Party Deregistration: INEC’s Unconscionable Play At Base Instincts, By ‘Tope Fasua
Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission has acted true to type and pandered to the base instincts of many Nigerians by deregistering most young parties – especially for failing to win seats or obtain 25 per cent of any elections in the 2019 elections (the year where for INEC, history ended). The emphasis is simply on 2019. Unbelievable.
The fact that the law should be rightly interpreted to mean that ALL elections should be concluded in Nigeria to know who won what and by what proportions, seems not to matter to INEC. Perhaps the local government level, where people contest for councillorship and chairmanship seats are no longer part of Nigeria. One could surmise that in the books of today’s INEC, under the otherwise amiable Professor Mahmud, all that matters is the centre, and the ability to act as a ‘good boy’ to the person that appointed him, President Buhari. If this were not the case, he could have allowed all elections be completed, including staggered ones. But he has acted with the usual impunity that this particular government is fully associated with, after all a sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria was ignominiously removed from office in an obvious witch-hunt (Those he left behind must have learnt how to ‘arrange’ themselves). The APC government will probably browbeat all Nigerians into submission, even as it has embarked on a mission to ‘dumb down’ the populace under some strange brand of fascism. Dissent, political pluralism, inclusiveness, independent expression…. These are alien terminologies to the Buhari government which is getting even more world-famous for the clampdown on everything that thinks.
The painful aspect is that the young parties which sprang up circa 2016/7/8 did so because Nigerians had lost hope in the old breed who had held us by the jugular since somewhere around 1970. Some of them were around in the 60s and their idea of Nigeria is a country held down by force, while they rape and plunder. Many of the old guard (who are still wielding power), have had it so good on the country. This nation paid for everything they became – education, health, accommodation – everything. Their children also queued up in tow, as well as their grandchildren. So these people see themselves as worthy of dynasties. The political parties they formed at a ‘lucky’ time, were fully sponsored by the Nigerian government (otherwise known as taxpayers’ funds). Billions were spent on those parties before the PDP government at some point decided to stop the funding – perhaps in order not to create new parties that may challenge them, or in keeping with some brainwave on accountability. The members of Nigeria’s major parties, who are being solidified and given an unmerited credibility and popularity by this new action, are not used to contributing to build political parties. They see political parties as a place to go and feed and collect.
At was at this very trough that young people started coming together. Nigeria was at a recession as at 2016/2017. The new government had sunk the national economy even deeper into despair. INEC was no longer funding parties at all. But these young people made sacrifices of their money and time, to build new parties in the hope that Nigerians will see a need for a different approach and tack. Most were unlucky in the 2019 elections. Most underestimated the crudeness of the process; how everything is being run with money and violence, bribery, corruption and sheer evil. Most underestimated just how damaged the Nigerian mind had become. Most of the parties did not know, that a strong, meritorious career in crime was now sine qua non to electoral victory in the politics that our INEC has supervened over – after all the headship of INEC is fully nominated by whoever is the sitting president and they are beholden to whoever sits on top of the pack. If anyone was going to challenge the process by which Nigeria selects the headship of the electoral umpire, that was going to be these young parties. However, like little chicks, INEC has wielded its sledgehammer to slam them into the dust.
And not only that. By INEC’s action of deregistering 74 parties – without recourse for them to even speak for themselves and in an action reminiscent of the military days – the so-called electoral umpire has only added its imprimatur to the politics of the Dark Ages that Nigeria is now eternally stuck with until the nation unravels herself, what with all the tribal, religious and other fissions bedeviling her presently. INEC has told Nigerians by this singular action that we cannot, could never, do better than the politics of ‘tyranny of the majority’ where your ability to win elections is not premised on what ideas you have, but on how many billions you are able to share to people, no matter how that money is obtained. In fact, the electoral body has unwittingly solidified our political space into a win-or-die binary after all what matters is to win a seat, even if you have to kill for it. We would be extremely lucky to pull back the nation from the violence that may ensue from future politics, God forbid. We have already seen, that worse and worse characters have seized our politics as time went on, especially through the two big, government-fed, political parties which should actually be obliterated from our political space. Our state and national assemblies are full of yahoo boys, kidnappers, motorpark touts, conmen, fraudsters, and indeed a few murderers. The number of decent people keep dwindling, down from the days that Late Senator Isa Aliyu (a former AIG of Police), looked around the red chambers in great alarm one day, pinpointing those he had arrested for different heinous felonies, who had become ‘distinguished’. INEC has done Nigeria a great disservice.
