Is Reduction of Political Parties in Nigeria the Solution to Socio-Political Problems?
Is Reduction of Political Parties in Nigeria the Solution to Socio-Political Problems?
By Chinedu Bosah
In the Vanguard of Monday 9th May 2011, the National Vice President (Zone C) of the National Union of Journalist (NUJ), Mr. Ambrose Nwachukwu called for the de-registration of political parties that failed to secure any seat in the just-concluded 2011 general elections. According to him, “INEC should invoke the provisions of the Electoral Act and de-register these political parties. I will support the pruning or downsizing of political parties in the country. Sixty-three political parties are too many for our polity.”
This position has also been canvassed by some elements in major establishment political parties and others. In fact, the National Assembly members have tried to achieve this through the Electoral Act. Understandably, some people are frustrated that the number of political parties in Nigeria have not transformed into viable forces with many of the political parties only existing on ‘paper’ and seeming to be simply vehicles for the personal advancement of their founders. Indeed, on June 29, the Independent reported that “Up to 35 political parties may be delisted from the current unwieldy crowd of 60 parties critics said mostly banded together to fleece the treasury in grants doled out by INEC in times past.” At the same time some major actors in the big parties may use this as an excuse to justify deregistration as they simply want to be dominant and wish to prevent or limit the possibilities for new, genuine political forces to develop.
However, the number of political parties is immaterial if one considers the essence of forming and building a political party. A political party is basically a platform with which a group of people can express themselves and seek power for the purpose of protecting the interest of a class or group of people often, though not always, through a well defined set of ideas, policies and program. So, a multiple party system should not be blamed for a very weak opposition. The fact is that today in Nigeria virtually all political parties (dominant and sleeping ones) exist for material gains that come with it and are not a platform or vehicle to change society.
Take, for example, the fact INEC gives political parties some money. Section 91 (2) of the Electoral Act provides that 30% of the annual grant to political parties should be shared across board to all registered political parties while 70% be shared among parties that won National Assembly elections in proportion to the number of seats they won. Between 2003 and 2009, INEC gave about N3 billion to political parties as subvention. By virtue of this provision, it is financially attractive for a group of persons to form a political party for the purpose of getting INEC subvention which, in some cases, run into N6 million annually. Apart from annual INEC subventions, most of these political parties who do not represent anything different from the general rot are incapable of building a viable political platform, and by so doing support any of the major bourgeois candidates in return for either patronage or pecuniary gains.
Though section 78 (7) empowers INEC to deregister a political party that fails to win any National or State Assembly seat in a general election, it is wrong to deregister a party simply because it did not win a seat in the Assembly election. A small party could grow to being a more attractive party tomorrow. The Congress for Political Change (CPC) came into existence barely 1 year ago and was able to win the governorship election in Nasarawa State, 25 seats in the House of Representatives etc. If the number of political parties had been restricted to 2, 3, 4 or even 5, millions of voters who voted for CPC last April might have been disenfranchised. This also means that old parties could still die while newly registered parties could rapidly grow.
We must not forget that the ruling elite are, from the outset of this current civil rule, determined to restrict party formation. It was the political and legal struggle led by Gani Fawehinmi and the then radical National Conscience Party (NCP) that ensured the opening of political space and registration of more political parties. If given the opportunity, the ruling class wants to foist on Nigerians very limited number of political that represents the same ideology and political program as a means to stop radical political parties with masses oriented programmes from existing. The legal battle aside several protests and demonstrations in Lagos ended in November 2002 when the Supreme Court delivered a judgment in favour of Gani.
The ruling elite, apparently to ensure political stability, are only flexible to the extent of satisfying the ruling elite of the major tribes to form their own parties while PDP remain dominant at the centre and in some states. For example, in 1999, only three parties were registered, the then Alliance for Democracy (now ACN) in south-west, the All Peoples Party (now ANPP) in the core north alongside the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Later, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) was registered, a political party popular in 2003 general election in the south-east. More so, Nigeria Democratic Party (NDP) and United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP) were registered and are populated by those who were not fully accommodated in the PDP. It was in December 2002 that an additional 22 political parties, including the NCP, were registered.
