By WALE SOKUNBI
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last Thursday kicked 28 political parties off the nation’s political landscape in a deregistration exercise that is now generating ripples across the country.
The Commission initially offered no public explanation for the action other than the fact that it was done “in exercise of the powers conferred on it by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended)” Spokesman of (INEC), Kayode Idowu, later told journalists that the reason for the deregistration had been communicated to the owners of the parties.
Parties affected by the INEC big stick include the Action Party of Nigeria (ACN) sponsored by Alhaji Lateef Jakande; Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA) owned by Chief Olu Falae, Fresh Democratic Party (FDP) promoted by Pastor Chris Okotie and Nigeria Advance Party, headed by Mr. Tunji Braithwaite.
Others are Alhaji Balarabe Musa’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and the National Reformation Party (NRP) founded by Chief Anthony Enahoro. Ordinarily, the registration and deregistration of political parties is well within the purview of INEC. However, the axing of 28 parties in one fell swoop without any public explanation from INEC for the action is odd.
This is because the parties are public institutions. They are not in any private relationship with INEC to warrant the shrouding of the reasons for their deregistration by the electoral agency. By this secrecy, INEC appears to want every Nigerian to get a copy of the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 to know its justification for this exercise.
This, certainly, is uncalled for. Nevertheless, the Electoral Act 2010 Part V, Section 78 dealing with the powers of INEC to register political parties states in Sub section 7 that the electoral agency “shall have power to de-register political parties when they are (i) in breach of any of the requirements for registration and (ii) for failure to win a seat in the National or State Assembly election. From these provisions, it is safe to assume that the 28 sacked parties got the boot for failure to win any seat in the 2011 elections.
This provision for deregistration of political parties that fail to win electoral seats in general elections has been a subject of controversy in the country for many years. An alternative view to the Electoral Act provision is that it is the people who constitute the electorate that should decree the death of political parties, and not the electoral agency. Parties should not be deregistered by fiat. An attempt by INEC to deregister some parties in the past was reportedly frustrated by a Supreme Court judgment around 2002 when the late legal luminary, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, challenged the conditions outlined for de-registration of parties.
The electoral agency, since then, has never hidden its intention to revoke the licences of underperforming political parties. Although deregistration of parties is clearly within the laws guiding INEC operations, the axing of 28 of them suggests that there may be other considerations for this deregistration. This is because it is not clear that all the other parties that were not axed won electoral seats in the last elections. This is yet another reason INEC ought to have been specific on the reasons for deregistering 28 parties.
It ought to have put all the reasons that informed the sack of the parties in the public domain. However, the deregistration of 28 parties at a go suggests that due diligence might not have been observed before they were registered by INEC, in the first place. This is because if all the registered parties met all the requirements of geographical spread with offices and structures in the required states of the country, they might not have performed so poorly to warrant their deregistration at this time.
The lesson from this mass sack of political parties is that INEC must be more circumspect when it engages in the next round of party registration. It does not make any sense to register political parties only to deregister them en masse just few years after. The electoral agency should also be more forthcoming in its dealings with the public.
This is even more so as the party leaders that it claimed to have disclosed the reason for the sack have hotly contested that claim. Mr. Tunji Braithwaite, National Chairman of NAP and Balarabe Musa of PRP have denied that they received any communication on the deregistration of their parties and the reasons for the action from INEC. They have both contested the sack of their parties, with Braithwaite describing it as interference with the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people, while Musa called it “the beginning of dictatorship in Nigeria by INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega.”
The conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) has also joined the fray. Its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, said the deregistration would not stand because “it is the electorate that determines the survival of any political party and not the electoral body”. These are genuine concerns and Nigeria may have to reconsider the provision of the electoral law on deregistration of political parties. This is because a party that does not win an electoral office in one election could win at another.
Failure to win electoral office should not lead to the outlawing of a political party. All parties should be allowed to grow to become forces to reckon with and not decreed out of existence. Parties should be allowed to die on their own if they are not performing. To forestall such deregistration in future, INEC should ensure due diligence in the registration process. Once registered, parties aspiring to grow should be allowed to do so.
If INEC is worried about whatever support or accommodation it has to give to political parties, it should play better the gate-keeping function at the registration stage. It should conduct proper checks to ensure that parties it registers do not exist for only few years before they are axed. Let the requirements for registration of parties be stiffened, while all those that are registered are left to function for a reasonable period of time to enable them grow to make impact on the political process.