Deregistration of 7 Political Parties by INEC is undemocratic
Deregistration of 7 Political Parties by INEC is undemocratic
By Bosah Chinedu
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), relying on section 78 of the electoral Act, has recently deregistered 7 political parties on the grounds of not fielding candidates at the last general elections let alone winning a seat at the parliament or any executive position. Section 78 of the Act empowers the INEC to deregister political parties that fail to win presidential, governorship election or a seat in the National or state Assembly elections. If INEC strictly follows this provision, 53 political parties will be deregistered leaving 10 political parties. The currently affected parties are Democratic Alternative (DA), National Democratic Council (NDC), National Action Council (NAC), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN), National Unity Party (NUP), Nigeria People Congress (NPC) and Nigeria Elements Progressive Party (NEPP). According to INEC, this is the first lap as the deregistration exercise will continue after the cases challenging the act in court are decided.
Most of the establishment political parties have praised INEC’s action as a step in the right direction, claiming that having a very few political parties is best for the country. No doubt, most of the political parties were formed with the aim of collecting subventions from INEC and opportunistically support any of the ruling parties during electioneering periods just for pecuniary gains and other self-serving purposes. However that does not mean that a small genuine political party cannot build consistently until it becomes a mass force even without winning political positions for a period. The action of the INEC is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
It is undemocratic for INEC to deregister political parties on the basis of non-performance at the polls. If non-performance is to be the criterion for existence, all the establishment/ruling political parties (ACN, PDP, APGA, ANPP etc.) should as well be deregistered because they have all failed to meet the yearnings of the vast majority of Nigerians. After 12 years of civil rule Nigeria is still on the reverse speed while the living standard of Nigerians has steadily fallen. All the ruling political parties have only succeeded in defending the interest of the rich at the expense of the poor who have been condemned to poverty in spite of the stupendous wealth at the disposal of government at all levels. This explains why all the political parties are in agreement in paying jumbo salaries to political office holders while workers earn poverty wages.
It was just the minority of the registered voters, put at 35% by the INEC, who participated in the last general election despite media hype, adverts, campaigns and bribery of voters. The low turn and participation shows clearly that these so called successful parties weren’t popular amongst the people as they are same of the same. Is the INEC going to come out with a policy that states that any political party that does not have at least 50% votes of all eligible voters should be de-registered?
The agenda of the ruling elite is to continue the dominance of the political space so that their privileges and ill gotten wealth can be guided jealously. Aside empowering INEC to undemocratically reduce the political parties, the National Assembly peopled by established political parties also put up stringent measures that will make it extremely difficult for an association/group representing ordinary working people to be registered as a political party. Section 80 of the 2010 Electoral Act stipulates that an association seeking to be registered as a political party must maintain functional and verifiable offices in at least two-thirds of the 774 Local Government Areas of the federation and also have at least 10,000 registered and verifiable members in at least two-thirds of the states of the federation.
This is an attempt to reverse through the backdoor the victory achieved with the struggle to open up space for political party formation led by late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and the National Conscience Party (NCP). The legal battle in addition to several protests and demonstrations in Lagos ended in November 2002 when the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment in favour of Gani. Hence, both sections 78 and 80 blatantly violate the Supreme Court Judgment, the 1999 Constitution and the right of Nigerians to freely associate.
All the establishment political parties are seemingly strong because they have money bags as backers and access to public resources. These so-called strong parties spent billions of Naira during the last general election. The ACN in Lagos distributed free customized recharge cards amongst other acts of bribery to woo people into voting for it. This was the pattern across the federation wherein different items and money played major roles in the election. As far as politics in Nigeria is concerned, none of the existing political parties would survive for long without looted public funds or money from kickbacks as a result of inflated contracts. While, most of the small political parties exist for the subventions, the big ones exist to keep public funds under their control. None of parties is run from subscriptions being paid by members. In fact, in the vast majority of these parties the so called members are overwhelmingly rented crowds that are sustained only on the basis of how much money or patronage they get.
A political party genuinely representing social forces should normally derive its financial or political strength from its membership strength, but that is not the case in most capitalist economies. Hence, INEC subventions and access to public funds for political activities should be stopped so that some self-serving political parties could die naturally. None of the so called big parties was able to do a credible and democratic party primary prior to the 2011 general election, not even ACN that touts itself as progressive, imposition of candidates became the order of day.
Some have argued that we should go back to the NRC and SDP model. Such people are just myopic. In the first place, it was undemocratic for the Ibrahim Babangida Junta to have foisted on Nigerians two political parties, built their offices, assisted in writing their constitutions amongst others. The simple reason why Nigerians participated in the 1993 election was because they were tired of military rule. Nigerians never wanted to give the military the reason to continue in power and was overwhelmingly united in chasing out the military. So, the readiness to push away the military in 1993 should not be confused for the acceptance of the NRC/SDP two party model.
Putting Nigeria on the right path can only be achieved when the mass of the people democratically manage the economy and participate in politics. It is fallacious for anybody to think we can get it right with the present arrangement wherein a few privileged cabals determine the direction of politics and the economy.
It is not multi-party system or existence of 63 political parties that is responsible for the multi-facet problems in Nigeria; it is simply the self-serving bourgeois politics that annihilate popular mass participation in the economy and politics that is the stumbling block. What democratic rights we have now must be defended, INEC’s attempt to block the development of new, genuinely political parties and ‘consolidate’ multiparty system has to be resisted. Elections must be opened up so that individuals who do not have the backing of a party machine are able to stand as candidates. In this way working people can begin to propose their own alternative to the parties tied up in the current corrupt system. The missing link is the absence of a mass based pro-working peoples’ political party that has an agenda to defend the interest of the vast majority and meet the needs of all in the long run. Building a mass based democratic party is the challenge confronting Nigerians.