The on-going de-registration of political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has thrown up the issue of the number of parties that will serve the nation’s politics better and more efficiently. So far, INEC has in the past few weeks de-registered a total of 31 political parties in the country for not meeting some of the stipulated requirements for their existence as political parties contained in both the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Foremost among the reasons for scrapping them is their inability to win a seat at either the National or State Assemblies. Others include their not having a verifiable headquarters office and not constituting their National Executive Committee (NEC).
If the reasons given by the electoral body for sacking these parties are any thing to go by, then the parties have no reason for their continued existence as political parties. Their inability to win any seat at either the National or State Assemblies shows the extent the voters have rejected them. Indirectly, Nigerians have passed a vote of no confidence on them. Prior to the de-registration exercise, Nigeria had about 58 registered political parties. But at each election, the parties that make impact in terms of electoral victory and number of states in their control are not up to 10. From the First Republic to the current one, Nigeria has never had more than five active political parties. The rest are just there in name.
At times, they serve as electoral support for the bigger ones. At each general election, only two or three parties are found to be in strong contention.Perhaps, the best party arrangement the nation has ever witnessed is the two-party model instituted by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida during his political transition programme of the 1990s. Babangida’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) and National Republican Party (NRC) till date remain the best in the area of party engineering in the country. He gave Nigeria two strong parties that cut across ethnic and religious divides. The arrangement united the country politically and produced a truly elected Nigerian President. The electoral contest was keen.
The campaigns were issue-based and robust. Unfortunately, Babangida annulled the presidential election borne out of the two party arrangement. With INEC’s de-registration of some parties, a number of politicians are again calling for two strong political parties for the country instead of the motley crowd that over 58 parties have come to represent. The irony of having many parties is that many of these parties were probably registered by the big political parties to help them win swing votes in some areas. Perhaps, it is a ploy deployed by big parties to whittle down the influence of the opposition. Indeed, there is merit in having fewer number of parties. It will strengthen our party system as well as our democracy. Fewer parties will be easy to manage. The voters can easily identify with fewer parties and their programmes than the huge number we have at present. Having over 58 names on a ballot paper is unwieldy and cumbersome.
The many names on our ballot papers are known to have confused many voters. The fact of the matter now is that Nigeria needs fewer parties whereby two or three will eventually emerge to be dominant. Rather than the unending exercise of de-registration of parties, let INEC reduce the number of parties to the barest minimum. Doing so will create room for the emergence of dominant ones. There is nothing wrong in Nigeria having two dominant political parties and a few others just like what obtains in advanced democracies of the United Kingdom and United States. Nigerian politicians should learn to accommodate their interests within the bigger parties and stop the divisive tendencies that make them resort to having their own parties with little following. Nigeria and Nigerians will fare better politically if we have in place fewer and manageable number of political parties than what we have currently. That is what INEC should aim at instead of the un-ending registration and de-registration of political parties.