And what is so unique about 2019? I am aware of a political party that won elections in 2011, 2015 but failed in 2019, which has been deregistered. What is special about 2019? Is it the year that history ended? Or is it the Buhari factor? Or is it the impunity gone rogue? We know of the law that was surreptitiously signed between Buhari and the National Assembly, changing the rules governing political parties sometimes in June 2018. It is possible that that law was not given the required public hearing or even enough time to marinate properly so that more opinions will be obtained. What we know is that big wigs like Kabiru Gaya, former Kano governor, and now a senator, had taken it as a lifelong career to obliterate the young parties. Is it fair to register parties, collect money for their registration, watch them set up national structures, sponsor people for elections, spend money trying to make their own impact on the country for good, and then, out of disdain, change the rules and withdraw their licenses? Oh, I forgot. Fairness, justice and equity are not rules we play by. Otherwise we could have been given another attempt. In universities, where Mahmud came from, students do have re-sits. Even in professional exams, and in the real world. There must be avenues for redress, for repair. Unfortunately, intellectualism has taken the backseat. It is what hard-bred, bloodthirsty politicians want that must prevail. Win in 2019 or die!
From the above it is apparent that INEC is in breach of a contract. By accepting our initial, non-refundable deposit of N1million each, and asking us, based on documents to proceed and establish some structures, we as political parties enter into a contract with INEC. The contract terms must not be varied without our knowledge and consent (except if we are operating what Nnamdi Kanu in all his infamy, calls a zoo). There has to be avenues by which we can make this point, and those avenues will be explored even though I have seen and heard INEC boast about how they are not perturbed by cases in court after all they have so many. This itself is unfortunate, because it is a show of lack of confidence in the judiciary as a whole when a government agency flaunts the incompetence and corruptibility of a whole judiciary.
What INEC should know is that the many parties that people formed with their own money offered some form of catharsis, a release, in the political space. People were able to express themselves politically and feel like part of the political evolution of their own country, rather than give up, accept servility and slavery, and look for a corner to crawl into just to die – or to hit back at society through crime. After the general elections, many keyed into organizations like IPAC nationwide and many are keenly observing how Nigerian politics work – some with a view to identifying what needs to be fixed. Nigeria’s old political guard are used to people who throng their yards for morsels of food on a daily basis, and millions of children who ply the main-roads bowls in hand – cannon fodder for another round of the usual fare of political violence. That is the reason for the disdain and vehemence. How dare anyone express themselves politically? Who are we to refuse to serve them, carry their grimy, blood-soaked political bags and lay down to be trampled?
But history has not yet ended. 2019 is the beginning of an end. Try as the ‘establishment’ may to stymie political expression, their embarrassment has only just begun. Countries are now refusing to lend Nigeria money (that was what the minister of finance said two days ago). Others are issuing us unprecedented visa bans. Yet others are calling us out for this same impunity, suppression of voices, removal of freedom of the press. What is more important for a country with such a youth bulge than political plurality and expression? When young people feel left out entirely of the process of ‘authoritative allocation of resources’ which is David Easton’s original definition of politics, what do they do but try and undermine that society? Why then would anyone clamp down on the avenues for self-expression? Why clamp everyone into two so-called big parties? And if we have 18 parties today, by this action and the hopeless law that the APC-led Senate has promulgated and obtained the president’s silent, conspiratorial and anti-people signature, a clear message has been passed, that it is either you get big or fail in elections, or you buy violence and corruption in order to stay alive as political parties. APC and PDP will therefore gradually consolidate themselves, especially the APC, which is very much grounded in ruthless Machiavellism compared with his Siamese twin. The other 16 parties will wither and die in the next election, as people will divest their emotions from such parties what with the axe of INEC dangling on them. They only just scraped through, didn’t they? What is more? There are no penalties for carpet crossing or jumping from one party to another. We saw that clearly in Imo. There is no good conscience on offer in Nigeria.
What to do? As much as INEC is used to being sued and now believe it is all a big joke, we shall explore the legal option no matter how feeble it may seem. We shall do that, jointly and severally. This is sheer injustice, impunity, reckless, and a stab at the heart of honest young and not-so-young Nigerians who are tired of playing third class citizens in their own country, watching by the sidelines and arguing away on social media as their country pines away. They have done nothing wrong by investing their sweat, tears and blood in their own beloved nation. Sacrifice to motherland can never be outlawed. And a people cannot be corralled by force into joining gangs (egbekegbe) that they are not desirous of belonging to.