Obviously, it is not because we have 63 political that we are still in this political mess, but that these parties, including the major ones, are cash and carry parties with no programme to better the lot of the masses. It is obvious that most of the political parties do not truly have a national spread as required as one of the conditions for registration. Many of the inactive parties only got their friends and cronies, who may not share the same ideology, to occupy different leadership positions in most of the states and at the federal level just to meet registration condition.
Belonging or forming a party is a constitutional right that is inalienable. According to Section 40 of the 1999 constitution, “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.” A party can spring up from a social group in one locality who share the same ideology or interest and as such they should be allowed to exist as political parties even if it is in one local government where they have the strength to participate in a local government election. Besides, such political party could start at one local government as a step towards spreading to other local governments and states. Limiting 90 million politically active persons to 2, 3, 4, or 5 political parties, could disenfranchise millions who could not find expression in these parties, particularly when all the parties represent the same ideas and economic programs.
Several commentators have claimed that the problem with our political system is that we do not have political parties with ideology. This is fallacious. The fact is that all political parties in Nigeria today have ideology, but it is one that represents the interests of the rich and privileged class at the expense of the vast majority, unfortunately this includes the Labour Party. For example, many political parties today believe that it is only when you empower the rich that you can extricate the poor from poverty and this explains why priority is placed on the rich to the extent that tax payers money are willfully handed to the privileged class to make profit. While others on the left strongly feel that the more the rich get richer, automatically the poor get poorer, and that the only way to resolve this contradiction is to invest massively in social infrastructure and plan production and services under democratic control and management of workers, on the basis of needs of all. So presently, in most societies, the dominant ideology is the one that places more attention on the rich through the market economic philosophy vis-Å•-vis neo-liberal policies (privatization, deregulation etc).
To deregister political parties on account of non-performance at the election is autocratic and should not be allowed. The relevance of a political party should be left to Nigerians to decide, particularly through elections and other means. The electoral process should be made far less expensive for candidates and the party who want to contest election. This means making registration a simple process and allowing Individual candidates to stand in all elections, with the proviso that they regularly submit accounts of their election campaign income and spending.
In some of the political parties, particularly the major ones, candidates are forced to cough out millions of Naira to the party, and this is outside what is spent on campaigns. This kind of electoral process makes it the exclusive preserve of the rich or those supported by the rich and that explains why most of the parties could not conduct democratic primaries. It was simply imposition by the ‘godfathers’ and all those who call the shot.
Political parties should sponsor all candidates under its platform through donations and subscriptions of its members. A school teacher in a political party who does not have money or godfather should be able to contest any electoral position if members of the party believe that he or she can best defend or implement the party’s policies and programmes. Unfortunately, there is hardly real members of most political parties except those mobilized and sustained through patronage and pecuniary gains.
The annual subvention given to political parties by INEC should be stopped, a party strength should be best measured by the number of members and sympathizers it could attract, which could go a long way to determine how much money it can raise, and if organized with correct tactic and method, it could mobilize more people to join or vote for it. If Party A for instance has 10,000 members and each member pays monthly dues of N100, it will end up raising N1 million monthly which can be used to carry out some party activities.
Access to media should also be at little or no cost to the parties. It should not be ‘pay-as-you-go’ or cash and carry, a situation wherein a political party with money-bags gets more media time while those without huge sums gets virtually no time
More so, no candidate or party should be allowed to spend state/public funds on campaigns; no party should get funds from individuals or companies who have benefited from contracts and projects. These and many other reforms will place all candidates and political parties on a fairer footing and encourage political parties to reach out for members and party faithful as a means of becoming relevant.
However, what have made political office to be attractive are privileges and pecuniary gains that come with it. Hence, political office holders should be made to earn average wage of a skilled worker while only proven relevant expenses in the cause of duties should be taken care of.
The present political crisis is as a result of the dominance of a few privileged persons in the polity and economy. It is only when the mass of the people are drawn into political activities that the political process will be viable and reshaped. And that could only be possible with party or parties run democratically and have programs that defend the economic interest of the vast majority; a party that rejects neo-liberal policies and programs, creates job through massive investment in infrastructure and such that will have the working class in the driving seat.