A political party is, by general understanding, an association of like-minded persons determined to win public office to conduct the affairs of the state according to their collective vision. The 1999 constitution states in Section 229 that the activities of a political party ‘include canvassing for votes in support of a candidate for election to the office of President, Vice-President, Governor, Deputy Governor, or membership of a legislative house or of a local government council.’
The suggestion that performance of the 91 political parties in the country should be reviewed and decision taken on their future after the conclusion of all election matters by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is in public interest.
While it is not clear what specific measure(s) the body may take, the extant electoral law in section 78 (7) grants the commission ‘power to de-register political parties on the following grounds- (i) breach of any of the requirements for registration; and (ii) for failure to win a seat in the National or State Assembly election.’
Indeed, political parties are a necessity for the Nigerian democratic form of government to the extent that no person can aspire to public office unless ‘he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that party’, as Section 65 (2) (b) provides.
Of the 91 political parties that appeared on the ballot papers in the 2019 general elections the presidency was won by one of the two main parties; the governorship positions were also shared by the two major parties. None of the new associations won any gubernatorial election. Beside the two major parties, only ten others won one or more seats in the federal legislature.
Apart from making the ballot paper long, somewhat unwieldy in the hands of voters, this poor showing does not speak of preparedness for the tough challenge of the contest to govern Nigeria, or even of a purposeful seriousness. Truth be told, these parties have grossly underperformed.
Therefore, the political space should be reconfigured to allow parties to start small and local. That was how Nigeria’s democracy began when democracy nurtured development agenda – before 1966 when ‘soldiers of fortune’ struck down democracy and federalism.
So, on the strength of the quality of governance, a small high-performing political party may be attractive to other constituencies. Political parties that meet the felt needs of their local constituents can ensure stability and prosperity better than some national behemoth based in a distant capital and insensitive to the aspirations of small communities.
Where equity, respect, and justice rule, there is not a single reason that Nigeria’s plurality – ethnic, religious, and values- cannot be translated into national strength by a patriotic, mature and creative political elite. This is the challenge Nigeria’s political leaders have been struggling with. So far, as indicated by the state of the nation, they are not doing well at all.
All told, INEC has a responsibility to review current status of the 91 political parties it should be resourceful in managing the process, lest the political parties complicate the country’s political recruitment process.