Sequel to fresh concerns raised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over the growing number of political parties, some critical stakeholders have expressed strong support for a two-party structure instead of the existing multi-party system, which is generally believed to be unwieldy and cumbersome to manage.
Prominent statesmen, as well as key political actors, who spoke to Sunday Sun, based their arguments on the outcome of the just concluded general elections in which only the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) scored the majority votes among the 90 political parties that participated in the polls.
The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voters Education Committee, Festus Okoye, had during the presentation of Certificates of Return to Benue State Governor, Samuel Erratum, his Deputy and members of the State House of Assembly in Makurdi, called on Nigerians to hold a national conversation on the number of political parties and the requirements for their registration, pointing out that the present number of political parties made the conduct of elections cumbersome.
The Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and chieftain of the APC, Senator Olabiyi Durojaye, in an interview with Sunday Sun, noted that the voting pattern in the last election had underlined the imperative for a two-political party system in Nigeria. He said: “I think what has come to stay is a two-party structure. Nigerians have indicated that a two-party structure, which some of us have been advocating for ages, is the preferred solution to Nigeria’s problem. It was a keenly contested and fairly well balanced election. We should find a way of institutionalizing a two-party structure. That is what we should do in Nigeria. This situation of having 50 to 90 political parties is not good for our democracy. There should be a way of sampling opinion of stakeholders on the way to adopt a two-party structure. Available figure shows that this country prefers a two-party structure.”
Suggesting the modality for instituting the proposed system, he added: “We can have APC and PDP as the two major parties, while the others fall in line. The other thing we can do through legislation is the possibility of a Third Force or independent candidacy so that whoever does not feel comfortable with the ideology of APC or PDP can join the Third Force or present himself as an independent candidate. But such candidate can only contest in his own area rather than the whole country. If he is so popular to defeat candidates of APC or PDP, he can come to the National Assembly and see whether he can sway the whole nation to his own belief and ideology.”
Also lending credence to the need for an overhaul of the present multi-party structure, a renowned historian and chieftain of the Afenifere, a Yoruba social-cultural group, Prof Banji Akintoye, said: ‘We need to create a law that will enable INEC to enforce a two-party structure.’ “I will say I agree with two or three political parties at most. We can say any number of political parties can contest the next federal election, but the two parties or three parties that emerge with the largest number of votes will become officially recognized parties in the land and the rest will stand dissolved. Thereafter, if you cannot find yourself belonging to any of the three parties either because you are too big for them or your ideas are too smart for them, then you don’t have to do politics. Go and do other things. If you want to serve your country, there are million ways to serve your country.”
The erudite scholar, however, cautioned INEC not to toy with the idea of deregistering any political party, saying the state actors would resist it at all costs.
“It is not the INEC that should do it. We need a law for it; a law that will specify that we need two or three political parties. INEC can then use the process of election to implement it. If INEC tries to do it, it will end up in court and will become another mess. There has to be a law which states specifically that only two or three political parties shall be recognized by Nigeria’s electoral democracy. If they do it, there will be so much trouble; there will be so much legal contest. INEC should advise the Federal Government. We need a law upon which to base the establishment of two or three parties. When government has created that law, the National Assembly passes it and the president signs it into law, INEC will then have the authority to deregister political parties. If INEC does it on its own, our politicians will fight INEC forever,” he posited.
In the same vein, a notable leader of thought in the North, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, speaking with Sunday Sun in a telephone interview, welcomed the idea of a two-political system, adding that it had been the trend of politics since the First Republic.
His words: “I think that a two-political system is the ideal thing that will bring stability to the system. The idea of a two-political system has been the trend from the First Republic. Although there were so many political parties in the First Republic, but in the end, they all divided themselves into two groups or camps – Nigeria National Alliance (NNA) and United Progressives Grand Alliance (UPGA). In the Second Republic too, the tendency was that of two groups. Also when the military came, they decreed a two-political party system – National Republican Convention and Social Democratic Party (SDP).
He described most of the existing political parties as bargaining chips, blaming the development on the judgment of the Supreme Court, which barred INEC from deregistering political parties.
He said: “It is the Supreme Court which ruled that INEC does not have constitutional power to deny registering political party that makes the idea of a two-party system impossible. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court did not consider the stability of the polity.
“The result is the multiplicity of political parties we have now. The problem is that most of those who registered these political parties knew that they were not going to do anything other than to use them as bargaining chips. They are now bargaining chips for trouble makers to bargain for money.”
Yakassai, however, disagreed with Akintoye on the operational modality for establishing a two-political party system. While the latter suggested creating enabling law for the proposal, the former insisted on gradual evolution of the process.
“But you cannot do it by law. You can only allow it to evolve. Frequency of election will make some of the political parties to die. We have reached a stage where they will disappear. But unfortunately, it will take time. I think something can be done to accelerate their death. We can amend the constitution to allow INEC to impose conditions to register political parties. That condition will make it impossible for kangaroo parties to be registered,” he opined.
Similarly, a respectable Northern political analyst, Dr Junaid Muhammed, speaking in the same breadth, said that the adoption of a two-party system must be done through a gradual evolution of the existing multi-party system.
“I have no problem with the idea of a two-political party system except that it has to be by gradual evolution. Otherwise, it is not going to work. If it comes by way of evolution, there is greater room for stability,” he maintained.
According to him, the growing number of political parties was due to deliberate failure of the INEC to follow a restrict guideline for registration of new parties. He said: “I have always said it that the way and manner INEC went about imposing a multi-party system is not good for our democracy. It has not been able to add value to our democracy and political party system. The idea of having 70-something presidential candidates can never guarantee political stability.
“They INEC itself cannot tell us what criteria it used to register 90-something political parties. They have messed up. And now that they have messed up, what they should do is to make sure they have criteria and that these criteria are rigidly followed.”
The National Chairman of the UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, however, sharply disagreed with the proponents of a two-party system, insisting that multi-party system is the best option for democracy.
He succinctly put it: “Multi-party system is the best option for democracy. If you are talking about democracy, you are talking of multi-party system. In fact, an improved democracy will even include independent candidate, which is also on the card now in the National Assembly.
“If we want a two-party system, it cannot be by executive fiat or by legislation. It will be by political action. In America, you don’t have less than a 100 political parties there. But only two are prominent at the national level and these are the Republican Party and Democratic Party. Other political parties are limited to the counties.”
Okorie further dismissed the argument by the INEC, saying that the growing number of political parties made the collation of results cumbersome.
He said: “It is because they are doing manual collation. With electronic system, you can handle ten times more than the number that participated in the last elections. One of the advantages of our multi-party system is that it has reduced the tension that usually causes internal schism within the parties which often results to violence. What INEC requires is a system that will make collation of result less cumbersome. Transmission of results from polling units to the server will eliminate all of these things that INEC is complaining about. Once we go electronic, there will never be a situation for an inconclusive election. It does not give room for inconclusive election because there will be no ballot snatching, thugs too would have no more jobs to do.”
Debate is still raging on the desirability or otherwise of the present multi-party system. One point of view on which all concerned individuals agreed is the need for collective resolve of the stakeholders on the way forward.