Recently, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) registered a fresh batch of political parties. If the number of parties we have in Nigeria at present is not up to a hundred, it is fast inching to that number. I wonder whether this glut of political parties was the intendment of the apostles of free association who mounted the campaign for the deregulation of political parties and fiercely embarked on this struggle both in the courts and in the civil society before it was granted. Let’s face the fact, what really is the benefit of having so many political parties that we can’t even know? What is the merit in registering a plethora of political parties that exist only in the briefcase of their promoters and which have no known roots among the masses for whom political parties serve? What are the benefits in registering husband-and-wife political parties with no base and no known conviction as to drive the masses to a certain goal?
In registering many parties and serving the ends of providing enough shades for Nigerians to freely express themselves, the end must not be to grant every tom, dick and harry that expresses interest to form a party, the license to so do but to form parties that have the needed impetus to attract many Nigerians to use them as vehicles to achieve certain goals. The driving force in forming and registering political parties must be the desire to mass around a common political platform with shared political values and beliefs so as to achieve goals that are intrinsically tied to the pursuit of the directive principles of state policies. It is not to grant political parties licenses for fun, for that looks like what is happening presently with the registering of political parties; most of which lack even the capacity to articulate their goals and visions and certainly can’t serve as drivers for mass political movement that can alter things for Nigerians.
Yes, there is the need to ensure that the political space is wide enough for all Nigerians to berth. There is a need to generalize the space for participation. There is need to widen the platform of political participation to accommodate the divergent interests in Nigeria. But then, the diversification must not be the end in itself. Sadly, that is what obtains in Nigeria today, with the flippant formation and registration of political parties that don’t have influence at even family levels. It seems that most Nigerians achieve satiation today by having their parties registered and noting more. This should not be so. Political parties must be mass movements that attract the interest and active participation of the masses. This is needed for these parties to achieve measurable degrees of change where they operate. With this capability to achieve change, it is easy for political parties to recruit more Nigerians to their fold, exert tremendous levels of influence and serve as agents for social change.
I know that in all climes, reasonable levels of conditions are needed before intending associations are registered as political parties. These demands are tied to their capacity to serve as mass movements that can articulate their programs under impressive manifestos that will attract many people to join them and make quests for change within the society. With these manifestos, no one within the given society, is left in doubt about such associations serving as vehicles for change if registered as political parties. Such associations are grounded in certain norms and beliefs that serve as common ground for its members and attractant to intending members. Before such associations are registered as political parties, they ought to satisfy certain requirements that bother on spread, openness and accountability to meet the desires of every member. I wonder whether these basic ground rules are still adhered to in the registration of associations as political parties because most of the parties registered in Nigeria today exist only in names and make no impression in the minds of most Nigerians. They are stunted in vision and spread and lack the requisite accouterments to be called political parties.
I hope in our extant electoral laws; provisions are made to deregister parties that fall short of minimum satisfactory performance during elections. The idea is to leave only viable parties as survivors otherwise the situation will degenerate to a level where the country is saddled with hundreds of dysfunctional parties that liter our political space and constitute clogs to smooth democratic practices. It is trite that after every election, the performance of every political party is reviewed by the electoral commission. Any party that did not achieve a certain threshold of success during the election will have it certificate withdrawn and subsequently deregistered as a political party. That way, a process of filtering will ensure the country does not have an unwieldy number of parties that exist only in names that are hardly known beyond the few promoters of the party. It is my honest view that fora party to survive beyond each election, such party must achieve at least a fiver per cent success in the election otherwise, it ought to be deregistered and delisted to create room for newer aspirants. Through this process of filtration, parties will compete healthily with each other and not for inactive parties to stagnantly clog the space. I know there are provisions in Nigerian electoral law for this necessary filtering but it is doubtful if INEC is doing just that otherwise we would not have the incredible number of registered parties we have today in Nigeria and have most of them so dormant that they don’t fill candidates for elections. What happens is that most of them exist to wheel and deal with bigger parties, often trading flippant support and serving as mercenaries to the bigger parties. This ought to be an aberration in a sane democratic space.
If we consider the fact that INEC is rightly giving the long list of political parties in Nigeria today as one of the reasons for the costly electoral budget it presented for the coming 2019 election, we must admit the urgency for most of these parties to be de-registered so as to unclog the party system in Nigeria and reduce the huge cost incurred by having so many ineffective parties on our ballot. There is no doubt that if we allow this trend to continue, we will soon get to a point where our ballot papers will be booklets that contains names of hundreds of parties that are not really contenders in elections. Methinks that, at most, the country should have five viable parties and not hundreds of mushroom parties that add nothing to our democratic development. If INEC does the necessary filtering process based on performance during elections, we will easily achieve that desire for no one will form parties that are de-registered soon after formation because it can’t muster the needed electoral success to survive beyond one election.
Let INEC sit up and do the needful. Let parties’ ability to survive depend on its performance during elections so we can have viable and strong parties instead of numerous mushroom parties that have no spread and influence. After each general election, let parties that do not meet a specific minimum performance level be weeded out while rooms would be created for new ones. If INEC does this, it would have succeeded in not only leaving the political participatory space free for mass participation but also in creating borderless chances for new parties to come on board and work for their survival and not remain as dormant features on the country’s political space.
Peter Claver Oparah