INEC has appealed to the base instincts of Nigerians. The APC successfully played the card by using their reach to poison the minds of the people against any REAL CHANGE from the fraud that they delivered to Nigerians. They managed to convince even those who are otherwise very enlightened that Nigeria’s biggest issue was how parties were too many. None of the violence and bribery that threw up the so-called leaders of 2019 were perpetrated by any of these young parties. In fact, I believe that Nigeria’s redemption rests somewhere in the middle of those young parties. We cannot be said not to have tried. The ANRP – Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party – that I represent has conducted herself so decently since her registration and we intend to continue along that path. We do not deserve INEC’s oppressive, disdainful, impunity-powered, regressive sledgehammer. Not in the least. We will continue to be the platform upon which Nigerians are promised ABUNDANCE, not only for a concentric few oppressors and their overfed offspring, but for all. We shall stand to be counted when the opportunity for RENEWAL of this great nation shall come. We are indeed the hope of Nigeria. Of this I am sure. However, at this moment, we shall stand up for every party that is being oppressed by the INEC action. Injustice to one, is injustice to all.
The Impunity: When the Accussed Cannot Defend Himself
INEC has simply played the script of the powers that be – not only the APC but everyone who sees themselves as principality and power in Nigeria today. From Day One, these ‘powerful’ people sniffed at the new political parties like vermin. So long as they don’t conform with their own whims and caprices, they determined that anything and everything must be done to kill the resurgence of political awareness in Nigeria. So, the moment the general elections were over – elections of which the full results have not been displayed anywhere by INEC, elections whose results defy any logic – the next agenda was to obliterate these budding parties. The agenda was that on no account must any of them be allowed to bud. The few that scaled have done so because of the involvement of shady characters who ‘knew how to play the game’, it could be said. But some of us were out there, to change the game.
On the 3rd of December 2019, INEC paid us an impromptu visit at ANRP. We had just a few days to leave everything and show up. Our state chairmen, as part of our National EXCO, dumped everything they were doing and came to Abuja. We spent an untold amount of money. In all, over 30 of our National EXCO members showed up, risking life and limb from places like Zamfara, Borno, Gombe, Katsina, Oyo, Ogun, Lagos. We were elated that we met all the requirements of INEC – including presentation of our statement of accounts, membership register, list of assets, evidence of rent of office and what have you. But INEC had made up its mind. From that point on, it was radio silence. On no occasion were we invited to explain what we planned to do. No assessment was made of the quality of people that we paraded. It was sheer impunity. Nigerians have now got used to government slapping them black and blue. But at ANRP we shall prove to INEC that we are not charlatans. Our party is made up of people who have jobs and businesses and the costs of the run around that INEC has subjected us to – including huge investments we have incurred under the impression that our contract with that body will be upheld, must be recovered.
We are also aware that some civil society organisations have been encouraging INEC to deregister young, small parties. Their position on this matter is antithetical to what they otherwise represent. How can CSOs be at the vanguard of shutting down political plurality? Yet, many of these CSOs fought tooth and nail to not be accountable when they were once asked to publish their accounts or come under the supervision of a charities commission. One Commissioner in INEC, who is known to be from a CSO background, is the linchpin of party deregistration. He was once reported as saying it is easier to register a party than register a company in Nigeria. With all due respect it is either he has never registered a company in Nigeria or he doesn’t know what it takes to register parties – what with the frustration, delay, and trauma that staff and executives of INEC puts any young person trying through. We political parties prepare our accounts and subject ourselves to the supervision of INEC even though we are not funded by them. ANRP aced all the requirements of INEC and should not be summarily oppressed. INEC should make public the result of their inspection of our great party.
The International Community
We are aware that our government – and its apparatus – has become inured to international embarrassment but we will also find a means of making this into an international affair by seeking audience with the international community in Nigeria. INEC will probably discover that every country worth her name parades dozens of political parties and nowhere can political parties be abrogated summarily and cavalierly in a throwback to Babangida/Abacha days or perhaps Buhari’s first coming. Britain and the USA, among other great countries, hosts over 50 political parties each. Google is everyone’s friend. To underline INEC’s sheer recklessness, and in keeping with the impunity that reigns in Nigeria today, at no point were parties offered regional licenses or asked if they will want to play at subnational level – not that this is acceptable. Someone just sat in their ‘ivory tower’ and decided the fates of thousands of people, including those employed by the political parties. I believe the time is right for a final push against these ugly attitudes that have held us back as a people. This militaristic abrogation shall not stand
‘Tope Fasua is chairman of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP).