To keen observers of Nigerian politics, deregistration of political parties in Nigeria has become a norm. Between 2011 and 2013, Independent National Electoral Commission deregistered 39 political parties based on the provisions of Section 78 (7) (I and ii). Also in 2012, INEC deregistered 28 political parties for similar reasons. The commission, however, registered more parties between that period and the 2019 general elections.
Earlier this month, INEC deregistered 74 parties. The deregistration of the parties followed their poor performance in the 2019 general elections and court-ordered re-run elections arising from litigations, INEC Chairman, Mr Yakubu said at a press briefing.
Mr Yakubu said the commission carried out an assessment of political parties to determine their compliance with the requirements for registration and only 18 political parties fulfilled the requirements for existence based on Section 225A of the 1999 Constitution.
Most of the parties failed to win at least one political seat and poll up 20 thousand votes in the last national elections. They also lack presence in most parts of the country, he said.
Inspite of citing constitutional requirements, one wonders what other reasons INEC has for deregistering parties if it ends up registering more parties than it deregisters.
The same question is being asked in many quarters as people expressed mixed feelings over the de-registration of 74 political parties. While some lauded this decision by the electoral body believing it’s a huge step in sanitizing the ballot paper, the resolution didn’t go down well with others, especially the affected parties.
Some election monitoring groups such as YIAGA Africa, Centre for Democracy and Development and political parties under the umbrella of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) shared similar views regarding the deregistration.
YIAGA Africa, an election monitoring group, said INEC acted within the ambit of the law. The organization’s Director of Programmes, Cynthia Mbamalu said, YIAGA agrees that there is a need to deregister or reduce the number of political parties in Nigeria for the following reasons.
“The poor quality of political participation and the quality of electoral competition. Increasingly, we have more political parties contesting in elections. This created confusion for citizens with respect to engaging each of these political parties and their candidates on their agenda for the elections,”Mbamalu argued.
Perhaps, INEC is not concerned about constitutionality but worried about the high cost of elections which having too many parties brings. Ms. Mambalu notes that “it is important to understand the rising cost of an election with more political parties contesting in the election. As more political parties flood the electoral space, the cost for elections logistics and management of elections increases.”
However, many have raised eyebrows on the timing of the deregistration. Why now closer to local government elections? Given that the action was in preparation for the coming 2023 general elections, this means the political parties would not be participating in subsequent elections in the country, except the decision is reversed.
What about right to freedom of association? Did INEC in obeying one law violates another? Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended) guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association.
In view of this, Yiaga cheiftain urged affected parties to seek legal redress the decision if they believe it has violated their right to freedom of association.
Accordingly, affected parties like the All Grand Alliance Party (AGAP), Fresh Democratic Party (FDP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) have cried foul and accused the electoral umpire of not practicing democracy the right way. Other parties like KOWA party and Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) have approached the court.
Hence, the Federal High Court in Abuja barred the electoral commission, INEC, from deregistering some political parties. In her ruling, Justice Anwuli Chikere said INEC failed to counter the application by the applicants whose rights must be protected.
Perennial deregistration and reregistration of political parties in Nigeria demand a review of the electoral laws, powers and roles of INEC in the electoral system. It raises questions that should be debated by the national assembly as to how many parties should be enough to meet different political interests and aspirations of over 120 millions Nigerian voters. Are the constitutional responsibilities of political parties only to contest and win elections? Aren’t there other fundamental impact indicators to measure health of political parties order than winning seats in elections. Also, the issue of INEC funding of political parties must be discussed with a view to coming up with better recommendations that reduces the electoral body’s financial burden.