEC to be able to de-register political parties on three grounds: breach of registration requirements by a party; failure to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in at least one state of the Federation in a presidential election or 25 per cent of votes cast in one Local Government Area of a State in a Governorship election; and failure to win at least one ward in a Chairmanship election, one seat in the National or State Assembly election or one seat in a Councillorship election.
He further explained that following the conclusion of the 2019 elections, the commission had been able to determine the performance of the various political parties in the election and they were all de-registered or confirmed on the basis of their performance. With the trimmed list, the country is now left with 18 parties and the de-registered 74 have now been barred from contesting future elections. However, on February 17, 2020, less than two weeks after their de-registration, the Federal High Court in Abuja restrained INEC from de-registering some political parties. In a ruling on an interlocutory motion, Justice Anwuli Chikere in restraining INEC from de-registering 31 named political parties observed that INEC had failed to counter the application of the applicants and that the affected parties had legal rights which the court must protect.
There was no doubt that 92 political parties seemed too many, especially when they could hardly be distinguished from one another. Indeed, the proliferation of parties has been one of the negative features of Nigeria’s democratic dispensation. And the irony is that the parties always looked like they are political parties in name only, with no discernible mass membership or activism of any kind or any commitment to particular views or ideas and hardly any objectives different from routine existence as ‘recognised’ political parties. Often it seemed as if these parties were set up primarily to secure personal advantages. They raise strong suspicions that there must be some pecuniary reasons for their existence.
Another view for the proliferation of parties is the notion that it springs from the unnerving autocratic proclivities of Nigerians to undermine democracy by asserting personal ownership of political parties. Thus, our parties have been more like real estates with well-known owners who dictate what happens in the parties. This is especially true with the men who made great fortunes through politics, and who insist on owning family-controlled political parties in which they are lord and master. They are able to dictate who gets nominated for which posts. The glaring appearance and dominance of our political parties by party lords, and a coterie of political godfathers who are unashamed of imposing their will and views on the parties have been the bane of Nigeria’s politics in the last 20 years. In the last election cycle, the phenomenon led to many anti-democratic activities and results like many failed primaries, glaring disenfranchisement or disqualification of good candidates without godfathers, innumerable litigations and, generally, a great loss of popular confidence in our democracy.
We urge INEC to go to court and challenge Justice Chikere’s ruling. Parties that no longer qualify to be parties should not hide under the freedom of association clause or continue to clog our ballot papers with meaningless symbols. Besides, there are many more ways to assert our fundamental freedoms than registering political parties that are more like Trojan horses and scare-crows which contribute nothing to our political development. Indeed, those 74 parties detract from it.