There has been and continues to be various arguments on the possibility of this unity, and the details involved. Should parties with differing ideologies merge, for instance, for the purpose of numbers? Should deregistered parties merge together to form a new party or should they take their numbers to one of the surviving parties? Should this party being contemplated be the PDP?
Never in the history of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, since it began in 1999, have we had as many alternative party-politicians on the same side of a debate as we have today. Of course, in recent years, many more individuals have come together to form their own political parties and run their own campaigns on the basis of their beliefs and ideologies. What has been obvious to anyone paying attention, however, is that while most of the alternative parties are fundamentally the same in their quest for a kind of politics different from what currently obtains in the two leading parties, the provision of the Constitution that guarantees the freedom to create political parties has led to the proliferation of various parties.
The decision to set up these parties is oftentimes against the pragmatic implications of the cost, structure and resources required to compete with the two leading parties – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Registering a political party with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is now almost as easy as registering a company at the Corporate Affairs Commission. Fundamentally, the pioneers of these parties have shied away from the herculean task of establishing common ground of interests, which is a very important aspect of political engagement, with other like-minded individuals. In one swift move, however, INEC has forced this common ground of interest to emerge by making itself a common ‘enemy’.
I have read and listened to different responses since INEC made the decision to de-register 74 political parties. The official responses of a number of political parties, like the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), have been to state that the decision will be challenged in the court of law. The acting national chairman of KOWA Party had mentioned in the party’s official release that the matter of de-registration of political parties was pending in the courts and had been adjourned to be heard on February 17, 2020. This case is led by the Inter-party Advisory Committee (IPAC) as a body, with 34 other political parties joined in the suit. The Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) chairman’s position was that the news was fake, and the position of the party is based on what he said was their understanding of the character of the INEC chairman, and the way that the party had received communication previously from INEC. The party could not just then find out that it had been de-registered by INEC on the pages of newspapers or on Twitter.
A position also worthy of mention is that of the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR), which simply maintained that this move is another evidence to prove the continued shrinking of alternative voices and the democratic space by the current government. While it recognises the powers of INEC to reach this decision, as enshrined in section 225 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), it does not think that reaching the conclusion of de-registering parties on the basis of a criterion of not winning any office in the last general elections, which most observers judged as grossly flawed, was right.
Of all the arguments I have heard, I believe two stand out. The first is that INEC made a decision on a matter, pending a court determination. The second is that INEC does not have any moral standing to de-register parties on the basis of a criterion that the Commission itself made very difficult for the parties to meet, due to its failure at conducting free and fair elections. Perhaps, if INEC had done a decent job, some parties would not be having any issue meeting INEC’s electoral performance criterion. None of these arguments, however, debate the powers of INEC to de-register parties. This appears to be the first common ground.
…we can also simultaneously begin to investigate the issues of the proliferation of political parties in Nigeria by some ‘political entrepreneurs’, with less than ideal motives. We can also then begin to ask ourselves if this approach is one that is the most efficient way of birthing a new and different Nigeria.
When Professor Attahiru Jega de-registered 28 political parties in 2012, the Commission did that on the basis of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended). Political parties then chose to go to the courts to challenge the Commission’s decision and they won. Section 222 of the Constitution guaranteed the registration and existence of political parties and was considered superior to any other Act. In 2017, however, the National Assembly granted INEC new powers by amending section 225 of the 1999 Constitution. It is with these new powers that Professor Yakubu has gone ahead to de-register 74 parties, majority of which failed the Commission’s criterion of having a candidate elected in the last general elections.
Is it within the right of political parties to seek redress in court? Absolutely so! But we can also simultaneously begin to investigate the issues of the proliferation of political parties in Nigeria by some ‘political entrepreneurs’, with less than ideal motives. We can also then begin to ask ourselves if this approach is one that is the most efficient way of birthing a new and different Nigeria. As I went through the list of deregistered parties released by INEC, I consciously counted four political parties which were founded, sponsored and all coordinated by an ex-governor in the South-West. He had told me and two other colleagues in 2016 about the registration of the parties and the reason those parties had to be registered. Of course, not all the deregistered parties had these kinds of motives as their founding philosophy, but what we should all accept is that almost all of these parties operate only during general election cycles and shut down for years thereafter in between general elections. The only times their executives are seen or heard are the times when INEC calls stakeholder meetings, when they are then lodged, transported to and from the venues and fed for days in the Federal Capital Territory.
At the core of this modus operandi is a lack of resources to carry out set programmes and run the administration of the parties. To buttress this point, my assistant, who is a young passionate Nigerian, has sought a party to join that has clear programmes and monthly activities, where he could volunteer his skills. He has mostly met national chairmen of parties who, once they are aware that he is not bringing any funds into their parties to contest, stop picking his calls and would not even refer him to a subordinate. Some parties do not even exist beyond the friends who form the National Executive Committee. In the parties that seemingly have some activities going on, issuing a membership card is a very huge and mostly impossible task. Most times, the parties do not exist beyond their national chairmen, a few executives, with party meetings run on WhatsApp groups throughout the year.
