Professor Attahiru Jega, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must be spoiling the broth for political scavengers. By scavengers, we mean politicians without a definite and definable station. They are the itinerant ones, the buccaneers who see politics more as a business enterprise than a vocation.
In recent years, they took their mercantilist disposition to a new height. They massed up at the feet of the electoral commission, beseeching it to register their companies as political parties. Their entreaties got a sympathetic consideration. Before long, Nigeria had as many as 58 political parties. But INEC under Jega has taken a cold, hard look at the state of affairs and has decided to act tough. This consists in its demolition of many of the contraptions that used to be known as political parties.
In recent weeks, the commission has de-registered over 30 political parties. When the initial hammer fell on some 28 political parties, there were angry responses from a good number of them. Some of them even said they would call the bluff of the commission. A few others vowed that they would continue to operate with or without INEC’s recognition. Such disposition was clearly laughable.
It is difficult to imagine how a political party can actually operate as one if it is not recognized by the electoral commission. Apart from the fact that it would receive no subvention from the commission, it cannot field candidates for any elections. The latter is really the crux of the matter. How can an organization, in truth and in fact, claim to be a political party if it cannot present candidates for elections? But we must leave party owners and their grandstanding for now and take a dispassionate look at what Jega is doing. When INEC withdrew recognition for the first set of political parties the other week, it adduced a number of reasons.
However, the one that struck a note of familiarity was that of the inability of the parties to win any seat in either state assemblies or the national legislature. Attainment of such goal is the irreducible minimum that any political organization must aspire to and accomplish if it must continue to exist as a political party. In the absence of that, it becomes laughable to associate such an organization with political contests.
In climes where there are abiding standards, it will not be a matter for argument. A political party must necessarily meet the conditions that will justify its continued existence. Ability to win seats in an election is one of them. It is ridiculous that an organization which exists only in name can be making a fuss over its de-registration. But the argument being canvassed against the commission is anchored on the fact that the mushroom organizations were registered by INEC in the first place. It is contended that the electoral body many not have carried out due diligence before it went on party registration spree.
There may be some point here. But I am more inclined to think that the commission set out to liberalise the political arena when it gave as many as 50 political associations the chance to enter the political arena and join in the business of politicking. But experience has shown so far that a good number of these parties do not deserve the space allotted to them. INEC may have therefore decided to have a rethink. But why are as many as 50 political parties jostling to remain in the field when no more than 10 of them are making an impact?
Why are the weak parties not dissolving into strong ones in obedience to osmotic pressure? The reason for this tendency has been located in the perverse perception of political parties as business enterprises. Nigeria is a country where perversion of values is a way of life. The collapse of values has led to a situation where a good many Nigerians deploy their brains to dubious use. There are those whose preoccupation is to sit back, reflect and then come up with tricks and tactics that would defeat and degrade the system. Such people are creative in a negative way.
They do not work to improve the system or add value to it, they devise ingenious and sophistical ways of subverting it. The preponderance of political associations in Nigeria may have been influenced by this negative inclination of the misguided Nigerian. In the bid to be seen to be a part of the political class, he wants to have an empire he can call his own. Such an empire, in this case, comes through the ownership of a political party.
Such a party is in the political arena not necessarily to win elections. Rather, it is a status symbol. More importantly, it is a bargaining chip. With it, their owners can afford to get a mention when partisan politics is being discussed. They are used as baits with which intrigues and manipulations can be carried out. Indeed, the owner of a political party can enter into a pact with a party that is making impact in order to swing more votes to the side of the latter party. In this wise, some party owners are not really interested in winning their own elections.
They are interested in facilitating the victory of other political parties when the need arises. Such party owners are our modern day buccaneers. They are political pirates who are out to scavenge from bodies and associations that are genuinely engaged in electioneering. They are political profiteers whose manifestoes exist not as an instrument to further the cause of good governance but to decapitate those who are daring to act out their belief and seriousness in electioneering as the ultima ratio of political partisanship. That is the nature of most of the political parties that populate the political space.
They are pretenders to the throne of governance. They are spies for the serious contenders. Now, Jega appears to be out to tame these interlopers. The march has begun. We expect Jega to trudge on with the determination of a Spartan. As he does that, we need to look back in time with a view to situating more properly the malaise of party proliferation that is afflicting our political landscape. Until the advent of the Fourth Republic, Nigeria has never really had the problem of bloated party apparatus. It is a well known fact that none of the first three Republics had more that 10 political parties jostling for relevance in the political arena.
In fact, the situation during the Third Republic was particularly remarkable. Then, President Ibrahim Babangida decreed two political parties into being – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). Even though the parties were largely supervised by the military regime of the era, they worked to a large extent. There was robust competition between them. The entire Nigeria was drawn either a little bit to the left or a little bit to the right of the centre. There was no room for pretenders or political traders. Each of the political parties meant business.
The Second Republic was equally remarkable because the political space was dominated by five political parties, namely, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), Peoples Redemption Party) (PRP) and the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP). Each of these parties controlled at least one state of the Federation. There were a few others like Tunji Braithwaite’s Nigeria Advance Party and Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Movement of the People. They added pep and impetus to the politics of the era. They were not there as moles or spies for any other political party.
To a large extent then, the political space was not choked. It had sufficient space to soak in some fresh air. Regrettably, the Fourth Republic has changed all that. Political parties have become ubiquitous. They have invaded the political space in the same way commercial motorcycles (Okada) have held the transport sector by the jugular. Since invasion of any sort is an aberration, we have to retrace our steps before party politics in Nigeria becomes a huge joke. Now that Jega has begun, he can as well go the whole hog. He should prune down significantly the number of political parties we have in Nigeria. By the time he reduces the number to about 10, some sanity will begin to creep in.
Even with this number, we do not see more than five or so political parties competing keenly to occupy the political space. With the over 50 that we had before the 2011general elections, only six of them, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Action Congress of Nigeria (AC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Labour Party, redeemed their names.
INEC can therefore begin to create an atmosphere where these parties can become entrenched with about two or three others striving to attain the height the aforementioned parties have attained. In other words, 10 political parties or less will serve our politics well under the present circumstance. Those who seek to register business organizations can approach the Corporate Affairs Commission. INEC is not the right organization to run to.
The commission should therefore work harder to discourage business enterprises masquerading as political parties from polluting the political laudscape.