In the case of Independent National Electoral Commission v. Balarabe Musa (2003) 10 WRN 1, the Supreme Court upheld the fundamental right of Nigerian citizens to form or belong to political parties of their choice in accordance with Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Republic.
But the expansion of the democratic space was exploited by people of ill-motivated agenda who set up all kinds of political associations and proceeded to register them as political parties. Regrettably, INEC has failed woefully to enforce the relevant provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act on the registration and operation of political parties.
However, the opportunism of some of the political parties was exposed when elected legislators decamped from one party to another without resigning from the legislative houses to renew their mandate. INEC did not insist on internal democracy when a few godfathers engaged in the imposition of candidates to contest elections contrary to the provisions of the Electoral Act. As if that was enough, some of the registered political parties shamelessly abandoned their presidential candidates and adopted Alhaji Mohammed Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidates of the All Progressive Congress and Peoples Democratic Party respectively in the recently concluded general elections.
Disturbed by the mockery of multi party democracy in the country through the unprincipled proliferation of political parties the National Assembly amended the Electoral Act 2010 to empower INEC to de-register political parties that failed to win any election. Since political parties were registered pursuant to section 222 of the Constitution the suits filed by the affected political parties succeeded as the Federal High Court declared the amendment unconstitutional and set it aside. However, the National Assembly took advantage of the 2017 constitutional review to reduce the number of registered political parties in the country. Thus, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No 9) Act, 2017 enacted on May 4, 2017 has amended section 225 of the 1999 Constitution to empower the Independent National Electoral Commission to de-register political parties on grounds of:
a. breach of any of the requirements for registration;
b. failure to win at least twenty-five percent of votes cast in-
i. one State of the Federation in a Presidential election; or
ii. one Local Government of the State in a Governorship election;
c. failure to win at least-
i. one ward in the Chairmanship election;
ii. one seat in the National or State House of Assembly election; or
iii. one seat in the Councillorship election.
From the foregoing, it is indubitably clear that INEC has been conferred with enormous powers to de-register political parties that fail to meet the fresh constitutional prerequisites. Going by the results of the 2019 general elections the 91 registered political parties may have been reduced to less than 10 that may have scaled the constitutional hurdle. Not a few people would hail the constitutional amendment in view of the prostitution of the political system by political parties are ill-equipped to promote participatory democracy, economic freedom, human rights and rule of law. But it ought to be pointed out that the planned de-registration of political parties that fail to win elections is likely to limit the political space to the so called mainstream political parties that are not committed to any political philosophy or ideology.
Finally, to sanitise the political system INEC is called upon to formulate new guidelines for the registration political parties within the ambit of the Constitution. This should be done in view of the fact that not less than 100 political associations are said to have submitted applications for the registration of new political parties. With respect to registered political parties INEC must fully comply with section 225(2) of the Constitution by sanctioning them if they fail to submit a detailed annual statement and analysis of their sources of funds and assets. This will go a long way to check the monetization and brazen manipulation of the democratic process by political godfathers. More importantly, INEC should henceforth exercise its powers under Section 224 of the Constitution by ensuring that the programmes as well as the aims and objects of every political party conform with the provisions of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of State Policy enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution.
By Femi Falana SAN