The state of our political parties in Nigeria, as I have tried to explain in the last paragraph, might seem as though I am holding brief for INEC and justifying the Commission’s decision to de-register political parties, even when it is crystal clear that this administration continues to disregard the rule of law and is increasingly silencing alternative voices. That is not the purpose of this article. I worry, not just that this important moment will be lost on all of us who genuinely want to put in some effort to see our country fulfill its potential, but also that time, energy and financial resources will be expended in fighting to have INEC’s decision reversed, even though it is now backed by the constitutional amendment of 2017. In fact, this is also likely to be a joint effort, as already initiated by the inter party affairs council in the court adjournment earlier mentioned.
Is this not time to call ourselves together for some deep reflection? Do Nigerians not deserve a truly functional party that has the interests of Nigeria at heart and can go head to head with any of the political behemoths? Will our tiny resources, which we are willing to sacrifice in these mini-parties, not make a larger impact in a political organisation that benefits from distributed financing, instead of spending so little with insignificant impact? It might be a noble action to attempt to drain the swamp of Nigerian politics with a teaspoon, but when we have 74 teaspoons attempting to drain a swamp as big as the ocean, is it not wiser to bring all the spoons together and weld into a bucket, for better chances? If INEC has reached its decision on the basis of electoral performance in a flawed and sham electoral process, is it not more expedient to direct all the energies and resources to be used in fighting this decision to electoral reforms, so that it is the votes of the people that counts and not the people counting the votes?
We simply cannot achieve the Nigeria of our dreams without forming the political party of our dreams. Somewhere in the holy scriptures, the Bible says, “…the world awaits the manifestation of the sons of man”. In like manner, Nigerians await the manifestation of a class of alternative leaders in our political space.
From all indications, except we choose to be wilfully blind to the obvious, our country Nigeria is now counting down to absolute and total chaos. The evidence for this is in the increasing insecurity, lack of employment, increasing population growth, absence of nationhood and blatantly visionless leadership that plagues our country. None of the parties that have been de-registered has the resources or the networks to provide the national leadership that Nigeria needs before this countdown to chaos ends. Even the Action Congress of Nigeria could not muster this level of required national leadership in its prime. We also know that this required national leadership is not likely to come from the People’s Democratic Party. At this juncture, Martin Luther King’s words at a similar period in the history of the civil rights movement rings true: UNITY IS THE NEED OF THE HOUR.
As I tried to show above, the proliferation of parties in Nigeria largely occurred because the pain of registering a political party was far less than the pain of finding a common ground or common interests. If anything, INEC’s recent decision has, at least, balanced these two pains. Moreso, like the experience of the 2019 general elections would have taught us, everywhere there is a political party or association, there will always be a conflict of interests and persons. Most candidates who, for example, thought that they had their parties’ nomination locked down for the 2019 elections, had to battle other interests and resolve conflicts within their mini-parties. If conflicts will happen in any party and almost the same energy would be devoted to resolving it, isn’t it wiser to have these conflicts within a larger party with a higher chance of snatching Nigeria from the jaws of people whose conflicts are based solely on how to share state resources and not on who has the best ideas and should lead?
There has been and continues to be various arguments on the possibility of this unity, and the details involved. Should parties with differing ideologies merge, for instance, for the purpose of numbers? Should deregistered parties merge together to form a new party or should they take their numbers to one of the surviving parties? Should this party being contemplated be the PDP? The details of the formation of this unity can be debated, but not for long. The need to unite to save our country cannot be over-emphasised. Starting with a summit, leaders aligned on an ideological basis or on the same side of the ideological spectrum, can come together to discuss these terms. In the first summit, a timeline should be agreed to and a work plan, including the participation of the leaders of the different groups, must then be put in place. Afterwards, a draft constitution needs to be put together by a committee and shared with all the members of the parties. An administration and finance plan for the next five years must also be part of what must be put together and agreed to. All this must happen before the end of the third quarter of this year. A transition national executive would then have to be put in place for the next one year and be handed a mandate to conduct a national convention for elected officials. The new party will have the strength, the structure and the numbers to go head-to-head with the two parties that currently exist and the benefit of holding its leadership change exercise in the middle of the electoral cycle, so that every executive elected has two years to prepare for the next general elections and two years thereafter to consolidate.
We simply cannot achieve the Nigeria of our dreams without forming the political party of our dreams. Somewhere in the holy scriptures, the Bible says, “…the world awaits the manifestation of the sons of man”. In like manner, Nigerians await the manifestation of a class of alternative leaders in our political space. I, for example, am a young Nigerian under 30 years of age. Those who constitute the leadership of the class of alternatives are well within the age of 45 to 55 years. It is in my opinion that it is this generation that owes my generation an obligation to hand over a Nigeria better than what they were handed. So far, that generation has not done a good job in handing us a Nigeria that is even the same as the one they were handed. This is another opportunity to rewrite that history. So to put it more specifically, my generation (which must be said forms the majority of the Nigerian population) awaits the manifestation of the generation before us to do this and at least then offer us a chance to build on it.
Jude Feranmi, the former national youth leader of KOWA PARTY is now executive director of ToBuildANation, a non-partisan citizens movement focused on driving electoral reforms amongst other reforms. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.