Beside what the political parties are not doing in relation to registration of voters and collection of PVCs there are other issues that raise critical questions about their essence and very existence.
Not many people gave Tunji Braithwaite and his Nigeria Advance Party (NAP) any chance to win anything during the Second Republic. And they did not disappoint. As a player in a field parading some of the heaviest weights Nigeria will ever feature in a political contest, Braithwaite was a glaring outsider, something of a feather weight among heavy weights. Permanently adorning his simple but creative sleeveless tops, more like an artist on an exbition round, the NAP presidential aspirant toured the country with a certain determination and élan that caught the attention and curiosity of many. It was possible that only Dr. Braithwaite and perhaps few of his associates took themselves serious in the NAP enterprise, but that did not deter them.
In the course of his campaigns, the NAP presidential candidate promised to rid Nigeria of mosquitoes and cockroaches, a pitch that was later explained by the party faithful to be more allegorical than literal. Whatever. It did seem that many Nigerians took the pitch of Mr. Braithwaite about mosquitoes and cockroaches literally and scoffed at him. For many of these, there were more serious problems to contend with than what Braithwaite was focusing on at that point in time. They may have been wrong though, considering the huge amount of money and manpower lost by Nigeria to mosquitoes and malaria every year.
Whatever anyone thought of NAP and its presidential candidate in the period they played the Nigerian political field, their identity and manifesto were well understood. NAP was a radical, progressive party that fancied toppling the rotten status quo. The party had a clear anti-corruption posture and its leadership could not be impeached on that plane.
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Mr. Braithwaite and his NAP may not have polled enough votes in the elections to impress anyone, but they definitely achieved something. The identity of the party was clear and distinct. Nobody could mistake NAP for any other party in the scene then. NAP did not parade affluent, influential politicians as members, but the party could not have been swallowed by any other big party. The leadership of NAP did not register the party as a trading chip and surely were not interested in being bought off by anyone. Nor did the party set itself up as a fallback option for any ‘big’ aspirant who failed to make it in his original platform. It can even be wagered that NAP would have rejected some persons with certain antecedents and profile if they tried to be part of the radical party. That was then.
As a young school boy with interest in politics and civics, I was aware of the presence and profile of Dr. Braithwaite and his party, even as the majors on the scène then; National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) with their leaders and presidential candidates bestrode the turf. There was something definite to say about the identify and bearing of each of the political parties and their leaders in that era. They represented distinct tendencies. Mr. Braithwaite and his NAP did not have much political antecedent for instance, but they too stood for something. They had a radical quasi-socialist ideology. Mr. Braithwaite was not poor by any economic reckoning. He was a comfortable attorney with a comfortable background, but he was clearly opposed to the status quo and the ways of the capitalist order in the society. Everyone who knew about NAP knew that the party professed a desire to dislodge what was known in the socialist langue as the decadent system. It may have been a tall order, but there was no doubt the party and its leadership believed in their primary objective. NAP was not registered by its promoters as a decoy.
Fast forward to 2018. A lot has surely happened and changed. From the six parties of the Second Republic, Nigeria now has a full house of 91 political parties heading towards a general election in less than six months.
The registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of 23 new parties last week continued on a political trajectory Nigeria has chosen to go. The choice is not INEC’s. It was the Nigerian political elite lead on by some of its leading beckons of progressive radicalism; Balarabe Musa and the Late Gani Fawehinmi that won the case that let the genie out. Political parties have been raining down since then.
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The issue here is not with the quantity of the political parties. The concern is what the tribe of 91 parties represents and what they say or are not saying in the matrix of Nigeria’s political development. As registration of voters continues and sundry preparations by INEC go on towards the conduct of the 2019 elections, there is yet no evidence that the political parties are acquitting themselves appropriately in due functions that enhance the electoral system. It remains a part of the curious if not aberrant nature of Nigeria’s democracy that drive for voters has been left to be headache for the Election Management Body instead of the concern of political parties.
Side by side with the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) which has been extended by INEC to August 31 2018 the Commission is now preoccupied with programmes to draw all those who had registered to come and collect their Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC). It is yet to be seen what the political parties are doing to get registrants collect their cards so that they will vote for them.
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Beside what the political parties are not doing in relation to registration of voters and collection of PVCs there are other issues that raise critical questions about their essence and very existence. It is doubtful for instance if any of the 91 parties can confidently state what it truly represents in terms of ideology and distinct orientation. The ongoing movement of the people across the political landscape may be occupying the leadership of the parties and providing them some dose of masochistic excitement but it hardly addresses the fundamental concern about the parties represent and what they offer the people.
The political parties, all 91 of them, have the task to prove their distinctness to Nigerians before the elections. The ongoing theatrical representation of United Nations fundamental rights of freedom of movement and association does not prove much.